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Sunday, 21 June 2015 22:00

Team Green: Two GR building-related firms rank among top scorers in B Corp certification process

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Both Catalyst Partners and Bazzani Associates have built a business around a commitment to green building and design. Executives at the companies said getting certified as a Benefit Corporation provided them with the validation that they were, in fact, practicing what they preach in terms of sustainability. Pictured is one of Bazzani’s projects: the Hispanic Center of West Michigan,. Both Catalyst Partners and Bazzani Associates have built a business around a commitment to green building and design. Executives at the companies said getting certified as a Benefit Corporation provided them with the validation that they were, in fact, practicing what they preach in terms of sustainability. Pictured is one of Bazzani’s projects: the Hispanic Center of West Michigan,. COURTESY PHOTO: BAZZANI ASSOCIATES LLC

A pair of Grand Rapids-based companies involved in the construction and development industry now have a way to show they practice what they preach about green building and design.

Over the last year, design and engineering consulting firm Catalyst Partners LLC and design-build company Bazzani Building Co. have each earned B Corporation certification.

The designation, administered by Wayne, Pa.-based nonprofit B Lab, demonstrates through reporting and third-party verification that companies meet “rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.” To get certified, a company must get a minimum score of 80 on B Labs’ performance measurements, as well as meet certain legal requirements.

“This initiative is part of our business model, but more importantly, we wanted to put ourselves under the microscope,” said Catalyst Partners President Keith Winn.

B Lab posts reports on each company online, allowing anyone to compare how a business stacks up in the areas of environment, workers, customers, community and governance. For a company to retain its B Corp status, it must recertify with B Lab every two years.

Catalyst Partners was formally awarded the designation in April and received a score of 147 out of a possible 200 points on its assessment, placing the company in the top 10 percent of global businesses to receive the B Corp designation, executives said.

Katie Kerr, director of communications at B Labs, called Catalyst’s score “incredibly high.”

Catalyst Partners and Bazzani Building join four other West Michigan companies with B Corp certification including Zeeland-based Better Way Imports LLC, Grand Rapids craft brewer Brewery Vivant, Grand Rapids-based manufacturer Cascade Engineering Inc. and Kalamazoo-based retailer Gazelle Sports.

MEASURING UP

As a company that consults for and grades other firms on sustainability issues — it provides third-party verification for U.S. Green Building Council LEED building projects, for example — Catalyst Partners felt it was only right to see where it stood in terms of its own commitments to sustainability, Winn said.

“You don’t want to pretend to be something you’re not, and it’s hard to go to a client and encourage them to do something if you haven’t been through it yourself,” he said.

Similarly, Bazzani Building also distinguishes itself with its long history of and commitment to green building and design principles. For President and CEO Guy Bazzani, green building is important both for sustainability reasons and economics. He noted that LEED buildings, for example, generally have significantly lower costs for utilities over their lifespan, meaning that the investment in green building practices has a return on investment for developers.

Bazzani and his company have long focused on building LEED-certified projects, so like Catalyst Partners, he said it was only right that he practice what he preaches.

Bazzani Building, which earned the B Corp certification last summer, also received a score of 147.

Bazzani said the certification process allowed the company to identify where it was lacking, in particular with long-term corporate governance.

“It’s pretty easy to run a green dictatorship, versus trying to actually take input,” Bazzani said.

Bazzani joked to MiBiz that he wants to take more vacations, but to do that, the company’s scorecard showed that it needed additional people to carry on the founder’s legacy.

Since being certified, Bazzani Building has brought on at least two new hires, including Peter Skornia as vice president of operations and Brian Wolters as business development director. Each has experience in LEED and other green building principles.

“Our scorecard indicated to me that I’ve been a visionary about this for so long that I really didn’t create an infrastructure to support it in my absence,” Bazzani said.

SEEING GREEN

As veterans of the green building movement, both Winn and Bazzani have observed the progression of “green” going from being a buzzword to an expectation among many in the business community, particularly in West Michigan, they said.

Indeed, the USGBC last year recognized Grand Rapids as having the most per capita LEED-certified Fellows — a special class of green building professionals — of any city in the country. West Michigan features a handful of buildings, ranging from the Downtown Market to the Grand Rapids Art Museum, that are nationally recognized for their sustainable design.

Like LEED certification, the B Corp designation is designed to be a benchmark and provide transparency when many companies get accused of “greenwashing,” said Kerr of B Labs. But companies that have gone through the process say it also shines a light on areas where improvement in sustainability is needed.

While neither Bazzani nor Winn could say with certainty that attaining the B Corp certification would have a direct impact their companies’ bottom lines, they expect the best practices each firm learned by going through the certification process would pay off in the long run.

For Bazzani, it was about getting the infrastructure in place to build a legacy for the company. Winn believes the B Corp process now allows everyone to see where Catalyst Partners stands against other companies involved in sustainability, and it drives the firm to improve even more.

“As an environmental organization, I don’t think we make a lot of claims,” Winn said. “This was a problem in the early ’90s with companies saying they were green companies. But it wasn’t reported internationally against a benchmark and it wasn’t third-party verified. I think the accountability and the transparency (from B Labs) is just extremely valuable.” 

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Editor’s note: This story has been changed from its original version. Bazzani Building Co. received the B Corp. designation, not Bazzani Associates. Also, Brian Wolters serves as business development director, not director of operations. 

Read 7194 times Last modified on Sunday, 28 June 2015 18:00
Nick Manes

Staff writer

nmanes@mibiz.com

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