ST. PETERSBURG — Townhomes are popping up all over the Tampa Bay area but the 13-unit Royal in St. Petersburg has an unusual distinction. It’s being developed by one of Florida’s few Certified B Corporations — companies that meet high standards for "social and environmental performance.''
St. Petersburg-based Salt Palm Development broke ground this month for the Royal at 545 Fourth Avenue S. near another townhome project, Sabal Smart Homes, that it recently completed. Like Sabal, the Royal will include eco-friendly features like LED lighting, reflective roof materials and drought-tolerant landscaping.
Jared M. Meyers is chairman of Salt Palm and Orlando-based Legacy Vacation Resorts, another Certified B Corporation. Both received their certifications from B Lab, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit with offices around the world. Meyers spoke with the Tampa Bay Times about Certified B Corporations and why he hopes to see more of them in Florida. The interview was edited for length and clarity.
What distinguishes this type of certification from something that says, for example, "this milk has been certified as organic.''
Other certifications apply to a certain product but you don’t know much about the company behind it. This is the only one that spans the entire business, not just a specific product. It says the entire company performs at a certain level so it enhances the trust level when you interact with it whether as an employee, a customer or an investor.
Where and how many Certified B Corporations are there?
They’re in 150 industries in over 70 countries. There are a little over 3,000 (corporations), about half in North America. Some of the companies are Ben & Jerry’s, TOMS shoes, Danone yogurt, Eileen Fisher (women’s clothing). In Florida, we have 23. Salt Palm is the only one in St. Pete but last month we picked up two in Tampa—a video production company called Diamond View and a software company called Harness. There’s a bigger concentration in South Florida.
What’s the process for getting certified?
There is an assessment every company must take, and you don’t just take it, (B Lab) does onsite audits and every three years after you have to be re-certified. There are five components— (corporate) governance, employees, environment, community and customers. With employees, they look at the ratio of highest to lowest paid, benefit packages, what sort of policies do you have in place re inclusion and diversity. B Lab will say, ‘Do you pay a living wage?’ At Salt Palm we don’t have many direct employees, it’s a lot of subcontractors, whereas my resort company has hundreds and we guarantee a living wage. In Orange County, it’s $12.70 an hour. (Florida’s minimum wage is $8.46.)
Does your board have any minority members?
(Laughs) The board is my wife and I, so no. What’s really cool about a B Corporation assessment is that as you take it, you become educated along the way and realize all the things you’re not doing. We’re constantly improving what we do. As proud as I am to be a Certified B Corporation, we’re not perfect, there are things we could be doing better.
What is the "community'' aspect of certification?
That governs volunteerism, paid off time to volunteer, how many company-sponsored projects there are, what you give in the way of donations. For Salt Palm, for example, we have a public commitment to invest at least 50 percent of our profits into the city or the Florida for Good movement (encouraging businesses to become Certified B Corporations). We sponsored the SHINE Mural Festival, we’ve worked with the mayor’s efforts to beautify the city, We launched an initiative called HIVE - St. Pete, where we partner with nonprofits to educate the public about, say, water quality, and do local projects.
This all sounds great but presumably for-profit companies hope to get something out of B Corporation certification besides good will?
There are no tax breaks, no direct financial incentives. My personal reason to go in this direction is that I want to set an example to show other businesses that you can run a successful business with these practices. I want to create a new social norm. The Typical B Corporation becomes one because it aligns with their values and they use that to attract higher talent employees. Seventy percent of employees feel disengaged from the company they work for. If you can make them engaged and excited it changes everything. Some companies also use this to attract better financing.
And what is the "customer'' aspect of a B Corporation certification?
We know the younger generation wants to know how their dollars are being used. We are very proactive in saying, ‘When you spend money with us, I’m not buying five new Feraris.’ We make sure we offset our carbon emissions. We will put money back into the community. The more we can lean into that, the more we will attract customers.