Socially responsible investing can be controversial, not to mention a little mushy when weighing criteria to judge corporations' attributes. But one thing's for sure: These crazy days outline why socially responsible companies can make good investments. After all, they're doing things right, and it stands to reason that many companies have been doing some seriously socially irresponsible things lately.
Depending on where you look, organizations' lists of top socially responsible companies can differ. For example, the "100 Best Corporate Citizens of 2008" list from The CRO (previously Business Ethics magazine) named Intel
Still, some companies are universally recognized as socially responsible. They're the ones that have captured the public's imagination with the SRI attributes strongly linked to their brands and corporate missions -- and these companies clearly meant it to work out that way. So, with companies like that in mind, we present our Foolish nominees:
Whole Foods Market
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters
Starbucks: The coffee giant has great benefits for its employee partners, including health-care coverage. It's also been very aware of the needs of small coffee farmers through its CAFE initiative, and it tries to do business in an environmentally aware manner, through actions such as reducing waste with recycled paper sleeves instead of double-cupping. Starbucks has been included in The CRO's "100 Best Corporate Citizens" list for all of the nine years the list has been compiled.
Chipotle: Chipotle puts natural, organic ingredients in its burritos as part of its "Food With Integrity" program, and it also uses sour cream from dairy that's free of artificial growth hormones. For people who like to eat with ethics in mind, Chipotle's a relatively guilt-free fast-food treat. The company also provides health benefits, a 401(K) plan, and paid vacation time for its employees.
Google: "Don't be evil" is just the tip of the iceberg for Big G. The company is well known for its employee perks and benefits. In addition, Google makes high-profile environmental efforts, including its goal to be a carbon-neutral company. Its philanthropic arm, Google.org, was created to find ways to fight climate change, poverty, and emerging diseases.
Whole Foods Market: Whole Foods is yet another company that keeps employee needs in mind, with caps on management compensation, an open-book policy on pay, and benefits that workers can vote on. Its mission to provide organic and natural foods is heavy on environmental awareness -- it was in the vanguard of companies seeking to reduce the use of plastic bags -- and it carries out a myriad of other green initiatives. It has also created non-profit organizations: the Animal Compassion Foundation and the Whole Planet Foundation.
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters: Like Starbucks, Green Mountain has been a longtime proponent of sustainability, support of coffee growers, environmental initiatives, and good treatment of employees. It was a veteran of The CRO's "100 Best Corporate Citizens" list, too -- it made No. 1 in 2007 -- until the list began focusing solely on large-cap companies.
So, which one of these candidates do you think is the most socially responsible company? Vote for your choice below.