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Triple Bottom becomes Pennsylvania’s first certified B corp brewery

Certified B corporations are eligible for a Philly tax cut. But Triple Bottom’s CEO was more focused on other aspects of the process.

Tess Hart, co-founder and CEO of Triple Bottom Brewing. Last year Hart started a supper club to celebrate the talents of diverse chefs, mostly women and BIPOC. Triple Bottom also collaborates with Project HOME and the Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project.
Tess Hart, co-founder and CEO of Triple Bottom Brewing. Last year Hart started a supper club to celebrate the talents of diverse chefs, mostly women and BIPOC. Triple Bottom also collaborates with Project HOME and the Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

One year into operating and six months into a pandemic, Spring Garden’s Triple Bottom Brewing was still adapting to a new way of being. With its taproom temporarily closed (it reopened just last week), it had pivoted to outdoor dining. It also hosted community events and dinners while coordinating Joy Box shipments that corralled artisan goods from various Philly makers in one package.

Plenty was happening, but owner and CEO Tess Hart added another item to the agenda: apply to become a certified B Corporation.

Hart had been determined to do so since the inception of Triple Bottom — the mission-driven brewery she and husband Bill Popwell opened with brewmaster Kyle Carney in fall 2019 — and arguably even before then.

“Since I learned about B Corps, I have looked up to them and felt that that was such a powerful community and also a powerful symbol of a business that has really done the work.”

Certified B Corporations are legally bound to “consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment,” according to the international organization’s site. Companies that certify — such as Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, and King Arthur Flour — answer several hundred questions that assess its policies. They need to score at least 80 on a 200-point scale to advance, after which a point person reviews responses and requests documentation to verify information.

When Triple Bottom first filled out the assessment, they had over 100 points. But after working with a rep from the Berwyn-based nonprofit B Lab, which administers the certifications, they wound up with 84.5 points. “It was close,” Hart said. “There were a lot of a lot of things that they examined that caused us to be like, ‘Oh, bummer. I guess, yeah, we could do better.’”

Triple Bottom is now the state’s first certified B Corp brewery — and one of just over a dozen in the U.S. — and the 24th Philadelphia-based company to do so. (Other Philly B Corps include United By Blue and Saxbys.) The Inquirer talked to Hart about certifying and why other businesses might consider taking on the challenge.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

How long did this process take, and when did you first learn about it?

I would say it took us a month or two to really go through all of the questions. There are so many that then caused us to step back and be like, “Oh, we’re not doing this but maybe we should.” It really was like an interactive growth experience rather than just taking a quiz. Once you’ve gone through the assessment, they give you a person to go through all your answers and start validating them, and that’s a few months of back and forth. They look at governance, workers, community, environment, and customers.

I’d say the whole thing took us almost six months. I’ve looked up to B Corps before we began this process, and now I look up to them even more, because it is so much more rigorous than I had even anticipated. I learned about it as a consultant in my past life for mission-driven organizations and social enterprises. Some of my clients were just starting to look into what it could mean to be a B Corp. It was sort of this new thing that people were exploring [having started in 2006].

Walk me through some of what they asked you. Let’s start with governance.

One thing that we were asked about is about our mission-lock: We say we have this social and environmental mission; how much is that actually baked into our DNA as a business? If we’re put in a position of stress, are we going to continue upholding the mission? So we are actually required, in order to finalize the certification, to update our operating agreement so that we are legally bound to consider the impact of our decisions on all of these different stakeholders. We worked with the Penn entrepreneurial law clinic to update the documents and execute the change that the three [owners] had to agree to.

What about workers?

They look at demographics and diversity. We had to provide a spreadsheet of everyone who’s on or has been on our payroll and answer some questions about our team. They also ask a lot of questions about compensation: What the lowest wage possible is, what the disparity is between lowest and highest paid.

That was really interesting, because we have always guaranteed that our team will earn at least $15 an hour. But some of that does come from tips, so our lowest-paid person, from our perspective, is a $10-per-hour wage for a bartender — which is still three times the minimum — but then the rest of that comes from tips, and if the tips are slow, we make up the difference. And that’s been our compact with our team, but it wasn’t in the handbook as a guarantee. So that was a conversation with B Lab. They had us redo our handbooks to add that. A lot of this process was about institutionalizing commitments.

How about community?

A really easy one was what percentage of your profits or your revenue are going to charitable organizations. And that’s something that we’ve always done and I think for many businesses is low-hanging fruit. But it does have positive impact. Other questions were about specific programming and events we’ve done that support members of our community, so we talked about hosting a fund-raiser for the Community Bail Fund and having a community fridge outside our door.

And environment?

So a question is about where your energy is coming from. All our electricity is from wind power; we buy renewable energy credits. And then they talk about big capital projects, but there’s also small things, like, are your lights on a timer or motion detectors? Are your lights LEDs? Those are small things we incorporated.

Other breweries that have gotten a B Corp certification, mostly bigger breweries that have been around longer, it seems like they are sort of outstanding in the environment area, which makes sense for a bigger brewery, because [brewing and packaging are] so resource-intensive and once you’re big enough, you can invest in the more efficient equipment. For us, that isn’t accessible at this point.

And how about customers?

A question there is, do you have mechanisms for collecting customer feedback? And then there’s followup questions about what you do with it. And we realized that we’re on social media, we’re seeing reviews and things, but we haven’t put anything out there. So we now have a little survey included at the end of every newsletter that people can answer, and at our management meetings, a portion of time is spent on “What customer feedback did we get this week and what should we do about it?”

A handful of people will fill out the survey, and most of it is very positive, but sometimes it’s like, “I wish you had more of this style of beer,” or “I would really love to see a happy hour.” Things like that then go into how we are planning our brew schedule and how we’re planning our service.

How much does certification cost? And what’s the case for it for business owners who are concerned with their bottom line?

It was about $600. We got a 40% discount because we are a woman-owned business; I think other folks are eligible for the discounts, too. You renew the certification every three years.

Some cities and states have tax credits for B Corps. Philadelphia does. Honestly that was not even a part of our calculus, but that’s one very clear incentive. I think there is also the customer loyalty piece of it, which is much harder to quantify. And then I think our team is proud of the fact that we’ve achieved this. They’ve all been a part of achieving it with us. Investment in your company that makes people want to show up every day and represent it in the best way possible — that also, again, is hard to quantify financially but has huge value. Hiring people is expensive, training people is expensive, and if you can have a team that really wants to see you thrive, that’s huge.