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On Building Bridges: The 2015 B Corp Champions Retreat

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” – Proverb 

The B Corp movement’s ability to redefine success in business hinges on its scalability. After all, you can’t call something “redefined” without convincing most people to accept the new definition. At the 2015 B Corp Champions Retreat, the founders of B Lab emphasized that it’s time to build bridges to make it “easy and fun and rewarding” for millions of other people and businesses to join the B Corp movement.

We spent time exploring how to build these bridges to other individuals and companies, but our discussion and collaboration also deepened the connections amongst ourselves. Sleep was minimal. Conversation? Nonstop. Inspiration? Abundant. Gratitude? Overflowing.

Whether you work for a B Corp and couldn’t make it to the retreat or you just want to learn more about the B Corp community, this brief rundown will give you a sense of what happens when B Corps get together.

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Talking It Out  

Katie Wallace of New Belgium Brewing takes questions during the Building Company Culture session.

Katie Wallace of New Belgium Brewing takes questions during the Building Company Culture session.

This conference was all about meeting like-minded people and talking, then talking more…then drinking and talking…then talking some more. Even one of the few formal keynote sessions was a working session: Katie Wallace from New Belgium Brewing led us in a discussion of how organizations can better align their company culture to live out their values.

Other working sessions proposed by the community filled the majority of the structured time at the retreat. In one “unconference session,” we discussed how consumer brands can better market the B Corp certification, doing our best to identify challenges and opportunities. During this 60 minute session, people from more than a dozen companies (Plum Organics, Teatuila, Sustainable Harvest, Badger, etc.) agreed to create a collective campaign to educate consumers on what the B Corp certification means and agreed that we would all chip in to cover costs according to our ability – decision made. Can you imagine getting people from that many companies to agree on anything in 60 minutes? It usually takes my family longer than that to decide what to have for dinner! The generosity and cooperative spirit of the B Corp community never fail to amaze me.

Sharing Stories & Advice 

Odd MomentsAt the awards dinner luck was on my side and Christine from NYC Economic Development Corp sat next to me. That evening, she won an award for championing the B Corp movement through her work on the Best for NYC campaign.

Over dinner, Jimena Ryan of Raffa, P.C. and George Chmael of Council Fire joined me in peppering Christine with questions to learn how we might create a Best for the Mid-Atlantic campaign. She was a good sport and gave us [highly appreciated] candid advice. Her openness reminded me of how refreshing it is to be part of a community where people want to share their knowledge.

The night’s other awards celebrated the remarkable accomplishments of several individuals and companies such as Portafolio Verde, a Colombian B Corp that managed to raise its B Impact score from 82 to 152 in one year. It’s damn hard to raise a score even by 10 points, but 70 points – unheard of. Freaking WOW. Amazed again.

After hours, I chatted with the CFO of Lunapads, a company I admire for their creativity. They are on the verge of launching a new product in a niche community and we had a great conversation about the associated joys and challenges.

A Big Finish 

The highlight of the retreat was definitely the TED Talk-style B Inspired presentations from B Corp business leaders, followed by a B Corp street festival. (You can see recordings of the presentations here!)

The B Corp Street Festival

The B Corp Street Festival

We gathered in Pioneer Square to sample beer (New Belgium), chocolate (Tony’s Chocoloney), beauty products (Elemental Herbs), ice cream (Ben & Jerry’s) and other B Corp goods. Food trucks peddling delicious treats, perfect weather and good music added to the festive mood. Happily, a fair number of locals showed up too. While Austin is working hard to “keep it weird,” Portland doesn’t seem to have any shortage of open-minded citizens interested in learning about the alternative model of commerce developed by the B Corp community.

At the festival I sat on steps at Pioneer Square, chowing down on delicious tamales and bouncing ideas around with Marianne Costa of Raízes Desenvolvimento Sustentável about how she might grow her business. She’s trying to encourage more Americans to take community-based tourism trips to women-run artist communities in rural Brazil.

Later that night, I danced to Ural Thomas & The Pain at McMenamins Crystal Ballroom. I felt exhausted and exhilarated and a little sad that I would need to wait a whole year before seeing many of these people again.

Ural Thomas of Ural Thomas & The Pain

Ural Thomas of Ural Thomas & The Pain

The people who make up the B Corp community are a powerful group of allies who I encourage other B Corps to embrace. When I need advice, the B Hive (the social network for B Corps) is the first place I go because I know my peers will be honest, responsive and generous with their connections and advice. That openness and willingness to engage is what makes the B Corp community so unique, and it’s why I was struck throughout the retreat with the belief: This is my tribe. 

If you’re part of a B Corp, make the most of these connections. Go to next year’s retreat. Get involved in your local B Corp “chapter” (Mid Atlantic B Corps – email me!). Get active on the B Hive. No matter which approach you take, with this group, you’re sure to find valuable connections, free-flowing advice and some genuinely good people.

Not associated with a B Corp yet but intrigued? Learn more on the B Corp website or send me an email – I’m happy to answer any questions.

*Many thanks to Elephants Delicatessen for allowing us to use their photo for this post. Consider visiting this B Corp eatery next time you find yourself in Portland — you won’t regret it!

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As RoundPeg’s partner and creative director, Polina has over 20 years experience turning complex concepts into compelling visual communications. She also knows how to speak Russian and make delicious sauerkraut! Polina enjoys knitting despite her fear of pointy objects and loves nothing better than curling up with a good book and a cup of tea. See more posts by Polina..

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