Written by Nathan Oetting - Impact and Outreach Manager
When I first met Gilad over lunch at Hopworks Urban Brewery (CNOCs favorite restaurant and a certified B Corporation), he shared his desire to have CNOC Outdoors pursue certification. When asked why he wanted CNOC to become a B Corp he said, “Being a B-Corp is a more organized system to allow us to become a better company. It is not a goal to be a B-Corp, but only a step in the process of self examination around social, ethical and environmental issues in order to make sure that CNOC does more good than harm.” Shortly after that meeting, I started working with Gilad on the long, winding process of becoming certified. A year later, we are in the queue for review, and I am very hopeful that we are on the cusp of certification.
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. At the time of this publication, there are currently 3,720 certified B Corp companies. We aim to be #3,721!
We formally began the process of applying for B Corp certification in early 2020. The assessment itself is divided into 5 key categories, including Environment, Community, Governance, Workers, and Customers. In addition there are several legal requirements that must be met before certification reviews can be complete. At nearly 200 questions long, the assessment isn’t something that we were able to complete in one, or even several sittings. Gilad and I spent weeks working on the assessment, going through each section in great detail, and in the process I learned about CNOC Outdoors in a way that would have been impossible otherwise. For instance, Gilad provided open access to CNOCs finances, shared his honest assessment on the company's biggest successes and failures, and offered a glimpse into the inner workings of Gilad’s mind and where he wants to take the company in the future.
The assessment forced us to look at key aspects of our small business, and to ask ourselves if we were doing enough. For instance, The Workers section requires a deep appraisal of HR systems and policies, which we realized needed more attention. As a result, we developed better policies and procedures for our own staff, and our recruitment processes.
The Governance section guided us to look at our mission, ethics and accountability. As a company, CNOC Outdoors has always been committed to equity in the outdoors. Our products are meant to help get more people outside - and to reduce barriers. However, we realized that we needed and wanted to be more transparent and discerning about our ethos. We established a DEI accountability statement and decided to support and promote BIPOC organizations. While our ethics may not have changed as a result of our B Corp certification journey, it has helped us focus and communicate our position and commitments.
By the time we completed the assessment and submitted it for review, we had made some important changes to CNOC Outdoors, and documented others. During the first review process by B-Lab analysts, more questions were raised, and ultimately our application fell just short of the mark for certification. So, over the summer, Gilad and I got back to work and began the process again. Some of the more important steps we took during the reassessment process was to revamp our legal status to that of a benefit corporation (mission driven and community focus), and to better understand and address our environmental and ecological footprint. To address the later issue, Devan and I began digging into our transportation and shipping, which we believe is our biggest carbon offender. Some of our products are made overseas and shipped to our warehouse in Portland, and we ship hundreds of products each day to our customers. With Devan’s help, we were able to estimate our total carbon footprint for shipping during the 2020 calendar year. Using that data, and working with Gilad, we’ve devised a strategy to reduce our shipping carbon output by approximately 75% during 2021.
Following our resubmission in September, we connected with Portland State University’s MBA program that hosts the B Impact team. We were lucky enough to work with 6 MBA students on a deeper review of our application, and areas for improvement. This ongoing collaboration has helped us identify where we are already succeeding (giving and employee support) and where and how we can make improvements (representation in our online presence).
Some may say that a certification is just a piece of paper (I won’t name any names), and while that is true, the process we conducted, and continue to work through, has helped us become a better, more sustainable company. Whether we become certified or not, the process has been invaluable. Like the old saying goes, it's the journey, not the destination. Our B Corp journey thus far has been great, and will not end upon receipt of certification. We will always be committed to the ideals that B Corp companies espouse, and will work to improve our company regardless of certification status.