Real Talk: B Corp Certification, Self-Care, & Driving Change Liz Tracy, NC B Corp Champion & PhD student at NC State

We are so excited for you to check-out our first “Real Talk” interview with Liz Tracy.  Below we’ve included a full transcription, including links to resources related to our discussion.  We’d love to hear what you think!

Christina Noel: Hi everyone, this is Christina Noel and this is our first ever Arc Benders “Real Talk.”  In these real talks we’re going to explore what does it really take to change the world and we’re going to have real talks about the highs, the lows, and everything in between.

I’m here with Liz Tracy, one of my favorite Arc Benders in the world. Anytime there is anything inspiring going on in North Carolina, it’s typically Liz Tracy behind it. From there, I’m going to let her introduce herself because there is no way that I can do her you justice for your awesomeness.

Liz Tracy: Oh what an introduction. Hi everyone, my name is Liz Tracy. For the last 5 and a half years I was the Director at HQ Raleigh, which is a co-working space for startups in downtown Raleigh. We also have a location in Greensboro and a partnership in Charlotte and Wilmington. We were really trying to connect all of North Carolina.

We were the first B Corp Certified co-working space in North Carolina and the second B Corp co-working space brand to get certified in the United States. It was a tough row, but we did it.

We got the opportunity to work with so many startups in the space and really give them the opportunity to see, first hand, what it means to be a B Corp and the process to do that. I just left in December and I’m getting ready to start my PhD in organizational behavior, Industrial Organizational Psychology degree at NC State.

Christina: Cool, so… you’ve done so much. I still remember you back at HQ. How many years did it take to get B Corp Certified?

Liz: Ha… (laughing)

Christina: In your case, you were in a challenging situation. Sometimes, based on the business model, the certification is easier to pursue. So, if you have a built in business model that’s a social enterprise, it’s easier. In your case, it’s a co-working space… you had a traditional co-working space.

Liz: So we started the B Corp process 3 months after we started HQ. When we first kicked-off HQ B Lab had a presence in North Carolina, they had an event, we learned about it, and we said we really wanted to do this. It was basically 2 and a half years after that that we kind of stamped the seal of approval for B Corp (Certification).

It was tough because we didn’t have a product, we didn’t have a supply chain.  We were a service-based company. A lot of where we were giving back was through opening our space up… and there weren’t necessarily areas capturing that impact that HQ was doing (in the assessment). So it took us a little bit of time to navigate the best way to handle that and to display the work we were doing at HQ.

Christina: So what was the low hanging fruit that you did find at HQ? What were the little things that you did to get B Corp Certified that made an impact?

Liz: So we were really strategic about bringing in help. We had a B Corp and Operations intern every semester. They were fantastic. I highly recommend it to anyone going through this process. We really looked at their skill sets to figure out their focus. So, ‘this person has a background in Environmental Science… why don’t we pull them in to do our Environmental Management policy.’ We tried to pull on the skills of those interns too to really maximize documentation.

We were also trying to make it habit.  We had over 300 people in our space who were not our employees, they were members and so, we can’t tell everybody what they have to do. But what we can do is we can build it into the fabric of the way we built HQ. They talk about habit building – it takes like 70 repetitions. So, if we could build it in slowly people could get accustom to things and all of a sudden, it becomes a habit for everybody in the space. That was a lot of things in the café, like composting, and we used noodles instead of coffee stir sticks. We tried to bring some humor into it too. You know “don’t leave your noodle in there or it becomes spaghetti,” so people don’t get to the bottom of their coffee cup and see this noodle that’s slithering around.

Christina: Yeah, and you were pretty good… I still remember, were there any paper products, other than compostables?

Liz: We really tried to minimize that as much as we could.

Christina: So why at this point in your journey are you pursuing a PhD?

Liz: This is something that I’ve thought about for a while. I had the opportunity to get exposure to a lot of Industrial Organizational Psychologists through my work at HQ. We had a couple who were working for startups in our space. And so, a lot of what HQ was about was human behavior – how do you get 150 companies that all work for themselves to co-exist in one space. And so, trying to understand the processes that you create and the way that you train a team to embrace that and onboard people into that environment was always interesting to me.

And so, I would go to all of these IO psychologists and ask them questions and get insight and I realized that I wanted to have that knowledge base myself. After working with startups for a number of year and working intimately with them as they went from idea to growth, the team is so important and developing that team can be really hard, especially when it’s in your head and it’s your passion, and you’re trying to bring that to that beginning stage team. And so, trying to understand that more deeply so we can get more teams to be successful and thinking about the impact they can have by setting up the right working environment.

Christina: Wow, that’s exciting!

Liz: It should be exciting for sure.

Christina: I’m going to switch gears a little bit. So, you’ve done so much… both at HQ and we’ve talked about this a little off camera, but changing the world is so hard. Real talk – how do you balance self-care? What is in your mind for the next chapter in your journey? And how do you avoid burnout when trying to change the world?

Liz: That’s a really tough question. Burnout is real and I think it’s something that slowly seeps in and, all of a sudden, you hit the wall and realize that something has to change.

For me, I think, I rely really heavily on having a good group of people around me. I have a good group of girlfriends that we get together at least once a quarter. We do a personal/professional check-in and be really “real” with each other.  You can’t just come with a problem, they force you to have a solution by the end of that session. So having. people that you trust, but who also aren’t let you get away with things is incredibly helpful. It has been incredibly helpful for me over the past 3 years as I’ve worked with this group of women.

And I think just having a really supportive family. My family is all in California, which can be really hard, but we prioritize and make time for each other several times a year. Having to close everything down and make sure I focus on that helps me kind of reimagine what is important… not reimagine, but refocus and re-energize and say,

“When everything else is gone in the world, relationships are the thing that matter most.”

Christina: I love that. So next question… it’s one of my favorite questions, although it’s a heavy one. I think it’s leaning into “the mess.”

What are the biggest obstacles, with HQ, and even personally, that you’ve had to overcome in being an “Arc Bender” and changing the world and how did you overcome them?

Liz: I think one big one is learning not to say yes to everything.

Christina: it’s so painful though!

Liz: When there are so many shiny objects.

I think sometimes we underestimate how much time it takes to make change and that it doesn’t happen overnight. Small steps and small processes can go a long way. And so, I think sometimes we see ‘this needs to happen.’

For example, I remember with HQ with the B Corp Certification, I was like “Oh yea, we just need to do this, this, this, and this… and then we’ll be done” and that took 2 and a half years.

At first, I was getting really frustrated. I felt like we needed to push this along and I really wanted this to happen. I started to embrace bringing people in to support us. We started bringing in interns to help us with the documentation process along the way. And just having people help you along with those steps can make change happen a lot faster, but it can’t just be me saying ‘yes’ to everything. And it can’t be me putting all of the energy.

You really have to bring in a team around you and trust in that team of people.

Christina: I love that you say that because that is something as a solopreneur, a recent solopreneur, that I’m now working on. I actually got talked into trying to form an advisory board last week. It’s the same thing – I’m like “Oh, how do I make this decision?” A mentor was like “you shouldn’t have to make the decision yourself… you need to get help.” I’ve been getting help, but I think I need more collective help.

Liz: Yea, I think sometimes organizations who have a board of advisors sometimes need to be creative and think outside the box and maybe have a board of advisors for social and environmental decisions.

So, I think advisory boards can be so helpful to getting a different perspective, even if it’s not a formal board, in the sense that it’s for your non-profit or for profit, but it’s your social or environmental board that comes in with a variety of perspectives.

Christina: I love it. I’ll keep you posted. That’s another thing – how will I find people that will actually have the time to meet with me… because usually people who are changing the world are super freaking busy. We’re all a bit of a hot mess.

Liz: We all say that.

Christina: It’s that weird balance of ‘we shouldn’t say yes to everything…’ so then how do you find people with the real capacity? Moving on, so last question – what advice that you haven’t talked about yet do you have for people that want to pursue their passion or change the world?

Liz: Another good question. Howie Rhee – when I told him I was leaving HQ and I was going to pursue a PhD, he was really helpful in saying that, as I was preparing to take this next step, to have that complete clarity, he advised me to kind of do what you’re doing – interview 40-50 people who are pursuing similar things to what you are doing and asking a set of questions and almost doing a data collection to really get insights as to the pros and cons and potential dangers you might face, potential challenges that might come up. That was really helping to think about, ‘I really want to push forward these passions and I really want to push forward with these goes, but what am I not thinking about?’ And how can I bring other people’s expertise into the fold to have more clarity on the direction I want to go. So that informational interviewing process can be really helpful.

Christina: I love that. Off camera I mentioned that I’m still working on exactly how to share these stories (so more people read them), but for me, these Arc Bender interviews have completely changed my life. So yes, I second Liz’s advice.

Liz: Get out there and do it! Interview people. Maybe you’ll find your board of advisors.

Christina: If nothing else, you will get insightful advice.

Liz: You should put something down at the bottom that says ‘now hiring board of advisors.’

Christina: I love that… I’ll make it happen. I feel like every time I do a new video, I try to add just one additional feature.

Liz: Pretty soon, everything is going to be happening.

Christina: Yea, they’ll be things flying in the air. Anyway, thank you all so much for checking in. Thank you Liz, for sharing your story.

Liz: Thank you for having me!

Christina: And, we hope this was helpful! Bye y’all!

Liz: Bye!