In November 2016, Bodhi Surf School underwent the application to become (and was approved as) a Certified B Corporation. This is a valuable designation indeed — we have admired, lauded, and emulated our Certified B Corp peers for many years — and we are extremely proud to receive this recognition now ourselves. To be completely honest, we’re over the moon about getting this far, and will use this momentum to continue achieving our goals of being a socially and environmentally responsible business that inspires and motivates others to do their part in “being the change” for good.
Background: What are B Corps?
B Corporations are for-profit companies that voluntarily commit to meeting higher standards of transparency, accountability, and performance in the social and environmental realms of their business. They are certified by a global, third party nonprofit called B Lab®, which meticulously reviews nearly every aspect of the business: governance, workers, community, environment, as well as the product or service that the company offers. Currently, there are 1,966 companies in 50 countries spanning 130 industries that are able to claim this designation — 296 of them are in Latin America. Bodhi Surf is the fifth business and the only tourism company in Costa Rica that is B Corp Certified. Not to mention we are the first surf and yoga camp in the world to become a B Corp!
The goal that unifies all B Corps around the world, regardless of industry, is a desire to redefine what it means to be successful in business. B Corps constitute a community of businesses that decline to participate in the the fatally flawed system that elevates the pursuit of wealth above following the law of the land, treating workers fairly, and leaving the planet a better place, among many others. All B Corps share the interconnected objectives of benefiting society and leaving the planet better than they found it.
Inspiration: Why we wanted to become a B Corp
As we searched for the perfect name for the business that we (Pilar and Travis, Gibran and Adrianne) were starting together, we found “Bodhi” — which means “awakening”, “enlightenment”, or “consciousness” — and it just clicked. Once Bodhi Surf was up and running in 2010, one of the first sentiments the four of us shared as business owners was to teach people “more than just how to stand up on a surfboard or work out on a mat”; as avid surfers ourselves, we knew that standing up was a small part of the puzzle, (albeit one that gets all the fame and glory). Moreover, operating our business out of the very small community of Bahia Ballena, (that in 2010 was practically untouched by development), we felt that we were in a unique position to make a profound and lasting positive impact, and wanted to take full advantage of it. We decided to work to be “more than just a business” that offered a service in exchange for money; instead, to provide our students with a very fun and memorable experience, teach them the fundamentals of surfing such that they could take them forward in their lives, and even more importantly, plant the seeds of environmentalism. In particular, we wanted to use our position to demonstrate how human activity is harmfully affecting the world’s oceans, which, after visiting and surfing in such a clean and healthy environment, we knew would be extra impactful for our guests. We, the founders of Bodhi Surf School, wholly rejected the model of unfettered capitalism (enterprise simply to make money, and lots of it), and rather embraced the notion that having a business could be the means to an end — an end that would benefit an audience much broader and more widespread than just the business stakeholders.
We’d heard about B Corporations for many years, but the B Corp community wasn’t really on our radar until about 2012. We realized that many of the companies we had either worked closely with or simply admired from a distance — such as Patagonia, Indosole, and Terra Education — were all Certified B Corps, which piqued our curiosity. The final push was that we were serendipitously put into contact with a staff member of Sistema B (Latin America’s B Lab®) in August, who we sat down with, and who encouraged us to apply. It was the motivation we needed; after all, what did we have to lose? We went through the rigorous (yet illuminating) application process, and in November, were notified that we had been approved to be a Certified B Corps!!
The experience: What does being a B Corp mean for Bodhi Surf?
Up until now, we at Bodhi Surf School have held ourselves accountable to our mission, to “provide memorable travel experiences that facilitate learning through exposure to the people and the environment of the place we call home”. We have seen opportunities for the educational aspect of our mission with not only our guests, but also members of our local and global communities. Operating out of a pristine area of the world (and one that depends on it staying as such), we dedicated our philanthropic mission to environmental issues, and particularly to raising awareness about environmental impact reduction and the plight of the world’s oceans.
Through our corporate responsibility initiatives, which fall under the umbrella of our Ocean Guardian Journey, we have sought to benefit society at large — not just ourselves, not just our employees, not just our community — but rather a combination of those, and even beyond. To promote transparency and illustrate how we have gone about doing this, we have released an annual corporate responsibility booklet since 2013, the Ocean Guardian Journey Initiatives document. However, after six years of being in business — a great many hurdles overcome, and professional milestones crossed — we’re excited and ready to be held (by ourselves and others) to a set of standards that we have not personally created.
We hope that being a B Corp will bring us into contact with more like-minded peers. Every year we hold our Ocean Guardian Contest, a vacation giveaway designed to inspire people to show off their environmental leadership and impact reduction measures. It’s fun, a little competitive, and ultimately very positive, because it provides a platform for “normal” people (not celebrities, heads of multinational companies, or others with a large, built-in reach) to demonstrate their [often times] very creative, pro-environmental actions. Every year, this contest inspires all of us at Bodhi Surf School so profoundly to do more and to be better — not just as a business, but also as individuals. Because your reality is the one you create, the people and organizations you choose to surround yourself with, and how open and responsive you are to actually changing your actions. We have found it so nourishing to be a part of this grassroots movement… it’s the best food for the soul.
Joining the B Corp community, we are excited to continue surrounding ourselves with amazing organizations who do great work, not because they have to but because they know they are rising to the task. Also, we hope to to reach a wider audience of consumers who cast a vote of confidence for responsible business every time they make a purchase decision. Wouldn’t it be amazing if eventually the demand for responsible business grew so great that all for-profit companies would risk perishing if they didn’t start weaving corporate responsibility into their fabric?
The business case: What will it mean for our business operations
We truly look forward to continuing to drive our business forward as an agent of change at the grassroots level, and to inspire others to be conscientious of their impact. Ultimately, we want to be a part of this exciting movement of individuals and organizations that are tackling the world’s problems with the tools they have at hand, and to inspire others to participate just as we’ve been inspired. Having a B Corp Certification is pinnacle because it’s one thing to say that your business does good, inspires change, and makes a positive difference… and quite another to offer concrete proof that this true. This substantiation will give us a platform to stand on and allow us to lead by showing others that it works, not just by telling them.
As the world’s first surf and yoga camp and the first tourism business in Costa Rica that is B Corp Certified, we hope that it grabs the attention of future guests, potential collaborators, and other businesses. Operating as a responsible business is not hard, it’s just a matter of taking a holistic view of the world and your company’s place in it, and then prioritizing what’s most important.
Aspiration: Where do we want to go
It’s a great accomplishment to receive our B Corp Certification, to have our work thus far be validated, and to join the ranks of some of our idols. Yet the most important part of this is that it facilitate our work going forward, and help us continue to improve. The application process alone has provided us with the inspiration and necessary tools to make immediate improvements, and we can see there will be ample opportunities to continue to learn and grow in the coming years.
We aspire to do (and know our B Corp Certification will help us achieve) the following:
- Be a case study of success to inspire other businesses, both within and outside of our industry, to adopt corporate responsibility measures
- Continue to provide our guests with memorable travel experiences that facilitate learning and have a lasting impact beyond their time at Bodhi Surf
- Inspire our guests and the people that we come into contact with to start and/or continue reducing their environmental impact
- To grow and provide secure employment for local community members, all while maintaining a satisfying, stable, and healthy workplace for our employee
- Provide a notable, positive difference in our own and the global community
In short, becoming a B Corp is a huge milestone in our journey as Bodhi Surf School. We’re going to take a moment to allow ourselves to feel all the feels, have it seared into our memories, and continue moving forward on our path, learning, growing, teaching, and inspiring.