The Principles for Partnership with Frontline and Impacted Communities

April 22, 2024

Most businesses, especially B Corps, want to partner with communities and support local efforts to advance climate justice. However, many companies are still determining where to start despite their good intentions. 

In the winter of 2023, frontline community leaders and employees of Certified B Corps came together through a facilitated co-creation process around B Lab U.S. & Canada’s climate justice work to help guide B Corps on just that – where to start. Over ten months, the group met virtually six times and built a working relationship centered on the willingness to have honest, and sometimes uncomfortable, conversations needed to build trust. Alongside the workshops, we interviewed nearly twenty frontline community leaders from across the U.S. & Canada. 

As an outcome of this co-creation process, B Lab USCA has developed seven Principles for Partnership with Frontline Communities to guide businesses in building and nurturing equitable versus extractive partnerships with frontline communities.

The principles for partnership seek to provide a starting place for businesses to approach working with communities in mutually beneficial and equitable ways instead of transactional and harmful. The purpose is to pave a new path forward for companies and frontline community collaboration, which centers on frontline communities’ needs and wisdom while recognizing the past missteps and adverse actions by businesses that have led to community distrust. 

We encourage B Corp leaders to read and process the Principles for Partnership with Frontline Communities with an open mind. We recognize that only some principles might resonate or feel realistic for your company, but we ask you to not let that deter you from finding a starting place within them. The journey towards businesses helping advance Climate Justice in tangible, meaningful ways is a journey.

Your company has a unique role to play. Beginning requires being bold but also learning some of our practices and approaches that businesses have adopted over time that harm, not help, community partnerships. We invite you to explore how the principles of partnership can support your company in starting or continuing on your climate justice journey. 

The creation of these Principles would not have been possible without the hard work, thought partnership, and dedication of the Climate Justice Design Team, as represented below:

Aurora Archer – The Opt-In 

Justin Wright – Habitus Inc. 

Narissa Turner – Habitus Inc. 

Raj Aggarwal – Provoc Inc. 

Cee Stanley – Green Heffa Farms 

Jacqueline Lee-Tam – Climate Justice Organizing Hub Canada 

Jennifer Cooper – Native Energy 

Taylor Stanley – Riverside Natural Foods 

Pennie Opal Plant – Movement Rights 

LaTresse Snead – Bonsai Leadership 

Cynthia Estremera – Strategy Arts

Karen Lickteig – B Lab USCA

Kylie Nealis – B Lab USCA


Principle 1: Center Trust + Transparent Communications

Trust is foundational to building partnerships of solidarity and mutual benefit, especially for B Corps that have had few experiences engaging with frontline and grassroots communities. 

Centering trust and transparent communication will move us away from the extractive and exploitative norms of business and towards equitable relationships. We foster trust by actively listening to one another with curiosity and good faith, being transparent about our expectations, intentions and values, and getting specific about the time and resources we have to put into shared projects. 

We hold brave space so we can meet each other as peers and engage with honesty and transparency, resisting the replication of existing hierarchies. We turn to community members to bridge cultural gaps so we can learn what is required for trust-building with cultural sensitivity. We know that trust-building is iterative, non-linear and requires a deep dedication to relationships over time. 

Principle 2: Center Local Wisdom + Perspective

We prioritize local wisdom, increase visibility of climate impacts locally, reduce carbon emissions, and decentralize power and resources. Businesses are conditioned to adopt command and control systems where solutions are corporate-led. We move away from this paternalistic, colonialistic ‘we’ve got the solution’ mindset towards deep listening and collaboration; ‘how can we solve this together?’. We do this by centering the wisdom of frontline communities most affected by climate change. We respond to their urgent needs by supporting their calls to action and compensating them when we ask for their time and labor. 

We hold complexity knowing that the local community’s existential threats and immediate needs may be in tension with longer-term solutions. Local communities’ mistrust of outside institutions are founded in lived experience. Moving at the speed of trust, we actively listen before exploring how local wisdom intersects with systemic solutions inspired by western science and institutions. We expand our perception of what solutions are valued and focus on co-creating pathways that address both immediate needs and longer-term systems change.

Principle 3: Commitment to Equitable Resource Allocation

We acknowledge power and resources and redistribute it in service of the local community. Resources may encompass money, time, in-kind donations, political influence amongst other forms of power. There are stark resource disparities between large companies and grassroots-frontline communities. When we commit to this, we move away from a top-down power dynamic towards partnerships that redistribute power and resources in tangible and equitable ways. In our partnerships, we name these resource disparities upfront and open a two-way conversation about how to equitably redistribute power in our partnerships. 

This means that the more resourced party is ready to have conversations about compensation for grassroots and frontline communities and build that into their budget. They are ready to discuss how their political influence can support the community’s calls to action. These conversations may be difficult, but this kind of boldness is necessary to build transformational partnerships.

Principle 4: Racial + Cultural Literacy Will Be Prioritized By Participants

We are responsible and accountable for our own motivation, learning and continuous commitment to being grounded in racial and cultural literacy. This is imperative for both trust-building between partnering organizations and moving us collectively towards our larger vision of a just and equitable society. 

The overlap between systemic racism and climate change must be acknowledged and a justice-oriented framework must be foundational to our work. People of color disproportionately bear the brunt of climate impacts, in addition to living at the intersections of other crises including racism, migration, economic subordination, lack of access to medical care, decent housing, etc. We learn, internalize and embody equitable skills to move away from white supremacist tendencies towards being consciously anti-racist. B Lab will provide learning opportunities and content for B Corps and their employees through access to B Lab Racial Equity and Climate Justice resources and other vetted resources and B Corps are responsible for their own learning as well.

B Corps must hold themselves accountable by assessing their own racial and cultural literacy on an ongoing basis by the B Lab self assessment, authentically sharing their understanding and their participation in B Lab programs…expanding understanding and learning new skills takes time, is continuous, and an investment of resources.

Principle 5: Center Conflict Acknowledgement + Trust Regeneration

We center conflict acknowledgement and trust regeneration through our active listening and taking accountability for our missteps. When missteps occur we move into the action of conscious repair using restorative justice frameworks. There is an intrinsically fraught relationship between large, powerful companies and frontline communities. Unaddressed, this power differential can make it hard to resolve conflicts and rebuild trust when it is broken. 

Moving through conflict together requires a commitment to investing resources, time and energy into the conflict mediation frameworks agreed upon by those who are affected by the issues that arise. In instances where harm is perpetuated, B Corps may need to set aside funds to embark on a restorative justice framework with the impacted community members. 

We don’t expect to be perfect, but we strive to bring our best to these relationships. In our commitment to move towards equitable partnerships, we commit to being accountable to our decisions and mistakes, and we follow the iterative, non-linear path of trust.

Principle 6: Clear and Equitable Decision Making Process

We co-develop clear and equitable decision making processes that meet the needs of all partners involved. In partnerships, we move towards diverse, intersectional, culturally aware, trust-based decision making. It is often the case that a business with resources can use their power to perpetuate homogenous, myopic decision making that is paternalistic and leads to performative actions and commitments.

 All parties are clear on how a project comes to life, moves forward, what our shared goals are, who is responsible for which pieces, how local wisdom, historically marginalized and impacted voices are centered, how the work is communicated throughout the partnership, and how the final project outcomes are shared, co-stewarded, and who is acknowledged. 

Decision-makers from participating organizations are accountable, present, engaged, and capable of creating change and taking action to ensure impact, and respect and reverence for one another’s time and energy.

Principle 7: Center Long-Term + Sustainable Commitment to Ensure Our Collective Survival

We center long-term and sustainable commitments for the collective survival and liberation of people and the planet. We understand that short term investments cause harm and are often focused on image and virtue signaling. By creating long-term partnerships that extend beyond typical corporate program timelines we consider the sustainability and impact of the collaboration. 

We look inwards to find our “why” for this work, and we let that guide us. We embrace a process with full awareness and accountability for negative impacts that will be non-linear and requires an openness to discomfort and uncertainty and gradual evolution/moving at the speed of trust versus deadline and KPI-driven.

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