The Benefit Corporation
The rise of the benefit corporation, a type of corporate form that didn’t exist before 2010, is remarkable in its speed. This kind of corporation offers an organization not tied to the narrow goal of short term profit maximization. While the “judgment rule” seems to offer corporations a freer decision making climate to be environmentally friendly and exist with some freedom from being sued for loss of share value, there is some legal uncertainty. The Benefit Corporation removes all doubt. This kind of corporation does not exist for profit maximization.
This offers the opportunity for building purposeful organizations with a stated and legal responsibility to do no harm. This is a far better model than the soulless machines of destruction we often experience as the modern corporation.
This may herald a new era in corporate social responsibility. It only takes a small adjustment in the law to have tremendous effects on the culture over time. This may be one of those historical adjustments.
For my students, the most important concepts here for study are the “judgment rule” and “short term profit maximization.”
Delaware Gov. signs landmark social entrepreneurship law
The benefit corporation, the brainchild of the nonprofit B Lab, is predicated on a simple idea: use the power of business to solve social problems. Companies incorporated under legal frameworks like the one passed in Delaware strive to maximize profits, but can do so while also pursuing a broad range of social and environmental goals, from low carbon emissions to generous employee benefits and transparency in governance. Under traditional corporate law, a firm’s fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders to maximize profits is privileged over other commitments to social or environmental responsibility. The benefit corporation amends this, legally enshrining the interests of stakeholders, including employees, customers, the community and the environment, alongside those of shareholders. Among other things, benefit corporation status shields a company’s social and environmental objectives when it is up for sale. Today, there are at least 200 legally registered benefit corporations (and likely many more, as some states don’t currently track their incorporation), including large companies like Patagonia and many smaller ones like Vermont-based WomenLead and New York-based Clay Marketing. The “shared value” created by these companies is heralded by benefit corporation enthusiasts as a radical refashioning of contemporary capitalism.
From Wikipedia: (I included this section from the Wikipedia article because I want you, kind reader, to get a grasp on the speed of the change in corporate law. Business law tends to be very conservative and usually slow moving, but not in this case. jp)
In April 2010, Maryland became the first U.S. state to pass benefit corporation legislation. As of January 2013 California, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Vermont, and Virginia had all passed legislation allowing for the creation of benefit corporations. Legislation is also pending in Illinois that establishes a new type of entity called the “benefit LLC,” making available to limited liability companies the same opportunities afforded to Illinois corporations under the state’s Benefit Corporation Law. Passage of the bill would make Illinois the first state to offer a social enterprise the opportunity to be a benefit L3C.
Some Videos on the Benefit Corporation
Benefit corporations — Robert Shiller (A straightforward explanation)
Benefit corporation: John Montgomery at TEDxHultBusinessSchoolSF (A history of the path that leads to the Benefit Corporation.)
From around the web.
From the web site, IIC Investing in Communities.
Guest post by Layton Olson. Layton specializes in representing tax exempt community, trade, and professional organizations at Howe & Hutton LTD.
Last month, a dozen companies committed to advancing social good filed to be classified as ‘Benefit Corporations’ in California. …
From the web site, Paradigms for Progress.
Consequently, while there are many contributing factors to the numerous social and environmental challenges humanity’s faces, a very significant factor is the corporation’s pathological pursuit of profit at the expense of public health and environmental sustainability. This pathological pursuit of profit leads many corporate decision-makers to externalize as many costs as possible. As Joel Bakan, highlighted in his book, The Corporation, “It is no exaggeration to say that the corporation’s built-in compulsion to externalize its costs is at the root of many of the world’s social and environmental ills.” (My Emphasis, jp)
From the web site, Pennsylvania Nonprofit Law blog.
This new construct, called a “Benefit Corporation,” stresses sustainability along with financial success. More to the point, this new model is a boon to the non-profit world. It provides the opportunity for increased cooperation with a conscientious corner of the for-profit sector and the potential to leverage more sustainable impacts on business practices beyond existing corporations. Benefit or “B” Corporations redefine the modern notion of commercial success by valuing “stakeholders” above “shareholders.” Unlike traditional corporations, B Corporations must facilitate, and publicly report, positive social and environmental impacts through their work in order to register with the non-profit organization, B Lab (http://www.bcorporation.net). …