Making Decisions Across the Three Dimensions of People, Planet, and Profit

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A conversation with Fishpeople co-founder Kipp Baratoff.

BY KERRY NEWBERRY
PHOTO BY NOLAN CALISCH

ESEAMaybe you’ve noticed? For many companies, the way they do business is changing. It’s not just about the bottom line; people are pursuing business as a force for making a difference and making a profit. Leading this charge is B Lab, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “using the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.”

As part of their revolution, B Lab provides a framework and certification for companies wishing to benefit society as well as their shareholders. Once certified, companies become part of a global community of B Corps, joining a professional network dedicated to transforming the way business works.

What are B Corps? “B Corps are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.” Or, as B Lab’s website further states: B Corp is to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee or USDA organic certification is to milk.

EP is excited to highlight our local food and wine B Corp companies and share their stories of how they are using business as a catalyst for change. We sat down with Kipp Baratoff, co-founder (with Duncan Berry) of Fishpeople, a company working to transform our relationship to the sea, from dock to dinner plate.

EVERY FISH, A STORY

This is the last thing on the planet that we hunt en masse. Think about it. There’s an entire global industry dedicated to hunting something. Right now, half the global marine protein is sourced through farming, but the half that isn’t is hunted every single day — with spears and hooks and things that can stick you.

With each fish, there’s a story in terms of who caught it and how, where it’s coming from, how it was handled, and how it was processed. Is it good for you? Is it bad for you? Did it come from a foreign country, or did it come from this country? These are all questions consumers ask. We believe we have a deep responsibility to know our fish and the people who bring fish from the ocean to your plate.

ROCKING THE BOAT

You could say that we are crazy about sh, and we are crazy about people —hence Fishpeople. Our intent is to create a different kind of seafood business than what has been out there for decades. We care about sourcing our sh in a way that is not harmful to the planet, and taking care of the people who process that sh in a way that they can have a decent income. When we talk about industry transformation, we are talking about protecting this giant natural resource we have and sending market signals that say this asset is worth paying attention to.

About 16–17 percent of the world’s marine protein is now considered sustainable, and we only source from those certified sustainable stocks. We also consider that after the sh is caught, the workers handling and processing the sh are generally earning minimum wage with no benefits. We provide them living-wage jobs with benefits. We want to be a trusted resource for consumers when they ask: How do I make the right choice?

TALKING ABOUT A REVOLUTION

We have to adjust capitalism and have it do something different than it’s doing right now. Otherwise we will not have the natural resources required to sustain the population on the planet. It’s just that simple.

Duncan and I both deeply believe that you can use commerce to make a difference in the world. That business and market capitalism can be an agent for change — precisely because it harnesses the power of consumer demand, and we are a consumer economy, after all. Both of our careers have been marked by professionally operating in that space.

We first met when helping a ranch in Oregon figure out sustainable wool sourcing and application. Over our careers, we have both advised on issues related to sustainable energy, carbon, and climate change, so we kept finding ourselves in similar professional circles. Fishpeople evolved from conversations about the ocean — this huge natural resource — and the people who rely on it. And here we are, five to six years later.

LET YOUR HAIR DOWN: THE B CORP COMMUNITY

Joining a community of people who have like-minded values is a really exciting thing for us because we get to let our hair down and talk with other companies about how sometimes it’s really hard to make a decision that’s good for the planet but impacts the margin of the company. Talking to other people who are facing those tensions in their supply chain or marketing is really helpful. By joining B Corps, you are communicating your values and slapping them on your shoulder like your Boy Scouts badge. It shows that we care about people, planet, and pro t. And we have a stamp of approval that says we actually mean it when we say that. It’s nice to have accountability partners on the road to self-awareness.

ROCK ‘N’ ROLL AND AUTHENTICITY

It’s really easy to espouse that you have great values. It’s like that Ben Harper line: “There’s good deeds, and there is good intention. They’re as far apart as heaven and hell.” We want a community and we want to be authentic. And there’s no better way to be authentic than to look in the mirror every morning and say, “I tell everybody that I believe in this stuff and now here’s an authority who every two years is going to come inside my home and ask me 700 questions to make sure that I actually walk the talk.” That’s why you join. Because you care.

A COMPASS FOR CHANGE

When you read Paul Hawken’s books (“The Ecology of Commerce,” “Blessed Unrest”), they inspire you as a call to arms. B Lab — who is giving us B Corps — has created a lexicon and taxonomy for how a company can make decisions across the three dimensions of people, planet, and profit. They provide the specific infrastructure to enable you to live those values as opposed to just talking about them.

A significant principle with B Corps is that you adjust your corporate articles to enable you to make decisions that bene t stakeholders, not just shareholders. It’s not about transforming industry; it’s about transforming the way business operates. And these guys are putting a dent, a real dent, in the way businesses get organized.

MISSION-DRIVEN COMPANIES … AND TATTOOS

The younger generation wants to work for mission-driven companies, and the boomer generation, on the verge of retiring, is looking back and wondering, “What have I done to give back to my grandchildren or the planet?” B Corps is creating conversation around that culture, and that’s a really powerful thing.

I have a tattoo on my forearm that has my three most important values, so that when I’m 80, and it’s a messy blob that can’t be read, and my grandkids ask, “What’s that, Poppy?” I will know whether I have lived up to those values, because I will have to tell them the story about when I got that tattoo at 19 and why I got it and how I’ve used it as a guiding post to tether me along the way.

The tattoo’s three words are love, honor, and truth.

Kerry Newberry is a freelance writer based in Portland, where she chases stories about people through food, wine and sustainability. Read more about her work at kerrynewberry.com.

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