We can say so-long to the days when social impact was reserved for volunteers and nonprofit organizations.
As consumers become more and more concerned with social and environmental issues we face in the world around us, more and more for-profit socially responsible companies are responding by joining (and sometimes leading) the fight to tackle those social issues and develop systems of sustainable capitalism.
What is a “Socially Responsible Company”?
Socially responsible companies use their position and resources for something more than pleasing their shareholders and increasing their bottom line. They operate on a business model that focuses on social change, sharing its success with their local and global communities.
This isn’t to say that socially responsible companies are unconcerned with profit (probably not the most sustainable step for for-profit companies).
No—companies are just embracing their responsibility to have a positive impact on the well-being of the communities they benefit from and weaving that obligation into the fibers of their business.
The trend of corporate responsibility is growing so much, it’s putting pressure on even the most infamous corporations in the United States. Recently, CEOs from some of the largest American corporations gathered through their Business Roundtable to recognize their responsibility to solve some of the pressing social and environmental issues we face today.
Companies are increasingly integrating corporate social responsibility programs (CSR programs) into their business and aligning themselves with pressing social movements. CSR initiatives can look different for different companies, but it typically entails programs around charitable fundraising, workplace conditions, social benefits like health care, volunteerism, and environmentalism. And some companies go further than a program—social responsibility is in their DNA.
While it’s unclear, and probably unlikely, that companies like JP Morgan and Amazon will take action to fulfill their commitments to social justice and sustainability, the trend is clear: businesses understand that consumers see the good of society trumping the good of a company’s shareholders, and they are responding accordingly.
Why is it Important for Companies to be Socially Responsible?
Appreciation for socially-responsible business practices continues to increase as Millennials and Gen Z become the driving force of the economy.
The purchasing perspective of these two generations has shifted consumer focus to social responsibility especially when it comes to the environment. According to a Nielsen poll in 2018, 85% of Millennials and 80% of Gen Z rank the environment at the top of their list when deciding which companies they will engage with.
If an organization doesn’t look toward waste reduction, clean water programs, or other environmentally-friendly opportunities, they are missing out on the entire market group of consumers who prefer to buy from socially responsible and sustainable companies that align with their values. This translates to lost revenue.
There is no limit to the power of consumer pressure. Even large traditional companies heed consumer concerns. Lego, for example, set out to power its production facilities with 100% renewable energy. With the development of an offshore wind farm, the Danish company was able to meet this goal even earlier than it anticipated. They even sell wind farm lego sets now.
One step companies are taking to increase this kind of consumer response is working on being what’s been called a “millennial-friendly” business to build trust with community members. An organization willing to create or support socially responsible initiatives shows consumers they have the value alignment their audience looks for whether that manifests itself through waste reduction, giving to educational programs, or supporting opportunity in their local community.
Studies are increasingly showing that consumers are willing to pay more when they know their purchases will contribute to a positive impact. Environmental friendliness alone has shown to have a substantial impact on consumer decision-making with increasing numbers of consumers around the world reporting interest and willingness to pay for environmentally friendly products. And that makes sense—consumers are active members in the world-saving mission to combat climate change, and they are willing to support the companies fighting alongside them.
The impact isn’t all external. Employees are increasingly demanding that their work contributes to some positive social impact. At a time when the line between work and personal life is becoming more and more blurred, employees are increasingly seeking social fulfillment from their hours spent on the job.
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How can Companies be More Socially Responsible?
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “Hey, I want my company to be associated with the socially responsible change-makers in the business world!”
Well, you can start taking steps toward joining the community now.
Create Goals to Give Back —
Set goals for your company. Your company can create a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) to see what your organization can do to become socially responsible. Think about the issues you care about. Are there ways you can give back to the community to support solutions in that space? Shorter-term benchmarks will help build and maintain momentum.
Goal-development can be simple: get out and volunteer at local events that fit your brand. This is a good way to connect with your local community and find out which groups you may want to collaborate with, start a local food, recycling, or book drive. The most important thing is that you are out in the world with your efforts, connecting, and joining the movement!
Create a Plan —
This goes along with the first strategy of creating goals of giving back. Now that your company has an idea in mind, it’s time to create a game plan. One step that might kick off your plan is a B Impact Assessment from the B Lab.
How can Consumers Know Who is Truly Socially Responsible?
As companies take varying degrees of action to jump on the social responsibility bandwagon, how do we know which companies are actually socially responsible companies?
Look at the Whole Picture
When a company “commits” to a socially responsible framework, it should be just that: a framework. The commitment is tied into the very essence of the company. And of course, it has to be! If a company says it’s environmentally conscious, that loses force when they actually mean they dump toxic chemicals into local rivers, but rest assured, they have a CSR program or are also using recyclable packaging. Although we aren’t knocking anyone using only recyclable packaging, this “greenwashing” doesn’t meet the standards for a truly socially responsible company.
Socially responsible companies embody the mission head-to-toe. If a company commits to sustainable development of its clothes by creating a single line of sustainable shirts, is that a socially responsible company or just marketing? Social responsibility can’t just be the flare pants of business practices. It’s a lifestyle. Here, you should look for a clothing company dedicated to, say, creating circular fashion or helping you figure out what to do with old clothes.
A statement of “corporate citizenship” may look good, but is there anything legitimizing the label? There are various certifications that hint a company is the real deal, and most socially responsible companies will actually have a few of them. Perhaps in the most stringent ground are B Corps. B Corp certified companies “are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment.”
Certified B Corps members have to meet strict standards to be considered environmentally and socially responsible. The certification process can take up to several months, depending on the size of the organization.
There are other certifications that highlight the legitimacy of a company’s efforts. For example, Climate Neutral Certified companies commit to the mission that “all brands should measure their carbon footprint, reduce what they can, and offset the rest.” Many companies have also joined the 1% for the Planet alliance (like Grow Ensemble!), where companies donate 1% of gross sales to environmental solutions.
After the membership certification process for any of these movements, these organizations are allowed to use the certification logo—so keep your eyes peeled!
10 of Our Favorite Socially Responsible Companies
Most of us don’t have an entire business to contribute to the global solutions we want to see. But, the responsibility for the world isn’t just on businesses—it’s also on us as consumers! Our impact is largely made by what companies we support. And we can have a pretty incredible impact by choosing to spend our dollar with socially responsible companies.
Every outdoors person (or anyone who just likes to be cozy) knows Patagonia. But did you know Patagonia is, and has long been, a leader in the impact space? Patagonia has been a diligent supporter of grassroots environmental efforts. In fact, they recently accounted that $20,000,000 has been donated through customer contributors to Patagonia Action Works!
Patagonia gives 1% of all sales to environmental organizations globally. Their organization is considered the “The Activist Company,” as calls to action are found directly within their website. In addition to serving as a link to action, Patagonia hosts a phenomenal blog that showcases some of the most impactful environmental efforts in some of the most beautiful places around the world.
Plus, Patagonia is a founding member of the Fair Labor Association and makes all their products from sustainable or recycled materials. (Check out our Patagonia Topley Jacket or Nano Puff reviews to learn more!)
The environmental impact within Patagonia is expansive. From grassroots environmental movements to fair trade and ethical production, the mission is clear.
2. Dr. Bronner’s
Dr. Bronner’s is a Certified B Corporation and a certified feel-good company. They produce USDA organic soaps, balms, lotions and cleaners along with the inspiration, positivity, and. But their certification doesn’t stop with their B Corp stamp of approval—you can view many of their certifications on their website. The company uses the purest ingredients and doesn’t use any synthetics or additives in their products.
You can read all about Dr. Bronner’s accomplishments in the sustainability and ethical production space through their annual “All-One! Report.” Dr. Bronner places caps on executive pay to ensure the difference is only five times greater than the lowest-paid employee and offers profit sharing and childcare benefits among its many, many world-changing efforts.
In addition to being a leading change-maker in sustainable products and social change, Dr. Bronner’s website is a go-to when you need an inspirational pick-me-up!
3. Klean Kanteen
Klean Kanteen is another Certified B Corp that introduced the first stainless steel, BPA-Free, multi-use water bottles and food canisters. You have probably seen them as branded water bottles at local events—definitely one of our favorite conference takeaway gifts.
Klean Kanteen is leading the way in eliminating single-use plastic from our planet. In addition to its planet-saving products, the company advocates for environmental sustainability as a member of 1% for the Planet. Klean Kanteen is a do-er. They will host free filtered water stations at events, bringing along their sustainable mission, and they are known for their staff’s dedicated volunteer efforts.
We were lucky enough to have former Klean Kanteen CEO, Jim Osgood, on the podcast—If you aren’t already itching to join the Klean Kanteen mission, have a listen and let him convince you.
4. All Good Products
All Good Products is a B Corporation member that sells skin products that are good for your family and good for the planet. This organization is especially known for their reef-friendly sunscreen (and you can learn why this is important and how you can take action in our reef-safe sunscreen guide)!
As consumers enter the lakes and oceans each year with chemicals from everyday skin products, All Good is fighting the good fight and inviting you consumers to do the same through their Reef Pledge.
Just a glance at their certifications and you can see how central their mission is to the company. They take environmental sustainability beyond their products and into their production with their entire production running off of renewable energy—thank you solar panels!
5. Warby Parker
Warby Parker is an example of real-world experience problem-solving. When its founders confronted the obstacle of overly-expensive glasses, they launched into action providing an affordable eyewear company.
Like many socially responsible product-based companies, Warby Parker supports transparency, sharing how their glasses are made with its customers. Insight into a company’s supply chain lets buyers know where the product comes from and consequently, what the start-to-finish impact of production is.
Realizing that 15% of the world’s population lack access to glasses, making it difficult for those individuals to navigate the world clearly, this company ensures that when you buy a pair, a pair is distributed to someone in need—you see, they see, we all see with Warby!
6. Ben & Jerry’s
Ben & Jerry’s redefines “guilt-free” ice cream. The company is founded on a social mission encompassing all aspects of their operations: economic, social, and product…all making up the deliciousness we know them for. In addition to providing a non-dairy option for us weak in stomach and self-discipline, they also make it possible to indulge in spirit as well.
You’re not buying the ice cream for yourself…you’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do for the world.
Ben & Jerry’s has their hands in all the ice cream pints with broadly ranging advocacy: including racial justice, democracy, refugees, peace building, GMO labeling, fair trade, climate action, LGBTQ equality, and rBGH.
Bombas sells the most comfortable socks to ever exist. They are comfortable, don’t slide down in your boots as you walk, and they make the world a better place—what more do you want in a sock?
Bombas follows the bumblebee style of living: a lot of small actions making up remarkable, collective achievement—over 10,000,000 pairs of socks donated in the case of Bombas. When someone buys a pair of socks, a pair of “the greatest sock never sold” is donated to someone in need.
With socks being the most requested clothing item in homeless shelters, Bombas is coming in hot with a solution we can all participate in. Check out our complete Bombas socks review to find which of their many styles and fits catch your eye.
As well as major impact from individual purchases, Bombas accepts applications for its Giving Partners for organizations providing clothing to people experiencing homelessness.
8. The Grove Collaborative
Another certified B Corp. The Grove is your one-stop shop for all things healthy home and personal care. The Grove Collaborative provides an option for you to purchase products that are safer for you and your family, and its products are geared toward a healthier planet as well.
The Grove is a member of the carbon offsetting movement we mentioned earlier—for every shipment, they purchase carbon credits to counterbalance their emissions. Clean delivery for happy cleaning!
They also take environmental protection another step, partnering with Arbor Day, working toward their goal of planting a million trees over the next 3 years.
A neo-bank (online financial institution) that is…wait for it…B Corp certified and a 1% for the Planet member! Something about financial institutions and positive impact don’t go together quite naturally, but Aspiration is working to change that.
Joining the Aspiration community feels good and it feels fair as this financial partner doubles down on its commitment to trust and community. They let you choose their fee based on what you think is fair—really. Check out our full Aspiration Review to get more details on some of their awesome features and services!
As a truly socially responsible bank, Aspiration pledges to work as hard for the average person as Wall Street does for the wealthiest few. They are the social impact leader in the financial industry, giving 10 cents for every dollar customers choose to give them to charities to provide economic opportunity to Americans who need a helping hand.
We all know and love TOMS. This company brought the one-for-one model onto the scene for many of us! Their shoes are made from sustainable materials, and the company emphasizes transparency in its supply chain, so you know they are staying true to their word.
But their impact extends into the realms of public safety, equal opportunity efforts, and beyond as well. Its social movement efforts are well-known and recently, TOMS has pledged to donate at least one-third of its annual net profits to its grant fund, which it distributes according to its annual investment plan.
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And this isn’t Even the Tip of the Iceberg!
Browsing through this brief list, you can see what it means to truly be socially responsible—you’re perfecting your critical eye already.
Socially responsible businesses are everywhere. If you want to make an impact with each dollar you spend, there is more than enough opportunity to buy from companies who prioritize human rights, social initiatives, community development, and a healthy planet with each dollar you spend.
The more familiar you get with the social impact these companies are making, the more you see that positive change is possible and it’s already happening. The community of do-gooders is growing every year, and lucky for us, it’s a community that is always open to new members!
Co-Founder & Managing Editor, Grow Ensemble
She earned her J.D. from St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, TX and is now pursuing a Masters in Law and Diplomacy from The Fletcher School at Tuft’s University.
Annie researches, writes, and edits works on sustainability, social impact, human rights, and much more.
She loves chatting, making new friends, and getting outside with her partner in any way possible.