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Pivoting to PPE: How B Corps Are Saving Lives and Saving Jobs

Jennifer Kongs May 11, 2020

What do you do when the world turns upside down? The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented loss of life and livelihoods around the globe, leaving communities, health care systems, economies, and supply chains reeling. But amid the uncertainty, some businesses have found themselves in a position to help with one of the most pressing topics of the moment: the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Seeing a need and springing into action, several Certified B Corporations have adapted their businesses over a matter of weeks in order to make what matters most. From a Canadian clothing brand to a pet products company in Montana, the companies highlighted in this article are using business as a force for good in ways they could have never imagined and supporting their workers, supply chains, and communities through a turbulent time.

Here are a few lessons these nimble, pivot-ready B Corps have learned along the way, and ways you can help with the PPE shortage from home.

This online resource highlights B Corps making or selling PPE.

Start with What You Have

At Kotn, a clothing brand based in Toronto, every product begins with 100% Egyptian cotton. In the wake of a global pandemic, they didn’t have health care expertise to offer, but they had good, raw materials ready and waiting in their warehouse: cotton fabric.

To connect supply with demand, the Kotn team reached out to its networks looking to donate their fabric supply to anyone manufacturing masks. Before long, the company connected with a fellow Canadian clothier — a retailer with an alterations staff. Pairing leftover cotton from previous Kotn collections with a team of tailors sewing at home, the collaboration is now producing thousands of masks per week to deliver to essential workplaces. Learn more about their efforts here.

A Burton employee, working from home, swaps out the lenses on snowboarding goggles before the company donates them to health care professionals. (Photo courtesy Burton)

For Burton, the situation felt personal. A snowboarding brand may not be the most obvious player in a global health crisis, but the B Corp felt called to take urgent action. When Burton learned that snow goggles could provide necessary eye protection for medical workers, they knew they were in a unique position to help. They’ve donated more than 1,000 of their snowboarding goggles to hospitals, but that was only the beginning.

They’ve also paused production of snowboards and pivoted to making face shields to distribute to hospitals, and they mobilized their supply chain to donate more than 200,000 KN95 masks to the hospitals — starting with Dartmouth-Hitchcock and University of Vermont Medical Center. Learn more about their efforts here.

Build on Existing Relationships

In the B Corp model, businesses must consider the well-being of all stakeholders in everyday decision-making — including workers, customers, and global supply chains.

Looptworks, a Portland, Oregon, brand specializing in upcycled apparel, discovered that their commitment to stakeholder governance prepared them for the unexpected: “We at Looptworks have found ourselves in a position to do what we do best — reach out to those who need supplies, leverage our dispersed supply chain, and mobilize efforts quickly, all in the nature of contributing solutions rather than continuing business as usual.”

By late March, they had successfully added CDC-compliant fabric face masks to their daily production, without putting workers at risk. Learn more about their efforts here.

Saving Lives Also Saves Jobs

Pivoting to PPE doesn’t just support health care and front-line employees; it stabilizes workforces through an unpredictable economy. As two B Corps realized, producing masks could save lives on the front lines while saving jobs closer to home.

West Paw, a sustainable pet products company, quickly retooled their factory to meet the needs of the moment. “This is a very challenging time, both health-wise and economically, but helping others is paramount to West Paw’s values,” the Montana B Corp announced.

Karen Kane, an L.A. clothing brand, became a B Corp in the midst of the pandemic and felt a deep responsibility to make the best of a difficult situation. They’ve temporarily paused clothing production to focus on sewing masks, supporting frontline workers, and keeping sewers employed. With every mask purchased, they’re donating a second mask to a health care worker in need. Learn more about their efforts here.

How to Get Involved

Wear a mask. When you wear a mask, you protect the people around you and their families at home in the event that you’re carrying the virus without knowing it. (Learn more about CDC mask guidelines here.) If you need to purchase a mask, consider supporting a small business as they strive to keep their teams and suppliers working. You can also make your own: Designer Gama Carmen from B Corp Eileen Fisher shared a tutorial on making a mask using materials you may already have at home.

Donate goggles. Inspired by Burton? You can donate any quantity of new or used goggles to hospitals across the U.S. through the Goggles for Docs initiative.

Contribute to the cause. There are many ways to help from home by donating masks or money. Portland Garment Factory, an Oregon B Corp, is funding their PPE efforts through $1 donations. If you have masks to provide, you can donate homemade masks through, or donate medical-grade masks through (U.S.), (U.S., large quantities only), or (U.S. and Canada). These organizations also accept monetary donations.

For more on B Corps shifting their operations to create PPE, see a longer version of this article posted by B Lab.


This post was originally published on B the Change gathers and shares the voices from within the movement of people using business as a force for good and the community of Certified B Corporations. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the nonprofit B Lab. 

Social Entrepreneurship / Stakeholder Capitalism
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