As I walked up to the David Brower Center in Berkeley I wondered what the B Corporation Leadership and Development Conference would be like, and feel like. As an employee working for an organization relatively new to the B Corp community, I was excited (and nervous) to see what I could bring to the table, share, and most importantly, take back to the Fireclay team. I mostly hoped to discover methods to improve Fireclay Tile’s standing and score as a B Corp, but also take home anecdotal lessons of what we’re doing right, and what could improve. Nevertheless, as the “new kid on the block”, I said to myself:
“Will I make new friends?”
“What will we talk about?”
“How will Fireclay size up?”
“How many emails am I missing right now?”
All of these “first day of school” worries seemed to fly out the window once I crossed the threshold into the beautifully designed building, said to be one of the most sustainable in Berkeley. I was greeted with a smile and hug from B Lab’s incredible Jocelyn Corbett (a crowd favorite), a complementary lip balm from Elemental Herbs (my new favorite) and a conference itinerary. The schedule was full of notable names and brands from the sustainable business community, New Leaf Community Markets (the lunch was splendid) and Klean Kanteen to name a couple.
The event started with an succinct and motivational keynote speech from Jim Osgood, President and Chairman of Klean Kanteen. As someone who discovered the brand in college at UC Santa Cruz (typical, I know) after the BPA plastics scare, this was pretty thrilling for me. Jim seemed to personify every ideal characteristic of a leader in a B Corporation, from the wood spoons he ate with at lunch, to his high energy team who traveled all the way from Chico, California (where they are headquartered) to go to the event. By stressing the idea of “responsible leadership”, Jim spoke a lot of “what we can do to prove what we believe”, utilizing our most powerful tool for success: the B Corp community.
This idea set the stage for the rest of the event, reaffirming that everyone in the audience was ultimately there with the belief in the movement (along with its success) and to employ their peers as resources. Given the diversity of those certified, from Vermont Creamery, to Guayaki Yerba Mate, to Method brand hand soap, everyone at BLD had a story to offer and questions needing answering, making for a fruitful discussion, relentless support and an overall good time.
The first “Breakout Session” I chose to attend was with Gretchen Grani of Nutiva and Nicole Mason of Veritable Vegetable, two notable forces in the B community and Bay Area. The discussion focused on “Engaging Your Customers to Extend Your Reach”, a subject Fireclay focuses on daily: to communicate our story to each of our customers to ultimately bolster our sustainable cause and business within the greater design industry. While the two speakers had fantastic advice, I appreciated the open forum they created, stressing ways to engage your customer through digital strategy, brand advocates, brand ambassadors and working with important and parallel causes. The takeaway, while many, was to engage your customer, educate your customer, and to share creative ideas through public platforms and relationships. In that, I learned that high standards, in all respects, is priority. Such a priority will not just eternalize the B Corp movement, but determine the way any B Corp differentiates themselves.
After a tasty lunch period with great conversation, I moved on to the “Open Book Management” discussion with Stuart Landesburg, Founder and CEO of ePantry, Chris Munsey of Vermont Creamery and Andy Keller, Founder and CEO of ChicoBag. This discussion was intriguing, with three very different scales and applications of open book management. It became clear that all organizations saw the philosophy of open book management differently, and that Fireclay seemed to be in good shape! Our CEO Eric Edelson, in pursuit of the B Corp certification, has immensely prioritized financial transparency, offering monthly financial meetings for all staff members, a company wide bonus plan, stock options, employee ownership opportunities, and so on. When discussing all of these company-wide initiatives, I got fantastic feedback.
It was exciting to hear how far Fireclay has come with this subject, and to be able to find areas of opportunity, specifically with P&L (profit and loss) education. The main hurdle with all organizations is maintaining company interest in accounting and financials, in order to ensure such open management is acknowledged and understood by all. The main resolution seemed to be company wide involvement, more specifically with public posting of financial information and key performance indicators. While seemingly simple but actually quite ambitious, companies must decide how transparent they want to be before initiating systems of transparency.
Image: Klean Kanteen
To conclude the Breakout Sessions, I attended a talk with Gopika Prabhu, Founder and Creative Director of Elefint Design and Glen Tripp, Founder and CEO of Galileo Learning, focusing on the enhancement of company culture. I found this to be a perfect case study of positive company culture on both a small and large-scale. Both speakers had such confidence and excitement surrounding what they had created in their offices, stressing the importance of “knowing your people” and leading by example. Glen stressed the importance of defining a clear mission as an organization, to then create systems and rituals that reinforce that mission at every step, both in the hiring process and throughout daily office life. While challenging for most (as discussed in the open question forum towards the end), Glen has clearly been successful. Many of the individuals I had met with at the event happened to work for Galileo, all of which were extremely intelligent, passionate and fun! I found this to be a direct reflection on Glen’s strong points, and it was fantastic to experience the culture first-hand. All in all, both speakers proved to be effective leaders, but also innovators, in that their culture is constantly changing. Most important of all, it seemed that employing a nimble approach to company culture is key, as culture changes with every hire and every season.
Image: Klean Kanteen
As the event came to an end, there were some closing notes from Bryan Welsh of B the Change Media, a publication that will be dedicated to empowering the B Corp movement and all of those involved. This was very significant, as there is no platform of this scale and medium, for this movement in particular, to promote not only the initiative, but the stories of those involved.
We all, as a group, then shared words of wisdom, hope and thanks, establishing goals for our own organizations, but also for the growing network. Everyone then shuffled out to the lobby for drinks and sliders, awarding those with great progress within the last year. With energy at a major high, we all had the opportunity to exchange information, discuss future collaborations, and plans for the year to come.
It was incredible and almost surprising to compare my feelings going into the convention versus my feelings as I walked back to BART after BLD. While nervous of what the day held for me and what subjects would be brought to light, I had never felt so welcomed and informed by a group of individuals. The B Corporation movement is clearly one of true camaraderie, diversity and enthusiasm. Fair Trade or organic, humane or energy efficient, B Corp serves as an umbrella of many sustainable initiatives and overall cultural evolution. While I’m eager to build upon the contacts and friendships established at the B Corp Leadership Development Conference, I’m determined to expand the network and make for an even bigger and better union at BLD next year. Until next year… B the Change and Tile to the People!
- James Reid, Commercial Sales and Fireclay Tile "B" Keeper