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startup B corp governance SDGs

Can’t be evil. Are we better equipped now, than Google’s Sergey and Larry were in 1998?

“We are at the cusp, I believe, of an epic shift into a climax global economy and a fundamental repositioning of human life on the planet. The ‘Age of Reason’ is being eclipsed by the ‘Age of Empathy’. The most important question facing humanity is this: Can we reach global empathy in time to avoid the collapse of civilization and save the Earth?”

— Jeremy Rifkin, author of “The Third Industrial Revolution”

Not so long ago it was normal for school teachers to discipline our children with corporal punishments. If you were driving and you had some trash to get rid of, you could just throw it out of the moving car. The mentally ill were sterilized involuntary and it was totally fine for a gynecologist to deliver babies while enjoying a cigarette or for you to spend your long haul flight lurking on one.

Sleepy woman lurking on cigarette


The good news is
 civilizations typically evolve towards becoming more and more empathetic over time. And if common enemies unite people, our current existential threats sure will accelerate this shift, right?

Whatever the outcome may be, as we speak, we’re witnessing a sizeable cohort of companies that is – or wants to be – BIG on empathy. If you’re part of this movement and you’re in need of some hopeful beacons: why not start with these 5?

(1) Education first

Let’s start off with a beacon of caution. The Conscious Consumer Spending Index has been in decline for 3 years straight with 2019 as its all-time-low, specifically among millennials. There are two apparent reasons underlying this counter-intuitive observation: (1) consumers don’t know what the best buying decisions are (2) millennials think conscious products cost too much. It is therefor key to educate people with content and marketing that draws a clear line between the ordinary and the extraordinary choice. Making clear that if they really need to buy a product, they know what to buy and why to buy it.

Conscious Consumer Spending Index graph

(2) Become a B Corp, or get close to becoming one 🙂

B Labs has been around since 2006 but it’s only been getting traction in recent years with Patagonia, Danone and Ben & Jerry’s obtaining the certification. It looks at all aspects of your business and can be pretty intimidating at first glance, but – to the previous point – if you want to remove your customer’s hassle of choosing, having a B Corp certificate surely is the way to go. For those who want to go all the way and are based in the US, you can now incorporate as a Benefit Corporation in 36 states, literally making the philosophy part of the foundation of your business.

So what if you’re a startup who’s still figuring out what on earth it is your startup does? B Labs has the “Pending B Corporation Certification” option (also our choice) which sets you up for the real deal while letting you focus on getting your business off the ground first.

The bad-ass B Corp sticker you can put on your company’s comm

(3) Turn the SDGs into real action

Unless you’ve been living in a North Korean cave in recent years you’ve probably been developing a mild allergy towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by now. Without discounting the UN’s very important effort, it’s fair to say there’s been a lot of talk and not so much walk. For those who really want to put things into motion, our friends at B Labs recently introduced the SDG action manager; a tool that will help you “Take action, track progress and transform the world” (and hopefully reduce your allergy).

SDG Action Manager

(4) Pick the right investors and don’t IPO

“Climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects. I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.”

— Laurence Fink, CEO of BlackRock (the world’s largest investment management firm with a $7.4T portfolio), in his 2020 letter to chief executives.

The classic hard path of a startup bootstrapping, raising VC series A, B, C,….N while being haunted by their investor’s burning desire to see rapid financial returns might just have become a little bit happier in the wake of Mr. Fink’s explicit statement. When such heavy players weigh in, it’s typically just a matter of time before the whole industry follows.

If you’re (un)fortunate enough to have hit the jackpot and now need to go public, it will still prove to be very challenging to uphold your ethical standards when faced with the Wall Street wolfs’ quarterly laser focus on pure financial growth (like Etsy). As long as the rules and regulations around public companies don’t change, the advice is to not go public (like Patagonia). So why is no one fixing this big infrastructural bottleneck then? Someone is and he goes by the name of Eric Ries. He was the driving force behind the lean startup movement, he recently got approval for his proposed solution and got all the Silicon Valley VC backing a founder’s heart desires. The solution is called the Long Term Stock Exchange (LTSE) and it’s meant to be an alternative to the current stock exchange, taking into account a much richer set of metrics to assess the health of a listed business.

Eric Ries and his Long Term Stock Exchange

(5) Persevere, the plateau of productivity is nearing

At Future Kitchens we want to believe that in ten years time we’ll look back scratching our heads asking ourselves what took us so long to stop using our own furniture as fire wood. As is the case with most important technologies or big system shifts that need multiple ecosystem upgrades before reaching maturity, we think the future new normal of doing business from 2020 onwards is nearing the plateau of productivity. In fact, this new normal is very similar to the way Larry and Sergey intended to set up Google in 1998, only now the world stands a much better chance TO LEAVE NOTHING IN THE TANK AND DO IT.

Gartner Hype Cycle curve inspired maturity of long term business estimate