What began as an unfunded, small-scale pilot—"a faculty member’s passion project” as she calls it—is now poised to expand its reach and impact as a Thoreau Foundation faculty grant recipient. The B Impact Clinic at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), founded by Dr. Fiona Wilson, brings together UNH undergraduate students from across majors under the guidance of both faculty mentors and local companies and their leaders, providing these students with first-hand experience of what makes a sustainable business.
Against the backdrop of the growing phenomenon of stakeholder capitalism, Wilson and her colleagues saw the opportunity to help students experience and influence a more socially and environmentally conscious version of capitalism by working in partnership with real corporations. And so the B Impact Clinic was born.
The Clinic brings together teams of students to serve as researchers, project managers, and consultants for companies that are working to complete their B Impact Assessment (BIA). Widely regarded as the most rigorous standard for measuring a corporation’s positive impact on the planet and society, the BIA is a pathway to B Corp Certification. Teams are intentionally constructed to form partnerships between business students and engineering students, sociology students, and students who are dual majors in sustainability, to enable them to learn from diverse disciplinary perspectives.
“We recognized that students want to be future leaders who can address the grand challenges of today’s world,” explains Dr. Wilson. “The B Impact Clinic helps students see how the forms and methods of for-profit businesses and the market can be deliberately harnessed as a platform for social and environmental change.”
Mentoring is a strong feature of the Clinic and takes place in several contexts. Students, faculty, staff, and community members work alongside one another on common problems and with mutual goals. Student teams also receive coaching and advising from a student who has previously completed one or more semesters in the Clinic. In this way, former students pass on their knowledge of the BIA, which has a steep learning curve, and are also able to share what they have learned about project management and client communications. The program also partners with New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility (NHBSR), a non-profit membership organization that convenes, inspires, and supports businesses and their community stakeholders to build a more sustainable and prosperous state for all. Students in the B Impact Clinic become part of the broader NHBSR community and are provided the opportunity to meet NHBSR leadership and members through the many guest speaking opportunities that are part of the Clinic experience.
Citing Henry David Thoreau’s mantra “Be not simply good; be good for something,” Dr. Wilson explains why the Thoreau Foundation’s grant program was such a good fit for the B Impact Clinic: “As a public research university, we must continually evolve and innovate our current systems of higher education, especially as we aspire to prepare tomorrow’s leaders to address tomorrow’s problems. The Foundation’s support enables the kind of bold, ambitious new structures and approaches to student engagement and education in sustainability that we are striving for at the Clinic.”
Based on pilot results, Dr. Wilson believes that over the next decade, the Clinic will have helped hundreds of students graduate better equipped with the courage, confidence, and skills needed to advance sustainable change, and will have enabled many businesses to meaningfully improve their social and environmental impact and, in numerous cases, achieve B Corp certification. “I love this program because it inherently addresses the recognition that the scale and complexity of the world’s challenges, including climate change, can only be addressed by collaboration across public, private, and nonprofit sectors. The B Impact Clinic embodies and facilitates this collaboration.”