Does your company have a mission beyond the profit motive? Maybe something like helping the poor, advancing scientific knowledge, supporting the arts or saving the planet?
If so, and if you want to hardwire those values into your business, you might want to legally structure your company as a public benefit corporation (PBC).
This relatively new corporate structure enables owners to set up a for-profit company with societal, environmental or other goals written into its DNA.
31 states, including Delaware and California, allowed the PBC structure, and at least seven other states had the option under consideration as of June 2016. That’s according to B Lab, a nonprofit in Wayne, Pa., that tracks this information.
Here are six other things you should know about PBCs before you decide to form one:
A PBC isn’t a nonprofit.
… Rather, it’s a profit-making enterprise, plus a beneficial mission. Company owners and management are charged to make decisions that balance profit and societal objectives.
A PBC isn’t the same as a B Corp.
As said, a PBC is a legal entity structured as a public benefit corporation. A certified B Corporation is a company that’s been certified as a “beneficial entity” by B Lab. Any company could be a PBC, a B Corp or both.
PBCs aren’t rare, unusual or weird.
In fact, this corporate structure has become better known in recent years. According to B Lab, Altschool, King Arthur Flour, Laureate Education, Method, Plum Organics, Patagonia and Solberg Manufacturing are all PBCs.
Another well-known PBC is Kickstarter, which announced its conversion to this structure in September 2015. In a statement at the time, the company differentiated PBCs from companies that “must exist ultimately for profit above all.”
As Kickstarter explained, “Benefit Corporations are for-profit companies that are obligated to consider the impact of their decisions on society, not only shareholders. Radically, positive impact on society becomes part of a Benefit Corporation’s legally defined goals.”
It’s easier for a startup to organize as a PBC than it is for an established company to convert to this structure.
Either way, companies are well-advised to consult an attorney, certified public accountant and, as needed, other business advisors who are familiar with PBCs.
Whether PBCs are more profitable is not clear.
Some PBCs might struggle to balance their profit motive and societal objectives. Other PBCs might find their societal goals are a selling point that generates goodwill with suppliers and customers.
Repercussions for mistakes or mission failure are not certain.
Since PBCs have not been time-tested, it’s not clear what might happen as a result if they don’t live up to their dual mandates or make decisions that inappropriately prioritize their objectives. Management should take the time to think through different possible scenarios and be prepared to respond to challenges.