Revolution in the air: Asheville businesses gather to discuss B Corps

"This is about looking at the world in a different way: as our responsibility rather than our resource." -Adrian Zelski, founder/CEO New Earth Muziq

What do you picture when you read the word “revolution”? Che Guevara, perhaps, in a military beret? Fists in the air? On the night of Tuesday, Feb. 10, in the theater at New Mountain AVL, revolution was in the air — and it looked like a packed room of excited business owners and entrepreneurs eating organic hummus, drinking kombucha and having a conversation perhaps uncommon for networking events: what they stood for and how to achieve their “ambitions” of doing good in the world.

The common interest? B Corporations and finding a way to get more involved in the movement to make commerce as much a driving force for good as for money, for all people, all of the planet.

“I think broadly, business as a force for good comes down to how far you can tease apart what we think of and call capitalism and what we practice in commerce,” said Mike Newman of Buchi Kombucha, who sat on a Q&A panel with Peter Krull of Krull & Co. “They’re very different things: one has come to mean extractive and divisive, the other is something that’s extremely empowering and beautiful, builds community and allows people to express their values through what they produce and buy in the world.”

Representatives from several local companies, including Buchi Kombucha, were present at the event to show their interest in B Corps. Buchi isn’t a certified B Corp yet — but they’re on track to get the certification, said Sara Schomber, the company’s co-founder.

“It’s a very in-depth process, and as a small company, it’s taking longer than we wanted it to,” Schomber said. “But for now we’re starting with those components of our business that are most important to us.”

B Corp certification, done by the nonprofit San Francisco-based group B Labs, is based on an overall score that takes into account everything from employee pay and decision-making processes, to electrical use to where the company sources its raw materials. Different businesses can excel in different aspects but achieve the same score. B Corps are required to use a triple bottom line business model, and to see business as models of transformation: marketing positive messaging and education, and promoting fundraising and grassroots activism.

Peter Krull, president and founder of Krull & Co., also spoke on the Q&A panel at the event. Krull’s business is one of only five in WNC that are currently certified as B Corps. In a desire to pursue more sustainable business practices, Krull left his old career in investment advising at Merrill Lynch in 2004 and has never looked back.

“It has been one of the most amazing times to be in the social and environmentally responsible investing industry,” Krull said. “We continue to see growth every single year. People are opening their eyes and seeing that it’s not cool to own Halliburton. It’s not cool to own Monsanto.”

"When you have a product on the shelves in hundreds of locations, and a billboard on that bottle,..and a website that people are visiting, what you have is platform to put ideas through," -Michael Newman, Buchi.
“When you have a product on the shelves in hundreds of locations, and a billboard on that bottle,..and a website that people are visiting, what you have is platform to put ideas through,” -Mike Newman, Buchi.

Though the B Corp movement in WNC is still nascent, the interest is growing rapidly. New Earth Muziq recently created a company branch responsible for local B Corp promotion and education that holds regular “B Local” lunches and a Meetup group. The company is also planning to hold networking events on the scale of last night on a quarterly basis.

In the last six months, North Carolina had the second highest number of B Corp certification inquiries in the country, according to Adrian Zelski, New Earth’s founder. Ironically, N.C. may be the only state with this level of interest whose government isn’t even considering adopting “B” status as a tax designation. For now getting certification is strictly about raising standards out of love and not official recognition from the state government.

From left to right: Cortina Caldwell, Adrian Zelski, Clarice Coppalano, Saksiri Kridikara, Jessie Brandt
From left to right: Cortina Caldwell, Adrian Zelski, Clarice Coppalano, Saksiri Kridikara, Jessie Brandt

New Earth’s B Corp local coordinator Cortina Caldwell says the company hopes to see 30 local businesses receive certification over the next two years.

“Asheville is really a hub of people who want to do good work and build wealth,” Caldwell said. “The B Corp movement and what it represents is so fitting, because [that feeling] is already Asheville in a lot of ways. It’s not necessarily a new concept — but the structure that B Corp brings is what’s new. That’s what’s really created this spark and [that’s] why people are excited.”

Local entrepreneur and founder/CEO of Celestial Nation, Bryan Hudson, was also among the event’s attendees. Hudson’s merchandising, branding and custom software company specializes in augmented and virtual reality application technologies—a venture that helps support his efforts in producing Project Peace on Earth, an annual concert in Bethlehem, Palestine.

“Since my entire business model is designed to build support and momentum for Project Peace on Earth, I was curious about what it would look like to officially integrate that as a business model,” Hudson said.

Likewise, local Certified Public Accountant Leah B. Noel, was present to explore certification for her firm and — given that auditing is already built into a CPA’s business model and skill set — explore opportunities to become a local auditing agency for local businesses who want to get ready for the certification.

“We want to learn more about how a business like ours can make the changes to be certified even if we must use paper,” she said, noting that CPAs are legally required to save paper documentation for seven years. A native of Asheville, Noel said she has seen a marked change in consumer and business culture over the past decade — namely a demand, drive and expectation to use business as a force for good. “I even see it with current clients asking, ‘How do I get in the Go Local card? How do I get the Living Wage?’ Being able to provide them with that information actually helps my service to them, beyond just financial accounting,” she said.

New Earth’s Clarice Coppolano described what she sees as a total wave of consumer consciousness that she says is quickly taking place globally.

“The voice of the B Corp speaks so clearly to the millennials, who are now a big controlling factor in our economy,” Coppolano said. “They’re the ones making big purchases, and they’re the ones looking for jobs. And more than any other generation, millennials have their personal values tied to the job they’re working and the product they’re buying. For prior generations, the definition of success was, ‘Having more means being successful.’ The millennials are not having anything about that.”

Throughout the event, which included networking, a Q & A panel and a documentary on B Corps, one couldn’t help but feel that there was something truly immense transpiring. The New Earth crew spared no effort in communicating that this movement is not just about a San Francisco nonprofit. It’s not even about B Corp in particular. This is about a monumental shift that packs some serious punch.

“What we’re really here tonight for is to recognize that we are a network of people that can really affect positive change,” Caldwell said to the intent audience. “Asheville has been a leader in many ways already for creating change in the world, and this is going to be the way we are remembered. So let’s make history and continue to make the connections needed to move us forward.”

Information on the Meetup group and upcoming panels and events is available here.

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About Jordan Foltz
Exploring the subtle and esoteric aspects of what drives and inspires people to take action— including religion, spirituality, ethics, and aesthetics.

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