B corporation program growing
State is first in nation to register businesses with social and environmental principles
A few months after a groundbreaking state law allowed companies to register as benefit, or B, corporations, a handful have done so.
The law, which took effect in October, allows for-profit companies to incorporate social-good and environmental principles into their charters. They are allowed to consider factors other than their bottom line when making business decisions.
This gives them some protection from shareholder lawsuits and can afford more credibility to market themselves as a socially responsible business, proponents say.
On the day the law took effect, 12 companies registered with the state as B corporations, Robert E. Young, acting deputy director of the state Department of Assessments and Taxation, said in an e-mail Monday. Three others have done so since then, Young said.
Takoma Park pet supply store Big Bad Woof, Easton fishing apparel company Lateral Line, Takoma Park coffee business Blessed Coffee and Emory Knoll Farms of Street, which provides green-roof plants, are among the Maryland companies that have filed.
Maryland is the first state to have such a law. Vermont passed similar legislation in the spring, but it does not take effect until July 2011. Other states are expected to follow suit.
At least one other Maryland business has achieved certification through a Berwyn, Pa., nonprofit organization called B Lab. Clean Currents, a Rockville renewable energy broker, has completed that process, Eric Vermeiren, a company spokesman, said Monday.
Clean Currents executives looked into the state process but decided to go the nonprofit route for now because the state requires amending the corporate classification, Vermeiren said.
"We haven't decided to do that, yet," he said.
The certification processes of the state program and B Lab are "quite similar," Vermeiren said. The latter took about one month to complete and included a 200-question audit about the company's commitment to sustainability and independent, third-party verification.
The audit "gave us greater insight into things that we were already doing and things that we could improve upon, such as formalizing our commitment to local purchasing in our environmental mission statement," Vermeiren said.
The certification allows Clean Currents to further differentiate itself from other companies in its industry, he said. "It shows that Clean Currents is serious about its commitment to social and environmental values."
Clean Currents was among the first businesses in Montgomery County to be certified as "sustainable" by the county government, and is a member of several sustainable business groups, including Green America, the Chesapeake Sustainable Business Alliance and Bethesda Green.
Three other companies in Maryland have been certified by B Lab: Lateral Line, Brentwood stone and tile fabrication and installation business Norwood Marble & Granite, and Big City Farms, an urban farming network in Baltimore.