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10 Companies With Social Responsibility at the Core

From Method to Toms Shoes, These Marketers Focus on Improving Lives and Their Businesses at the Same Time

By Published on . 4

Bob Liodice
Bob Liodice
Many companies believe they have a responsibility to "give back" to society. This focus includes contributions of time and money, a duty to provide environmentally friendly products and services, and a desire to improve the lives of individuals here and around the globe. Such socially responsible companies see to it that this "consciousness" permeates everything they do.

The following 10 companies stand out as prime examples of how social responsibility can be productively coupled with sound strategies to advance goodwill, while building sustainable and impressive businesses. They provide the leadership to demonstrate how marketers can pursue both objectives simultaneously. As such, socially conscious companies have stepped up their efforts with increasing effectiveness and productivity. It is an impressive movement and one that invites society at large to do even more. Let's use these as examples for "how to get it done" so that we can effectively expand our efforts to give back.


GO NATURAL, THROUGH AND THROUGH: BURT'S BEES
The focus for Burt's Bees has always been on well being and "the greater good." As part of the Natural Products Association, the company helped develop The Natural Standard for Personal Care Products, which created guidelines for what can be deemed natural. Burt's Bees follows the highest possible standards for packaging sustainability, furthering its dedication to the cause as a member of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. Since the brand's start at a crafts fair selling $200 worth of honey, the company has since expanded to candles, lip balm and now more than 150 products. In 2009, revenue topped $250 million.


USING ITS ECOMAGINATION: GE
To stay true to GE's mission, Ecomagination offerings include products that significantly and measurably improve customers' operating performance or value proposition and environmental performance. Ecomagination helped GE build its business by increasing awareness of how the company is using renewable energy and reducing carbon emissions. As proof of the effectiveness of GE's program, the Ecomagination portfolio has grown from 17 products to more than 80 today, with revenues reaching $17 billion in 2008, an increase of 21% over 2007.


THE NEW MEANING OF CLEAN: METHOD
As a cleaning product, Method hit the jackpot. While cleaning products historically contained hazardous chemicals, Method was able to make safe and effective home and personal cleaning products derived from natural ingredients such as soy, coconut and palm oils. The products also come in environmentally responsible, biodegradable packaging. As one of the fastest-growing companies in the world, and with $100 million in annual revenue, Method proves that socially responsible products can be wildly successful.


BEAUTY COMES FROM WITHIN: THE BODY SHOP
The Body Shop is regarded as a pioneer of modern corporate social responsibility as one of the first companies to publish a full report on its efforts and initiatives. Founder Anita Roddick led her company to stand up for its beliefs and champion causes such as self-esteem, environmental protection, animal rights, community trade and human rights. From sponsoring posters in 1985 for Greenpeace to presenting a petition against animal testing to the European Union with 4,000,000 signatures, The Body Shop has contributed significantly to the causes it supports, and exemplifies how other companies can do the same.


BREWED RESPONSIBLY: STARBUCKS COFFEE
Since Starbucks Coffee started in 1971, the company has focused on acting responsibly and ethically. One of Starbucks' main focuses is the sustainable production of green coffee. With this in mind, it created C.A.F.E. Practices, a set of guidelines to achieve product quality, economic accountability, social responsibility and environmental leadership. The company supports products such as Ethos Water, which brings clean water to the more than 1 billion people who do not have access. To date, Ethos Water has committed to grants totaling more than $6.2 million.


THE SWEET DELIGHT OF GIVING BACK: BEN & JERRY'S
Ben & Jerry 's founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield have infused the company with the notions of giving back in every way possible, as well as "linked prosperity" between the company, its employees and the community. They started the Ben & Jerry 's Foundation, were founding members of the Business for Social Responsibility organization and set an extraordinary rate of giving to charitable organizations in the corporate world, donating a full 7.5% of pretax profits. In their own words, they "strive to show a deep respect for human beings inside and outside our company and for the communities in which they live." Unilever bought Ben & Jerry 's in 2000 and continues to support the foundation; it donated $2 million in 2009.


SOCIAL AWARENESS CAN LOOK SO GOOD: KENNETH COLE
Since 1985, Kenneth Cole has been openly involved in publicly supporting AIDS awareness and research. He uses fashion to promote awareness of, and help fight, various social issues. After 25 years of addressing meaningful social issues, Kenneth Cole established the Awearness Fund, a not-for-profit initiative that uses partnerships, merchandise, events and its blog to celebrate, encourage and empower acts of service volunteerism and social change. A full 100% of net proceeds of the Awearness products go toward the fund. These efforts have helped fuel the success of the Kenneth Cole brand, a company with nearly $500 million in sales.


LENDING A HAND TO MAN'S BEST FRIEND: PEDIGREE
Pedigree dog food built its brand by focusing on the need for people to adopt homeless dogs. Funding the support and care of these animals and sponsoring a national adoption drive, Pedigree's 2009 goal was to distribute $1.5 million in grants to 1,000 shelters and breed rescues. Pedigree donates one bowl of food to animal shelters every time it gets a Facebook fan, and it did the same when the company's 2009 Super Bowl commercial was viewed online. Pedigree's goal is to donate 4 million bowls of dog food, enough to feed every shelter dog in America for one day.


A SHOE FOR ME IS A SHOE FOR YOU: TOMS SHOES
Blake Mycoskie started Toms Shoes on the premise that for every pair of shoes sold, one pair would be donated to a child in need. This innovative idea resulted from a trip to Argentina where Mycoskie saw an overwhelming number of children without shoes. Toms Shoes recognized that consumers want to feel good about what they buy, and thus directly tied the purchase with the donation. In just four years, Toms Shoes has donated more than 400,000 shoes, evidence that consumers have clearly embraced the cause.


A WHOLE LOT OF GOOD: WHOLE FOODS
Whole Foods supports sustainable agriculture, promotes the reduction of waste and consumption of nonrenewable resources and encourages environmentally sound cleaning and store-maintenance programs. The company created the Local Producer Loan program, which provides up to $10 million in low-interest loans to small local producers to help grow their businesses. Whole Foods has also created Whole Planet Foundation, which fights poverty through microlending in rural communities around the world. The foundation has raised $1.5 million to help 40,000 women lift themselves out of poverty by empowering microentrepreneurs.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bob Liodice is president-CEO of the Association of National Advertisers. This is the fourth in a series of 10 columns being published in celebration of the ANA's 100th anniversary.
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