Growing numbers of “benefit companies” pursue both purpose and profit

In 30 states and the District of Columbia, shareholders can even sue companies that don’t live up to their mission.

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Among the many dozens of delivery vehicles that hit the streets of Portland, Oregon, every morning, B-Line’s colorful “cargo trikes” stand out.

Looking something like pedicabs on steroids, the company’s electrically boosted but human-powered vehicles can haul up to 600 pounds of goods. Every morning, the company’s fleet of eight trikes deploys itself across Portland, delivering organic produce, coffee and artisanal bread before switching to parcel deliveries for the remainder of the day.

The company calculates that since its founding in 2009, when it began with just two trikes, it’s made more than 10,000 deliveries and – more importantly – reduced carbon emissions by an estimated 54,000 pounds.

“We aim to be a more environmentally and social friendly delivery service for inner cities,” says company founder and CEO Franklin Jones.

More than that, B-Line is also legally obligated to pursue its social mission. Along with a growing number of socially-conscious businesses across the country, B-Line is a “benefit company” organized under a relatively new provision of Oregon corporate law.

Under this legislation – variations of which have also been adopted in 29 other states and the District of Columbia – businesses choosing to be “benefit companies” must include a social purpose in its charter, adopt a third-party standard and prepare an annual report for shareholders assessing how well it met its social goals.

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