Inside Badger's B Corp ethos
The VP of research and development at Badger cosmetics says there's no comparison between synthetic and natural products. Here's why.
The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from the Bard MBA’s Oct. 20 Sustainable Business Fridays podcast. Sustainable Business Fridays brings together students in Bard’s MBA in Sustainability program with leaders in business, sustainability and social entrepreneurship.
As of January, there were 1,000 certified B Corps — companies certified by the B Lab, a nonprofit, to create social and environmental benefits — in the U.S. alone. This number is even more impressive when you realize that fewer than two years ago, there were only 1,000 B Corps worldwide.
Badger, a family-owned, mission-driven certified B Corp company nestled in the woods of Gilsum, New Hampshire, exemplifies and extends the B Corps model. The company was started by Bill Whyte in 1995 when, as a carpenter working in the cold New Hampshire winters, he created a balm that helped his cracked hands. The company has grown to over 100 personal care products and 60 employees.
Honored this year as a "Best for the World" and "Best for the Environment" B Corp, Badger scored in the top 10 percent of all businesses on the B Impact Assessment, the gold standard of corporate responsibility metrics.
Bard MBA graduates Sam Levine and Alex FitzGerald spoke recently with Rebecca Hamilton about Badger’s business model and how it goes beyond the B Corps standard. Hamilton is a co-owner and the vice president of research and development at Badger, where she sources new raw materials and oversees the sustainability and quality of Badger’s supply chain, among other responsibilities. She is also involved in safe cosmetics legislation and toxic chemical reform and has served as the chair of the Natural Products Association National Personal Care Steering Committee.
Bard MBA: Was Badger founded as a mission-driven company?
Bard MBA: The cosmetic and personal care industry is a crowded one. How does Badger compete next to conventional and petroleum-based products?
Hamilton: I think the problem that most people get into when they ask this question is that they’re expecting to compare products one-to-one. "I have this conventional synthetic lotion that I want to match with a natural and organic product, and it’s going to function in the same way." It’s probably not going to function in the same way, although advances are creating products that match pretty well.
I don’t think this is the right approach when making cosmetics. When we’re making products, we make the best possible product in the category that we’re making. We’re making it to a different standard and different criteria. I think you’d actually have the opposite issue in that you couldn’t make a synthetic product that matches what we’re making.
For example, if you were to buy a moisturizing face lotion with a conventional base, it would function in a certain way. We make a very lightweight, small-molecule moisturizer face oil that you can’t make synthetically.
BARD MBA: Many of Badger’s policies go beyond the requirements of B Corp Certification. What drove the decision to go above the B Corp Standard?
Hamilton: As a company, it’s more of a lens that we make decisions through than a specific end goal. For us, the purpose of being in business is not to maximize profits. The purpose of being in business is to have a positive impact on our community, our employees and the world around us. When we make decisions, we make them out of the idea of what we think is the right thing to do.
Many of our policies come from employees asking us if we can do something. Because we want the request to be fair for the company, we turn the request into a policy if we can. Childcare at Badger started with a mother asking if she could bring her baby to work.
We decided to create a whole program for mothers and fathers to bring their babies to work until the babies are 6 months old and begin crawling. We started a daycare center because my mother, who was an early childhood educator for many years, felt there was a need in the community for good early childhood education, particularly from the 6-months-to-3-years phase.
We also provide organic lunches every day. We have gardens on site and do a farm-to-table lunch program in the summer months. That really came out of the idea that, as we grow as a company, we wanted to have a point that people connect around to avoid siloing. Because we value organic as a company, we also wanted to make sure that that spread across all aspects of the company and not just our products.
Bard MBA: What, if any, impact do these policies have on the business?
Hamilton: I’ve recently attended community working groups where businesses and other organizations are talking about a crisis in New Hampshire: Businesses are unable to find qualified workers. That’s never been a problem for us. We always have an amazing group of applicants for any position, and we often have overqualified people working in our company. While we didn’t create these policies for that specific outcome, it’s the result of creating a company where our focus is generally on making decisions from a good place.
Business itself is evolving right now. We’re seeing a slow movement toward businesses that are thinking more about how they treat their employees. It’s not just about a paycheck, it’s about a holistic set of business practices, including a lot of benefits that are supportive of a healthy family life for the employee and of their lives.