Why We Became a B Corp

Context began as a protest. I love travel. But, to be honest, I hate the travel industry, which is one of the most old fashioned, backwards, and inefficient industries in the world. But, more to the point, I hate the travel industry because of its continual drive to the bottom: Mass tourism, with huge groups that spend 5 minutes in front of a monument, erects a barrier between the visitor and the destination and runs like a bulldozer over the true character of place. I love history, culture, art, and the heady experience of immersing myself in a place. Our walking seminars inspire me; bus tours and cruises make me sick.

 

With this contrarian, “let’s shake things up,” attitude underpinning all that we do, I was excited to learn about B Corporations a year ago from our good friends at Untours. B Corp stands for “benefit corporation” and is a movement of businesses that are mission driven and pursue social or environmental benefit beyond simply earning profits. Some people call these businesses social ventures or “triple bottomline businesses.” Whatever the name, B Corps redefine the idea of success in business around the idea of impact and making the world a better place.

 

Context has been making investments in sustainable travel for many years, greening our programs, educating our clientele on how to be better travelers, and supporting the work of the Context Foundation for Sustainable Travel as it runs cultural preservation programs in many of our cities. Heck, we even made the top ten list of National Geographic’s Geotourism award in 2009. But, I’ve always been uneasy with the traditional silo approach to social responsibility that most businesses take: earn profits in the business and set up side ventures like foundations, corporate social giving departments, etc., to do good in the world. Doing good is in our DNA. At Context, transforming travel trumps profits and isn’t just something we do on the side.

 

So, I was delighted when Untours told us about B Corps, and last spring we sat down with an auditor at B Labs, the organizing force behind B Corps, and went through a certification process. In June we officially became a certified B Lab.

 

In my opinion there are three main benefits for Context becoming a certified B Corp:

 

Sets the bar. There are a lot of different kinds of certifications out there, including for the travel industry. In fact, in 2011 Context also became STEP certified by Sustainable Travel International as a sustainable travel business. However, the B Corporation certification is by far the most streamlined of these processes and by being so engaging, quickly focuses a company on what it needs to improve. It’s very easy as a social venture to get lulled into thinking you’re doing everything right. Although we attained a healthy 113.7 impact score, as our B Impact Report clearly shows we need to make improvements in community and environment.

 

Learning. B Corp was founded by business leaders who put a premium on efficiency, continuous improvement, and community learning. One of the great benefits of being a B Corp is that Context has joined a tightly knit, focused movement. We learn a ton from other B Corps. When we wanted to improve our benefits and make Context a better place to work we turned to B Labs. When we wanted to discuss the challenges of raising debt to fund expansion, we tapped into the community of socially-minded financiers within B Corporations. The network has been amazingly beneficial.

 

Transparency. One of the core tenets of a B Corp is transparency with its stakeholders, including employees. As a certified B Corporation we’ve had to learn how to be more transparent with our staff on a whole host of issues, from major decisions down to minor adjustments, and to bring them more fully into those processes from the start. As a result, we’ve become a much stronger, people-driven organization.

 

This week I’ll join the rest of our staff from Philadelphia, London, Paris, Rome, and Istanbul for our yearly retreat in the Pocono Mountains. As we discuss this company’s direction over the next 12 months we’ll be thinking about how our decisions will make an impact on travel and travelers as much as we think about them driving profits. There will be plenty of eating and drinking and fun too. I’ll make sure that we raise a glass as well to all the other B Corps out there striving to change the world.

 

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