Onondaga Biz Wiz

Fair Trade for a Greener World

What is a B-Corp and how can my business become qualified?

By Frank Raymond Cetera

At the heart of green business is the three-legged stool of sustainability – considerations of people, planet, profit – or social, environmental, economic considerations.

In April, as we anticipate celebrating the global event of Earth Day, it is important to understand how international trade, shopping locally, and considering social factors affects small and green businesses worldwide.

Knowing the differences between how Fair Trade and Free Trade impact the operations, liability, and accountability of a company will have a big impact on your understanding of an environmentally sustainable business culture locally and globally.

The American Sustainable Business Council, a leading educational organization for a green economy, understands that free trade is only as good as it is also fair trade: 

For example, when local-scale, sustainable farming is beaten by large-scale agribusiness, the price of agricultural commodities may drop, but at the cost of major negative externalities. Among these are rising unemployment caused by numerous farm failures, destruction of soil, overuse of poisonous pesticides and widespread corruption in countries where regulatory structures are immature and weak.

So, those differences within operations, liability, and accountability of a company translate into how the relationship exists between shareholders, management, and the rest of the supply chain.

Shareholders in a traditional corporation only judge financial performance for determining success. Shareholders in a benefit corporation take into consideration social and environmental benefits to society from the corporation’s performance (such as the condition of the farmer’s livelihood as a producer of raw goods), without fear of backlash from the shareholders.

Offering fair trade products would get a much higher grade from shareholders of a Benefit Corporation with fair trade as a goal.

Here in New York State, businesses have a great opportunity to form as a benefit corporation, also known as a B Corps, to be able to legally implement fair trade within their charters and operations. A benefit corporation is a type of for-profit corporate entity, legislated in 28 U.S. states, that includes positive impact on society and the environment in addition to profit as its legally defined goals. B Corps differ from traditional corporations in purpose, accountability, and transparency, but not in taxation.  (Source: wikipedia)

Benefit corporations have been widely championed by numerous buy-local campaigns, such as Syracuse First and Buffalo First. In fact, both of these organizations, which assist local businesses with marketing, outreach, and advocacy opportunities, also have unique histories with supporting fair trade initiatives: Syracuse First, directed by Chris Fowler, under the umbrella of CenterState CEO, is the local Syracuse Chapter of the American Sustainable Business Council through the NY Sustainable Business Council affiliate.

Former Buffalo First Director Andrew Delmonte, is now a NYS Certified Business Advisor and Social Enterprise Coordinator at SBDC-SUNY Buffalo State,  who has educated the NYS Small Business Development Center statewide staff at our 2014 annual training.

I myself have been involved with green business development and certification programs for over 5 years, having developed the Green Core Company Green Business Certification program here in Syracuse, and assisted numerous businesses in converting their operations, including a provision to “Not produce products or services which demean/oppress groups of people or animals, or are socially or environmentally destructive” which fair trade is designed to nullify.

These experiences make us a qualified upstate New York trio to help you through free and confidential SBDC counseling to obtain your business’s B-Corp Certification.

Fair trade is here in Syracuse as we speak. Local coffee roaster and SBDC advisee client, Aaron Metthe, of Salt City Coffee, puts his sustainability mission of people, planet, and profit into action through his purchasing of fair trade certified coffee from Guatemala. Aaron will be opening a “community-based shop” on the Near Westside of Syracuse in 2015.  Aaron puts the “Earth” in “Earth Day” by offering his organic, fair-trade products – meaning that all workers on the farm are paid a fair wage.

The Bruntland Commission’s 1987 report on sustainable development is still one of the most cited and respected: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.  We can create cooperation, not competition, and we can create a more dignified life for all, both at home and abroad, through supporting fair trade, purchasing locally, and patronizing Benefit Corporations on this Earth Day and all future Earth Days to come.

Onondaga Biz Wiz is a blog presented in partnership with the SBDC at Onondaga Community College and is part of the New York State Small Business Development Centers, a  network of 25 regional centers supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration, the NYS Department of Education/SUNY, and the national SBDC system.

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