A KOAN Case Study: B Corp Community Leads the Way Toward Better Business

A KOAN Case Study: B Corp Community Leads the Way Toward Better Business

Mar 18, 2024

This article is excerpted from the KOAN method: Breakthrough Leadership for a Divided World, the recently released book by Integrated Work owner and CEO Jennifer Lyn Simpson.

As an organization of individuals who seek to contribute to a better future, the team at Integrated Work is proud to be part of the Certified B Corporation community. We joined the B Corp community in 2023 to connect with other purpose-minded leaders using business as a force for good. While that looks different for each company, B Corps share a belief that the economy can be shifted to better serve people and our planet. 

The scale of that change can feel daunting. But for anyone inspired by the possibility of a new way, the good news is that B Corps are among those already leading the way and charting new possibilities.

The B Corp community first took shape in 2006. That’s when B Lab, the nonprofit organization that oversees B Corp Certification, was founded by a group of friends who, after achieving “success” by traditional measures and selling their startup to a larger conglomerate, wanted to create a vehicle to certify and hold companies publicly accountable for the ways they “benefitted workers, communities, the environment, and customers.” They believed that one of the biggest ways in which systems are stuck is in the primacy placed on shareholder returns in many large companies. This drive to achieve a particular kind of profitability on very short timescales virtually demands short-term maneuvering at the expense of more thoughtful or holistic solutions that might be of greater benefit to the common good in the long term.

Since then, thousands of companies have become B Corps all over the world — amending their operating agreements to place people and the planet, alongside profit, as a business driver and creating conditions for leaders and organizations of all kinds to reimagine how to build systems that create positive impacts to that triple bottom line. As the network has grown, so has the potential for impact.

Being a B Corp is more than just a seal of approval; it’s a signal to employees, customers, and potential partners of all kinds that one is committed to walking the talk. It’s also a membership in a growing community of like-minded leaders who are all actively reimagining everything from supply chains to employee benefits to organizing models every day.

It’s a crucible of innovation for reimagining the future of work.

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Patagonia Redefines Corporate Purpose and Environmental Stewardship as a B Corp

While there are lots of B Corps of all sizes, those who are bigger and more well-known are also leveraging the platform to push the creative envelope even further. 

Patagonia is one extreme example of what is possible when we throw out the old playbook and adopt an anything-is-possible stance. Founder and longtime CEO Yvon Chouinard was long fond of saying that he never intended to be a businessman, having gotten his start making climbing gear for himself and his friends in a workshop. From its earliest days, the company stood out for nontraditional work practices like encouraging staff to drop work when the surf was up and treating work like play.

Over the years, as the climate impacts on the natural environment that Patagonia employees and customers most loved to play in became more and more apparent, they centered their purpose on saving our home planet by donating 1% of all proceeds to charitable causes and becoming both a certified B Corp and a California benefit corporation. Then, in 2022, Chouinard went even further by declaring that “the Earth is now our only shareholder” and donating 100% of the company’s voting stock to the newly founded Patagonia Purpose Trust, while all nonvoting stock was given to the Holdfast Collective, “a nonprofit dedicated to fighting the environmental crisis and defending nature.”

In making this announcement, Chouinard declared “Truth be told, there were no good options available. So, we created our own.”

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Integrated Work and Partners Embrace Diversity, Collaboration, and Innovation for a Better Future

Every day there are new examples of breakthrough leaders looking beyond the divisions we’ve taken for granted for too long to imagine new ways of leading and organizing.

At Integrated Work, we’ve been experimenting with the KOAN method for several years now, taking the best of what we have each learned from successes and setbacks both here and in all of the other places our talented and diverse team have worked at, led, and contributed to over the years.

We’ve partnered with clients to help them reimagine new futures and learned from their ingenuity along the way. Every day we experience ways in which old impulses to divide, segment, and silo interfere with the future we are trying to build and help hold one another to account for not staying stuck there long.

As we look at how to continue evolving our organizations to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world, we invite other mission-driven leaders to join us in building a more inclusive world where human-first principles and a commitment to transparency and curiosity fuel our ability to amplify our impact, together.

Read more about Integrated Work’s purpose-driven approach to impact.