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Woodfold seeks to pass higher environmental bar

Bill MacKenzie Some businesspeople want to do more than just build a successful enterprise; they also want to be a force for good.

In Forest Grove, the leaders of Woodfold Manufacturing believe in the capacity of business to do more than just produce jobs and profits.

Founded in 1957, Woodfold has continued to thrive as an employee-owned and operated company that's a leading supplier of custom-crafted accordion doors, roll-up doors, hardwood shutters and bookcase doors for residential and commercial installations.

Woodfold has also become a company dedicated to the idea that true business sustainability considers the relationships between the environment, community and people.

Over the years that has meant big reductions in electricity and natural gas use, increases in recycling, achievement of a Forest Stewardship Council certification, and even providing free gardening space for a local charter school.

Setting higher bar

On May 14, 2013, Woodfold took a further step by becoming a Certified B Corp. “We became certified because we have always held certain core values at Woodfold, such as working for the long term and measuring things in regard to the triple bottom line,” said Justin Norman, Woodfold's vice president for business development.

A company's B Corp status is conferred by B Lab, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, on business entities that meet certain criteria. A certification means the company's policies and practices have been verified to be sustainable through a rigorous process called the B Impact Assessment.

“Woodfold's first commitment is to our people and doing the right thing,” said the company's CEO, Mark Lewis. “It just so happens that a commitment to those to things makes it pretty easy to meet the B Corp certification standards.”

A company can become a B Corp regardless of its legal structure so long as it scores well on B Lab's assessment and verification process. There are currently 894 certified B Corporations in 29 countries.

By voluntarily meeting higher standards of transparency, accountability, and performance, Certified B Corps are distinguishing themselves in a cluttered marketplace by offering a positive vision of a better way to do business, B Lab says.

Simply seeking B Corp certification can have benefits, too. “Despite scoring relatively well on the certification, we still have a long way to go, as do almost all B Corps, because neither us nor anyone to my knowledge has ever attained a perfect score,” Norman said. “Since we are big into continuous improvement, it would not make any sense for us to stand still and not try to keeping improving things here at Woodfold, which in turn will lend itself to a higher score down the road.”

There are also rewards to just participating in the B Lab review because companies become more aware of evaluation standards and can set goals for improvement.

B Corps vs. Benefit Companies

As we begin 2014, Woodfold faces another decision: whether to also become a Benefit Company. B Corps and Benefit Companies sound similar, but they are quite different and the difference goes beyond semantics.

A state law permitting businesses to become Benefit Companies took effect in Oregon on January 2, 2014. Securing a B Corp designation is more a branding effort than a legal step. To embrace legally binding sustainability obligations, a business must register as a Benefit Company.

Benefit companies write into their governing documents that management is permitted to pursue social and environmental benefits alongside shareholder interest. That means they can are make business decisions that run contrary to maximizing shareholder value, putting purpose over profits.

According to the MIT Sloan Management Review, this goes beyond traditional corporate social responsibility, where companies support social and charitable programs that improve the corporation's image. It is, instead, about managing and holding organizations accountable for performance targeted at optimizing a combination of financial, social and environmental outcomes.

“We want to make sure that things play out as expected before we go for Benefit Company status in Oregon,” said Lewis. “One of the things we try very hard not to do at Woodfold is whipsaw our people by constant course changes. The first thing we wanted to do is use the B Corp standards to test our management philosophy. We will explore the pros and cons of becoming a Benefit Corp and make a decision on that later in 2014.”

Bill MacKenzie is a former congressional staff member, reporter and communications manager for a Hillsboro company. He can be reached at: whmacken@gmail.com