This research was undertaken to investigate a problem which appears to become more urgent every day: how to maximize the benefits of the for-profit business corporation, while minimizing the negative aspects and promoting concern for the human being, society and the environment.
This study explores a population of for-profit companies, known as Certified Benefit Corporations (CBCs), which are focused on improving humanity, communities and the planet.
Using action research methodology, a case study was taken of a company that engaged in business activities which sought to do triple duty: support its products, improve the environment, and build the company’s reputation as an early-mover in the field of organic beer brewing. To improve the generalizability of the results, stakeholder perceptions were also sampled, and peer organizations were observed.
Findings indicated that alignment of mission and type of socially-beneficial activity undertaken is common: the industry in which a company operates plays an important role in the activities which it develops. Similar to the brewer, a relatively large number of peers also focused on environmental issues. Other organizations focused primarily upon community building and empowerment. There was also a notable focus on aesthetics, with environmental health and diversity considered to be valuable in their own rights.
Although this research used a case study, a survey of stakeholders and content analysis of peer aspirational statements, the peer study was limited to the population of California. This may limit the generalizability of the findings to other California CBCs, other California companies, or even other CBCs in the same industry. The small size of the stakeholder survey (n=30) is also considered to be limiting.
Future research may include studies of consumer attitude and purchase intention using statistical analyses. An international comparative study within industries is also contemplated.
There are a number of practical and social implications of this study. Recent research (and political movements) have demonstrated that agitation for change in the current capitalistic system is visible. Debates of rich vs. poor, environmental protection and social justice are seen, and consumers, upon which the profits of corporations rest, may increasingly demand improved corporate behavior. These stakeholders and consumers are also notably sceptical, even cynical, and have been shown to view profit-seeking with disdain. Trust is lacking and companies that can build their reputations as good citizens and just organizations stand to benefit from such commitments. But promises without honest action will not be accepted, as complaints against “greenwashing” show. Therefore, a new path, using audited performance and commitments to the environment, workers and the community may be a promising way forward for managers.
Surprisingly, this topic has received very little attention to-date, with only approximately 25 publications regarding these organizations as of December, 2017. These contributions were theoretical, and no empirical work was discovered. This dissertation seeks to fill this gap.