Top 5 most socially responsible corporations in the US, 2019
Whether publicly traded or privately held, it is shortsighted for a company to focus exclusively on increasing profits. While profitability keeps the doors open, having an unbalanced focus on shareholder value is not the sole measure of success. Rather, profits ought to enable the business to do something better—avoid causing harm to the environment and contribute to the welfare of society. When a business is trusted to use scarce natural and human resources to earn a dollar, it must also accept an ethical responsibility to do no harm. A company that can successfully navigate this balance of social responsibilities should be lauded and become an example for others to follow. This article reviews five of the most socially responsible corporations operating in the United States today.
With its far-reaching scope and influence, Google easily holds a seat at the corporate social responsibility policy table, regularly ranking in the top 5 most reputable companies in the world.
Through its charitable arm, Google provides grants to communities around the world. One of its beneficiaries, Goodwill Industries International, received a grant to train workers in digital skills. Meanwhile, half way around the world, Kiron received a grant for digital skills training for refugees in Germany, Turkey, and Jordan.
In addition, Google supports organizations committed to empowering underprivileged or underrepresented groups. For instance, Equal Justice Initiative received a Google grant to help it digitize century-old demographic records, making this data more accessible to researchers. LGBT Center and Institute for Strategic Dialogue, both recipients of Google grants, use their funding to take a stand against homophobia and extremist terrorism, respectively.
Google’s responsibility to serve people is matched by its desire to preserve the planet. With millions of servers housed on four continents, Google’s data centers use less energy than a typical data center. This efficiency has made Google’s goal of total carbon neutrality possible. Google also helps to create resources that assist in the battle for environmental protection. Environmental projects Global Forest Watch and Global Fishing Watch benefit from Google’s unique access to satellite imagery to monitor deforestation and aquatic poaching around the world both to raise awareness about these travesties and advance conservation research.
From fisheries to forests, and from refugees abroad to communities at home, Google sets a promising example for how to improve the planet while maintaining record profits.
When Nick Swinmurn founded ShoeSite.com in 1999 (the name was changed to Zappos.com later that year), online retail was in its infancy and “Y2K” was looming near. Twenty years later, Zappos stands as one of the top online shoe e-tailers, with well-rounded corporate social responsibility practices that benefit all facets of its operations.
Responsibility is a cornerstone of Zappos’ corporate culture, starting with the C-Suite and matriculating through every level of Zappos’ workforce and supply chain. The company’s culture is based on holacracy, which recognizes employees as stakeholders in the organization’s success. In a holocratic workplace, most specific job titles are eliminated; workers at every level have freedom and responsibility for finding the resources necessary to resolve issues.
Zappos is also keenly aware of its responsibilities to support societies in need and the environment. Through Zappos for Good, the company provides shoes, clothing, school supplies and books to those in need. At its headquarters in Las Vegas, Zappos proves itself a leader in environmental sustainability, from its water conservation efforts to its selection of highly reflective roofing material. Both measures lower Zappos’ contribution to Las Vegas’s heat island.
With an environmental and social commitment springing from its unique approach to employee engagement, Zappos’ position as a top socially responsible company is hard to be denied.
Since its founding in 1886, the Bosch Group has used its engineering prowess to pursue technologies while safeguarding workers, the environment and communities for generations to come. Bosch has been a model for multinationals to follow when developing themselves as social responsibility leaders in their fields.
Bosch’s founder, Robert Bosch, was an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and reformer. He was an early adopter of the eight-hour workday, fought against anti-Semitism, created scholarships, built hospitals and surprisingly directed in his will that Bosch’s earnings promote scientific and social development on issues involving health, education, and international relations.
The Bosch Group has a huge North American presence, employing 35,000 workers in over 100 locations from Palo Alto to New Hampshire. Fittingly, the communities that surround these locations are the main beneficiaries of Bosch’s efforts. For over a decade, Bosch has actively participated in restoration and maintenance of the Rouge River ecosystem outside of Detroit, by providing funds and volunteers to clean the environment and eliminate invasive species. Workers in Charleston, South Carolina support the Girls Day Out summer camp, which encourages young women to pursue careers in STEM fields.
Bosch’s unique ownership model is engineered so that giving to communities is hardwired into its profit motive. For over 130 years, its operations around the globe have positively influenced communities and environments, making the world a better place for all its occupants.
Ben & Jerry’s
As one of America’s favorite purveyors of ice cream, Ben & Jerry’s has been a thoughtful and compassionate corporate citizen since its founding in 1978. Its commitment to social responsibility took off in the 1980s as the brand grew in popularity and prosperity. Even after Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield sold the company to Unilever in 2000, Ben & Jerry’s maintains an independent board of directors committed to carrying out the good citizenship efforts of its original founders.
Ben & Jerry’s does not practice corporate social responsibility, though. According to Laura Peterson, the Public Elations Manager for Ben & Jerry’s, “we believe in ‘linked prosperity,’ where everyone who comes in contact with our business benefits.” These benefits extend to “dairy farmers, customers, employees, franchisees, neighbors, vendors and suppliers.”
Ben & Jerry’s “Caring Dairy” program encourages sustainable dairy farming by compensating farmers for meeting rigorous environmental, labor, and animal welfare standards. The company also waives franchise fees for nonprofit community-based “PartnerShops,” and funds a variety of community programs in its home state of Vermont.
The brand’s strong commitment to raise awareness for social causes is best seen when it creates or renames an ice cream flavor. Ben & Jerry’s renamed its cookie dough ice cream “I Dough, I Dough” to honor the marriage equality movement. “Home Sweet Honeycomb” was named to raise awareness for refugee resettlement issues in Europe and call for political change. “Save Our Swirled” encouraged fans to demand action of all nations’ leaders to ensure the Paris Climate Change Agreement was a success.
Whether it is ensuring that cows are treated humanely or mobilizing people to call for global change, Ben & Jerry’s has used its sweet delights to achieve a permanent place in public consciousness.
Like Bosch, AT&T was founded in the 1880s and demonstrates that an established institution can make social responsibility a lasting priority. This titan of media and communications is one of the longest-standing proponents of modern corporate responsibility.
As a longstanding leader on environmental sustainability, AT&T has set two very ambitious goals—zero waste in one hundred of its facilities by the end of 2020, and carbon savings of 10 times their operational footprint by 2025. The company’s Climate Resiliency Community Challenge funds research projects on infrastructure, public health, and emergency response and management.
AT&T has been a pioneer in diversity and inclusion. For over 50 years, AT&T has strived to level the playing field for minority-owned businesses through their Supplier Diversity Program. In the program’s first year, AT&T recorded $175,000 in purchases from minority businesses. The program initially focused on black-owned businesses, but has expanded to other minority groups, women, service disabled veteran, and LGBT owned business. Since the program’s inception, AT&T has spent almost $158 billion with diversity suppliers. A&T is also a major corporate sponsor of programs that build STEM skills in underserved communities; such programs include All Star Code, Black Girls Code, Girls Who Code and Cyber Patriots.
Few companies can boast over 100 years of striving to protect future generations. However, AT&T does. It has been improving communities long before it was fashionable to do so, while remaining profitable and balancing the needs of all its stakeholders.
There are thousands of profitable companies doing good for people, planet, and the future, yet not all are standouts like the five companies mentioned here. These five diverse corporations provide valuable lessons to any company looking to make the world a better place in which to live and do business.