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Along with providing steady paychecks and good benefits to their workers, many companies also want to have a positive effect on their local communities and sometimes the world at large. If this is also part of your overall career goals, check out our list of companies with reputations for social responsibility and making a difference.
Almost all companies are founded to make a profit for their owners or shareholders. In doing so, they also provide salaries, benefits, and other beneficial aspects for their workers.
Some companies, however, strive for more. These are the ones that also focus on the principles of sustainability, fair treatment of their workforce, and investment into charitable causes that make the world a better place. If you’re interested in working at places like these, read on.
This article about socially responsible companies will delve into the following topics:
Attributes of socially responsible companies
How to tell if a company is being socially responsible
Socially conscious companies worth noting
Strictly speaking, it’s always better for a business to be socially responsible, but what does that actually mean?
In this current age threatened by climate change and other forms of pollution, companies can seek to be socially responsible by reducing the negative impact of their operations on the environment.
Energy companies can invest in clean alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, or geothermal, while manufacturing companies can try to create products that are biodegradable and/or not made from the byproducts of crude oil or natural gas.
If you’re looking for jobs that help the environment and are interested in companies that publicly sponsor recycling programs or invest in alternative energy technologies, do some research to see how beneficial their initiatives actually are.
In truth, some environmental initiatives are more effective than others. For this reason, consumers and job-seekers should scrutinize companies to make sure they’re upholding the spirit and letter of their sustainable standards.
Companies that sponsor charitable causes
Even if a company’s business model doesn’t change the world for better or worse, it can still try to be socially responsible by funding charitable causes. Typically, these conscientious companies, whether for-profit or non-profit, will set aside a portion of their proceeds to fund causes such as:
Offsetting carbon emissions
Re-housing homeless populations
Saving endangered species
There are companies that seek sustainability by reducing their impact on the environment and companies that seek sustainability by treating their workforce well and compensating them fairly for the work they do.
In general, companies that treat their employees ethically show at least some of the following qualities:
Entry-level salaries that greatly exceed local minimum wage standards
Small or no gaps between the salary amounts of employees and management
Generous health insurance policies
Flexible vacation/medical leave policies
Flexible maternity leave/childcare policies
Strong anti-harassment policies
Clear guidelines for earning promotions
There’s also a correlation between businesses that are socially responsible and companies that give their workforce chances to participate in the corporate decision-making process.
Sometimes these companies make a point of actively collaborating with their workforce’s labor unions. Other enterprises may adopt business/consumer cooperative organization models that let employees and/or customers democratically elect directors and have the final say on company policies.
Companies with a strong commitment to fair labor practice, particularly those that sell food or drink, often try to uphold Fair Trade labor standards, i.e. only acquiring ingredients, components, and materials from suppliers that don’t exploit their workforce or damage their local environments.
So, all of this begs the question: How can you tell if a company actually practices socially responsible principles?
The short answer is that you need to do some research. As for the long answer…
The first step of checking a company’s “social responsibility” credentials is looking over their promotional content with a critical eye. Businesses looking to make a difference will not only show it in marketing campaigns but will actually invest money and/or time into socially responsible projects.
Next, check the online reviews for the company–reviews written by both customers and former employees. You want to see that reviewers give the company high marks for customer service, a positive workplace culture, fair pay, and truthful advertising to prove that it walks the walk and not just talks the talk.
Finally, check to see if the company qualifies for certain product certifications or received seals of approval from watchdog organizations.
For instance, companies with B Corp Certification (bestowed by a non-profit called B Lab) have a proven track record for implementing policies of environmental and social sustainability. Similarly, companies that are members of the World Fair Trade Organization consistently treat their workers well at every point of their supply chain.
According to the B Corporation website, 6,502 companies in 89 countries across the world are currently B Corp certified.
With these three research principles in mind, you can reliably investigate the socially responsible companies below and decide for yourself whether they’re worth patronizing or working for.
Patagonia is a clothing company that’s carved out a niche selling products for outdoor excursions. Besides offering specialty clothing such as jackets, vests, and fleece garments, this company also sells camping/travel supplies such as luggage, wetsuits, sleeping bags, and drink accessories.
Patagonia’s other stand-out quality is their commitment to supporting the environmental conservation projects of grassroots organizations. They donate 1% of all proceeds from their sales to companies, non-profits, and initiatives that restore damaged ecosystems, protect clean water sources, and build sustainable ecosystems all across the world.
Patagonia is also a founding member of the Fair Labor Association, a non-profit network of universities, companies, and civil organizations with the stated mission goal of “promoting human rights at work.” In practice, the Fair Labor Association acts as a watchdog group that audits factories/manufacturing facilities across the world for conduct violations such as unfair wages, harsh working conditions, and/or forced labor. Patagonia’s website has a whole page devoted to their efforts to minimize the environmental impact of clothing manufacturing by designing and selling products made from recycled materials. Currently, 69% of the raw materials they use for product manufacturing (polyester, cotton, nylon, etc.) have recycled components, while 18% of those same raw materials are renewable.
Dr. Bronner has a strong record for social responsibility in terms of both environmental sustainability and the fair treatment of its workforce (as attested by its B Corp certification).
The signature cleaning products of the Dr. Bronner company–soaps, lotions, balms, etc –are made of vegan, all-organic ingredients sourced from Fair Trade suppliers. Additionally, a large portion of the company’s profits are donated to activist groups devoted to causes such as animal welfare, environmental conservation, and the reduction of landfill waste.
Internally, the Dr. Bronner company prides itself on ensuring the fair treatment of its employees through policies like the following:
Capping the salaries of executives so they’re no more than five times larger than those of their lowest-paid employees
Annual bonuses paid directly into a retirement/profit-sharing plan
No-deductible PPO health insurance plan
Childcare and other types of employee benefits
Rebates for purchases of electric vehicles
The company also makes a point of using 100% post-consumer recycled plastic for the packaging of their liquid soap products, prioritizing “bottle-to-bottle” recycling services that don’t require plastic recyclables to be shipped overseas for processing.
According to their website, the Dr. Bronner company is also looking into bioplastics as an alternative packaging material (though the process of making plastics from plants or bacteria isn’t yet more efficient than recycling).
Among eyewear companies, Warby Parker stands out for three reasons.
First, its website and retail locations let customers buy highly affordable lenses and frames (with an innovative “try five frames for free” marketing model).
Second, its “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” program draws on customer profits to get vision-impaired individuals across the world access to eyewear and eye exams at heavily discounted sale prices.
Third, as noted below, it appears they offer a very fair payscale for their employees at all levels.
When it was first founded in 2010, Warby Parker earned B Corp certification, but let that status lapse. Currently, it’s incorporated as a public benefit corporation. According to Salary.com, the lowest paid positions at Warby Parker are production team members with a pay rate of $67 per hour ($31,861.00 annually). Their average annual salaries range from $122,874 to $158,752 per year.
Besides setting the gold standard for constructable toys that let children express their creativity, the LEGO Group has also taken big steps towards investing in environmental conversation, sustainable manufacturing, and other socially responsible causes.
Among their various initiatives:
Constructing a carbon-neutral factory in Vietnam powered entirely by solar panels
Phasing out single-use plastic boxes in their product packaging
A Sustainable Materials Research Programme pioneering new methods of making LEGO bricks from recycled, renewable, and organic components
Partnering with UNICEF to invest in community-based family support programs
Many of these socially responsible LEGO Group initiatives are still nascent in form. If they are successfully realized, however, the LEGO Group could pave the way for other large-scale toy companies to pursue their own sustainability initiatives and give employees more chances to shape their ideal career path.
Many socially responsible companies tend to be small in scale–underdogs who act as alternatives to big megacorporations and conglomerates. The Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream company, on the other hand, sells its products in supermarkets all across the globe while also sponsoring oodles of socially responsible initiatives and progressive causes.
The Ben & Jerry’s website, besides listing their many ice cream flavors, has several web pages devoted to explaining the company values they uphold and the issues they care about. The most notable topics they discuss are:
Sourcing their ingredients sustainably from ethical supply chains
Sourcing ingredients from farms that practice regenerative agriculture and have strong animal welfare standards
Reducing farm waste by recycling it in methane digesters to use as fuel
Reducing pollution and deforestation by using Forest Stewardship Council-certified paperboard packaging
Using “Lean & Green” freezer systems that are more climate friendly and environmentally efficient
Supporting progressive causes such as racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, campaign finance reform, and the protection of voting rights
Like many of the socially responsible companies on this list, Ben & Jerry’s is B-Corp certified and happens to be one of the first corporations that received this certification.
The Lemonde insurance company is a publicly held benefit corporation based in New York. Like similar insurance companies, Lemonade sells customers policies such as home insurance, renter’s insurance, car insurance, pet insurance, and life insurance. A key part of Lemonade’s corporate mission statement is “transforming insurance from a necessary evil into a social good.”
According to their website, the staff of Lemonade use a sales model that’s somewhat different from those of other insurance companies. They earn money from simple insurance premiums their customers pay each month, never charge any hidden fees, and strive to pay insurance claims quickly and on time. At the end of the year, customers can donate up to 40% of the money from their unclaimed premiums to nonprofit organizations and causes of their choosing such as:
The American Civil Liberties Union
American Red Cross
Teach For America
City Meals On Wheels
Pencils For Promise
Lemonade is also B-Corp certified, marking them as a public benefit corporation that actually does the good it claims to do.
Socially responsible companies treat their workers and suppliers well, reduce the environmental impact of their operations, and invest part of their proceeds into funding good causes.
Research “socially responsible” companies carefully to make sure they are walking the walk in supporting and funding positive causes, caring for the environment, and treating their people well.
Patagonia creates clothes from recycled materials, uses ethical supply chains, and funds environmental causes.
The Dr. Bronner soap company sells organic soap products, uses recycled packaging whenever possible, and has policies designed to create equitable relations between employees and management.
The Warby Parker eyewear company sells affordable glasses and pulls from its profits to get eyeware to vision-impaired individuals across the world and provide access to eye exams at heavily discounted prices.
The LEGO Group is funding projects to create carbon neutral toy factories and create LEGO bricks from sustainable materials.
The Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream company gets ingredients from ethical sources and tries to minimize the environmental impact of their waste disposal and product packaging.
The Lemonade insurance company donates portions of unclaimed insurance premiums to causes of a client’s choice.