A quest to change capitalism

09/14/2017

Inverness Park lawyer John Montgomery wants to help corporations gain a social and environmental conscience, and he thinks West Marin can be a beacon for a positive business remodeling worldwide. For the last few years, he’s helped various local and regional corporations become certified B Corporations, adopting practices that establish higher standards of social and environmental performances, accountability and transparency. 

“It boils down to a behavior change,” Mr. Montgomery said. “It’s essentially changing from a single-bottom-line, profit-only approach to a triple-bottom-line that includes society and the environment.” 

Certified B Corporations—Hog Island Oyster Company, North Coast Brewing Company and Clover Sonoma are a few he has worked with—measure their environmental impact against a third-party standard and provide an annual report to stockholders and the public about their positive contribution to society and the environment. (B Corporations do not receive any tax benefits and there is no legal status attached to them.)

For John Finger, co-owner of Hog Island, the requirements weren’t too different from how he and his business partner, Terry Sawyer, had been running their business. But the certification helps ensure that their approach will last into the future. 

“Part of it is, as we’re getting older—looking at what lies ahead and knowing that we didn’t start this to sell it off as a retirement vehicle—we want this to continue. We have a number of outside shareholders and we want to make sure those values become baked into the corporate DNA,” Mr. Finger said. 

Hog Island became a B Corporation—which differs from a “benefit corporation,” a legal term that refers to a particular type of for-profit corporation—in 2015. They’ve since improved their waste management, updated their employee handbook to include a policy that encourages volunteering and helped inform other local businesses about the B Corporation movement. 

This is where Mr. Montgomery steps in. 

A corporate lawyer for 33 years in Silicon Valley, he spent years trying to convince his partners to join him “in the quixotic quest to change capitalism.” They “politely indicated they were not going to join,” he said. 

“I essentially drank the Kool-Aid,” Mr. Montgomery said. “I had been inadvertently part of a global system that was leading humanity into a direction where life would become unsustainable for civilization and I decided I needed to do something about it.”

He began helping to modify cooperate law to enable “a multiple stakeholder approach as opposed to a shareholder-privacy approach,” he said. Working with Congressman Jared Huffman, he helped create legislation that allowed for the formation and governance of benefit corporations. 

Earlier this year, Mr. Montomery founded Lex Ultima, which consults with businesses and guides them through the certification process, which can take two to three years. 

Next week, he’ll lead an interactive presentation at the Dance Palace Community Center, providing an overview of B Corporations and suggesting how businesses in West Marin can join the movement. 

 

John Montgomery will host “Are you Ready for the B Economy?” at the Dance Palace Community Center on Friday, Sept. 22, 2017 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. The event is free, with donations to the Dance Palace suggested.