The effort took some work, but recently Tillamook County Creamery Association earned a key certification and third-party endorsement for its work on stewardship. The cooperative became a Certified B Corporation, which recognizes the organization for its work in a range of key stewardship areas.
Farm Progress caught up with Paul Snyder, executive vice president of stewardship at Tillamook, to discuss the certification and put it into perspective for farmers. He shares why the cooperative sought this certification, and now joins more than 3,500 global companies with this recognition.
“Our board voted into effect our stewardship commitment [several years ago],” Snyder says. “We have a stakeholder mentality, and that’s why being good stewards of cows and farms, of people and products, of our communities and the environment, lies at the heart of everything we do. Seeking the B Corp certification shows how they directed us in management to run this business.”
The certification, which is a laborious process that involves third-party review of practices and approaches for the co-op, is not entered into lightly, Snyder says. The process took Tillamook months, and Snyder adds that some companies may need to alter what they do to meet certification requirements.
LEADING THE CHARGE: Paul Snyder, Tillamook executive vice president of stewardship, has been working with Tillamook members and leaders as the cooperative continues its stewardship work. He notes the B Corp certification is third-party verification of the cooperative’s work.
“You don’t sound too authentic to stakeholders with your stewardship message if you’re thumping your own chest,” he says. “We have a culture that’s pretty humble, and a heritage among farmers to not talk about ourselves.”
However, this is a cooperative that prides itself on its extensive stewardship efforts. Earlier this year, Farm Progress profiled those efforts which included a look at Tillamook’s stewardship “check-up”.
Snyder says having people understand how foundational and profound the cooperative’s stewardship effort is was important. “It’s hard to convince others on our own. But having a third party show we are doing the things we committed to, and doing it right, validates that commitment.”
Meeting the customer
The key to achieving that B Corp certification was based on those stewardship commitments the co-op had already established, including thriving farms, healthful cows, inspired consumers, enduring ecosystems, fulfilled employees and enriched communities. Each of those commitments was demonstrated in that latest stewardship check-up, and now the work has been certified by an outside organization.
And note: Tillamook reached high for this certification, reporting to B Impact Assessment Version 6, the most recent and rigorous survey to date; and the co-op will hold the certification for three years before being required to go through the process again.
For a farmer-owned cooperative to subject itself to a high level of scrutiny takes confidence in the product and processes already in place. Yet Snyder says this is important for consumers, too. Tillamook markets most of its products at retail, and the changing customer dynamic matters for the future.
“We have research that shows our target customer — about 80% — care not just about the product and its quality, but they care how we make the product,” he says.
That’s important, given the changes at Tillamook over the last five years. Back then, the cooperative sold its cheese, ice cream and other dairy products mainly in the Pacific Northwest. Today, those products can be found throughout the country. And the B Corp logo will eventually appear on all Tillamook brand packaging.
The cooperative joins an illustrious group of companies including Patagonia, Tom’s Shoes and Bombas with the B Corp certification. Oregon-based Stumptown Coffee, Rogue Creamery and New Seasons Market are also certified. But that’s not the end.
“We see our B Corp certification as a milestone — not an end zone. We are committed to ongoing progress, while living up to the remarkably high standards set not only by B Corps, but by Tillamook itself.”
You can learn more about the certification at bcorporation.net.