by: Laura Koch

California has entered the new year with a new class of corporation—the ‟Benefit Corporation,” or ‟B Corporation.” Governor Brown signed AB361 in October 2011, making California the seventh state to allow corporations to elect an organizational structure that benefits both society and shareholders.

B Corporations are required to pursue the creation of positive impacts and simultaneously meet higher standards of accountability and transparency. Several corporations, including Patagonia, maker of outdoor gear, have already registered as B Corporations in California since the law went into effect on January 1.

Proponents claim that the new corporate structure creates critical changes in two areas. First, traditional corporations are required to operate in a way that maximizes profits for shareholders above all else, which discourages socially responsible decision making. In contrast, B Corporations are required to consider the impacts of their operational decisions on employees, the community, and the environment. Electing B Corporation status allows a company to operate in a socially responsible way, even if doing so is less profitable.

Second, the transparency required of B Corporations helps the public and investors to differentiate between companies with good social practices and those with slick marketing. California B Corporations must undergo yearly assessments using a third-party standard and publish an annual benefit report. The report, which is to be readily available on the company’s website, must describe its efforts to benefit the public and the extent of its success.

B Corporation status allows a company to stand out from those claiming an unsubstantiated commitment to increasing the public good. This is increasingly important to consumers, as well as a growing number of investors who are seeking socially responsible companies for their portfolios. B Lab, a nonprofit organization dedicated to using the power of business to solve social and environmental problems, has certified over 500 B Corporations nationwide. The fact that California, the state with the nation’s largest economy, now allows corporations to elect B Corporation as a legal status is a great way to start 2012.

If you are interested in setting up a new Benefit Corporation or converting an existing entity, contact Bay Oak Law.