B Corp Spotlight on Fireclay Tile
all photos: Fireclay Tile
March is B Corp Month, and we talked with our friend, Eric Edeleson, CEO of Fireclay Tile, about what it takes to become a Benefit Corporation.
Your company is the first tile company to be a certified B Corp. When did you first become aware of Benefit Corporations and how did you know when the moment was right to apply for B Corp certification?
I first met Jay Coen Gilbert, one of B Labs founders, in 2008 and was immediately taken by the idea of Benefit Corporations. In 2011, Fireclay was struggling financially, and I discovered that you could receive a 75% discount on Salesforce.com licenses if you were a B Corp. At the time I thought that we were a great company - we paid people more than minimum wage, offered healthcare benefits, and did what we could to take care of our teammates, which even included providing some on-site housing. Thus, I assumed we would qualify as a Certified B Corp. After taking the assessment, I was sorely mistaken, as we only scored a 54 out of 200, far from the 80 minimum requirement. It then took us four years to certify, which finally happened in late 2014. I’m proud to say that we’ve come a long way since 2014, and our current BCorp score is 115.4.
What was one of the most surprising or challenging aspects of the B Corporation certification process?
The rigor is so intense. B Lab takes the assessment and the review extremely seriously - it’s why there are only about 4,000 B Corps globally. These days whenever someone reaches out to ask me about B Corp, the first thing I say is, “Have you taken the assessment?” as that is the first and best thing any company can do to start the process. You realize what “using business as a force for good” truly means because of how demanding the requirements are.
Making products to order is part of your commitment to sustainability, but can be difficult for customers to understand this process in our “always-on, ready to ship now” consumer environment. Why is making products to order a key function of sustainability for Fireclay Tile?
Part of our differentiation is choice, as we offer more than 15K standard SKUs plus almost unlimited customization options. Made-to-order is a key differentiator for us in the tile market, and as a benefit it means we only make products that people really want. The challenge is that sometimes when you make such a wide diversity of products, you can have quality challenges along the way as each product is still unique to the next one that you are making, which is different from very long production runs of the same thing over and over. Thus, we’ve had to work really hard to ensure we are performing at levels comparable to industry standards, and now at an even higher level. Not so dissimilar from the B Score, ensuring that we are measuring everything, all of our waste streams, and working to correct them is essential to us.
You’re on track to become a Zero Waste company. What is one creative Zero Waste solution you implemented that people might be surprised to learn?
We’re actually behind here. We had hoped to be Zero Waste Certified in 2021, but it didn’t happen, and it is unlikely to happen in 2022 either. It doesn’t mean we aren’t actively trying and working our hardest. We are demonstrating 90%+ waste diversion levels, but the certification rigor is more demanding than we anticipated, and we had other areas of priority to devote our time to vs the certification requirements themselves. Probably the most surprising solution we’ve done to calculate our waste is that we track literally every single tile quality issue in our plant. This could involve more than 10 different waste reasons that could impact the 30K+ items we produce in 30+ different colors and shapes every single day. It’s a tremendous amount of effort, but it’s what helps us ensure that we are doing all we can to improve quality and our processes which help reduce waste.
In a nutshell, what does it mean to be 30% employee-owned?
It means that we are a Stakeholder driven company and if our investors and owners ever have a liquidity event, then so too will our Teammates. It means that we are all working for a common goal - to satisfy our clients and create Stakeholder value - when any of us win, we all win.
Increasing equity and giving back to communities is a key part of being a B Corp. What are a couple of recent examples of how you’ve achieved this?
For us it is all about transparency and accountability - we call it being “Made for Good.” For our give back programs, we set defined targets and hold ourselves to them. This is driven by our Pledge1% commitment of donating 1% of product and equity to non-profits, as well as our Give,You Get initiative where we ask our clients to pay using eCheck vs credit card (which adds up to more than 3% in merchant fees). To date from these programs, we’ve been able to provide almost $1.5M in support back to our community by donating more than 30K square feet of product, creating more than $600K in realized equity value to give to nonprofits, and reallocating more than $500K from merchant fees into our Khai Lam Fireclay Tile Family Fund to support Teammate extracurricular activities, and refunds to our clients via Give,You Get.
What’s next for Fireclay Tile in 2022?
It’s always about satisfying our clients and our Teammates, and to support this effort this year is all about completing our Factory expansion project to set the foundation for the next 5 years at Fireclay. We kicked off a 40K square feet Factory expansion project in 2019, and we’re finally going to complete it later this year. With our growth, we’re also planning to kickstart another 40K square feet building that will house more production space as well as new offices and a Teammate cafe.