Third-Party Certifications Help Rivanna Natural Designs Build Commitment to Environment and Workers
Certified B Corporations are pursuing a new economic system — a stakeholder economy — where business decisions benefit all people and the planet. To gauge their social and environmental impact and measure their progress, B Corps complete the B Impact Assessment every three years. This comprehensive series of questions across five categories — governance, workers, community, the environment, and customers — helps B Corps identify areas for improvement and learn best practices while providing a third-party evaluation of their positive impact.
The B Impact Assessment also sets apart the Best for the World B Corps: those B Corps that rank in the top 5% of all companies in their size group for the five categories. This article is one in a series featuring Best for the World 2022 B Corps that exemplify ways to bring a stakeholder economy to life.
When Crystal Mario decided to start a new business, she pulled from two motivations: To do work that brings her joy, and to build a business that helps protect the Earth. For the first, she tapped into her experience in college as a volunteer with refugees whose positive attitudes inspired her; for the second, she harnessed lessons from a few of the first available graduate courses on the role of business in protecting the environment.
The result: Rivanna Natural Designs, a Certified B Corporation that since 2001 has created planet-friendly alternatives to traditional trophies and plaques, and provided jobs for recent refugees and others in need of safe and rewarding employment. The Richmond, Virginia-based company’s efforts in both of those areas helped earn it Best for the World honors in environment and workers in 2022 — recognition that Mario says reflects the Rivanna team’s dedication through the years to her original business goals.
“Once we made the decision that there was just a certain kind of business that we wanted to be, we were able to focus on seeking new ways to make products so we could define our own style,” she says. “If you want a trophy that looks like a bowling trophy, you don’t want to do business with us. By saying no to that type of business, we had more time and energy to find customers who really wanted to do work with us and believed in what we were doing.”
Finding Value in Community Partnerships and Third-Party Standards
What sets apart Rivanna Natural Designs as a Best for the World 2022 honoree in the environment and workers stakeholder categories? Here are a few of the practices and beliefs in each category that Mario says have helped the B Corp build its social and environmental impact.
- Workers: Partnering with other organizations from the company’s start for hiring and environmental expertise helped Mario create a strong foundation for future success. For any open job, she says Rivanna first contacts the International Rescue Committee in Richmond, which assists refugees and other immigrants in rebuilding their lives after arriving in the United States. “Our policy is a bit like open hiring, as we don’t require references or a lot of background information,” she says. “We do try to look for people who have an interest in the kind of work that we do and are able to do the kind of work that we do. And we’ve had some extraordinary employees.” In addition to paying a living wage, Rivanna offers workers full benefits, flexible hours, and language training for non-English speakers. Mario adds that Rivanna is accessible by public transportation and provides a safe and quiet workplace.
- Environment: Mario decided to launch a wood products company in large part because it was one of the few industries at the time that had third-party standards for its environmental impact. With certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Rivanna and its clients can be confident about the sources of its raw materials and as well as its commitment to the environment. “We have a very short list of raw materials and components that we will use, and strict business practices wrapped around our product design and development,” Mario says. “That simple practice has worked well for us. It has disappointed some customers who have ideas of things that they’d like us to design and build, but we simply don’t take on business that doesn’t meet our standard.”
The B Impact Assessment: A Tool to Assess Your Company’s Impact
Use the free B Impact Assessment to evaluate your company’s impact on all stakeholders, including the environment, your workers, your community, and your customers.
Third-Party Certifications Help Build Commitment to Environment and Workers
With a team of 10 employees, Rivanna is among the many smaller businesses in the global B Corp community. Mario says making the decision to become a B Corp in 2011 was easy because she had seen the value of other third-party certifications. “We know it works to choose the rigorous standard and to live by that standard,” she says. “We thought we were doing well with respect to people and the planet, and then by going through the B Corp Certification process we realized we had to sharpen the saw on lots of things. It’s been great for us in that respect.”
Third-party certifications like B Corp and FSC also have helped Rivanna gain business with clients who value their meaning. “It’s made a big difference for us. The certifications are time-consuming and can be expensive, but they have value for a small business,” she says. “When we started, only a small group of companies, NGOs, and academic institutions were looking for the products that we were willing to make for them. So we intentionally sought them out, and they helped us build our business — those customers are still our customers.”
She also says it’s important for small business leaders to say no to work that doesn’t align with their company’s values or may be harmful to their team or the environment. “You have to respectfully decline some business, then take all that energy and put it toward building the kind of business that you want,” Mario says. “It’s hard to run a small business, so it’s important to find those places where you connect with customers, suppliers, and your team. If you’re not connecting with those people at a personal level, where you share values and are working toward a common goal, you need to re-evaluate.”
A consistent focus on the values that Mario established when starting Rivanna has helped build loyalty at the workplace — she notes that the first two refugees the B Corp hired are still on the team. “I thought that people would come to the company and stay for a couple of years, learn English, and then go back to doing what they were doing before or go on to find other employment. But I’ve been happily surprised to find out that people don’t want to leave,” she says. “People have wanted to stay and help build the company. They understand the uniqueness of our work and their own unique position as role models for newcomers. At the same time, they appreciate the skills and perspectives of newcomers, whose diverse work and life experiences add value, especially in a small company. I think we’re all happy to be a part of that.”
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