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EXCLUSIVE: Director Cyrus Sutton Explains Why B Corps Matter

Business

"There's a lot of negative feelings about capitalism right now," said Kris Lin-Bronner who is the strategic advisor of Dr. Bronner's. Her words are indicative of the wide scale erosion of trust between companies and consumers. It seems that time and again we unearth ugly truths behind the products we've come to love and trust. I've been fascinated with this is for a while now. Is this a result of capitalism itself or is it the way in which capitalism has evolved?

I am first and foremost a documentary filmmaker, my latest film Island Earth examines the cozy ties between agrichemical companies and the food we eat. But I'm also an entrepreneur, I work as a storyteller for Guayaki Yerba Mate and I founded a edible sunblock company. I learned about B Corp certification through Chris Cohen, a lawyer friend of mine working for Sustainable Law Group. I was telling him about the business I was planning to start and he suggested I look into creating a benefit corporation and applying for B Corp certification. He said something like this…


"Say you have a great idea for a business—it's unique and you're committed to positive social and environmental impact. The sad truth of capitalism in America today is that if you take money from an investor to help implement your vision, the legal framework surrounding this investment can seriously compromise the original intent of your vision."

To back up, when you incorporate your company you are handing over a large degree of control to your investors to which you have a fiduciary responsibility. Ever since the Revlon Ruling in 1986, this responsibility has shifted away from maintaining the health of the company to maximizing shareholder value often regardless of social or environmental impacts. So quarter by quarter we see companies making decisions that compromise the efficacy of their intentions.

A benefit corporation offers refuge from this system. It allows the founders to essentially bake in their vision and give their higher minded goals the legal armor to weather capital raises, and leadership changes. Then, through the B Corp certification process—which is open to all businesses that meet certain standards, and not just benefit corporations—these companies can quantify and communicate their impact to their stakeholders, adding an additional layer of accountability and transparency. It seems to be working, according to B Lab's community manager Andy Fyfe, there are now more than 2,000 certified B Corps internationally. His hope is that a tipping point will be reached as literacy grows and big multi-national corporations will be pressured to adopt this framework to hold themselves accountable to a more responsible standard of operation.

In the end only time will tell if capitalism is an inherently flawed system. But I'm excited to participate in evolving the current paradigm before starting from scratch. Working at Guayaki, a twenty-one year old company that has stewarded the restoration of over one-hundred thousand acres of rainforest in South America while cultivating empowering relationships with local growers, I've seen first hand the potential for business to steer industry towards a more sustainable future. My hope is that this short film will create more awareness around the red circled "B" logo that is printed on the back of products for both customers trying to make informed buying decisions as well young entrepreneurs such as myself wary of falling into the trappings of modern business.

To learn more about Benefit Corporations visit bcorporation.net.

EcoWatch is proud of its standing as a Certified B Corporation.

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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