Becoming a B Corp: Why We Did It and What It Means

Taylor Dearinger, AIA, LEED GA, Associate
April 28, 2023
Text: "DBA B Corp" with a background of a bike path and plants.

We are excited to announce that DBA is now a certified B Corp, joining a community of companies balancing people, planet, and profit. 

DBA obtained JUST certification in 2017, and as a continuation of our commitment to equity, resilience, and accountability we were inspired to pursue B Corp status—a global, third-party-verified certification that represents a further alignment with elevated standards.

What is B Corp?

B Corps are diverse companies—not just architecture firms—that meet high, defined standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. 

The B stands for “Benefit for all.” 

The B Corp organization proposes that the current global economic system is putting profit over people and planet and that a different kind of economy is possible and necessary. B Corp standards aim to shift the behavior, culture, and structure of capitalism toward collective action to address society’s most critical challenges. The program hopes to promote and help realize the vision of an inclusive, equitable, and regenerative economy that works for everyone. 

The B Corp community includes 6,457 certified companies in 89 countries working across 161 industries—everything from agriculture to fashion, tourism to waste treatment. We are incredibly proud to be one of just 17 B Corp-certified architectural design offices in the United States. 

Why B Corp

“I’m super excited! Social and environmental responsibility have always been core values for us and B-Corp gives us a wonderful way to talk about them in a global community—and to hold ourselves accountable as we grow and change.” David Baker, FAIA, Founding Principal 

DBA has expanded in size, scope, organization, and region in the past several years, and we recently committed a substantial effort to developing a Strategic Plan. It is clear that equity, transparency, and social justice are important values for our leadership team and for our entire staff, and we have been having deep discussions about how to quantify and act on those values and to embed them in our practice. Our Strategic Plan includes a five-year aspirational vision statement—something that we feel is true now and that we will strive to maintain going forward: 

DBA is a diverse, collaborative team of designers and advocates committed to leading with expertise, curiosity, tenacity, pragmatism, and joy. At the nexus of home, community, and climate action, we forge partnerships and seize opportunities to shape resilient, human-centered places at all scales.

We identified the achievement of B Corp status as a way to formalize our commitment, and we determined that going through the certification process would give us a framework for moving toward this vision. By joining the global B Corp community, we are holding ourselves accountable to the high standards of verification and transparency that the certification requires and hopefully serving as a model for other firms.

Becoming a B Corp

The certification process takes a certain level of dedication—not only for a firm to meet the necessary levels of performance, but also of time and attention for the detailed application. 

The first step is taking the B Assessment, which looks at a company across five categories: Governance, Workers, Community, Environment, and Customers. Reflecting on our process of certification with the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) as a JUST company, we felt certain that we would be able to garner high scores in the areas of Workers and Community. However, we determined that the other categories would require new research and data collection.

The biggest hurdle for us was capturing the data required for verification. We had confidence that DBA was performing well in various areas, but we didn’t have the means in place to substantiate that performance. Some areas in which we set goals included monitoring and reporting the indoor air quality, water use, and energy use of our offices; providing more consistent and qualitative Client feedback opportunities; and increased community service and engagement.  

We did not—nor did we expect to—achieve perfect scores, but we were excited to see our current impact quantified and we look forward to continuously improving our practices. You can see our Overall B Impact Score here.  

First Step: Benefit Corporation

Because DBA is headquartered in California, we were required to become a legal Benefit Corporation before we could certify as a B Corp (yes, the naming is confusing). Basically, this means that we have rewritten our company bylaws to formalize our commitment to the creation of public benefit and sustainable values through any leadership or ownership changes and to keep these commitments at the forefront of our firm culture. For DBA, the “public benefit” we offer is our resilient and people-centric designs for buildings and communities.

Being a B Corp

Our status as a B Corp provides the means to evaluate, organize, prioritize, and share our commitments across a spectrum of impacts, from purchasing to practice, administration to advocacy. By committing to this certification, we have adopted parameters that guide our practice—from charitable giving to equitable pay scales to environmental project tracking. Now that we have made these commitments, we have eliminated the “decision fatigue” that comes with evaluating donations, initiatives, employee benefits, and professional development on a case-by-case basis. We are able to turn to the B Corp baselines and benchmarks to ensure we maintain our aspirational levels of community care, equity and opportunity, and sustainability and stewardship.

Impact and Intent

As a B Corp, we hope to lead by example and encourage other businesses—fellow architecture firms, housing industry peers and collaborators, or our neighbors to develop, prioritize, and commit to public benefit and sustainable values. We hope that our visible presence and advocacy for these values gives aligned firms and agencies and future staff the confidence and inspiration to work with us, and that our investment in these actionable values encourages reflection and change in the way others do business. We are invigorated by this process and excited to engage in business or collaboration with fellow B Corps. 

Companies are required to re-certify every three years, demonstrating they are still meeting B Corp standards, and B Corp standards are also always being refined. DBA plans to stay in step with this forward-looking community and continue to evolve our practice in ways that take profit, people, and planet all into account.