The New Kid on the B Block: Counter Culture Coffee – Diego Castro

To kick off our series on B Corp Certified companies, I started with a recent addition to the club, Counter Culture Coffee. Counter Culture has been a leader in sustainability and championing fair dealings and direct trade with farmers since its founding in 1995. So their move to B Corp certification was not a surprise; however, it was not as easy as you might think. Diego Castro is the National Technical Services Manager for Counter Culture, and he took the time to discuss this unique certification and how Counter Culture went about achieving it.

First, here are some of the facts about B Corp Certification. First, your company has to undergo a heavy review process to receive a score that quantifies your business sustainability and impact in five categories. The median score of those that undergo this review is 50.9. The lowest score required to be certified is 80 points out of 200. This is not an easy certification and requires significant changes from companies down to their by-laws and Articles of Incorporation. Here is what Diego had to share.

Jake Leonti (JL): Counter Culture was certified by B Corp in 2020, correct?

Diego Castro (DC): Correct. Counter Culture had been exploring this certification for some time before 2020; however, that is when we finally crossed that finish line.

JL: What went into the decision to organize into a B Corp Cert.?

DC: I think it all started with Meridith (our Sustainability Manager at the time); in 2018, she had created a road map of where Counter Culture was going regarding sustainability and planning. That road map included finding a framework to make much of what she was planning and trying to create internally and externally. That framework leads us to Jessica Thomas, a B Corp Facilitator. She is a massive proponent of B Corp as a force for good in businesses. She runs a workshop at NC State that takes businesses and business owners through the initial assessment of what it will take and get through a lot of the reporting. The process is a lot of nuts and bolts about backing up what you say you do with documentation.

Through that workshop, we went through an initial assessment, and we did not pass. Based on not having a lot of that documentation in place. So, we were not able to have the documentation and processes in place to achieve a score of 80.5 until 2020. We are currently in our reassessment period, which happens every three years. So, we are currently in the middle of starting that whole process up all over again.
The score only gets updated every reassessment every three years; however, we can review that previous assessment. We can look at where we got our points initially and our opportunities. That three-year period is your reassessment. During that time, you should be pushing to improve your score, improve your documentation, putting new standards in place. Whatever it takes to improve that score assessment after assessment.

JL: That’s a great incentive for constant improvement. You were able to get certified though I’m sure you are looking to raise the bar. Any projections for where you are hoping to boost your score this round?

DC: We do have some projections. It looks like we are going to be able to improve our score by eleven points. 80 is the baseline for certification; we scored 80.3 on the first round, which is telling as to the rigor of the process. It’s also part of the reason we went and pursued B Corp. Because it is a process of continuous improvement, it meshes well with our ethos as a company. So, if you look back at the history of Counter Culture, we have been a company that has typically shirked those check boxes or stickers on our bags.

For example, Bird Friendly coffee, we did that early on that you have to push beyond those certifications, or they just become a check box, a nice label on your bag, and then you sit in some level of complacency. B Corp is not like that. If you rest on your laurels, you will fall behind. The standards not only give you something to shoot for, but they change every assessment. They make it harder; it becomes more rigorous. That was really attractive to Brett, the founder of Counter Culture. We already have that built-in ethos of the company, so why not build that into the framework of what we do.

JL: That’s wonderful. I think it’s important to reiterate that the median score for most companies is 50.9 and that by just achieving certification, you have accomplished a tremendous accomplishment and are thirty points ahead of the game. Counter Culture has always had an excellent reputation in the coffee industry, and the score does not necessarily reflect your historical impact. Still, it is based on the beginning of a new process of documenting and tracking that impact and that that impact will continue to grow.

DC: I was on a panel recently discussing B Corps, and they reminded us that though the movement is gaining steam and there are annually thirty thousand applicants, there are still only four thousand certified companies globally. It is a rigorous process, and not everyone makes it through. There are benefits to just starting the assessment and going through the process of what it would take is a huge benefit.

JL: Why do you think it is gaining traction now?

DC: There is value in the brand mark. There is value in having it on your bag. Customers are starting to recognize it. They can make more informed purchases and know that when they find that B Corp logo, they know they are buying from a like-minded company. They are buying from a company committed to being a force for good. It also promotes transparency within the industry.

by Jake Leonti

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