B Corporations or B Corps are a growing phenomenon attracting increasing attention from sustainability researchers. B Corps are for-profit businesses which commit to responsible business practices through a third-party certification. Currently there are 3,790 certified B Corps in 74 countries. Similar to the global growth of the phenomenon, the research community studying B Corps is diverse in methods, topics, and geography. In this Salon, we hope to draw on this diversity by inviting working papers that the Salon community can help develop. In the process, we will also showcase the potential in studying B Corps, and the data that are creatively curated by researchers to answer important topics of interest to sustainability researchers.
Michele Bradley (Measurement and Evaluation Data Analyst at B Lab)
B Lab Standards Team
Leonardo Boni (PhD scholar in General Management, University of Bologna)
Legitimacy of Social Hybrids: Navigating the Ambiguity in Prosocial Category of B Corps
Social hybrid organizations –organizations combining social and economic objectives– seek to generate social impact through market mechanisms. Hybridity often implies conflicting stakeholders’ demands such that social hybrids adopt legitimation strategies to grow financially and achieve social objectives. Aligning with a prosocial category, i.e., a context in which entities share social entrepreneurship values, is one way to find legitimation. As scholars evidenced that organizations derive value from category membership, literature also suggests that aligning with an ambiguous category –a context in which members share heterogeneous values– may not yield benefits. Yet, the number of social hybrids joining ambiguous prosocial categories, such as the B Corp movement, is constantly growing. In this paper, we ask how and under what conditions social hybrids benefit from joining an ambiguous prosocial category. We use a longitudinal sample of 186 Italian social hybrid organizations, of which 150 became B Corps and 36 did not. Results suggest that social hybrids do not benefit from joining an ambiguous organizational category. This negative effect is reversed by the degree of distinctiveness within the organizational category and by the level of concreteness of the firm’s commercial offer. We contribute to the literature by unveiling the downsides of ambiguous categories membership for social hybrid organizations, shedding lights on how such penalties can be mitigated.
Ke Cao (Assistant Professor, Lazaridis School of Business & Economics, Wilfrid Laurier University)
Losing Their Religion: Why Do Some Certified B Corporations Decertify?
Building on insights from institutional theory and social movement literature, I examine the decertification of Certified B Corporations (also known as B Corporations or B Corps) and their corresponding disengagement from the B Corporation movement. I contribute by providing a theoretical framework for understanding why organizations disengage from social movements. Notably, the study reveals the crucial roles of ownership gender and peer community size in the process. Additionally, while prior theoretical explanations for understanding practice adoption and abandonment rest on efficiency and legitimacy gains of organizations, this study provides new directions by advocating an empirically relevant theoretical framework focused on identity, context, and reputation distinction.
Hans Rawhouser (Associate Professor of Management, Entrepreneurship and Technology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas)
Paths to Social Hybridity: A Configurational Approach
We extend concepts from biology to understand the social hybridization process through an examination of social impact activities among social hybrids. We argue that multiple types of social hybrids exist and that patterns of parental dominance exist among social hybrids. Some behave like a charity, focusing their social impact activities to achieve distinction and differentiation as leaders among hybrids. Others behave like a business, engaging in activities related to several stakeholders, reacting later in the hybridization process. We test these arguments using a fsQCA methodology of the prosocial impact activities reported by 1483 U.S. ventures certified as B corps from 2007 to 2019. We identify multiple paths to achieving social hybridity. We find that organizations with higher levels of social impact tend to more narrowly focus on few types of social impact, while those that are lowest in social impact are broader in their focus and tend to be late in their pursuit of social hybrid certification.