What are my final thoughts on what I learned this year as a result of my capstone?
My thesis outcome, in the form of an extended scholarly research paper, taught me a LOT. Not only did I practice old and learn new skills throughout the process, but I learned from my findings- information which I am still processing now in determining what it means for me.
When I began writing this thesis in September, I felt like I understood the basic successes and critiques of voluntary sustainability standards and certifications. Yet, I had never heard of B Corp and was intrigued by their mission of changing the rules by which capitalism was played. The movement was only just beginning to gain international attention and I was positioned to produce knowledge that didn’t exist in an easily communicated way yet.
Though it’s simple, one of the first skills I practiced with this thesis was networking. The first four months entailed countless informational interviews- I relied entirely on the strangers I met, who connected me to more strangers, to help me piece together the experience of B Corp from the side of the producer. In the analysis phase, I was able to practice statistical analysis skills learned in ENVS220 and also new skills. Not only did I execute commands, but I sought to understand the best way to display the data I had to tell the right story. I spent a lot of time on analysis that was not helpful in answering my questions. I hope I learned from this, and will plan out analysis more intentionally in the future.
Second, I learned through the content of my findings. By talking to individuals that work in B Corps, I was able to understand why they joined the movement, and how they perceived their own efforts. It was especially helpful in understanding the components of B Corps as they appeared in practice. The quantitative analysis revealed information that had not been aggregated or analyzed before and provided real implications for the movement. On average, B Corps score increase their overall score average, it is increasing in governance and community sectors, and decreasing in worker and environment. At its core, sustainability and business efforts emerged to address businesses impact on environmental performance and treatment of workers. So when private sustainability efforts allow these to be three out of five options that corporations can pursue, it doesn’t bode well for the intent of the B Corp movement to change the conditions of capitalism. In fact, it’s just another illustration of the danger of private sustainability efforts.
This information brings me to the final reflection on my thesis. As someone interested in pursuing a career in some type of sustainability and business work, this thesis reminded me that I can both be critical of organization and its efforts and work in it, doing what I can to meet the mission, or I can chose not to work in organizations that contribute the harmful trends. Decisions about future jobs will be made as they come, but being reminded of what I want to see in the world, and the pros and cons associated with private sustainability movements was an important lesson for the end of my undergraduate career.
As a double major I was able to write a second thesis for International Affairs, which also examined business and sustainability. My question was, when do multinational corporations adopt sustainability goals? I found that in the case of Walmart, it was due to an increase of bad press from prosocial and pro-environmental groups. The combination of these two thesis suggests that in terms of making the most impact on corporate responsibility efforts, working for an international human rights or environmental group that calls out corporations for their behavior is the way to go.