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Panel discussion delves into rise of B Corps

Brian Hartz

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Clockwise from top left: Sirena Andras, Tonya Donati, Dan Bailey, Vinny Tafuro and Kimberly Jackson.

St. Petersburg College’s Institute of Strategic Policy Solutions held a virtual panel discussion on Thursday that took a detailed look at how the B Corp movement has brought a much-needed mindset shift to the business world.

The B Corp movement envisions business as a source for good and advocates for the “triple bottom line” — people, planet and profits. To achieve B Corp status, a company must meet certain environmental and social standards, such as paying its employees a living wage, offering paid time off for community service and implementing practices that reduce waste and pollution.

Worldwide, there are some 3,500 B Corps, and the movement has taken root in Florida, with 18 Sunshine State companies achieving B Corp status. In the Tampa Bay area, St. Petersburg-based Salt Palm Development and Diamond View Studios, a Tampa video production firm, have met the requirements.

ISPS Executive Director Kimberly Jackson hosted and moderated Thursday’s panel discussion. Her co-moderator was Vinny Tafuro, an author, economist and entrepreneur. Panelists were Sirena Andras, a Miami-based designer and art director; Dan Bailey, the founder of Amavida Coffee, a B Corp located in Santa Rosa Beach; and Tonya Donati, co-founder and managing partner of Mother Kombucha, also a B Corp, in St. Petersburg.

Tafuro kicked off the discussion with an overview of how B Corps operate. They allow “entrepreneurs and business leaders to voluntarily elect to choose this new format of operating their business that allows them to hit other metrics besides just financial statistics and financial reporting,” he said. “So they report on their impact to the environment, to the community, as well as to their shareholders.”

Prior to founding her B Corp, Creative G, Andras said she spent 13 years doing photo shoots for what she calls “luxury stuff.” Gradually, she came to the realization that she was using her talents to “dupe people, as was the case in marketing and still is for some companies.” The work gave her a “yucky feeling” because she was involved with companies that weren’t leaving a positive impact on the world. So she went out on her own. “I discovered B Corp,” she said, “and I said, ‘Those are the people I want to work with.’”

Andras said that as a solo entrepreneur, it took about a year for her to achieve B Corp status, but the hard work was well worth it. “I’m connecting more and more each day with other companies that are like-minded,” she said. “And when I get to use my talents and do work for these corporations, it’s an inspiration to me, and I feel like I’m leaving a positive footprint in the world. So that’s why I became a B Corp, and that’s why I like to support other B Corps.”

Bailey said his upbringing in an island nation in the Caribbean exposed him, at an early age, to the ravages of poverty, but it wasn’t until later in his career, in 2004, when “I decided I couldn’t sit on the sidelines any more. I needed to take action.” He said he founded Amavida Coffee with the goal of improving the sustainability of coffee growers around the world. “We really didn’t have a compass when we started,” he said. “We just knew that the things that were important to our growers were their income and their stability of income. Our mission was to be recognized as the best by our community, for our community, for the environment, for our employees and for our growers.”

Mother Kombucha’s application for B Corp status is still pending, but Donati said she started the business in accordance with B Corp principles such as using cleanly sourced materials and composting waste. “A lot of what the model of B Corp certification is, we had already been putting into our business,” she said. “And then about two or three years in, myself and another partner went to a conscious capitalism event. And we found out what B Corp was.”

Donati said B Corp status is good for a company’s brand, and she believes the certification will help, not hinder, Mother Kombucha’s growth. Becoming a B Corp, she said, is a way to “bake in our values and protect what we believe is the way we should be doing business.” Joining the B Corp community, she added, has allowed Mother Kombucha to connect and do business with a fair-trade tea company in Bangladesh that’s “raising women and children out of poverty.”

Visit the ISPS website to view the organization’s calendar of upcoming events like this one.

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