By Karen Hendricks
Pilates, as an exercise, is all about strengthening your core muscles.
But Allison Zang, owner and founder of Absolute Pilates, is also focused on core strength in a business sense.
“I have a strong desire to help the environment and to give back to the community,” said Zang, whose fitness studios are located in Mechanicsburg, Camp Hill and Harrisburg.
She’s also president-elect of the Junior League of Harrisburg, an organization whose work focuses on bettering the community.
That’s why becoming a Certified B Corporation, with the “B” standing for “beneficial,” resonated with her.
“All of those things tie together,” said Zang, “And becoming a B Corp distinguishes the studio [Absolute Pilates] from other options within the boutique fitness system.”
Certified B Corporations, referred to as “B Corps,” zero in on a company’s core values. Are the company’s practices beneficial? Certification is a rigorous process that examines companies’ environmentally sustainable practices and overall positive impacts on society.
“I had all the correct ideals set, in who I was as a person and how I had grown the business, but I was missing some of the documentation, rules and procedures,” said Zang, who attained B Corp status in 2019, after a two-year process.
Zang had to evaluate her sources for fitness equipment and cleaning supplies, her electricity provider and even where Absolute Pilates did its banking. One big B Corp benchmark is whether a company has secured partners and suppliers within a 200-mile radius.
“All of those things slowly add up in a local business supporting other local business,” said Zang. “I think it certifies that your business is doing the best job it can to support the community and environment—and continually works to improve that.”
And Pennsylvania is where it all began. The B Corp movement springs from the nonprofit B Lab, founded in 2006 and located outside Philadelphia. The Keystone State is home to more than 60 certified B Corps, including Philadelphia-based coffee chain Saxbys and Pittsburgh-based Thread, which recycles plastic into fabric.
The Lancaster area is a hub of about 20 B Corps, including Stroopies. Maker of cinnamon cookies that resemble waffles— known as Stroopies—the company’s raison d’être aligns with B Corp philosophies.
“Stroopies was founded to provide meaningful employment to resettled refugee women who are starting new lives in Lancaster,” said Jennie Groff, managing owner. “With this foundation, being B Corp-certified gives accountability in our commitment to care for our workers, the planet and our profit. It has also been extremely rewarding to be linked to other like-minded B Corps that are making the world a kinder place.”
Another Lancaster-based B Corp is the consulting firm Work Wisdom, which specializes in leadership development.
“When I founded Work Wisdom, I was already a believer in socially responsible business,” said Kedren Crosby.
She entered the for-profit sector with a foundation grounded in studies at the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society, followed by experience in the nonprofit sector.
“Even before B Corps existed, I felt as though, ‘If we are to be capitalists, we should be the right kind of capitalists and care about the environment and society,’” Crosby said.
She was recently given the opportunity to expand upon these thoughts, on a national stage, before Congress.
In June, Reps. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) and Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.)—whose district, just east of Lancaster, includes B Lab’s Chester County headquarters—launched the Congressional Stakeholder Capitalism Caucus. It’s described as a way to “reimagine the role of American corporations to foster inclusion, generate longer-lasting growth, and benefit stakeholders more widely and equitably… as our nation recovers from the historic COVID-19 crisis,” according to a press release.
While the caucus doesn’t specifically mention the B Corp movement, there are parallels, and Houlahan invited Crosby to speak for the launch.
“We believe that the purpose of a company is to benefit all stakeholders—not just shareholders,” Crosby said in her remarks. “We want to be of benefit to our customers, our employees, our suppliers, our communities and even the environment.”
She went on to describe Work Wisdom’s practices such as clear pay equity, supply chain decisions, family leave, green building practices, and her company’s pro bono work for one community partner annually.
“Obviously, there is the strong business case for trust, which builds brand loyalty, repeat business and increased profit. However, I want to underscore that stakeholder capitalism is good for more than just increasing profits,” Crosby said in her closing remarks. “Businesses for good create healthy, flourishing individuals and cultures where creativity, engagement and collaboration enhance both profitability and joy.”
Little Logo, Big Picture
Currently, there are 3,500 businesses worldwide with the “B Corp” logo on their products and/or website.
While they range from sole proprietors to publicly traded companies across 70 countries, the majority are small businesses. Those logos might even be on products you regularly use or consume, from Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream to brews at Philadelphia’s woman-owned Triple Bottom Brewing.
The B Corp certification “scours every single aspect of our business operations, verifying that we are walking the walk—not just talking the talk,” said Tess Hart, co-founder and CEO at Triple Bottom.
She likens the process to becoming a force for good in the world.
“We have become a better business as a result of this process, and hope that the certification makes it easier for people to vote with their wallets and support businesses that align with their values,” she said.
To learn more about the B Corp movement, see bcorporation.net. For more information on Absolute Pilates, Stroopies, Work Wisdom and Triple Bottom Brewing, respectively, see: absolutepilates.co, stroopies.com, workwisdomllc.com and triplebottombrewing.com.