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Kalsec Inc.’s campus in Kalamazoo. Kalsec Inc.’s campus in Kalamazoo. COURTESY PHOTO

Kalsec earns B Corp status

BY Wednesday, December 30, 2020 05:50pm

Dr. Scott Nykaza always considered his company to be both environmentally and socially responsible through its 60-year history. Now it has a credible stamp of approval to back up those claims.

Kalamazoo-based Kalsec Inc. — a global producer of natural spices, advanced hop products and herb flavor extracts, colors and antioxidants — recently announced that it has acquired B Corp (benefit corporation) certification. It joins more than 3,500 businesses from various industries across the globe that have worked through a rigorous third party audit to verify that it meets certain standards when it comes to social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability. 

Some of the more recognizable national names in the program include Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, New Belgium Brewing Co. and Patagonia Inc.

For Nykaza, CEO of Kalsec, having the third party verification was crucial in proving the company’s commitment to environmental and social responsibility. The verification comes from Pennsylvania-based nonprofit B Lab, which conducts the audits and maintains the B Corp program.

“When we went through the audit, which is a pretty severe audit centered on the practices you have, how you treat your employees, how you think about the environment and all the other things, we found that we had a really strong alignment,” Nykaza said. “We got a passing score with our first audit. It was not the highest one possible, so it really showed us that there were things to continue (working on) to be a certified B Corp.”

A work in progress

Kalsec, which started the process in early 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic took full effect, rang in with a score of 82.5 in a system that factors in five areas of business: governance, workers, community, environment, and customers. Companies need a score of 80 or better to receive certification. By B Lab’s measure, a typical business scores roughly 50.9.

Achieving B Corp status by no means indicates “mission accomplished” for Kalsec, as the program is an ongoing one. B Corp certification is granted on a three-year basis and companies must show that they are improving to maintain certification. Nykaza said that’s one of the features that will ultimately benefit Kalsec.

“We get the benefit of people that study this every day and they tell you about things you can do that maybe have a bigger impact,” he said. “They spend a lot of time thinking about energy utilization and how you serve minorities and all the other things that really reaffirm what we want to do.”

As a 442-employee company that operates on a global scale, Nykaza said that Kalsec had to ensure that every corner of the business was on the same page.

“Does our office in Shanghai, China have the same sort of values and visions that we do and are people practicing that?” Nykaza said. “We had to do a little more in terms of communication and stewardship of our programs and our responsibilities across the globe.”

Despite having labs filled with 65 professionals who combine to speak 14 different languages, Nykaza said diversity was still a point of emphasis and an area for potential improvement at Kalsec, primarily with minorities who have been underrepresented in the company’s candidate pool in the past.

‘Money where your mouth is’

Grand Rapids-based Swift Printing and Communications Inc. is one of only two commercial print shops in the world to hold B Corp certification. Located at 404 Bridge St. NW since 1954, the 11-employee print shop received the certification in 2017 and is in the process of filing for recertification.

“I’m kind of a skeptic when people say, ‘Our business does this.’ It’s like a red flag to me at times because there is so much green washing,” said Swift Vice President Jessica Slaydon. “It’s an easy way to market yourself. Being able to actually put your money where your mouth is, that is what attracted me to (B Corp).”

During its certification process, Swift not only audited its own practices but surveyed vendors to ensure that they also maintained certain standards.

Slaydon said her company’s B Corp status, paired with the fact that it is locally owned and operated, is a selling point for the company but not the sole motivation behind participating in the program.

“It’s about the mission,” she said. “If you’re going to do it, it has to be about the mission. If you’re using it for a marketing tactic, I don’t necessarily think it’s the way to go. But if you fully believe it, I think sales will come from it as a byproduct.”

Custom software developer Atomic Object LLC, with offices in Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor and Chicago, is another West Michigan company with B Corp certification, weighing in with a strong score of 110.4.

Like Swift, it also received B Corp certification in 2017 and is working on the recertification process, which has been delayed because of the pandemic.

Atomic Object Vice President Mary O’Neill said the company continually strives to be a better business and neighbor to the community, and that it changed nothing about its practices since first applying for B Corp certification.

“It was an opportunity to take what we believed to be really strong practices and approaches to business and have them thoroughly reviewed by a third-party, super rigorous process,” O’Neill said. “It wasn’t ourselves saying, ‘Hey, we’re cool. We do all sorts of great things.’ It was going and investing the time and money to have someone else render an opinion for us and we were surprised and delighted at how well we did the first time through.”

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