Meet the first B Corps in the state
A good day’s work is about more than simply turning a profit for a couple Alaskan small business owners.
Arctic Solar Ventures in Anchorage and Cordova’s Alaska Glacial Mud Co. are the first Alaska businesses to be certified as Benefit Corporations — B Corps for short.
The B Corp certification is often described as “Fair Trade coffee, but for everything else.” It obligates business leaders to not only focus on running a financially successful company, but also have demonstrable social and environmental benefits.
Arctic Solar Ventures founder Stephen Trimble said the decision to become a B Corp was an easy one for his company’s small team of three lifelong Alaskans.
“You actually modify your bylaws to say you don’t just have a fiduciary responsibility to your stakeholders, but also to your community, the place you live,” Trimble said. “For us, it’s like, of course that makes sense. We should all think like that.”
Opened in March 2015, Arctic Solar Ventures is a one-stop-shop for anyone interested in turning the Midnight Sun into electricity. It received its B Corp certification in June.
Lauren Padawer started Alaska Glacial Mud in 2006 after quickly falling in love with the salmon-centric lifestyle in Cordova. She harvests the mineral-rich glacial sediments that wash downriver and form the tide mud that is the Copper River Delta for use as skin care products.
Her products have been featured in numerous women’s magazines and Padawer pitched Alaska Glacial Mud to investors in a January 2014 episode of ABC’s Shark Tank.
She decided to get her company certified in 2014 because it already met many of the B Corp principles.
“My business was born more out of a desire to be a philanthropist than it was to be — I wanted to have a business that could work as an economic driver and give back to the organizations that I’d be otherwise working for if my time weren’t spent running a business,” Padawer said.
Those organizations are ones that work to protect and enhance the Copper River watershed. Alaska Glacial Mud donates 10 percent of its profits to groups like the Prince William Sound Science Center, the Eyak Preservation Council and the Copper River Watershed Project.
“Part of our brand having integrity is supporting the place that provides abundant resources,” she said. “Our raw material comes from the Copper River.”
When not harvesting mud, Padawer joins in the more popular Copper River harvest. She commercial salmon fishes in Prince William Sound from her boat, the F/V Canvasback, each summer.
B Lab, the Philadelphia-area nonprofit behind the B Corp label, was founded in 2006 by Andrew Kassoy, a private equity investor, Jay Coen Gilbert and Bart Houlahan. Coen Gilbert and Houlahan founded and led AND1, a basketball shoe and clothing company before turning to B Lab.
Over the past 10 years, more than 1,600 businesses — Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Patagonia Inc. clothing and King Arthur Flour to name a few — in 42 countries from 120 industries have been certified as B Corps, according to B Lab.
Padawer described the certification process as “very rigorous and detailed,” noting that the assessment not only delves into business practices but also product sourcing, packaging, energy consumption and sourcing, even the practices of suppliers.
Trimble said the certification doesn’t provide any financial advantages, but “it’s just another tool for businesses to try to differentiate themselves and align their mission with what they do.”
It does, however, offer entry into a diverse business network that has its own benefits.
Arctic Solar Ventures has been able to reach out to other certified solar panel companies with technical questions. Additionally, Trimble said he believes it will be a growing marketing opportunity as B Corp status continues to gain recognition.
Thirty-one states have also passed legislation establishing a B Corp tax designation.
Alaska is not one of them, yet. Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, submitted a bill in 2015 to set up an Alaska B Corp tax designation that would not provide tax breaks, but give business leaders more flexibility to meet non-traditional corporate goals.
“Corporate law generally requires a corporation to consider the financial impact to their shareholders as the top priority when making decisions. Under the benefit corporation structure, owners and boards have the freedom to take actions which positively impact their communities without fear of violating a fiduciary duty,” the House Bill 49 sponsor statement reads.
Trimble said he has been working with Seaton’s office on new legislation for the upcoming legislative session.
Padawer hopes her work can inspire other business owners, who hold a significant vehicle for good, to use their companies to give back to their communities and the environment.
“It’s important for us as we protect people’s skin that we also — it really sounds cheesy, but protect the earth’s skin too,” she said. “We don’t really have a lot of integrity if we’re not working outside of our business to do good work in the world.”
Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].