Tanka Bars for sale in Washington, D.C. Photo by Indianz.Com / Available for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
Native American Natural Foods Is Certified B Corporation
By Jim Kent
Lakota Country Times Correspondent
KYLE -- A South Dakota-based Native American food company has been recognized as a Certified B Corporation by B Lab. The non-profit organization judges businesses on how they benefit their workers, their communities and the world.
Native American Natural Foods is based in the Pine Ridge Reservation village of Kyle. Since it created the buffalo-meat and cranberry health snack “Tanka Bar’ in 2007 it’s become a nationally recognized leader in the natural foods field with product availability in 8000 locations.
Mark Tilsen is president and co-founder of the company. Tilsen said that “B Lab” was founded several years ago with a particular purpose in mind.
“With the idea of creating a criteria for the consumer to be able to tell the difference between a company that says it’s doing good for the community and one that really is,” Tilsen explained. “You know, we have certified organic. And now we have a corporation certification that’s best for the community and best for the world.”
B Lab serves a global movement of people using business as a force for good. Its vision is that one day all companies will compete not only to be the best in the world but the “Best for the World” and, as a result, society will enjoy a more shared and durable prosperity.
In order to be recognized by B Lab as a “B Corporation” companies are judged in a variety of areas
“Both from how you treat your employees…how you treat the environment and,” added Tilsen, “in our case because it’s agriculture…how you treat the animals and the environment that you work with.”
Native American Natural Foods has been dedicated to operating a company that follows the Lakota values and of does right by the land, the people and the buffalo as well as adhering to modern sustainable business practices that have the least possible impact on the environment. Because of this, observed Tilsen, it was decided to have an independent third-party, like B Lab, evaluate the company.
“We started this about a year-and-a-half ago,” recalls Tilsen. “And the certification process is very in-depth. Everything from how you treat your employees, to their breaks, their input, their human rights, their health care and whether they have ownership. Then it goes through each stage of your company and even to your suppliers and your vendors.”
Another benefit of going through the B-1 Lab certification process was that it gave the mission-based Native American company the opportunity to see just how well it was accomplishing its mission and a chance to see “how can we do better tomorrow than we’re doing today?”
Tilsen noted that “B Corporation” recognition involves companies across the board...not just those in the food industry. He added that being able to identify themselves as a B Corp is a plus for consumer recognition of any company’s product as well as for possible investors.
Sandra Marker is coordinator of the Sustainability Program at Black Hills State University. She observed that businesses that are B Corporation certified are finding that it’s benefiting their sales. But Marker added that it’s not just about money.
“If you want to make healthier communities, if you want people to be happy, if you want cultural relations to grow…human relationships to grow…then you have to focus on more than just the bottom line,” Marker commented. “It’s about focusing on all those aspects of business…because they all matter.”
Marker noted that she sees Native American Natural Foods as a beacon for what other companies across South Dakota can do with their businesses.
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“I think what they’re doing is giving everyone the opportunity to see this is the new economy,” Marker explained. “You know, people are worried about their jobs…that they’re disappearing and that we’re no longer a manufacturing country. But these are the kinds of jobs that are available and these are the companies of the future. And I think they’re telling people, ‘Hey, if you’ve got a great idea…you can go out there and you can be socially responsible, you can be environmentally responsible and you can still make money. And you can make a good life for you and your workers.”
Native American Natural Foods has been a Certified B Corporation since 2015. The honor was announced in September at the Best for the World Gathering at the University of California, Berkeley's Haas School of Business.
(Jim Kent is a freelance writer and radio producer who lives in Hot Springs. He is a contributing columnist to the Lakota Country Times and former editor of The New Lakota Times. He can be heard on South Dakota Public Radio, National Public Radio and National Native News Radio. Jim can be reached at email@example.com)
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