Graduates work for firms committed to improving our world
Alumni panelists, invited to campus by St. Mike's Professor Olsen and Career Education team, tell about the "B Corps" movement to certify socially responsible and environmental practices among businesses in more than 70 countries
Businesses formally committed to improving the world can receive certification as “B Corps” companies through a relatively recent international program of the past 15 years. On Wednesday evening, October 6 in the Dion Center Roy Room, a panel of Saint Michael’s graduates working for B Corps companies told about 30 students, faculty and staff what this designation looks like in their daily work for local companies and why it matters.
According to a website explaining the “Certified B Corporation” movement, “ In 2006, three friends left careers in business and private equity and created an organization dedicated to making it easier for mission-driven companies to protect and improve their positive impact over time. The first 82 B Corps earned certification in 2007. Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.”
Professor Paul Olsen of the Saint Michael’s business administration and accounting faculty has taken a keen interest in this movement, leading him to initiate and organize Wednesday’s panel together with Ingrid Peterson, director of the College’s Career Education Center. Olsen opened the program with a welcome and short introductory video, “Why B Corps Matters.”
The alumni panelists (and the general areas they focused upon) were: Colin Gaunt ‘19, Burton Snowboards (Environment); Matt Reese ’09, Vermont Creamery (workers), Susanne Ellicks ’19, Mamava (customers) and Mike Hayes ’08, Ben & Jerry’s (community).
Peterson said the panelists “were just truly amazing not only in how they represented themselves, but their companies and Saint Michael’s. They were so passionate about the mission of each of their companies and how they’re trying to set the bar a little higher for how to do business in terms of how they treat their workers and how they treat their customers and how they pay attention to sustainability and environmental concerns in terms of sourcing their products. “
Of the panelists and their companies’ commitment to those ideals, she said, “Clearly all of it is very mission-drive on their part in each of these organizations.”
Colin Gaunt described his work at Burton where he is a sustainability analyst,” so he looks a lot at where they source their materials,” Peterson said. “He says the customers demand it, that they are using organic materials, however and whenever they can, and recycled materials however they can.”
Matt Reese ’09 from Vermont Creamery “talked how they focus on making sure their workers are getting fair compensation and they have career development opportunities so can improve and grow in their careers,” she said.
Suzie Ellicks ’19 from Mamava talked about their customer and how their company was truly developed to help their customers find places they could pump and breastfeed that was private and clean, whether at airports or in stores. “They see it as an opportunity to provide a better environment for their customers, so that’s something they’re really focused on,” Peterson said.
Mike Hayes ’08 from Ben & Jerry’s described his company’s impact through their business operations, making the point that while the business has a Foundation committed full-time to doing good in world, “just day to day operations should also be doing good in the world,” Peterson said. He talked about a bakery in Yonkers that makes all the brownies for ice cream flavors that call for them – they will hire anyone who shows up, so people who have been incarcerated or down for whatever reason, they show up and they hire them. “It is important to the mission of Ben & Jerrys that they pay attention to issues that impact the world, whatever that might be so focused on that,” Peterson said in describing Hayes’ presentation message.
“We asked them how their St. Mike’s education helped them, and mostly they talked about that liberal arts education and having such a broad range of classes that meant they got training in a particular area depending on their major, but they got to see other things at St. Mike’s and that’s reflected in their jobs,” she said.
“They can really see all kinds of different things with these broad backgrounds, and it helps them understand how another department impacts their department, or how a situation in world impacts their financials – they all could really see that bigger picture,” Peterson said. All four panelists said that right out of college, they focused exclusively on finding work, with little consideration for a potential employers’ mission, but now if they were to change job they would seek out a B Corps company.
Olsen explained how the B Corps movement came onto his radar. “The reason for my interest in this is there has been a change in the business world in terms of, not just a concern now with the bottom line, but now we also see over 3,500 B-Corps certified businesses in more than 70 countries and Vermont has certainly been a leader on this issue,” Olsen said. “It’s becoming more and more popular, so as a member of a business department at a College in Vermont in particular, it felt important to introduce students to this, and have them think about whether these are places they’d like to work.”
The panelists impressed Olsen with their thoughtful insights during the program. “There is so much wisdom in our alumni in terms of sharing their stories and how they got to where they are, and what they enjoy about working for B Corps,” he said. The panelists represented a wide range of majors, he added — Matt Reese from business Colin Gaunt from environmental science, Mike Hayes from political science and Susie Ellicks from English and history.
“I’ve long covered the B Corps movement it in my managerial ethics course doing a section about the topic as an example of taking social responsibility to a different level,” he said. “Lots of companies doing right thing without being B Corps businesses, but what these companies want to do is have a way to codify it.”