By Emma Kivlin
With recycling bins on every corner, reusable grocery bags in hand and upcycled thrift shops galore, it’s clear Bellingham is a city of environmentally-conscious businesses and people alike.
Becoming a Certified B Corporation is another way for businesses across the world to draw like-minded customers to their doors. Certified B Corporations balance purpose and profit by being aware of the effects of decisions on workers, customers, community and environment, according to the Certified B Corporation website.
To become a Certified B Corporation, businesses must take an impact assessment, complete a disclosure questionnaire and meet legal requirements, according to the B Corporation website.
Currently, three local businesses in Bellingham have B Corporation Certifications: Aslan Brewing, Kulshan Services and Sea Witch Botanicals.
Aslan Brewing, located in downtown Bellingham off of North Forest Street, is a popular destination for locals to enjoy meals and organic brews in an open concept restaurant, or dine in an outdoor seating area in the occasional Bellingham sunshine.
Jack Lamb, CEO and one of three owners of the restaurant and brewery, said he believes that people and the planet come before profits, which is why he became interested in what it would take to become a Certified B Corporation.
According to Lamb, Aslan opened to the public in 2014 and became officially certified a year later.
With Aslan employing about 100 people, Lamb said it was important to the company to give back to its workers and community by showing the company is committed to environmentally-conscious values. He said that one simple change the business made to focus on this goal was to create a written employee handbook, instead of relying on verbal policies. Lamb said this change showcased how much they value their staff.
Lamb said because Aslan was just getting started when it began the certification process, it was easy to start applying better practices. He said it was even easier to adjust some habits to make them more sustainable.
Aslan doesn’t use plastic straws and switched over from cloth napkins to environmentally friendly ones; both decisions that increase the sustainability of the businesses, Lamb said. By using compostable napkins, Aslan reduced the amount of cleaning supplies needed by eliminating the washing of cloth napkins.
Lamb said it was important for the company to be sustainable, but equally important to not greenwash the business, a term for when companies use green marketing to present themselves as more environmentally friendly than they are.
Kulshan Services is another local business focused on integrating sustainability into its business practices, according to their website. Kulshan Services is a consulting service whose focus is to build sustainable communities by assisting organizations with planning, facilitating and public engagement.
According to Ryan Roberts, one of the sustainable professionals for the company, Kulshan Services started in 2011 as an in-home consulting service. Since moving locations, the company has reached clients as far as central and southern Washington.
Roberts, a 2016 Western graduate, started with Kulshan Services as an intern while he was still in school, and was later hired on as a sustainability consultant.
Roberts said like Aslan, becoming a B Corporation helped the company focus its goals and clarified the type of work and organizations that Kulshan Services wanted to specialize in.
“As we’re adopting these practices, we want to be able to help other companies improve their practices, and how can we do that if we aren’t doing them ourselves?” Roberts said.
Lamb speculated that it might be harder for older businesses to pass the certification due to long-term habits or using outdated methods, such as not using automatic lights, something that many newer businesses start off with.
According to Lamb, there is an annual fee once a business becomes certified, but the application process itself is free. It’s a thorough process to become certified but worth the time and energy you put in, Lamb said.
“The [application] itself is enlightening,” Lamb said. “If you don’t want to put that [annual cost] as part of your overhead, just fill out the form and act like a B Corporation. Challenge yourself, refill out the form in a year and see how much better you’re doing now.”
Sea Witch Botanicals, owned by couple Alesia and Jhustin Hall, is a local business that provides natural home and body products that are healthy for people and the environment, according to their mission statement.
One of the focuses of the company is to educate people on the effects plastic packaging and synthetic ingredients have on the environment, Jhustin Hall said.
Founded in in 2014, Sea Witch Botanicals was created with the idea of becoming a B Corporation, or at least following the practices of one, the Halls said in an email.
“B Corps use their resources to give back to people and the planet in some way, whether it’s donating to charities, offering products or services which directly benefit social and environmental causes, or even treating their employees and community with an outstanding level of respect,” they said.
Becoming a B Corporation is a way to teach both customers and other businesses about the effects of running a sustainable company, the Halls said.
Sea Witch Botanicals has partnered with other B Corporations and like-minded companies as part of their way of including B Corporation values in their everyday work.
“We didn’t realize how much of an impact we could have on vendors by requesting products or processes to be more environmentally and socially friendly,” the Halls said. “We now send out vendor agreements which review their standards of ethics. Some companies won’t sign off on them, so that got us to seek out other like-minded partners.”
One small business might not make a huge difference on its own, but the Halls are confident that the growing awareness and popularity of B Corporation Certification will help create a more sustainable way of living, they said.