Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps manufactures and markets socially and environmentally responsible personal care products while dedicating its profits to charities. Third-generation soapmaker Emanuel Bronner founded Dr. Bronner’s in 1948. In 2015, the company achieved Benefit-for-all Corporation (B Corp) certification from B Lab. B Corps are mission-driven companies that promise to balance profit and purpose, and agree to have their impact regularly assessed on B Lab’s set of standards—not to be confused with a benefit corporation, a for-profit corporate entity that seeks to have a positive impact on society and the environment according to legally defined goals, which Dr. Bronner’s is as well.



Michael Bronner


Today its liquid and bar soaps are the top-selling natural, organic, and fair trade body care products in the United States, according to Spins retail data. The labels on its ecological soaps spread a message of unity: “We Are All-One or None!” Dr. Bronner’s engages in fair trade projects to ensure just treatment of farmers and other workers across its supply chain. Strategic Finance interviewed Michael Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner’s, about the company’s sustainability strategy and initiatives.


SF: How was the seed of the idea for Dr. Bronner’s to become a B Lab-Certified B Corp planted and cultivated?


Bronner: If you look at how our company started back in 1948, it was my grandfather talking in auditoriums about his philosophy and people coming to get the soap he gave out to attendees. When he realized people were taking it without listening to him speak, he started writing his philosophy on the bottle in tiny script, so he made soap to promote the label, not the label to sell the soap, as most brands do.




As a family-owned brand, we’ve stayed committed to his vision. We have five generations and more than 160 years of soapmaking experience in my family. We all believe in the same values and want this company to be an engine for good. Being a B Corp for us is a practical way of codifying our mission.


In 2015, we reincorporated as a benefit corporation with the State of California. Our ability to meet these goals is required to be assessed using a third-party standard—so we chose to be assessed on the B Corp standards administered by the independent nonprofit B Lab.


Key to the process, among many people, were Darcy Shiber-Knowles, who leads our Operational Sustainability and Innovation department, as well as Kris Lin-Bronner, who at the time was Dr. Bronner’s strategic advisor and CSR [corporate social responsibility] manager; she’s now the head of Dr. Bronner’s Family Foundation.


Our leadership looked at our options at the time, and we all agreed B Lab’s B Corp Certification was the most aligned with our mission and the most rigorous compared to the other sets of standards that we considered. We’ve long believed in third-party verification. We had already certified our products to many rigorous standards like organic, vegan, and fair trade, to name a few.


SF: How does the rise of B Corps relate to a shift from the maximize-profits-for-shareholders capitalism to factoring in all stakeholders’ concerns?


Bronner: The rise of B Corps is directly tied to increased interest in mission-driven business and stakeholder approaches. Social consciousness is on the rise. More and more people want to buy products that are made in a way that reflects their values by a company they can trust to act ethically in the world. For us, the more we’ve codified our policies and our plan of action for how to reflect our values in our business operations, the more our sales have grown.


Businesses are taking note of this: More companies are beginning to model progressive business practices. Many are doing this for the right reasons, while others are following the trend and know that business for the greater good is profitable. Standards such as B Corp are intended to help discern the true and authentic companies from those trying to greenwash bad practices to grow their market share.


Everyone can choose to consume and produce products in a way that regenerates communities and ecosystems rather than degenerating them. In fact, our planet depends on it.


The bottom line is that conventional capitalism—with its brutal devotion to profit above all—has wreaked havoc on the natural world, created incredible wealth disparity, and kept millions locked in poverty. It’s on all of us to turn this tide—to regenerate our planet and create true social justice and rewarding livelihoods for all.


For those of us in business, B Corp or not, we have the responsibility to remake the norm and change the status quo of corporate greed that benefits few and robs so many of the joys of life and the beauty of Earth to a world where everyone can live a dignified life on an ecologically sustainable planet.


Even before we were a B Corp, we had our commitments to the six spheres of influence—our core stakeholder groups—that make everything we do possible. We seek to serve and be accountable to the pursuit of living out our mission, which is to honor the vision of our founder Emanuel Bronner by making socially and environmentally responsible products of the highest quality and dedicating our profits to help make a better world. Together our mission statement and principles distill the moral vision of our grandfather into a plan of action for how we do business as a company.


SF: What are the advantages of transitioning to the B Corp structure?


Bronner: A benefit corporation can also identify specific public benefits as additional purposes of operating the businesses. One benefit of the B Corp transition, in addition to B Lab’s B Impact Assessment providing a score charting our progress in achieving our stated benefit corporation goals, is taking the time to intentionally outline these additional purposes. Here are ours:

  • Expand public awareness of environmental and social issues.
  • Make products and source ingredients that are fair trade-certified and USDA [United States Department of Agriculture]-certified organic whenever possible.
  • Promote equitable compensation: Pay executives no more than five times the total compensation paid to the lowest-paid, fully vested employees.
  • Dr. Bronner’s growth and our pursuit of public benefit are advanced by our environmental and social activism. To that end, our owners and officers can’t be sued under our bylaws for pursuing such activism rather than profit above all else.

We’ve also met a lot of great fellow B Corp executives and made many allies on the issues and causes we care about since becoming a part of the B Corp network.


SF: Since becoming a B Corp, have you and other senior leaders adjusted your strategic planning?


Bronner: Dr. Bronner’s has been committed to sustainability long before becoming a B Corp. Being a B Corp gives us legal security as a mission-driven company that dedicates our profits to help make a better world. We are structured as a benefit corporation, which is a legal corporate entity that allows us to put mission-oriented goals in our bylaws, so that the corporation isn’t beholden to the conventional model where shareholders’ drive to maximize profit is the bottom line of the business.


Outside of benefit corporations, if a shareholder believes the mission is detracting from profits, then leadership could be held accountable. B Corp as a standard supports our legal designation as a benefit corporation and helps ensure the business can pursue our mission as an ordinary, necessary aspect of our business operations.

About the Authors