We've been active members of the B Corporation community and got very involved in helping get legislation passed in New York State recognizing the legal status of public benefit corporations (essentially the formal name for B Corporations). Sixteen states have passed this legislation and we are very close to seeing it pass in Delaware, which would be very exciting.
JB: That is exciting. Can you give some concrete examples of how a B Corporation differs from other businesses? This all sounds good but a little vague.
DB: A B Corporation holds itself accountable for its social and environmental impact, not just the profits it returns to shareholders. And it does so in a transparent manner. In order to be certified as a B Corporation, a business must achieve a certain level of positive impact across a wide variety of measures.
As a B Corporation, we are evaluated on how we pay our workers, the diversity of our workforce, the health and retirement benefits we provide to our team members, the input we solicit in decision-making, how we are governed, the benefit of the products we sell, charitable contributions we make, the environmental impact of the packing materials we use and much more.
JB: It must be incredibly challenging getting certified as a B Corporation. And how different our landscape would be if every business upheld those values. Is it even more challenging because of the economic downturn?
DB: If businesses were held accountable for our social and environmental impact and not just our financial results, I think it would have a very positive effect on our society. The 2008/9 recession made things a bit tougher, but we did not make any fundamental changes to the way we operate.
In fact, a number of the elements of sustainability are very cost-effective. We instituted a number of energy saving measures as a result of an energy audit we had conducted a few years back. It helped our score on the B Corporation evaluation and it saved us money. Paying workers more is a strategy that many companies, B Corporations or not, employ in order to ensure we hire the most talented candidates and retain them.
JB: Speaking of workers, your staff bios are fascinating for their combination of business know-how, interest in the Arts and athletics. You've got an author, a classically trained musician, a photographer, a quilter, a snowboarder, a hiker, and a former bicycle taxi driver. How did you put together such a talented and eclectic group?
DB: We don't seek out those specific characteristics, but I think the kind of people who are passionate about UncommonGoods are non-conformists, individuals who don't follow the typical path.
JB: That's not necessarily a formula for success. Getting a bunch of non-conformists to agree could be like trying to herd cats! How do you get anything done?
DB: We look for people who are achievers and share our core values. We have an annual company improvement and goal-setting process that solicits input from everyone in the company. We incorporate those ideas into our annual plan and then revise periodically. Our leaders take ownership of projects and see them through to completion.
JB: UncommonGoods sounds like a terrific place to work. Let's talk a bit about the website and catalog. You have some nice features that I haven't seen elsewhere. Would you like to talk about them?
DB: A key part of our mission is to introduce independent artists and designers to our customers. We mention the name of the artists that we work with and tell their stories as part of each handmade product's description. One example is Renee Leone, a Chicago-based watercolor artist who's inspired by her travels across America. Here's her collection and story .
We also invite our customers to vote and comment on products we're considering adding to our collection. We hold monthly design challenges to solicit new artwork and other products. And we host an ongoing series of learning and networking events in Brooklyn for artists and designers called "How to Make It", that provides advice on a specific topic like branding, hiring, wholesaling, or scaling a business. The highlights of which are featured on our blog.