What Exactly is a B Corp? 

Martha’s Vineyard Bank blazes the trail as the first B Corp bank in Massachusetts.

Martha’s Vineyard Bank is the first bank in Massachusetts to be certified as a B Corp. This means they had to prove (and must continue to prove) that they go above and beyond to meet the highest standards in social and environmental performance. But what exactly did the bank have to do to meet the scrupulous qualifications involved in becoming a B Corp, and how does the financial institution strive to create a better Island? 

Bluedot Living talked with James Anthony, President and CEO of MV Bank. He spoke about the B Corp certification process, some specific examples of B Corp values, and how the bank continues to be a responsible and active corporate citizen in the community. 

James Anthony, President and CEO of Martha's Vineyard Bank. — Courtesy of Martha's Vineyard Bank
James Anthony, President and CEO of Martha's Vineyard Bank. — Photo courtesy of Martha's Vineyard Bank

Bluedot Living: What is a B Corp? What does it take to become one?

James Anthony: B Corp certification is a third-party verification, confirmation, and affirmation of a company’s dedication to a number of things: its customers, its community and society at large, its employees, the environment, and good governance. It’s much like the organic certification for food products or the cruelty-free certification for cosmetics and consumer goods. The organization is committed to those ideals, and they have to illustrate that before they are certified.

The certification process is fairly rigorous. The heart of it all is called an Impact Assessment. This involves several hundred questions that all require confirmatory documents. B Lab is the company that administers that Impact Assessment. The company issues the certifications themselves and manages the process for ongoing assessment and recertification every three years.

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BDL: How did you first hear about B Corp certification?

JA: I first learned about B Corp certification about six years ago from the bank’s attorney who was familiar with B Corps. As I described our objectives as an organization, she said that they very much aligned with the concepts of a certified B Corp organization. Our original intention was to use their free impact assessment online tool, that any company can access, to self-assess, [to gain] insight into the various things we could do to be a better organization, a better environmental steward, and a better corporate citizen. 

As we went through the process, we realized that we were doing well, consistently exceeding most thresholds, so we embarked on the process of actually working toward certification. It took about six months to get aligned internally. We had to work with B Labs and with the Massachusetts Division of Banks to make the necessary changes to our organizational documents. After that, it took about 18 months to work through the Impact Assessment. 

MV Bank is the only Massachusetts bank that is B Corp certified. There are about twelve banks in the United States that are B Corp certified. It’s interesting and exciting that that number is increasing, and the number of B Corps worldwide has increased greatly recently. There are about 7,000 B Corps worldwide. When I first started learning about this, I had never even really seen the logo — now I see it everywhere.

There are some individual organizations that are very familiar, like Ben and Jerry’s, Patagonia, Seventh Generation, and Athletica; a long list of consumer goods companies are now displaying the B Corp logo. They are really leading the way in this movement and are doing a lot in terms of social and environmental change.

BDL: How is MV Bank committed to making social improvements, both internally and externally in the community?

JA: We donate 100 percent of our non-retained earnings to local nonprofits, which represents about twenty percent of our total earnings. (The other eighty percent is retained so we can capitalize the bank and stay safe and secure.) One good example is a major donation we made for the early childcare center at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services; we donated one million dollars toward construction. We also purchased a flash freezer for the Seafood Collaborative, which allows them to flash freeze fish so they can provide local seafood to the Island and support fishermen. 

Recently, we made donations to Island Housing Trust for affordable housing, which is a big interest of ours, along with workforce housing. There is a stratum of people who work hard every day whose income level excludes them from affordable housing, but given the high home prices here, they don’t have the money to buy a home.

There is also a whole series of questions about how the organization interacts with its employees, represents employee needs, and strikes a healthy balance between employee needs, customer needs, and community needs. [Our] intent to support all those elements is certainly ever-present and very clearly illustrated, I believe.

BDL: What about some sustainability projects you’ve undergone or environmental initiatives you’ve donated to on-Island?

JA: One of the questions in the B Corp certification process relates to a carbon footprint assessment. We hadn’t conducted one before: we are not a manufacturer, we are not spewing anything into the environment, and we aren’t creating products that pollute. But we do consume electricity and fuel. Doing the carbon footprint analysis encouraged us to look a lot closer at that impact. 

Although we don’t have renewables directly, all of our energy is produced by renewables. It’s more expensive, but we happily pay to have all of our electricity that powers all of our offices be 100 percent renewable. We are in the process of replacing our fuel-burning furnaces with electric heat pumps which will be powered by renewable electricity. We will go completely away from fossil fuels. Additionally, we’ve made a number of donations to Island Grown Initiative, along with several other donations to environmental and sustainability groups.

BDL: How do some of your personal focuses align with MV Bank and B Corps? What are you passionate about?

JA: I’ve found myself to be an uncommon combination of traits, maybe even a juxtaposition of traits. I am a pretty devout capitalist, and at the same time I am concerned with and motivated by creating a sustainable environment. The B Corp logo says “Businesses as a Force for Good,” and we have sort of coined that as “Banking as a Force for Good.” 

I try to marry that motto with my own personal concerns, while also making sense of what it means to be a mutual bank in a capitalist economic structure. As a mutual bank we don’t have shareholders per se, and everything I had been taught in business was to serve the shareholder. We extended that to say the shareholder is our community, so how do we serve the community financially? That spawned the concept of paying dividends as charitable donations.

BDL: What gives you hope for the future of our Island community, environment, and economy?

JA: I think you see the discussions happening around affordable housing, around the environmental aspects of the Island like the toxification of ponds or the impacts of nitrogen on the Island ecosystem. The energy in these discussions is a wonderful indicator of the future. Where people focus their creative minds and innovation, they will make a positive impact. There is a lot of ground to cover; there are a lot of pretty audacious challenges to overcome, but I have a very positive outlook on the future of the Island.

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Lucas Thors
Lucas Thors
Lucas Thors is an associate editor for Bluedot Living and program director for the Bluedot Institute. He lives on Martha's Vineyard with his English springer spaniel, Arlo, and enjoys writing about environmental initiatives in his community.
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