Last year, Colorado, with the passage of HB 13-1138, the “Public Benefit Corporation Act of Colorado,” joined a growing minority of states that have passed legislation enabling the incorporation of “benefit corporations.” Benefit corporations are a corporation that can be structured as a C-corporation or S-corporation but are specifically committed to benefitting the public, in addition to making profits. Directors of benefit corporations are charged with balancing the interests of shareholders with the interests associated with supporting public benefits. This legislation allows both new and existing corporations to become benefit corporations.
These public benefits can include educational, environmental, charitable, religious, cultural, scientific, and other types of publicly beneficial causes. However, benefit corporations are able to state more than one cause that they wish to support. This can allow for some flexibility within the company in the kinds of goals they will support.
Some well-known examples of benefit corporations include Patagonia, Etsy, and Warby Parker. Here in Colorado, GoLite, a Boulder-based outdoor apparel and equipment company, New Belgium, the Fort Collins-based brewery, and others have decided to become benefit corporations.
While many corporations feel that charitable giving is part of their social responsibility and choose to give to such causes without being a benefit corporation, shareholders of benefit corporations are given the unique power to take legal action against the management of the benefit corporation if they are not producing public benefits. Conversely, it is rare, if not impossible, for shareholders of regular corporations to be able to take such legal action over charitable or public benefits foregone by a regular corporation.
Some see the development of benefit corporations as an exciting new era that demonstrates a commitment to corporate social responsibility. Others view them as potentially tying the hands of corporate management, especially if the company hits hard times, since regular corporations can still choose to give charitably. As a result, it will be interesting to see how these benefit corporations change the corporate world and how it will effect how companies try to generate both profits and public benefits.
If you have questions about setting up a corporation of any kind, be sure to contact the Law Office of E.C. Lewis P.C., home of your Denver Business Lawyer, Elizabeth Lewis, 720-258-6647 or email her at Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com.