The Good Generation

Tired of cynicism? Selfishness? Schadenfreude? Hop on the bus, Philly. From rock stars to business owners to everyday people, the cry of the moment is “Save the world!” How doing good suddenly got cool

Meet the 21 Philadelphians who make us feel like crap — because they're so good

Such companies already exist — Tom’s of Maine and Ben & Jerry’s come to mind — but Gilbert and Houlahan think there’s a market for more, which is why they’ve created a Berwyn-based outfit called B Lab. Their new firm has codified standards for what it means to be a socially responsible company — then allows those that measure up to use the “B Corporation” logo, akin to a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Just as important, B Lab helps companies rewrite their corporate documents so they’re no longer beholden strictly to shareholders (and therefore to maximizing profits). Instead, they answer to their “stakeholders” — a group that includes consumers, employees, the environment and the community at large. It’s a change that frees companies from looking only at the bottom line when making decisions and allows them to factor in the overall goodness or badness of what they’re doing.

The B Lab guys won’t go near the R-word, but beneath what they’re trying to do is a revolutionary notion: that companies shouldn’t be forced to choose between doing well and doing good, and that the world would be better off if we expected corporations to do both.

B Lab formally launched this past summer, and since then, about three dozen companies have become official “B Corporations.” “It’s a tough decision for a company,” Houlahan says, noting that it often means a deep examination of what a company’s real mission is. He and Gilbert are undeterred: Two years from now, they expect socially responsible B Corporations to represent a $4 billion market.

WHAT FASCINATING ABOUT B Lab — and so much of the Good that’s now taking place, from the quest to help Africa to the Green Movement — is the scope and ambition of it. This is not writing a check for a new hospital wing. It’s about big and permanent social change.

So here’s a question: Is what we’re seeing here a movement — or merely fashion, a fad that will go away? When I ask Sister Mary how she explains what’s going on, good-wise, she talks — with enormous gratitude — about the impact of high-profile people like Jon Bon Jovi. “I think now more than ever, the leadership of celebrities — and prominent philanthropists — has shown that it can make a huge difference,” she says. She’s absolutely right — although you can’t help wondering what might happen if at some point the famous decide to turn their attention back to themselves.

Then again, maybe that’s just a cynical thought, one that ignores the self-sustaining power of Good itself, the high you get from fixing something that’s broken, righting something that’s wrong, helping someone who needs a hand.

When you’re hungry, after all, it feels very, very good to eat.