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5 Reasons #SocEnt Start-Ups should Measure their Impact

This post was originally published on B Lab's Best for the World publication on Medium.

Seven months into their operations, the co-founders of EcoZoom took time to go through the B Impact Assessment — a comprehensive assessment of a company’s impact on its workers, community, and environment. Three years later, their company has gone from three founders to 27 staff, certified as a B Corporation, and earned a spot on not one but two Best for the World lists. We talked to Amanda West, one of EcoZoom’s co-founders, about the value of measuring impact early.

1. Show You Walk the Talk

From energy-efficient cookstoves to reusable sanitary pads, EcoZoom’s products share a goal of creating better lives for the end users and their communities. “We’re really about raising the baseline of living for people in developing countries by addressing multiple problems in the home,” said co-founder Amanda West.

EcoZoom’s cookstoves, their primary product, don’t just help the environment by reducing emissions from burning biomass — they reduce the amount of smoke and carbon monoxide people inhale while cooking, as well as the amount of money and time spent acquiring fuel. One of EcoZoom’s cookstoves, the Zoom Dura, reduces the amount of necessary fuel by 50% and the emissions by 70%. Given that four million people die a year as a result of complications from inhaling smoke from wood-burning cookstoves, that’s no small impact.

But when EcoZoom was first starting out, they needed a way to show they were serious — and sincere.

“We were working in a space that was really dominated by government organizations and NGOs, and there was maybe one other for-profit working in the space,” West explained. “We wanted to send a message to the NGOs in the space that yes, we’re a for-profit company, but we’re still in this for good.”

Now, NGOs are some of the key partners in helping EcoZoom products reach end users.

2. Look Beyond Your Business Model

When we asked West about her experience taking the B Impact Assessment for the first time, she was honest. “I was a little overwhelmed,” she said. “We were so new as a company, and when we were thinking about impact, we thought about it only in terms of our product. We hadn’t really taken the next step into thinking about the impact of our business practices — how we got the product to people, for example.”

While EcoZoom had a great idea for an impactful product, they hadn’t thought through the potential for positive (and negative) impact in their company’s operations. “The assessment was great for clueing me into the things we should have been thinking about. I had no idea what people were measuring or what kind of metrics were important, and the BIA was a really great place to start.”

3. Make Changes While It’s Still Simple

After taking the BIA for the first time, EcoZoom’s co-founders began putting in place policies they’d found in the assessment — even ones they didn’t need yet, but would be easier to put into place while the company was still small.

“The first changes were around governance,” West said. “When you’re a young company, it’s something you can really control, and didn’t take much money.”

“We didn’t have any staff at the time, but the assessment got us thinking about how we could set up systems to be transparent with staff once we had them,” she continued. “It confirmed things we naturally wanted to do, like maternity leave and health & safety policies, and gave us a more structured way to do them.”

4. Tell Your Story to Investors

Besides getting B Corp certified, EcoZoom also received a GIIRS Rating from B Lab — a report designed to quantify and communicate a company’s impact to investors or potential investors. Funds also use GIIRS Ratings to track and benchmark their portfolio’s impact performance over time.

“We use our GIIRS Report for potential investors, and I think that’s been helpful to show people that we are taking ourselves and our impact seriously,” West told us. “They see that we have taken these extra steps to get third-party validation and certification, and people are always really impressed when they get the report. It helps us back up that part of our story, alongside the financial story.”

5. Find Your Community

All of these benefits were side effects for EcoZoom after beginning to measure their impact. However, it wasn’t their original motivation.

“One of the other co-founders, Phil [Ferranto], heard about [B Corp certification] at an event in 2011,” West told us. “He told the other co-founders about it — we were the only ones working at EcoZoom at the time. We took one look and said ‘We should definitely do this.’ When you’re a young start-up you need support and connections, and it was nice to connect to other companies with the same values.”

Those connections have paid off, especially locally. “There’s another B Corp in the international development space in Portland, Sustainable Harvest, and they’ve been really supportive of us from the beginning. They let us come to their huge conference for free, and they’ve always been willing to talk to us and advise us because they knew we shared the same values.” EcoZoom has also paid it forward. “We only bank with banks that are B Corps, and we use the community as a way to find vendors.”

Companies are eligible to be B Corp certified after one year of operations; younger companies can get started with Pending B Corp status, or get the ball rolling by signing up for a free B Impact Assessment account online.

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