Ensuring Worker Safety and Supply Chain Stability While Continuing to Champion Sustainability
Since its founding a decade ago with the goal of eliminating single-use plastic bottles, S’well has been guided by its mission to create positive impact for people and the planet. It recently formalized its commitment in March 2020 by becoming a Certified B Corporation, completing an assessment of its impact on workers, community, environment, and customers — the stakeholders it most affects.
While gaining B Corp certification was a multiyear process for S’well, the fact that it happened as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted everyday life around the world only reinforced the company’s commitment to sustainable living, says Kendra Peavy, vice president of global communications, sustainability and impact for S’well.
Even before the pandemic and racial justice movement put a spotlight on systemic cracks and inequalities that leave many communities behind, more businesses like S’well were turning to the B Corp community for guidance, collaboration, and inspiration. B Lab, the nonprofit that oversees B Corp certification, saw a 60% increase in certifications from 2018 to 2019, and registrations to take the B Impact Assessment used for certification have climbed 23% from 2019 to 2020.
Energized by B Corp Certification
The process of completing the B Impact Assessment and gaining B Corp certification provided a great learning experience for the team at S’well, Peavy says, noting the company first considered becoming a B Corp in 2017 and started to pursue certification in 2019.
“It does take time, because it is such a thorough process,” she says. “We’re 10 years old but still consider ourselves scrappy and a startup. We wanted to make sure we could get it done and pull all the resources to make it happen. It’s the next step of helping to evolve our programming and confirming everything we are doing.”
The B Impact Assessment, the assessment administered by B Lab used to certify a company as B Corp, confirmed S’well already had many best practices in place, Peavy says, but also identified where it has room for improvement. “It also was such a unifying experience for us,” she says. “We really believe in what S’well stands for, but it took the B Corp certification process to be able to get all the teams from all departments fully engaged and accountable. They had a critical role to play in getting to the end game, and that created amazing momentum and energy.”
While S’well has a history of positive impact and sustainability, it also has additional opportunities to address issues like climate change and social justice through its business operations. “Other learnings really showed us that we were doing things right and now have a framework to keep evolving and doing more, and leading others in the process,” Peavy says. “The way the questions were asked and how you had to present your data helped the team start to think about how we could do more simply by changing one practice or adjusting existing policies.”
Making Purposeful Decisions During COVID-19
Change took on new significance in March, when COVID-19 affected how S’well and other companies operated on a daily basis. With its Manhattan office closed, S’well had its corporate employees work remotely and shifted schedules and practices for its fulfillment team members to ensure they could be safe while shipping product orders.
“Thinking through the safety of our warehouse team was critical,” Peavy says. “We were taking precautionary steps along the way while being as open and transparent with our partners as possible so we could help each other get through. It’s important to do that thoughtfully with the purpose your company’s been built on.”
“We’ve always been committed to operating with purpose,” Peavy says. “For us it was continuing to do so but finding ways to do more as the world was changing. While we couldn’t produce the PPE that healthcare workers needed, we saw an opportunity to help them stay hydrated.”
Through the rapidly launched For the Frontlines project, S’well donated $1 million worth of product in recent months to more than 28,000 health care essential workers in the U.S. and United Kingdom as part of a “Buy One, Donate One” program.
“Part of what we’ve always done is create programs that give back, and this is one we did in the moment with what we have,” Peavy says. “There’s no doubt that the pandemic made us think differently about how to support our customers, workers, and partners in new ways.”
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