B-Corp Puts Companies in the Green

The following post was written by Katie Peige, Herban Lifestyle’s Sustainability Associate.

On Friday July 1st, B-Corp legislation will go into effect in Virginia. Virginia became the fourth state to pass B-Corp legislation back in March following the lead from my home state of Maryland, who was the first, followed by New Jersey and Vermont. I am really excited about this sustainable policy and business movement especially when other states such as Hawaii, Michigan and New York are joining the party. Soon it will be a national phenomenon!

After doing some research on B-Corp, I found myself lost in legal and economic jargon and had to phone a lifeline before attempting to write about it. It’s quite handy to have a friend getting his law degree at George Washington University. Let’s start with what I understood before my friend, David, stepped in with his legal expertise.

To start out, B-Corp is short for Benefit Corporation. B-Corp legislation has basically two parts. First, B-Corp legislation establishes a certification system, which will allow consumers to recognize socially and environmentally responsible companies, much like LEED certification (the rating system used for sustainable architecture), but for businesses. Any company from any state can apply to be certified B-Corps through a third party based on the rating system developed by B Lab, a non-profit which established this whole concept. I love this idea because it seems to be a great solution to green washing, as it provides some solid guidelines for companies to be designated as a sustainable business.

Ok….so this is where I got lost and chose my phone-a-friend lifeline to get me out of the hot seat. Having no concept of corporate law or corporations in general, I learned from David that the head of a corporation can be sued by their shareholders if the shareholders believe that the head person is mismanaging the company in a way that is causing loss of profits. Apparently, this is what is referred to as fiduciary duty of financial interests. In the minds of those trained in classic business theory, this action poses a challenge for companies who want to be socially and environmentally responsible since these actions can at times work in opposition to profit-making. However, the truth is that building sustainability into one’s business model can actually increase profitability over the long term.

In a 2010 study, three economists examined 120 U.S. corporations that were members of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI), which assesses companies’ minimization of economic, environmental, and social risks and maximization of long-term shareholder value. The authors compared the financial performance of these companies against that of 120 companies who were not members of the DJSI. They found that firms that had embraced corporate social responsibility had higher gross profit margins and higher returns on assets than those that didn’t. And, according to Inc., “over half of the B Corps have grown jobs by more than 5 percent over the past 24 months in the midst of a recession.”

The mission of a B-Corp is to create a public benefit in addition to shareholder value. So B-Corp legislation is designed to protect these responsible companies and provide an incentive for more companies to convert to a more green and good means of business. The B-Corp legislation creates a second option for a corporation, by redefining fiduciary duty in terms of interests above and beyond purely financial ones, such as “create(ing) a material positive impact on society and the environment.” This new definition not only protects the corporation from being sued for taking steps that emphasize environmental and social concerns, but also switches things up a bit by allowing shareholders to sue the corporation for not being socially and environmentally responsible enough. Here is where the certification system comes in.

As I said earlier, the B Corp rating system is set up like LEED certification with different levels of certification that correspond to how many points were received in the different categories of social and environmental responsibility. A third party rates the businesses similar to the practice used for organic certification. There is also an audit clause found in the legislature to make sure the businesses are compliant with their ratings and promises.

So that’s my summary in laymen’s terms. For those of you who, like David, enjoy reading legal documents, here are the state summaries for Virginia and New Jersey. If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of Benefit Corporations, I suggest you read this Inc. article or visit the B-Corp website.

And now to poll the audience members: Do you think B-Corp legislation will be an effective tool to combat green washing and to promote sustainable business?

How to Make Four Thieves Vinegar

Legend has it that during the Great Plague of the Middle Ages, grave robbers would wash their hands in a solution called “Four Thieves Vinegar,” which was very effective in staving off infection. The concoction was made by infusing vinegar with wormwood, rue, mint, sage, lavender, and rosemary. Because these constituents all have known antibacterial and antiviral properties, it seems like a feasible tale. I was fascinated by the idea and since I grow most of these herbs in my garden, I decided to try brewing up a batch.

I looked at various recipes, and decided to go with the basic set of ingredients, plus some lemongrass for its mild insect-repelling and good antimicrobial properties. The finished product can be used externally, and safely, for a variety of purposes: as a surface disinfectant, a hair rinse, a skin cleanser, to treat insect bites, as a hand-sanitizer, just to name a few. While the ingredients are very effective, it is gentle enough to use on pets and kids, just dilute it one part Four Thieves to three parts purified water.

Here is what you need to make your own:

  • 2 tablespoons of Rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons of Sage
  • 2 tablespoons of Lavender
  • 2 tablespoons of Wormwood
  • 2 tablespoons of Rue
  • 2 tablespoons of Peppermint
  • Apple cider vinegar (enough to cover the herbs completely)

You can also throw in cloves, cinnamon and/or garlic for extra potency.

Fill a pint-sized jar with the herbs. For best results, cut the herbs into small pieces, and packed the jar with the herbs, leaving as little space as possible. Susun Weed recommends using a jar with a plastic lid since vinegar can erode metal over time. If you use a metal jar, place a piece of waxed paper between the rim and lid to form a barrier, or use a cork.

Pour room-temperature apple cider vinegar into the jar until it is full, then tightly cap the jar. Label the jar with “Four Thieves” and the date. Place the jar away from direct sunlight, like a kitchen cupboard, or some other place where you will remember to shake it every day or so. After six weeks of steeping, strain the mixture through cheesecloth and place in a clean jar or spray bottle. It will last at least 18 months (some articles I read say up to 30) if you store it in a cool, dry, dark place.

Let me know what you think. Or if you have your own recipe for Four Thieves, I would love to hear about it!

Wordless Wednesday: Found Art in Brooklyn

While in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn a couple of weekends ago for the wonderful Renegrade Craft Show, I happened across several interesting pieces of street art, including one sighting of Shepard Faiery’s “OBEY.” Here are a few photos of my favorites that I wanted to share with you. They were all taken with my phone, so I apologize that they aren’t crisper…




Growing My Own Mushrooms

Day 2

I first heard of Back to the Roots‘ mushroom growing kit on The EcoMaker blog (where my shampoo bar, soap and solid lotion were recently reviewed). My family loves mushrooms (we are very much like Hobbits in that sense), so I thought it would be fun to grow our own.

Day 5

I ordered two kits from Back to the Roots, and they arrived in less than a week. They offer free shipping if you buy two or more sets. I have since seen the kits in my local Whole Foods. However, I will probably just order refills (the kits cost $19.95 each, and the refills are less than half that).

Day 8

It took a few days before the little buds appeared, but by Day 7, they were looking like mushrooms. We were all amazed at how quickly they grew, and how, even over the course of a few hours, they had mushroomed in size. Miraculous!

The “soil” in which the mushrooms grow is actually recycled coffee grounds, which can be used as mulch for one’s garden after the mushrooms have been harvested. They come in a compostable cardboard box. Very earth-friendly!.

Day 10

I sautéed them and we ate them as a side dish. However, it occurred to me that these meaty, nutty oyster mushrooms would be perfect for my vegan mushroom stroganoff recipe. I will definitely grow more of my own mushrooms. Next, I think I will try growing my own shiitakes

In My Herb Garden: A Visual Diary

Sage (Salvia officinalis)

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)

Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis)

Peppermint (Mentha piperita)

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Rue (Ruta graveolens)

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)


Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)


Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea)


Oregano (Origanum vulgare)


Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)


Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

Meatless Monday: The Story of the Morel, a Recipe


Our farmers market Mushroom Guy had a couple of containers of morels on sale, as they are at the very end of their preciously short season (mid-April to mid-May). So we snagged them. I was looking forward to making a dish I had read about in my new favorite non-fiction book, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life” by Barbara Kingsolver. The book documents her and her family’s year-long journey of eating as locally as possible (in their case, living on a farm in southwestern Virginia made some things very easy, and others rather difficult).

The book is peppered with great seasonal recipes, and one of the springtime vegetarian dishes had caught my eye. I made a modified version of the Asparagus and Morel Bread Pudding for my family for Easter (it was a huge hit). However, I didn’t have morels at that time (a mushroom that cannot be cultivated, and which Kingsolver wild harvests in abundance on her rural Virginia property), so had substituted them with cremini mushrooms. So, when Mushroom Guy had the last of the morels, I was eager to give the recipe another try.

Both times, I made some modifications, based on my family’s tastes. Here’s my version of the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 loaf of whole grain bread, stale or toasted
  • 1 pound of asparagus, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 cup green onions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 pound of morels or other mushrooms
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups of grated cheese (cheddar or swiss)

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Place the milk and green onions in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to steep.

Cut the bread into 1 inch cubes, then place the cubes in a 4 quart baking dish.

Steam the asparagus for a few minutes until bright green. Spread over the bread cubes.

Coarsely chop the mushrooms. If you are using morels, soak them in warm salted water for a few minutes.

Mushroom Guy said that it’s important to give them a good, salty soak to remove any “critters” that may have moved into them. I was glad that I followed his advice. The salt water coaxed this little guy out of his hiding place. Good thing since it wouldn’t have been a vegetarian dish otherwise!

Drain the mushrooms and sauté them in the butter until tender. Pour the cooked mushrooms and butter over the asparagus bread mixture.

Beat the eggs until just mixed. Grate the cheese and mix into the eggs. Pour the mixture over the asparagus, bread, morel mixture.

Bake for about 45 minutes, or  until the cheese is bubbly and begins to brown on the edges. Serve hot with a salad. It also makes great leftovers.

Join Us at Renegade Craft Fair in Brooklyn June 11+12!

We are super happy to be vending at the 7th Annual Brooklyn Renegade Craft Fair! It will be held in McCarren Park on June 11 and 12, 2011, from 11am to 7pm each day. We’ll be at Booth 82. Besides an impressive list of some of the best crafters from all over the country, there will also be hands-on crafting workshops, food and more!

The indie-craft and DIY artisans represent both local and national talent, and you will find a vast array of handmade awesomeness including independently designed jewelry, clothing, paper goods, home + garden goods, posters, artwork, plush objects, bath + body products, and much more. We hope to see you there!

For more details, you can visit the Renegade Brooklyn website, and check out the amazing vendors who will be selling at the Fair this year!