Higher Standard: Company’s certification also a mindset

Elliott4Higher Grounds Trading Co. is the only B Corp-certified business in Traverse City. What does that mean?

B Corps are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.  B Corp is to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee, according to bcorporation.net. There are 1,600 B Corp businesses in the world, but only nine in Michigan, and Higher Grounds is the only B Corp business north of Grand Rapids.

Chris Treter, owner of Higher Grounds, thinks there are several companies that not only fit the B Corp criteria, but could benefit from the programs and services that come with certification. The “beyond” fair-trade coffee roaster at the Grand Traverse Commons is hosting an orientation June 15 for businesses.

“We have a substantial undercurrent of progressive, ethically and environmentally minded individuals building a resilient community,” he said, citing Oryana Community Co-op, Food for Thought, Light of Day Organic Farm and Tea Shop and Cherry Capital Foods as likely candidates.

Treter had his eye on B Corp for a couple of years, so he was happy when Sara Theisen, Higher Grounds production manager, took the initiative to go after certification.

“It made it happen quicker and it was more authentic to have an employee do the work rather than the owner,” he said.

Theisen had been talking about B Corp with a friend who works in sustainability at New Belgium Brewery, another B Corp-certified company. Once she dug deeper, she found the B Corp values are closely aligned with the values Higher Grounds embraces.

Those values include staying environmentally friendly, giving back both to the community and to the farmers who grow its product, and treating its employees well.

Higher Grounds submitted an assessment of its practices — and scored 96. The median score for all companies is 55.

“We were pleased with the score, but it also gave us ideas for improvement,” Theisen said.

The cost of joining B Corp is pro-rated to a company’s revenue, she said, and isn’t a hurdle.

Being part of B Corp gave Higher Grounds the resources needed to kick-start programs they’d had ideas about in the past, Thiesen said. B Corp has four “B Lab” offices around the country, and gives its members access to publications, forums, a job board and information about passing legislation, attracting investors and recruiting other companies.

Among the first things Higher Grounds did with its new resources was start an employee volunteer program. Full-time employees now get 20 paid hours a year to volunteer with a vetted organization in the community. Higher Grounds staff gave 55.5 hours of time to Safe Harbor in March. The company also produced a special coffee blend to benefit the emergency shelter program.

Higher Set of Standards

B Corp also gives companies information about themselves. Treter wanted “an outside metric to make sure we’re staying true,” Thiesen said.

“Before, I was measuring in my head and micromanaging any decision that was not made in alignment with our social and environmental mission,” Treter said. “However, as we’ve grown, I cannot keep track of everything on my own.”

Higher Grounds has more than 20 employees and is growing “at a brisk rate of 25 percent year-to-date,” Treter said.

The B Corp certification is “not necessarily about selling more coffee,” Thiesen said. “It’s a nice way to hold your company to a high set of standards.”

“It helps us keep the values we hold now,” said Josh Brandt, operations manager.

Higher Grounds is now adding the B Corp certification logo to its products as well as scrutinizing more of its own relationships.

“It’s another thing that comes up with vendors,” said Brandt. “It’s part of the discussion. Which shipper? Maybe not the cheapest but maybe one that offsets its carbon. It’s a mindset as well as a certification.”

Treter said he makes a point of looking for B Corp companies to do business with, both through Higher Grounds and personally.

Contact Higher Grounds at info@highergroundstrading.com; 231.922.9009