You’d be hard-pressed to find a manufacturer or retailer in our trade who does not actively support a cause, be it funding disease research, fighting hunger, supporting local farmers or other worthy endeavors. In a community of people pursuing their own passions, it makes sense that some of that energy would spill over into a certain level of activism. On a recent trip to Seattle, I met with Betsy Power of Culinary Collective, and she shared with me an increasingly popular way for companies to make doing good a legal obligation in doing business: becoming a Benefit Corporation.

In 2010, Maryland was the first state to sign Benefit Corporation (or B Corp) legislation. The press release announcing this initiative stated: “Benefit Corporations must by law create a material positive impact on society; consider how decisions affect employees, community and the environment; and publicly report their social and environmental performance using established third-party standards.”

The basic idea is to provide companies with a legal framework that blends the altruism of a charity with the long-term profitability of a for-profit. In a January 2012 article in the Economist, Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, referred to B Corps as “the slow company.” B Corp status is currently offered in California, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia, Illinois, Louisiana, South Carolina, Hawaii, Vermont and Maryland; another 14 states are looking at similar legislation.

Beyond helping companies stay true to social and environmental beliefs, B Corp status provides other benefits. Not to be cynical, but the B Corp label can help position your company attractively to both consumers and investors. The NASFT’s “Today’s Specialty Food Consumer 2012” report revealed a high level of support for sustainability and charities. And according to B Lab, the independent certification agency for B Corporations, this status can help in attracting investors, providing performance benchmarking, supporting PR goals, drawing new employees
and realizing savings by taking advantage of the service partnerships available to B Corps. (Learn more at bcorporation.net.)

Already a number of food businesses and NASFT members have B Corp status—Cabot Creamery, King Arthur, Nest Collective, Peeled Snacks, Happybaby and Greyston Bakery—and it’s not out of reach for many more. Culinary Collective’s Power says that her experience as a founding B Corp has been beneficial. “Culinary Collective is an importer with strict sourcing criteria,” she says. “As a B Corp, customers know that we do our homework … They know they can trust our sources and our products. People want to know who is behind their food, and to be able to verify the claims that are being made.”

If you started your company to endear yourself to consumers, find investors, generate a profit and stay true to your principles, B Corp status might be just the thing for you.