Dr. Bronner’s is of many liquid soaps found on store shelves, but what they’re doing behind the scenes as one of the most socially responsible companies out there is anything but standard. The family-owned company produces some of the highest quality USDA-certified organic, fairtrade personal care products, and they’re doing it with long-lasting social impact in mind.
Dr. Bronner’s ensures that each product meets their standards for environmental sustainability. They do this by packaging their soaps in 100 percent recyclable and biodegradable material. But even beyond product packaging, Dr. Bronner’s offers education to workers and farmers worldwide to ensure fair treatment practices. Additionally, the company works closely with partners on regenerative organic agriculture to support its mission toward overall environmental sustainability. Finally, to set the brand apart further, Dr. Bronner’s donates 33 percent of its profits to social and ecological projects.
Dr. Bronner’s serves as an excellent example of a company integrating and prioritizing corporate social responsibility, or CSR, into its business model. While some companies are in it for power, political advantage, or tax deductions, many exercise socially responsible decisions because they genuinely care about the environment and communities they serve.
This article will review some of the most socially responsible companies and how they are making a positive impact. Continue reading to learn:
- What corporate social responsibility means
- The good and bad reasons businesses participate in philanthropy
- The ten biggest corporate givers and what (and to who) they’re giving
- How truly socially responsible companies are leading by example
What Is Corporate Social Responsibility?
Exercising consciousness and care over one’s impact on society, the environment, and the economy demonstrates social responsibility. In companies, this means holding your business model, product, processes, supply chain, stakeholders, and consumers socially accountable.
Many businesses embrace this by integrating social responsibility programs (CSR programs) into their business model and culture. CSR is popular now because Gen Z and millennial generations take social issues very seriously, more so than preceding generations. A recent study by the Pew Research Center showed that 67 percent of Gen Z adults and 71 percent of millennial adults feel that climate change and sustainability should be a top priority.
Practicing corporate social responsibility means examining your processes to determine areas where the economy, the environment, or society are being negatively impacted. Socially responsible companies ensure that each part of the business improves or furthers a social, economic, or environmental cause.
Why Businesses Exercise Corporate Social Responsibility
Businesses choose to participate in corporate social responsibility and philanthropy for many reasons—good and bad. While one company may have a genuine interest in the benefits of renewable energy, another may be trying to improve its political position. Listed below are the top reasons businesses engage in CSR initiatives.
- Improve Public Image: Donating money or resources to a cause enables a company to show its values to its consumers, partners, and employees. This is great for building brand awareness and boosting public image.
- Increase Profits: When your customers see that your company practices social responsibility, they’ll spend more money with you. A 2019 Aflac survey showed that 77 percent of consumers make their spending decisions based on a company’s commitment to social impact.
- Get Tax Breaks: According to the IRS, corporations can deduct qualified charitable contributions to nonprofits of up to 25 percent of their taxable income. So, tax deductions can significantly impact your company’s bottom line. These benefits can be a driving motivation for some.
- Gain Political Leverage: Supporting the right organizations, initiatives, and social change could gain the attention and favor of influential people. Some businesses know this, and they plan their CSR initiatives and strategy accordingly. They do this in the hopes of gaining political leverage or other self-serving motives.
- Obtain Control for Self-Preservation: If a company is experiencing hardship or other issues, corporate social responsibility programs can help them regain positive control.
- Attract Top Talent: A study by the MRI Network revealed that millennials place a higher value on a company’s brand recognition, reputation, and values when applying for a job than on anything else. If you have a socially conscious brand, this strategy can benefit you.
- Boost Employee Engagement and Morale: Employees remain invested when they feel good about their company’s culture and actions.
List of the Top Corporate Givers
1. Microsoft: While employee philanthropy is encouraged year-round, the company hosts a major fundraising push every October with over 200 donation-based activities. In 2021, Microsoft’s various fall events raised $214 million, going to schools and nonprofits worldwide. Despite Bill Gates’ charitable giving, many critics argue the founder is less concerned with social and environmental causes or reducing his carbon footprint and more concerned with the benefits of receiving tax breaks and positive PR. For example, many environmental activists point to the fact he owns 242,000 acres of farmland—making him the largest farmland owner in America. Owning this much land makes it inaccessible to the farmers who need it. Additionally, he advocates against climate change while also heavily increasing the production of genetically modified crops and greenhouse gas emissions.
2. Kohl’s: Kohl’s awards a $500 grant when five or more Kohl’s employees volunteer three hours of their time to a nonprofit. Since starting the program in 2001, Kohl’s has donated $79 million in employee-earned grant money.
3. Amazon/AmazonSmile: Since its inception in 2013, the AmazonSmile program has donated more than $215 million to humanitarian, animal welfare, education, and health-based nonprofits globally. Every consumer purchase from AmazonSmile contributes 0.5% of the total purchase price to the organization of choice for the customer. While Amazon certainly gives back, the company has faced scrutiny for terrible, and even hazardous, work conditions. On top of this, the business has been accused of union-busting. With this in mind, many have concerns regarding Amazon’s operations and their ethical values.
4. Starbucks: Starbucks’s mission to serve humanity is evident through its multiple channels of support. The Starbucks Foundation includes Global Community Impact Grants, Neighborhood Grants, Disaster Response Programs, and Origin Grants. Starbucks has invested more than $25 million into growing and assisting global coffee and tea communities.
5. Goldman Sachs: The Goldman Sachs Bank USA Community Development Grants Program is for nonprofit organizations supporting low and moderate-income communities. The company’s mission is to help address affordable housing, education, racial justice, and neighborhood revitalization. So far, Goldman Sachs has made nearly $1.8 billion in grants available. Self-preserving business decisions and questionable ethics have had this financial giant’s public reputation on thin ice for years, though.
6. Exxon Mobile: The Exxon Mobile Corporation, Exxon Mobile Foundation, employees, and affiliates donated a total of about $253 million in 2019. The funds supported higher education, malaria treatment, and advancing women for economic development. Despite their goodwill, ExxonMobile is highly criticized for its propaganda-filled media messaging around fossil fuels. The company has been accused of shaming and blaming the public for climate change, rather than taking responsibility for its own impact on the environment. Exxon is one of twenty companies responsible for one-third of the world’s carbon emissions.
7. The Coca-Cola Company: Coca-Cola gives back 1 percent of its previous year’s income to charity. They’ve also donated over $55 million to communities particularly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, Coca-Cola is still the world’s leading producer of plastic, generating 2.9 million tons of waste each year.
8. Salesforce: Salesforce has given $406 million in grants and 5 million volunteer hours to further academic success, professional educator development, and college readiness. Their Power of Us program also provides nonprofits and institutions with special access to Salesforce resources.
9. JPMorgan Chase: Focusing on animal welfare, arts, education, the environment, and more, JP Morgan Chase is committed to making a big impact in many sectors. The major banking company isn’t free from error though. While they’ve committed to investing $1.75 billion in these areas, the company came under fire last year for collecting nearly $1.5 billion in overdraft fees from customers during a pandemic.
10. Nissan: Nissan Neighbors is a grants-based program supporting community-focused organizations furthering education, humanitarian aid, and environmental sustainability. The Nissan Foundation has also donated more than $12 million to 150 organizations advocating for cultural and ethnic understanding. Still, Nissan has been under some government scrutiny for their high-emission vehicles and refusal to make eco-friendly modifications.
Smaller Companies Making a Huge Difference
11. Patagonia: Promoting sustainability is very important to Patagonia. Through its Corporate Grants Program, they commit 1 percent of total annual sales to support grassroots organizations preserving the environment.
12. Endangered Species Chocolate: This company’s mission goes well beyond just making premium chocolate. Committed to supporting humanitarian efforts, the company has contributed more than $1 million to cocoa cooperatives and Fairtrade farmers to grow and strengthen their communities.
13. Purely Elizabeth: This Certified B Corporation natural foods company is dedicated to providing families with healthier, planet-friendly foods. On top of this, they care about how they do it. They partner only with B Corp-approved granola vendors and a women-owned Indonesian coconut sugar supplier to make their products. The company also enforces social responsibility in the office. Purely Elizabeth employees must also adhere to specific in-office green standards (lower water usage and composting, for example).
14. Ancient Nutrition: Ancient Nutrition’s R.A.N.C.H project is a strategy committed to promoting sustainability and regenerative agriculture through their superfood supplements. Each consumer product purchase goes towards their mission of planting one million superfood-bearing perennial trees.
15. Bombas: When you purchase a Bombas product, the company donates to a homeless shelter. So far, they’ve donated over 50 million socks, underwear, and t-shirts to those affected by street homelessness as a result of their CSR initiatives.
How to Become a Socially Responsible Company
If your business doesn’t have CSR initiatives yet, now may be an excellent time to consider launching them as you become a company that is socially responsible. Begin by examining your core company values and then your systems. Are they in alignment? Are there any procedures or areas that may be negatively affecting your community? The environment? Is there something small you could change that would make a big positive impact? Once you’ve identified answers to these questions, you can craft socially responsible systems. To get started, check out five tips for implementing a CSR initiative below.
- Start at the Core: Develop a giving program and strategy that aligns with your company’s core values. For example, is health and nutrition part of your mission? If so, consider a program that helps underserved communities gain access to healthy food and nutrition care.
- Consider Your Community: Where is your company based, and who are the local people it impacts? When starting a new CSR program, consider your local community first and then expand.
- Stick with the Known: Established organizations like the Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, and the Boys and Girls Club are great to start with. Partner with a locally known organizations and use that insight to continue growing your social impact.
- Think Global: Maybe elements of your supply chain reside in other countries. Starbucks, for example, sources their coffee from the Asia-Pacific region. Consider what is happening in those global communities. Are they facing water shortages? Disease outbreak? How can your company be more socially responsible on an international level while still keeping your core values? How will your strategy change?
- Be Strategic: Do your homework and set clear parameters. What is the organization or issue you’ve chosen struggling with? Do they need more funding? Volunteers? Or awareness? Once this is clear, set parameters. What is the minimum or maximum contribution you want your company to make, and how often? From there, you can set ambitious and realistic goals.
Social Responsibility Means Giving Freely
Only by giving are you able to receive more than you already have.jim rohn
Socially responsible companies understand that philanthropy means having a genuine desire to help—no strings attached. When you live and lead in this way, you create a ripple effect of positive change, while also modeling servant leadership. Dan Cathy, CEO of Chic-fil-A, Cheryl Bachelder, former CEO of Popeyes, and David Green, founder of Hobby Lobby, are all examples of servant leaders. Ultimately, leading servantly and authentically is the key to business growth and success. That’s where your goals should be.
Social responsibility and corporate philanthropy are two concepts that go hand in hand. Corporate philanthropy calls for socially responsible business models. And socially responsible companies rely on corporate philanthropy programs to give back. To continue learning about how to employ both for successful business leadership, check out “What Does It Mean to Be a Leader?” and “Corporate Philanthropy: Businesses That Get It Right.“
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- Tyson, A., Kennedy, B., & Funk, C. (2022, April 28). Gen Z, Millennials Stand Out for Climate Change Activism, Social Media Engagement With Issue. Pew Research Center Science & Society. https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2021/05/26/gen-z-millennials-stand-out-for-climate-change-activism-social-media-engagement-with-issue/
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- MRINetwork. “Millennial Insights for the 2020 Labor Market.” MRINetwork, 5 Jan. 2017, https://mrinetwork.com/world-of-work/millennial-insights-for-the-2020-labor-market/.
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- Greene, Jay. “Amazon Warehouse Workers Suffer Serious Injuries at Higher Rates than Other Firms.” The Washington Post, 1 June 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/06/01/amazon-osha-injury-rate/.
- Amazon Is Bombarding Workers With Union-Busting Messages. 23 Mar. 2022, https://www.vice.com/en/article/xgdpqj/amazon-is-bombarding-workers-with-union-busting-messages.