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The History of B Lab

Of course there were businesses striving to be ethical before B Corp.  Patagonia had been donating to environmental causes for years when they founded 1% for the Planet in 2002.  Way back in 1985 Ben and Jerry’s established the Ben and Jerry’s Foundation with the commitment to donate 7.5% of its earnings to philanthropy.  Newman’s Own’s motto is “Let’s give it all away,” and since 1982 they have been doing just that.  100% of their profits go to charity.

But were they just outliers, these companies?  There was certainly nothing about their individual good intentions that might be seen as a “movement.”  

There was, however, a growing interest in companies that were ethically and sustainably run.  One such company was AND1.  If you were into basketball back in late 90’s and early 00’s you might remember them since they manufactured apparel and footwear for basketball players.  Founded by three college friends, Jay Coen Gilbert, Seth Berger and Tom Austin, they began by selling t-shirts out of the back of their car to folks who played a homegrown variety of basketball called streetball.  The t-shirt's streetball-savvy messages were right-away popular and by their second year AND1 was marketing to 1500 stores.  By the time they began producing their famous streetball mix tapes they were second only to Nike in sales of basketball shoes.  


AND1 donated 5% of their profits to local charities promoting education and opportunities for young people.  To their own employees they provided generous parental leave benefits.  They worked with their overseas suppliers to ensure fair wages. They established protocols for worker health and safety. 

B Lab Founders

 But for Jay Coen Gilbert 2001 was a turning point.  His sister, who was working in Manhattan,  was pulled (safely!) from the rubble after the 9-11 attacks.  Four days later his father died of lung cancer.  A colleague was killed in a car accident.  It triggered, as he put it, “a pretty intense period of reflection on what’s the highest and best use of my life.”  

Bart Houlahan, Jay Coen Gilbert, Andrew Kassoy

AND1 was sold in 2005.  Gilbert brought on board Bart Houlahan, who had been president and chief financial officer at AND1, and Andrew Kassoy, a longtime friend who had worked as a private equity investor on Wall Street.  They had the idea of doing something new, something that was entrepreneurial but that would at the same time benefit society.  They considered starting another company with that in mind.  They considered creating a social investment fund, which could help establish many socially beneficial companies.  But in the end, after talking with hundreds of business owners, they realized they had to go bigger.  In 2006 B Lab came into being.  In 2007, B Lab certified

their first 19 companies.  

Today there are 8027 B Lab certified companies, and that number grows daily. 

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