Vermont Utility Praised for Socially-Conscious Practices

B Corps are for-profit enterprises that pledge to make decisions that support society and the environment

Vermont's largest utility, Green Mountain Power, celebrated its certification as a B Corp Monday. B Corps are for-profit entities that also strive to make positive impacts on the environment and society.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the co-founders of the famous Vermont-based ice cream brand Ben & Jerry's, helped pioneer a concept that businesses can grow while doing good for society. They cheered Green Mountain Power's status as the world's first utility to become a certified B Corp.

"This is a glorious day," Greenfield beamed.

"As your business supports the community, the community supports your business," Cohen added.

Green Mountain Power cited some examples of how it tries to emphasize social good in its decision-making, including how the utility actually decreased the rate customers pay this fall. The company has also been working to boost renewable energy generation and encourage energy efficiency for homeowners.

To earn B Corp certification, companies must meet rigorous guidelines. One of the areas where Green Mountain Power scored really well was the way it treats its employees. Everyone at GMP makes a livable wage, according to the B Corp certification report. The lowest-paid employee makes $17.78 an hour, the report showed. That's more than twice Vermont's minimum wage.

"I'm hopeful it may inspire others," CEO Mary Powell said of other utilities. "I'm not counting on it."

New England Cable News asked Powell why more publicly-regulated utilities aren't B Corps. "By and large, I think that, like a lot of other companies--whether they're privately-held, publicly-held, or investor-held--they have too much of an obsession, maybe, on the bottom line," Powell answered. "By obsessing on the customer, that's the best way, ultimately, long-term, to inform your bottom line."

The Pennsylvania non-profit B Lab developed the certification and bestows it on for-profit companies. Co-founder Jay Coen Gilbert said the idea behind the movement is simple: that firms can benefit the public while still making money.

"Ten, twenty years ago, the idea of using your business for a force for good was pretty fringe, Coen Gilbert told NECN. "Success is not when everyone becomes a certified B Corp. That would be a silly goal. But what B Corps can do is be a lighthouse brand that shows people the way."

Coen Gilbert said socially-conscious companies also help attract good employees, which in turn, make businesses run better. "If you care about attracting and retaining the best talent, you've got to offer more than a paycheck," he explained. "You've got to offer a sense of sense of purpose, and give people the opportunity to both make money and make a difference."

Mary Powell said she's still working on improving the way GMP operates, soon launching upgrades to her own headquarters' energy efficiency.

Coen Gilbert said companies of all sizes can complete an assessment to gauge how they're doing across various areas of socially-conscious business practices. That assessment is available on this website.

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