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UIX: Now B Corp certified, 616 Lofts is poised as force for environmental good

Drew Coppess







Walk through any 616 Lofts building and you'll notice exposed brick and other architectural elements lend an identity to the space. It's the same way the company, now B Corp certified, does business, says Director of Environmental Sustainability Drew Coppess.
Walk through any one of seven 616 Lofts buildings in Grand Rapids and you'll notice exposed brick and other architectural elements lend an identity to the space. It's the same way the company does business, says Drew Coppess, Director of Environmental Sustainability.
 
"We have always placed a lot of importance on candor," Coppess says. "Whether working on a project internally or interacting with our tenants and vendors, we aren't afraid to show our edges."
 
It's that spirit that brought the 616 team to look into becoming certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency as a B Corporation. Coppess says, when they learned that B Lab places such a high value on transparency and objectively measuring efforts, there was no question 616 would be involved.
 
 616 Lofts joins the ranks of Gazelle Sports, Brewery Vivant, Cascade Engineering, and several others in Michigan, along with over 1,700 other companies around the world who have been certified by B Lab.
 
Kris Spaulding is co-owner of Brewery Vivant, which gained B Corp status in 2014. Spaulding says the certification has not only pushed her company to be a better business, it's helped the brewery connect better with suppliers, customers, employees, community, and the environment.
 
"We have been using the assessment as a continuous improvement tool and have made a number of changes that positively impact our sustainability program for various stakeholders," she says. "And being a part of the West Michigan B Corp Network has been invaluable. Leaders from B's meet monthly to strategize ways to have a bigger impact on our community and to share with and learn from each other."
 
B Lab's 200-point impact assessment covers social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability among other topics. 616 Lofts scored a 97 on the initial B Score assessment, higher than the median score of 55, which is determined based on the scores of over 30,000 businesses. To be certified, a company has to score 80 out of 200 on the evaluation. While Coppess says the certification certainly places a greater amount of responsibility on the 616 team, it also motivates them.
 
"It is another layer of accountability within our office that drives us to be more conscious and think harder about how we can be better humans," he says. "It supports our noble purpose to create strong, enduring communities, and underscores our responsibility to do that meaningful work well."
 
Setting higher standards drove Fred Keller and Cascade Engineering to seek B Corporation status in 2010. The company scored an 89 on the assessment and is still the largest to be certified as a B Corp. The population of B Corp certified businesses in Michigan is rapidly growing, which means there are more companies in the community that use business as a force for social good.
 
"Our daily bread is wholly dependent on our interaction with the community, so we have always maintained a high level of community engagement," Coppess says. "It has been significantly enhanced; however, by belonging to the growing local B Corp community.  We are talking about how we can join forces and pool our resources to boost our collective impact on the local community through our volunteering and donation efforts."
 
Having a new sticker to place on the front door isn't so bad, either.
 
"Being a B Corp means we have been thoroughly audited by a third party to make sure we really are the kind of company that we say we are," Coppess says.  "I can think of no better vetting process if I am a potential tenant hunting for housing in Grand Rapids. You can be fairly certain that a certified B Corp landlord will foster a fun and healthy living condition."
 
B Corporation status, however, doesn't come without its challenges, as Spaulding can attest. Companies that go through the certification learn to base decisions on what's learned from an increased awareness of strengths and opportunities.
 
"The opportunities include everything from low hanging fruit like handbook policy additions but also huge thoughts that reframe the way you view your business and how it can be a force for good," she says. "Some of those big thoughts require a much longer term view to implement and a lot of investment (time and/or money) to do it right, but it's exciting to think about the possibilities to better your business."
The focus that comes with this certification will help 616 operate and grow as an element of the community. This, Coppess says, has always been one of his company's goals, but the guidance is appreciated. He admits that during the early years of 616 Lofts, "we were was so focused on making a social impact and creating our brand of community that little attention was given to how the development would impact the existing community."
 
Learning from that mistake, B Corp certification provides 616 with an opportunity to gauge its impact in a more meaningful way.
 
"You cannot make a positive impact unless you first get meaningfully involved in the areas you hope to impact," Coppess says. "We work hard now to listen, understand, and spend time with neighborhood associations and the local residents and businesses to preserve and enhance the local culture."
 
Coppess says 616 Lofts is beginning the next step in its environmental efforts, participating in the Grand Rapids 2030 District in a leadership capacity, and working to become more sustainable by building more efficient buildings. The future of 616 is growth, but now that growth is guided by a sense of social and environmental stewardship.
 
"There is a lot of work to be done, but the B Corp Certification gives us access to a wide range of tools to refine our best practices and illuminates the path to doing the right thing," he says. "Not a single one of us can be perfect, but every single one of us can be better."
 
For more information on 616 Lofts, visit http://616lofts.com/

Urban Innovation Exchange highlights the people and projects transforming West Michigan through sustainable efforts. Matthew Russell is the editor for UIX Grand Rapids. Contact him at matthew@uixgrandrapids.com.

Photography by Steph Harding  
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