Doing good pays dividends for both corporations and governments. Just ask Philadelphia.
Azavea is a 65-person software development company based in Philadelphia. Its business is helping governments and nonprofits use geospatial data to achieve various public goals, such as improving traffic flow or reducing pollution. Many would call Azavea a dream employer. It shares its profits with its workers, buys locally, pays generously for training and allows employees to spend 10 percent of their time on personal projects. “We’re very much a people-first, employees-first company,” says CEO Robert Cheetham.
A growing number of firms are, like Azavea, on the leading edge of corporate reforms to make American businesses better stewards of the environment and worker well-being. They are so-called benefit corporations, whose charter explicitly allows them to pursue purposes other than sheer profit. Many are also certified, meaning they’ve met strict standards set by the nonprofit B Lab. More than 2,600 certified “B Corps” operate globally, according to the group, including such well-known brands as ice cream maker Ben and Jerry’s, women’s clothier Eileen Fisher and crowdfunding platform Kickstarter.
Now, an increasing number of governments are facilitating the growth of benefit companies. At least 34 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws — most of them within the past six years — that allow companies to organize as legally recognized benefit corporations. Legal status confers a potentially significant advantage for a company: protection from shareholder liability if executives fail to maximize profit in pursuit of other goals.