Opinion: Breaking ground in Ottawa’s B Corp scene

Corporate social responsibility certification gains traction

There’s a new standard for companies that believe in corporate social responsibility, and it’s arrived in Ottawa.

By Vinod Rajasekaran.

Mobile and social gaming company RocketOwl is the first local company to be certified as a B Corporation for its equal focus on people, planet and profit.

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It’s a step that will help the Ottawa startup grow even faster.

B Lab, a non-profit organization based in Pennsylvania, created the B Corp certification program.

B Corp certification – the “B” stands for “benefit” – is to sustainable business what LEED designation is to green buildings, or coffee being certified as fair trade. B Corps must meet initial and ongoing rigorous standards for social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.

It’s the latest evolution in corporate social responsibility and a trend worth watching. There’s a rapidly growing demographic of entrepreneurs in Ottawa and around the world who don’t care solely about profits – they care equally about global issues and want to ensure their companies don’t contribute to exacerbating them.

Let’s face it: capitalism can do better. That doesn’t mean saying goodbye to shareholder return. It means driving shareholder return while placing equal efforts into practices such as a low-carbon footprint, zero-waste manufacturing processes, not destroying ecosystems and empowering employees to contribute in their communities.

“There is global demand to expand the scope of return so all stakeholders gain value,” says RocketOwl co-founder Jasvinder Obhi. “Business is no longer just looking after a subset of society but looking after all society and doing it simultaneously. This focus enables you to grow a lot faster – and smarter.”

Like LEED, B Corp certification provides a reliable, recognized third-party assessment that indicates the company conducts responsible capitalism. Unlike LEED certification, however, a B Corp designation goes beyond a product or a practice and accounts for the entire corporation and its impacts.

The certification process is designed to be straightforward and starts with an initial online assessment. It’s free of charge and looks at a company’s performance with regards to such areas as environment, community, employees, governance and accountability.

A corporation must achieve a combined score of 80 out of 200 in order to become certified as a B Corp. Don’t be fooled by the minimum score – it’s harder than it looks. Canadian corporations that go through the assessment are then put in touch with the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing in Toronto, which helps companies complete the six-week certification process.

There’s value in being a responsible business – especially for startups as they look for capital, legitimacy and larger markets.

Mr. Obhi says RocketOwl’s recent B Corp certification has unlocked access to new investor groups and service partnerships around the world.

“It’s an absolute advantage for us that other gaming companies don’t have,” he says.

“B Corps have far more credibility when expanding into foreign markets than other companies. They are respected and invited worldwide because of their responsible practices.”

RocketOwl is a great start to fostering an ecosystem of triple-bottom-line businesses in Ottawa. With a rapidly growing startup scene in the city, now is the time to step up, assess corporate practices and promote opportunities for smarter growth.

Vinod Rajasekaran is executive director of social enterprise incubator HUB Ottawa.


B Corps … by the numbers

B Corps around the world represent $5 billion in revenues and more than 24,000 jobs. Since B Lab first launched, close to 70 Canadian companies – ranging from utility companies such as Bullfrog Power to technology service providers including PeaceWorks – have achieved B Corp status.


Source: B Lab 2012 Annual Report

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