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5 Things Every Founder Should Know About Social Entrepreneurship, GSVLabs, July 2015
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5 Things Every Founder Should Know About Social Entrepreneurship

As a new mentor at the Sustainability Innovation Lab at GSVlabs,I recently had the opportunity to speak there on a topic I am often asked about, namely—what are the essential things that founders should know about social entrepreneurship.

From the engaging follow-up questions and spirited conversation during the presentation, I thought it might be useful to share the slides and key learnings here too.

 

5 Things Every Founder Should Know About Social Entrepreneurship, GSVLabs, July 2015

1. There are legal structures for social entrepreneurship.

This topic was one of the inspirations of founding Innov8social—i.e. to follow the progress and explore the potential of various legal structures including benefit corporations, social purpose corporations, limited low-profit liability companies (L3C’s), and various combinations thereof. These legal structures are intended to form companies founded on principles of creating impact as well as generating profit. These new structures serve to expand the ‘bottom line’ focus of a company to a double or triple bottom line (i.e. people, planet, profits)  and in doing so, expand the stakeholders to which a company owes a legal duty from shareholders to stakeholders such as the environment and community as well.

2. There are business models for social entrepreneurship.

We often say that a legal structure is a “glove” meant to fit the business goals and model of a venture. With that in mind, founders should know that business models are emerging to serve social impact ventures. Models such as buy one give one, or 1%-1%-1%, or dedicating a percentage of revenue to non-profit/policy entities, or pay-what-you-can models are gaining ground as ways to easily explain and account for impact and profit.

3. There are  funding options for social entrepreneurship.

Traditional funding options such as loans, grants, and venture capital can be applicable to social enterprises; however, sometimes the dual goals of impact and profit can make these hard sells for social ventures. There is also a growing body of funding options that can serve social entrepreneurs well—these include impact investors (who actively seek a return on impact and profit on their investments), Program-Related Investments (“PRI’s”) powered by foundations, and the use of crowdfunding (both donation-based and investment-based) to validate and fund social impact companies.

4. Social entrepreneurship isn’t just a way of doing business — it is also a mindset.

Since countries such as the US do not legally define social enterprise per se, that term along with social entrepreneurship and social innovation are often used to describe various legal structures and business models (for-profit and nonprofit). With this broad application, social entrepreneurship signifies a mindset as much as a specific type of venture. In fact, social entrepreneurs are often described as those seeking business-minded solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. They employ methodologies of entrepreneurship and ‘lean’ approach to startups in building revenue models and impact potential. This mindset is a way to problem-solve and calls on the problem-solver to consider and account for multiple end goals, and to do so with accountability and transparency.

5. You are NOT alone! There are resources, tools, and communities to help you reach your profit and impact goals.

If there is one thing to emphasize, it is that social entrepreneurs (and those aspiring to be) are NOT alone! Being an entrepreneur is challenging, add the additional goal of creating impact— and the path to success can feel distant and even lonely. However, there is an ever-strengthening ecosystem of support emerging and evolving to better meet the needs and challenges of social entrepreneurs.

A few leading resources for social innovation and social entrepreneurship:

Resources we have compiled and are building:

 

Here are Prezi slides from the talk



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S&P Lawsuits: Would a Triple Bottom Line Be More Effective?

Widely reported on yesterday were the multiple civil lawsuits, including a complaint filed by the Department of Justice, being brought against Standard & Poor’s (S&P) for charges related to fraud and misrepresentation regarding mortgage-related investments leading up to the financial crisis of 2008.

Would a triple bottom line system for assessing the success of corporations be more effective? Social entrepreneurs have been asking the question for some time, but now, the state of credit agencies renews the discussion in a big way.

Ratings Agencies: Gatekeepers or Toll Collectors?

The California attorney general’s lawsuit, as quoted in CT Post, posed the issue in this way. “In reality, S&P corrupted its ratings process to curry favor with large banks, which paid S&P billions of dollars in return,” the lawsuit states. “In other words, S&P claimed to be a gatekeeper, but it acted like a toll collector.”

The sentiment was echoed across at least fourteen states with Illinois, Connecticut, Mississippi, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Iowa, North Carolina, Maine, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Tennessee and Washington filing suits against S&P.

The federal civil suit against S&P claims damages of $5B. There has been no word on whether similar suits will be filed against other rating agencies.

An Argument For a Triple Bottom Line?

Reading the news makes me think one of the early sessions of Agency & Corporations class in law school. The idea of the bottom line was emphasized not only in the purpose of legal entities such as general partnerships and corporations, but in the fiduciary duty owed to shareholders of various entities. The end goal, broadly speaking, is to find the green and multiply it.
Triple bottom lineI remember thinking, what does a single bottom line (and legal ramifications for not pursuing it) incentivize? What kinds of behaviors does it reward, and which kinds of actions does it penalize.
It was one of the features of social innovation that has fascinated me and catalyzed this exploration, i.e. that there are new, more-inclusive ways to define and measure success. The concept of a triple bottom line is to measure not only profits, but also an entity’s impact on society and the environment to determine their success.
Would a triple bottom line help? If there were multiple paths and factors by which a company or corporation could gain credibility and favor, would it reduce a need for deception in ratings?  Or just create more factors that could be fudged…
It is an open question, but one that is worth exploring. A system pursuing a single end, to the exclusion of others, may yield a certain kind of result—to exclusion of others. If we seek to maximize transparency, sustainability, and community, the entities and measures we use to assess those qualities perhaps should also mirror them.

Social Entrepreneur Considerations

What’s a social entrepreneur to do? Beyond thinking about the core business, the idea, and the innovation—there are all of the legal considerations too. What kind of entity will you be, will you pursue a traditional legal structure and certification (i.e. B corporation certification) or test out a hybrid legal structure?
If you opt for a certification, should you research how the rating agency is monetized. Should it matter whether they are funded by the entities seeking certification, or by those procuring the ratings? How do entities like the Global Impact Investing Ratings System (GIIRS) analyze the triple bottom line?
The S&P lawsuits make these valid and relevant questions, also worth an open discussion. As the field of social enterprise is being defined through legislation, policy, and structure—it is in an ideal phase of the life cycle to look critically at what works with traditional systems, and what can be improved upon. The best place to use what we see in the rear-view mirror to make good decisions about the best way to traverse the road ahead.

Does the Spotlight Change the Art?

The age-old argument of whether art imitates life or the opposite, plays into this discussion in an interesting way.

Christopher Matthews, Times columnist, touches on the role and weight given to credit agencies in his article, “Justice Sues S&P; Is It Time to Rethink the Role of Ratings Agencies?” Mathews cites a study by San Diego Law School professor Frank Portnoy that found that the federal government started incorporating rating agency reports into rulemaking starting in the 1930’s. And then, in 1973, the SEC took the ratings game one step further by designating specific firms as “Nationally Recognized Statistical Ratings Organizations.” Matthews notes, “Predictably enough, it was right around this time that the ratings agencies shifted their business models from charging investors fees for their reports, to charging issuers for being rated.”

In her article, “Sue S&P, Sue Everybody”,  Forbes columnist Lara Hoffmans expounds the theory (and focuses the blame) to Congress as a whole. Says Hoffmans, “[Congress is] directly responsible for the laws requiring major debt issuances to have at least one rating from a rating agency the government certifies as “credible.”

Could it be that rulemakers, in trying to protect Americans by championing independent rating agencies, may have inadvertently incentivized the rating agencies to be less independent? The months ahead promise a deep dive into the issues at hand, at the state and federal level, and from commentary left, right, and center. Heads up, social innovators, stay in the conversation.

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Interesting SSIR Article Takes Another Look at the Sale of Ben & Jerry’s to Unilever

If you find yourself at a roundtable discussion about law, policy, and social innovation there is a good chance you will hear buzzwords like fiduciary duty, Dodge v. Ford, Revlon, maximizing shareholder wealth, legal structures, benefit corporations, flexible purpose corporations, and business judgment rule.Key in all of that will be an account of some of the historical happenings in corporate law and how they hammered out our understanding about the way corporations, as distinct legal entities, relate to the individuals who own them (i.e. shareholders).And somewhere in the narrative, there’s a good chance that the story of the sale of Ben and Jerry’s will come up.

SSIR Article about the Sale of Ben and Jerry’s

In the Fall 2012 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Indiana University Law professors Antony Page and Robert A. Katz address the story of Ben and Jerry’s in an eloquent article titled, “The Truth About Ben and Jerry’s” that recalls the history of the company and context of its eventual sale to Unilever, and the impact of the sale to the social entrepreneurial vibe of the ice cream company.

Related Innov8Social Posts

As you read the article you may be searching for further background on some of the topics raised and buzzwords mentioned. Here are a few Innov8Social articles that may help.

 

Is There Still a Role for New Legal Structures for Social Innovation?

The SSIR article leaves it to the reader to decide on whether new legal structures are necessary, and if so, to what extent such structures should strive to create a presence in each state. In an earlier post, I suggested that these new legal structures may serve to formalize a way of measuring double and triple bottom lines.

Whether you are an avid supporter of new legal structures for social innovation, or are on the side of using existing legal constructs to support social entrepreneurship, the article provides a valuable history of the sale and its context.  And, above all, it keeps the discussion alive. It is through discussion, debate, and action that we can impact law and policy, that impact social entrepreneurs, who are steadfast on changing the way business is done.

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What is TriplePundit?

TriplePundit.com was founded by Nick Aster in 2006 as a new media platform for the conversation on sustainability in business.  Intended to feature news and editorial blog posts, the focus has been on serving as a catalyst for conversation about social entrepreneurship for a business audience. The site gained momentum in 2011 and merged with Sustainable Industries in October 2011.

The name triple pundit alludes to the triple bottom line concept of assessing a company’s success by a triple bottom line of impact on people, planet, and profits…rather than the traditional bottom line of profits only.

TriplePundit regularly posts on topics related to clean tech, social entrepreneurship, eco-friendly products, micro finance, poverty solutions, impact investing, and issues surrounding water.

QuarterWater’s interview with TriplePundit founder [VIDEO]

Founder of QuarterWaters.com, Dwight Peters interviewed Nick Aster in December 2011 in “Triple Pundit: How to go from 0 to 200,000 viewers a month – with Nick Aster.” In the open discussion, Aster outlined the history of the site, various revenue streams, and how TriplePundit grew from being a side project to being his full-time venture generating six-figure revenue annually, and gaining momentum.

 

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Building a Social Innovation IQ

When you are in the midst of an emerging field, there is often no shortage of related terms and buzzwords. Social innovation is a prime example. Associated words and phrases include:Social innovation IQ

  • social entrepreneurship
  • social enterprise
  • impact investing
  • conscious capital
  • double bottom line
  • triple bottom line
  • social accounting
  • benefit corporations
  • flexible purpose corporations
  • low-profit limited liability companies (L3C’s)
  • hybrid corporations
  • blended value
  • social ventures
  • maximizing stakeholder value
  • doing well, by doing good
  • corporate social responsibility
  • and more….
Terminology, a Social Innovator Does Not Make
Through Innov8Social or various other blogs and resources, you may be (as I am) building your familiarity with key buzzwords in the field. But, as I begin to read books, listen to podcasts, and become more familiar with questions that those outside of social innovation have about the field—I realize that terms and buzzwords may not be enough to achieve the overarching goals of building new kinds of businesses that generate monetary profit while positively benefiting society & the environment.
We Need to Collectively Build Our Social Innovation IQ
What makes social innovation an intriguing prospect is also what makes it complex: it blurs the traditional distinctions between sectors such as financial, government, social, and environmental and seeks to connect them in new ways that align with mainstream business.
Judging by the burgeoning number of social innovation fellowships and accelerator programs available, it looks like more people and institutions are seeking connect with and expand the social innovation arena.
If we are putting out time into engaging and investing ourselves in this emerging field, it may be helpful to build our collective social innovation intelligence.
Components of Social Innovation IQ
Full disclosure, I am not an expert in this field. But as I learn and grow into it, I find myself developing more focused questions about what it will take to succeed as a social innovator and what it will take for the field of social innovation to succeed in impacting the way business is done. Here is my (evolving) understanding of components that can make up a social innovation IQ:
  • Financial intelligence
  • Social & environmental cause intelligence
  • Adversity intelligence
Much of it, I suspect, will begin with understanding the flow of money. Even though capital is one element of the triple bottom line, it is the one that is often most identifiable with mainstream business. Currency is like the electric current that powers machines. Though causes and action often eclipse capital in their reach and karmic importance—to understand that even the most compelling projects will require steady, consistent, and adequate funding is to understand the important role it plays.
Additionally, if we do not have a clear understanding about the history, root, and context of the social and environmental causes we aim to address—we may not be addressing issues in the most effective ways possible. Worse, we may not realize future problems that we are seeding with our best-intention ‘fixes’.
Finally, any start-up entrepreneur will tell you that there can be a fair dose of adversity required to launch and succeed. And, this likely only multiplies when your business is focused on maximizing a triple bottom line (people, planet, profits). We have to be able to identify re-frame our problems, dwell in resilience, and connect with the social innovation community for support and guidance.
What to Read
I am in the process of trying to build my social innovation IQ. I would love to connect with others interested in doing the same. Here are a few books I thought could get the ball rolling:
If this topic interests you, and you are also seeking ways to build a social innovation IQ, connect through the comments below, on the Innov8Social Facebook page, on Twitter, via email.
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Signed Into CA Law: AB 361 (Benefit Corporations) & SB 201 (Flexible Purpose Corporations)

California Capitol Building ceilingIn reviewing the last batch of the nearly 600 bills that he had to process, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law both social innovation bills—just in time for the midnight deadline on October 10th, 2011.Both AB 361 (benefit corporations) and SB 201 (flexible purpose corporations) which create new legal structures for social enterprise are now officially California law.You can read the key points of each bill here.Read the official legislative update from the Governor’s office here.

California is #6

The passage of the benefit corporation legislation makes California the 6th state to recognize a new form of corporation that is for-profit and committed to creating a positive impact on society and the environment. California joins Maryland, Vermont, Hawaii, Virginia, and New Jersey in the benefit corporation club.

A Look Back

If you have been following the benefit corporation legislation movement on the B Corporation public policy page, here on Innov8Social, or on any number of sites following the developments, you may have been awaiting the midnight decision.

You can catch up on the progress of AB 361 in California:

  
A Look Ahead
   
Non-urgent bills such AB 361 and SB 201 signed into law will become effective January 1st, 2012. Until then, social entrepreneurs interested in becoming among the first benefit corporations in California, can use the time to decide which legal structure is the best fit, and become prepared to meet the various requirements.
Attorney Donald Simon shares some tips on how a company can get ready for benefit corporation certification or re-certification as a benefit corporation in these two videos:

Attorney Donald Simon Defines 3 Terms Related to AB 361 (Benefit Corporations) [VIDEO]

Attorney Donald Simon’s Q & A on California Benefit Corporation Legislation [VIDEO]

 

Donald Simon
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Attorney Donald Simon’s Q & A on California Benefit Corporation Legislation [VIDEO]

California Benefit Corporation Law, From a Legal Lens

How can new entrepreneurs, founders, social enterprises be ready for benefit corporation legislation? Why might new businesses opt to incorporate as a benefit corporation? What makes benefit corporation compelling—from a legal standpoint?

Meet Donald Simon, Attorney and Co-Author of AB 361

These are a few of the questions we asked Donald Simon, Attorney and Partner at Wendel Rosen Black & Dean and Co-Chair of the Legal Working Group. Simon is an environmental activist-turned attorney who has remained steadfast in his passion for conservation causes —having founded two 2 environmental non-profit organizations. He has been a lead attorney in drafting and advocating for AB 361.

We caught up with him after the California State Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on California’s benefit corporation legislation, AB 361.

Watch the Interview

social innovation

B Corporation and Benefit Corporation: 3 Key Differences

If you are exploring signs of responsible business, you will likely come across the terms “B corporation” and “benefit corporation”…and while they may sound like synonymous buzzwords in social innovation, they are actually distinct concepts.

Here are 3 key differences to help keep them straight:

1. B Corporation is a voluntary certification.  B corporation certification recognizes companies that are purpose-driven and which create benefit for the community, the environment, and employees–as well as for shareholders. B corporation status is conferred on companies that apply with a passing score on the B Rating System and that agree to take steps to legally expand the fiduciary duty beneficiaries beyond shareholders.  The certification is granted by an advisory committee from B Lab–a non-profit organization dedication to B Corporation certification.
2. Benefit Corporation is a legal corporate structure.  You’ve likely heard of corporate structures such as a C corp or an S corp, similarly, benefit corporation is a new class of corporation that serves society and the environment, as well as shareholders. As of June 2011, four states have passed benefit corporation legislation (Maryland, Vermont, New Jersey, Virgina).
3. Becoming a Certified B Corporation is one way to meet statutory requirements for Benefit Corporation status. This is true for states that have passed benefit corporation legislation.
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Who Said Corporations Have to Maximize Shareholder Wealth?

Ask any law school graduate, and they will probably tell you that Michigan Supreme Court in Dodge v. Ford Motor Co. 170 N.W. 668 (Mich.1919) did.

Ford Overdrive

Dodge v. Ford: A Swashbuckling Tale for Maximizing Shareholder Profit

 

The historic case Dodge v. Ford tells a page-turning tale of astonishing innovation, mind-blowing wealth, deep rumination, distrust, and defection. There are larger-than-life personalities all-around, unafraid to use (legal) sword and shield to pursue and protect their interests.Less clear, however, is who is the hero and who is the villain. That can only be judged by the lens through which you see the story.

 

Ford Motor Co. Circa 1919: The Unstoppable Model T

 

In his enlightening law review article, “Everything Old is New Again: Lessons from Dodge v. Ford Motor Company” (December 2007) University of Chicago Law School Professor M. Todd Henderson sets the scene of the automobile industry in the early 1900’s.After two unsuccessful ventures, Henry Ford’s Ford Motor Company began expanding in a big way in the early 1900’s. With efficient mass production of cars, a growing market, and increased demand—the Ford Motor Co. was virtually unstoppable. The advent of assembly-line manufacturing led production of Ford’s original “Model T” to increase from less than 2000 cars per year in 1905 to over 2 million per year by 1923—growing over 700% in the span of 2 years.

 

An OMG Reaction to ROI

 

As reported by Henderson, financial life was not bad for the handful of Ford shareholders. Investments snowballed in their rate of returns. For example the brothers Dodge—who were shareholders at the time—made an initial investment of $10,000 and would yield over $35M over the next 13 years.

 

Restless Shareholders and Distrust

 

In his article, Henderson also paints broad brush strokes in describing the personalities of Ford and the Dodges. Henry Ford is described as suspicious and to some degree–unimpressed–that shareholders were so richly rewarded for investment of only money and no effort in creating the triumphant Model T.In the same vein, the Dodges were perhaps growing restless in the shadow of their overwhelmingly successful investment. And were ready to strike on their own. They knew of Ford’s plan to withhold dividends and build a factory—which would further lower the cost of manufacturing an automobile. And, incidentally, make it harder for them compete.

Legal Swords and Shields


Dodge v. Ford was not the first time Henry Ford stepped into a courtroom. He was well-acquainted with litigation and had filed cases to defend his name and reputation.

The Dodges decided to take action to prevent the building of the new factory by flexing their shareholder muscle. They first sent a letter to Dodge questioning the propriety of denying dividends and investing those funds in a large, expensive factory.

After their inquiry went unanswered, they filed a complaint demanding that the Ford Motor Co. establish a dividend policy that distributed all earnings except certain emergency funds and that an injunction be issued to prevent construction of the factory.

The Weight of Wealth


It is not clear whether Ford was always benevolent, strategically benevolent, or whether a sense of benevolence developed as he amassed great wealth. According to Henderson’s article, it may have been a complex hybrid.

Said Ford, “I believe it is better for the nation, and far better for humanity, that between 20,000 and 30,000 people should be contented and well fed than that a few millionaires should be made.”

It probably didn’t hurt the Ford Motor Co.’s prospects that the proposed actions (i.e. withholding dividend and reducing the cost of a car by ramping up production) would not only endear Ford to Americans but would also undercut future competition.

 

The Michigan Supreme Court Issues a Decision


While the lower court called for a special dividend to be issued and an injunction. The Michigan Supreme Court took a more subtle approach. It tried to keep courts at bay from making business decisions by declaring that courts must defer to the rational business judgment of a company. But allowed itself a loophole, by saying that Ford did not follow a rational business objective in denying dividends.

At the end, the Michigan Supreme Court gave Dodges their special dividend and Ford–the go-ahead for building his new factory.

 

Just a Load of Dicta?


In case law speak, judicial commentary articulating an opinion and not decisive to the case is known as “dicta” and is not binding in the court of law. The comments that have made Dodge v. Ford the single-most known case for defining a corporation’s duty to maximize shareholder wealth…comes in, well, dicta.

That has led some, such as UCLA Law Professor Lynn A. Stout to argue that Dodge v. Ford is not actually good law. She does so in her law review article “Why We Should Stop Teaching Dodge v. Ford“.

 

Why I am Fascinated by Dodge v. Ford


While I love learning the details of all of the law school cases I studied (note: this may be an overstatement :), I have truly been fascinated by the far-reaching implications of this case since the day I learned about it in a Corporation Law course. Whether or not the case has been misconstrued or is wrongly emphasized as an articulation of the maximize shareholder wealth principle, it is taught by law professors and learned by law students in that context.

And, in that context, the concept that the legal framework supports a single financial bottom line pursuit by corporations, I think, may impact the incentives and methodologies business chooses.

While, as Henderson argues, the Michigan Supreme Court may have found an ‘elegant’ solution to a complex situation of competing interests, the long-range result of emphasizing shareholder wealth above other measures suggests that other costs and outcomes are de-emphasized.

 

Triple Bottom Line and Shareholder Redefinition

Perhaps, to some degree, and according to the long-living dicta of Dodge v. Ford, businesses are not always incentivized to consider externalities such a corporation’s relationship to the environment, employee well-being, community involvement, and social justice.

If there was a way to work in such externalities to the ‘bottom line’ of rational business judgment outlined by Dodge v. Ford or expanding our definition of ‘shareholders’ to include non-monetary contributors it could literally change the way business is done by rewarding a company for its business acumen as well as its social innovation.

social innovation

5 Buzzwords to Know in Social Enterprise

When delving into any field there is often special field-specific terminology that helps define and explain core concepts and ideas. Sustainable enterprise is no different. While attending the Sustainable Enterprise Conference I came across a few industry-specific buzzwords related to social enterprise, social entrepreneurship, and social innovation that were mentioned throughout the day. Here’s a rundown:

1. Triple Bottom Line

The “bottom line” for a company generally refers to profits. Triple bottom line results encompass people, planet, and profits (it is also called TBL or 3BL). It is the key performance indicator (KPI) for assessing a company’s success in the social enterprise context. The term, in fact, has been adopted by the United Nations as well as other organized bodies focused on sustainability. It calls for companies and organizations to focus on various affected stakeholders (social, environmental, financial) rather than solely the shareholders. Learn more about the Triple Bottom Line on Wikipedia, including supporting arguments and criticisms of the term.


2. Greenwashing

Greenwashing refers to the misleading or deceptive advertising or spin on products and services that make them appear to be environmentally-responsible when they may not be, or more environmentally-friendly than they actually are. Though there do not seem to be universal guidelines to determine the true “green” factor for a business, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has identified voluntary guidelines for environmental marketing claims. Greenpeace also outlines criteria for spotting “greenwash”.

 

3. Carbon Off-Setting

Carbon offsets refer to investments/donations to environmental projects and initiatives for the purpose of offsetting unavoidable carbon emissions. Products or services that label themselves as “carbon neutral” often take a two-step approach: 1) reduce their own carbon emissions (reducing waste, recycling, reusing, conserving); and 2) offset unavoidable emissions by funding initiatives that reduce greenhouse gases. The CORE Initiative website offers insight on identifying the “most influential” carbon offset programs.

 

4. AB 361

AB 361 is the title of the legislation being proposed in California to create an official “benefit corporation” corporate structure. The proposed benefit corporation would be a voluntary structure that would enable CA corporations to pursue triple bottom line goals. AB 361 was introduced by CA Assemblymember Jared Huffman.

 

5. Green MBA

Green MBA refers to graduate business management programs that examine in-depth the triple bottom line reporting and the complex interconnectivities between issues of business, environment, sustainability, management, conservation, and social justice. Two premier schools offering Green MBA’s represented at the Sustainable Enterprise Conference were Presidio Graduate School and Dominican University of California.

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