Any confusion surrounding why nearly 1,000 professionals and students converged in the Zellerbach Auditorium on UC-Berkeley’s campus on a Thursday afternoon was quickly laid to rest by Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario. “I think this idea that business is somehow bifurcated from the rest of life — it has no responsibility to the environment, it has no responsibility to social good — is total bullshit,” Marcario said flatly in front of an increasingly exuberant crowd on Sept. 8. “We all know that,” Marcario continued, talking on-stage to Robert Strand, the executive director of the Center for Responsible Business at Berkeley Haas. “And it’s a totally out-dated way of thinking about the world.”
So the tone was set on the sunny afternoon. Created by B the Change Media and partnered with Berkeley Haas, the first-ever Best for the World Gathering served as a two-pronged educational event for socially minded business leaders and students and an awards ceremony for hundreds of the very best Certified B Corporations. B the Change Media is the media spinoff of B Lab, which is the nonprofit that governs Certified B Corporations. More than 1,800 companies across 121 industries and 50 countries have achieved B Corp status, which requires a lengthy and invasive audit. For the first time ever, B the Change Media awarded companies for being the best in four categories of community, environment, customers, workers, and an overall category. New Belgium Brewing, based in Ft. Collins, Colorado was awarded the overall award.
In addition to the awards, the day-long event featured panels and Q&A’s with executives from some of the world’s most influential B Corps including Ben & Jerry’s, New Belgium Brewing, Honest Company, and Patagonia, among others, and Deval Patrick, former governor of Massachusetts and current managing director of Bain Capital’s Double Impact business. Despite a diverse range of companies and professionals, a constant theme was maintained: Collectively, business is the most powerful force in the world. And that force can be used to perpetuate environmental and societal ills. Or a force that can change and fix them.
“In my opinion, the most powerful organizing principle for human energy is business,” proclaimed Bryan Welch, B the Change Media’s CEO, in his opening statements. “Think about how many people dedicate their energy world-wide to business in some form or another. It’s far more powerful as an organizer of human energy than religion. It’s far more powerful than all of the combined governments of the world. It’s even more powerful than the NFL. Consider that.”
BUSINESS AS THE UNLIKELY SAVIOR TO ‘ENORMOUS’ AND ‘BREATHTAKING CHALLENGES’
As Laura Tyson, the economics director at the Institute for Business & Social Impact at Berkeley Haas, later pointed out during her on-stage conversation with Patrick, depending on country, private business employs at least 80% of a country’s respective population. “The reality is that the private sector around the world — the private sector, not the public sector, and it’s mostly for-profit — is the major employer of people around the planet,” she said. “So this is the sector we have to work with. Because the jobs and the income and the community and education — everything — is basically started there, so we have to coordinate all of this.”
And so far, business hasn’t always done the right things. Marcario claimed, during her conversation with Strand, that business is responsible for at least 60% of the world’s pollution. “And yet, they take very little responsibility,” Marcario concluded.
Disregard to societal and environmental pangs has forced business and private capital in an interesting position of being the unexpected solution or continued perpetuator, former governor Patrick said. “In my professional career, it just strikes me that to some extent over the years, philanthropy and government have let business off the hook, which is to say, as a sector, we expect philanthropy and government to clean up whatever calamity is caused incidentally by business,” Patrick added.
“We have enormous — I mean enormous — breathtaking challenges,” Patrick said. “The future of the planet. Income inequality. Basic questions of social and economic justice. Everyone needs to lean in to that and I think that private capital has an enormously important role to play that goes beyond the morale duty and ethical duty of capitalists. But also speaks to the capital part of capitalists.”
BUSINESS IN A TIME OF ‘SEISMIC SHIFT’
But all is certainly not lost. Whether it actually is a generation more concerned — or informed — with societal and environmental issues, more pressure from our fragile planet, or some unseen force, change is happening. Patrick described the change as a “time of seismic shift.” And everyone is playing a role in the shift, he believes.
“In the way we can, whether it’s in the businesses we work in, or the products we buy, or the things we support, our behaviors can drive more of this,” Patrick said. “And as we get to a longer-term focus on sustainability in business, it’s good for people and it’s good for the planet.”
During his panel on impact investing, Steve Scheuth, the president of Boulder, Colorado-based First Affirmative Financial Network and former director of development at Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, shared similar sentiments. “Every purchase decision you make and every investment decision you make and every action you take with money, has impact,” Scheuth said. “The question is are you paying attention? The question is are you consciously directing those purchases or those investments for positive impact?”