California cyclist Chris King was focused on designing quality parts with a low environmental impact from the beginning.
If that sounds like a line ripped from a greenwashing campaign, consider this: King’s first run of 500 headsets was the first in the industry to use surgical-grade bearings in 1977. And he salvaged each one from the trash at the medical facility he worked at.
Chris King headsets gained a devout following among cyclists, and the company maintained its attention to resource consumption. Now in the age of sustainability auditing through the nonprofit B Lab (which certifies and consults with its “community” of B Corps), its leadership says it’s ahead of current protocols.
In 2020, Chris King became the first U.S.-based bicycle component manufacturer to secure the third-party certification. Other environmentally-minded outdoor gear companies have also joined the nonprofit’s program — Patagonia, Burton, and Faction Skis, for example.
But Chris King is now withdrawing recertification, pointing out not only that its standards are higher than those of the certifying body but also that roadblocks in costs and processes have made it unreasonable.
“After a lot of back and forth with B Corp and B Lab, it seems they don’t have the bandwidth to establish manufacturing standards that reflect the depth of what we’re doing at King,” the company’s General Manager, Kirby Bedsaul, said in a press release. “In the end, we were going to need to employ someone whose sole job was to work on creating standards and then verifying certification of them with B Corp, and that’s just not tenable for us. We’re more inclined to put that money into our new environmental initiatives.”
Another certification hurdle for the company came from its founder’s original attention to limiting waste, it said. Improvement of processes is one metric B Lab measures companies for. But King had set up “all processes for minimum waste to begin with,” the company said. So, as a result, it couldn’t demonstrate significant improvement — a “key factor” for certification.
‘B Corps’ Versus Benefit Corporations
Note that companies do not necessarily need to seek “B Corp” certification to become B corporations (or Benefit corporations) under U.S. tax law.
For B Corp certification, B Lab evaluates companies on their social and environmental impact, governance, and transparency. B Lab sets its standards and evaluates applicants based on its assessments.
B corporations, on the other hand, are legally bound. The companies must meet specific legal requirements related to their social and environmental impact based on federal regulations. B corporations also commit to meeting certain standards of transparency and accountability on that basis. And they must consider the impact their decisions make on all stakeholders, not just their shareholders.
Only certain states have legislation to allow for B corporations. Oregon, where Chris King is based, is one. And the company said it plans to maintain its status as a B corporation there.
“The B-Corp movement is important, and we have learned a lot from the process of looking at all our business practices,” Bedsaul said. “At the same time, Chris set us up with so many of the B-Corp’s principles in mind from day one, so in a sense, we’re pushing ahead of the movement, and forgoing the certification to invest in what comes next feels like the right choice for us.”