NH group helps businesses navigate social issues

NHBSR guides business leaders to learn the impact of their operations on the environment
Michelle Veasey

Michelle Veasey is the executive director of New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility (NHBSR), which gives companies the chance to help each other navigate social issues that affect their operations. (Courtesy photo)

More often than not these days, societal issues are also business issues. Inclusion. Diversity. Mental health. Environmental sustainability. Workforce housing.

How to effectively navigate those and other issues, while running a business, is the focus of New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility (NHBSR).

The group officially incorporated in 2000 with the notion that business leaders in the state could learn from each other, initially, about the impact of their operations on the environment/climate change. According to Executive Director Michelle Veasey — who has been with the organization for 12 years — the mission grew as businesses’ needs grew.

“We kind of started on the environmental side. That includes everything from just being more thoughtful about your impact on the world around you, but also addressing things like the climate crisis,” said Veasey. “Then we’re also doing a lot of work under community —volunteering for local nonprofits or community-based groups.

“We also look at workplace practices a lot, thinking about diversity, equity and inclusion, development opportunities for people within corporations, really creating a culture where people feel valued,” she added. “And we look at — it’s often called governance — transparency around how you operate. It’s the sharing of financial reporting with your employees. It’s being upfront about what your goals and your success in meeting those goals are. It’s a lot of engaging both your employees and your communities in the work that you’re doing.”

Its membership — some 220 — encompasses a range of companies. The roster includes marketing companies, educational institutions, hospitals and health organizations, banks and financial services institutions, chambers of commerce, grocery and retail, restaurants and entertainment outlets, law firms, and construction, to name a handful.

A membership form is available on its website (nhbsr.org). It invites any company or organization that is committed to improving its social responsibility and sustainability performance to join. Suggested membership levels are based upon gross revenues.

Companies often use their membership in their promotional material as a way to underscore their commitment to certain values.

NEMO, the Dover-based designer of outdoor gear and accessories, is one. In a recent announcement of its 2024 line-up of products, NEMO described its organization: “Named one of Outside Magazine’s and Business New Hampshire’s Best Places to Work, NEMO has also been recognized as a small business leader for the environment by New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility.”

B Corps building ‘sustainable operations’ 

It’s no accident that many NHBSR members are certified B Corporations, given the shared values.

B Corp certification is proof that a company has met certain standards and conditions of transparency, accountability, sustainability and performance, with an aim to create value not only for shareholders but for the community and society. The “B” stands for beneficial. The certification process is controlled by B Lab, founded in 2006 as an independent, non-government group dedicated to the idea that companies can bring value both to themselves and to the community.

“We encourage people to consider that if they’re really involved in all aspects of sustainability,” said Veasey. “We, in fact, worked together with UNH (University of New Hampshire) when we started creating what’s called the B Impact Clinic, which is an opportunity for businesses to have student consultants help them through the certification process.”

“Most of the B corps in the state are members of our organization. And we certainly bring them together to tell stories and share why it’s valuable to them to do all the things that they do in order to achieve that status,” she added. “We do it in a way that helps encourage other businesses to think about taking on, not necessarily that certification process, but to think about how they might bring more sustainable operations to their business.”

Above all, the give and take is what makes the organization work.

“Sharing challenges or unique opportunities with other leaders is of great value to people,” said Veasey.

It’s done in-person and online, in small group sessions and large conferences. Last fall, it tackled workplace development. A past session took on mental health awareness, a key topic, according to Veasey, coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic.

What Veasey calls a “sustainability slam” is coming up this fall. The slam format, according to NHBSR, showcases creative and innovative solutions to environmental and social challenges through dynamic, minute-and-a-half storytelling. Categories include communities, workplaces and environment.

“We have an independent judging panel that picks the top ideas, and for large and small companies. Everybody gets a chance. Then we also have a nonprofit competition, so they can come in and share innovative ideas that they’ve worked with businesses on,” she said.

“It’s fast paced, it’s fun, but it gives people great ideas to take back to their workplaces,” she added.

Additionally, NHBSR’s  annual Sustainability Awards — held earlier this year in March — recognizes the leaders in their collaborative efforts in supporting strong communities, building workplaces that respect and value employees and their families, and making decisions informed by their impact on the world around them.

The 2023 winners included companies such as Coca-Cola Beverages Northeast, NH Community Loan Fund, MAYO Web & Marketing Services, Worthen Industries, Goodwill Northern New England, Red River and Hypertherm.

Legislative advocacy

NHBSR also works on advocacy on behalf of legislation that it feels underscores its values.

“I think, probably right now, the biggest areas that we’re working on are clean energy,” she said. Policy topics include such issues as the lack of widespread infrastructure for electric vehicle charging.

“New Hampshire’s often described as the doughnut hole in New England,” she said. “So I think one of the things that’s kind of challenging for a lot of businesses is that when you don’t have policy support for clean energy within the state, it makes you less competitive.” Another issue in that vein is the use of renewable energy for electricity production.

Veasey has a concern that laws or court decisions aimed at diversity and inclusion in schools might somehow trickle down to affect the business community.

“We feel strongly that businesses are stronger when they have a diverse workforce. We want to support members in making sure that they can be great places to work,” she said. “We feel like they can weather economic storms much better when they have loyal and engaged employees.”

Categories: Energy and Environment, News