Impact reports are becoming the favored way for companies to communicate the social and environmental impact they are creating in the world. Nested within this category is a special subset of impact reporting: public benefit reports.
In most states that have approved Public Benefit Corporation legislation — there are now 37 in the U.S. — companies electing this legal structure are required to publish an annual benefit report. The intent of these reports is to detail the substantive actions (the proof!) that the business has taken to create its intended public benefit. They are generally made available to the public on the company’s website.
Since companies are generally required to publish benefit reports within 120 days of fiscal year-end, that means the month of April is officially public benefit report season. Most of the 10,000+ legal benefit corporations in the U.S. are small businesses, so we canvassed reports from around country to find examples of how companies fulfill this responsibility to their stakeholders. We selected three that showcase a range public benefit reporting: an ecommerce business in Minnesota; a retailer of botanicals in Oregon; and a resort company headquartered in Florida.
Fair Anita, Minneapolis, Minnesota
“We are named after a social worker in Chimbote, Peru, Senora Anita (pictured left). I had the tremendous privilege of living with Anita (many times!), and she taught me so much about what economic development looks like on the ground and how women can be real changemakers, especially when given economic opportunities.”
Fair Anita is an online fashion retailer and social enterprise that teams up with women artisans from around the world to sell their products — and in the process to benefit women in marginalized communities.
What We Like
We love the straight-forward, hard-working approach of this in-depth public benefit report, the company’s seventh as a Minnesota Specific Benefit Corporation. Produced as a simple text document, this unadorned benefit report seems to say, “We’re spending our time and money to make tangible impact, not just talking fancy about it.” The report also includes a detailed accounting of actions taken to pursue the company’s mission, particularly the sales of its Fair Trade products and their impact on women artisan partners around the world. Bonus points for looking forward with its section on strategic directions for 2022.
Room For Improvement
What’s that saying? That your greatest strength can also be your greatest weakness? The spare design and reliance of type creates a sea of gray copy that can present a challenge for readership in a world where attention spans are limited. We think Fair Anita’s engaging narrative of impact could become even more compelling with another look at its design and layout.
Read the Fair Anita Public Benefit Report.
Stingray Botanicals, Eugene, Oregon
Stringray Botanicals is a women-owned retailer of high-quality (and stunning if the images on the website are any indication) house plants. It is Oregon’s first houseplant shop to become a benefit corporation, and 2021 was its first full year of operation.
What We Like
The report opens with the company’s manifesto, which outlines its belief system and values and presents the foundation for the story of the company’s public benefit to come. It’s an impressive outing for its first public benefit report. The report sequentially walks you through the impact they make on employees, their community, and the environment. Stingray gets extra points for outlining its supplier practices and for personalizing impact with their story of support for Sher, a survivor of sexual assault and abuse who is working to help other survivors.
Room for Improvement
Some of the paragraphs are long and hinder readability; they could be broken into two to improve this. Another area that could enhance the communication of Stingray’s benefit story is to take the impact numbers — currently embedded in some of those longer narrative paragraphs — and pop them out and into an “Impact at a Glance” graphic. Make it “pop” — your impact deserves it!
Check out the Stingray Botanicals Public Benefit Report for yourself.
Legacy Vacation Resorts, Orlando, Florida
Legacy Vacation Resorts, which has resort properties in Florida, New Jersey, Colorado, and Nevada, creates memorable experiences for families around eco-friendly vacations that advance positive environmental and social impact.
What We Like
Here’s a benefit corporation (also certified B Corp) making holistic positive impact — and documenting it with metrics to substantiate it. There’s so much to like here: the introduction with a land acknowledgment statement acknowledging Indigenous Peoples, which we’d like to see in more benefit reports; employee testimonials on regenerative travel and inclusive employment; partnerships and pledges; and detailed impact initiatives ranging from 100% fossil-free banking to living wages for employees. Added bonus: a dose of humility, outlined in the section “Areas of Improvement,” where the company acknowledges work still needed: carbon footprint; justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion; guest education.
Room for Improvement
There’s so much good here it’s hard to take it all in. This abundance of information might call for an executive summary covering key performance indicators and accomplishments and then allowing for a deeper dive at reader discretion. The colors, type size, and overall design of the charts and tables could be improved to help reader comprehension. One thing we’d like to see in the future: A sustainability testimonial from a guest’s perspective.
Download the Legacy Vacation Resorts annual benefit report.
There you have it — three fantastic benefit corporations that are using business to positively change the world — and each reporting in different styles and formats to help their stakeholders understand the contributions to society these companies have legally committed to make. One last note of encouragement: Finding these benefit reports required some searching out on all three websites. Go ahead and give them more prominence — your customers, your guests, and your employees should understand the difference you are making. You walk the talk and that’s not all that easy. Your stakeholders should know what it takes to create impact that benefits each of them. Oh, and one other thing: You truly deserve the recognition!
(Interested in learning more about public benefit corporations? There’s a lot to know about this emerging corporate structure. For more, check out our blog, “What is a Benefit Corporation.”)