Harness Cycle is a cycling studio located in Ohio City, and Nooma is a sports drink company based in East Cleveland. They’re just two examples of the 43 B Corps in Ohio that are certified by B Lab – companies that have adopted a community-oriented business model focused on stakeholders, rather than shareholders.
Being a B Lab-certified B Corp requires a company to prioritize its workers, communities, customers, suppliers, and the environment before owner and shareholder profits.
Katrina Keeley, director of operations at Harness Cycle, said she thinks the work of B Corps can effect real change. “I think we are naturally much more thoughtful about the decisions we make than we would be if we weren’t a certified B Corp,” she says, “and it really speaks to the bigger picture of being a part of this international movement to move the needle when it comes to how we conduct business for the future.”
To qualify for B Corp certification, Harness underwent a review process through B Lab, a nonprofit network founded in 2006 that assessed the company’s social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency in its operational standards.
Keeley led Harness’ certification process, which was completed in 2020. It was already a period of adjustment for small businesses because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but she said the process opened their eyes to the needs of the Ohio City community.
They struggled at first with restructuring to meet B Corp standards, she said, but the process made them examine their business practices in ways they hadn’t considered. For example, they changed their operating agreement, which establishes the rules and structure around which the company is run, to state that if the business ever changes ownership, the B Corp standards would still have to be considered a priority in the business model. That governance standard, Keeley said, is one of the big ways B Corps hold themselves accountable in their communities.
The company also changed its giving strategy from targeting small local events, Keeley said, to being more involved with larger local organizations they believe are doing influential work.
In 2020, Harness Cycle became a 1% for the Planet business member, through which it donates 1% of the company’s annual revenue to local environmental nonprofits. Harness Cycle CEO Andria Loczi emphasized the importance of the donations to the company and the community. “One of our core values is being a neighborhood anchor,” said Loczi, “so it’s important to us that contributions we make remain in the community to impact the local economy and residents as much as possible.” Harness Cycle’s 2021 giving partners included The Refugee Response, Ohio City Farm, Spice Field Kitchen and the Ohio City Incorporated community development corporation.
This year, Keeley and Loczi said Harness Cycle is focusing its giving solely on Ohio City Incorporated, hoping to boost the Irishtown Bend Park Project.
The company also changed its pay and benefit structures, in part to make sure part-time employees were receiving wages of at least $15.40 hourly. Right now, they have 16 part-time employees.
“We were paying a decent wage previously,” Keeley said, “but when we really took a look at the numbers and statistics from the state and local area, it really helped us to gain perspective on what a family living wage looks like.” She said this reevaluation also pushed them to create health care and life insurance benefits for their three full-time positions.
Harness also switched from selling water in plastic bottles to requiring riders to bring their own or to buy reusable ones from the studio in order to reduce their environmental impact.
Nooma: Drinking in the change
Another Cleveland B Corp, Nooma, is an East Cleveland-based sports drink company started by brothers and co-founders Brandon and Jarred Smith in 2013.
After playing college and pro hockey, the Smiths noticed they often felt sick when they drank sports drinks intended to rehydrate athletes. Instead of replenishing them, Brandon said, all the added sugars and dyes left them feeling dehydrated and lethargic.
By 2014, the Smiths were producing their sports drinks – NOOMA stands for “No More Artificials” – and working to get them out into the world. Around the same time, a consultant encouraged them to consider sustainable business models and B Corp certification as a strategy for building consumer trust and the company’s reputation.
They were interested, Brandon said, but were more concerned about getting the business going and worried if they pursued B Corp status, they could unintentionally be shutting out other possibilities. He said as young business owners, they needed to take the time to “learn what our customers value and what we valued before making that decision.”
Once they landed on “where and what we could stand for,” they began the B Corp certification process in 2017. “We realized we had a choice, [and] we decided we wanted to use business for good,” Brandon said.
Nooma received B Corp status in 2018 and was recertified in 2021.
After becoming a B Corp, Nooma implemented a supplier code of conduct that enforces and extends some of the higher standards of B Corps beyond their operations. Examples include source reduction and local supplier sourcing contracts that aim to decrease waste.
When they considered how to package their drinks, they weighed the cost of glass as an eco-friendly option, Brandon said, but eventually landed on aluminum, since it’s easier to recycle than plastic and still cost-effective.
They made other changes, too, as they went through B Lab’s certification process and suggestions for growth.
These included considering diversity and inclusion in their marketing efforts to show that health is for everyone; conducting 360° employee reviews where everyone involved gives feedback (not just the boss); providing two paid volunteer days for employees to conduct community outreach at a location of their choice; and public disclosure of their stakeholders and hiring practices.
Although B Lab affiliated companies are still a small, tight-knit movement, Brandon said he sees the value and hopes to invest in strategic partnerships with other community-minded businesses to continue initiating growth. “Now, we’re burning a lot of calories trying to be a good business,” he said.
More about B Lab Certification
The B Lab B Corp certification process varies depending on business size and complexity, but it begins with registering for an “impact assessment.” From there, companies prepare by using B Lab’s legal requirement tool and completing a “risk review” to assess where it stands in terms of structure and impact before the certification process.
In December 2020, benefit corporations gained legal status in Ohio. While benefit corporations “have a bona fide positive effect or to reduce one or more bona fide negative effects” and provide benefit beyond the interests of only shareholders, they are not the same as certified B Corps. Benefit corporation status under state law helps companies meet the “legal requirements” prong of B Corp certification, but certification requires more than just benefit corporation status.
B Lab sets forth numerous requirements for certification. The B Impact Assessment, which can be taken online, measures the company’s practices and impact in five areas: governance, workers, community, the environment, and customers. If a company scores below the 80-point benchmark on the questionnaire, it must reevaluate its operations and prioritize suggested improvement areas to be eligible for certification. Examples of this could be restructuring for equitable compensation and benefits or adjusting the company’s carbon footprint with regard to packaging, shipping, or facilities.
If a company scores 80 or above, it can submit its impact assessment for review. During the review process, companies must sit down with an analyst to prove B Lab standard requirements. After certification, all B Corps are required to publish their public profiles, which include their scores and impact reports, to the B Lab website. To stay a B Corp, companies must renew their certification every 3 years.
– Brie Camp
Update: An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that Harness Cycle has a location in the Flats.