It's that time of year again: "The 100 Best Corporate Citizens" list is released. While this is required reading for those of us who consider socially progressive ideas as one criteria when researching stocks, the question always remains -- which companies make the best investments? Regardless, though, such lists certainly make great food for thought.

The list, which was developed by Business Ethics magazine, is now published by CRO (or Corporate Responsibility Officer) -- Business Ethics merged into CRO last year. The list is still compiled by KLD Research & Analytics and measures companies' good citizenship by weighing their performance according to various criteria. These eight criteria are community, corporate governance, diversity, employee relations, environment, human rights, product, and total return on investment (averaged over three years).

What's new?
According to the groups' findings, the number one corporate citizen this year is Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (NASDAQ:GMCR). This is the second year Green Mountain Coffee has taken the top spot, and it's the first time a company has gotten that honor in two consecutive years. There's only one other that's been number one twice, and that's IBM (NYSE:IBM).

The top 10 also includes companies that people would expect -- Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) and Timberland (NYSE:TBL) -- as well as some that they might not, like Advanced Micro Devices, Nike, Motorola, Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), IBM, Agilent, and General Mills.

Meanwhile, there were plenty of interesting changes. For example, Starbucks leaped into the top 10 this year; it was only number 17 last year (which I found surprising at the time). Meanwhile, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) was a newcomer, an odd fact to ponder considering Google has made no bones about having socially progressive motives to go with its profit motives. (In September, it formed a for-profit charitable arm to tackle big social problems like global warming, disease, and poverty.) Hewlett-Packard was in the top 10 last year, but the pretexting scandal that has since taken place jettisoned it out of the list altogether.

Points to ponder
I may have expressed my love for good deeds in our Foolish Valentine's Day feature this year, but I also tried to make clear that as investors, unless all we're looking for are emotional dividends, sales and profit growth potential are also essential. For example, take Timberland. I do think Timberland has some great innovations, like "nutrition labels" showing where its products were made, how they were made, and their impact on the environment and communities where manufacture took place. But the company recently reported an 18% decrease in fourth-quarter profit, and warned investors of a slow 2007 as its boot sales are expected to decline. In addition, two executives are leaving the footwear company. Maybe it's just a short-term problem for Timberland -- after all, this past winter started off incredibly mild in many parts of the country, which might have depressed boot sales -- but then again, investors need to contemplate whether it's losing long-term advantage to competitors.

Furthermore, while I'm a big fan of investing in companies with excellent corporate citizenship, there is significant opportunity for disagreement on the criteria used and how much weight they have in the final score. For example, some individuals may weigh employee relations more important than environmental sustainability -- others might swing in the opposite direction. Here's another topic I'd think would cause controversy: even if such lists weigh non-unionized companies as less responsible, many others would argue that unions can be very bad for business, in the fact that they can have the unwanted side effect of lowered morale and little incentive for hard work and innovation, not to mention the fact that if a company treats its employees well in the first place, there's no reason for unionization.

Regardless, given the overall concept that good ethics are good business, careful scrutiny of a list like this one certainly should yield some exciting investment ideas for further research. For example, I'd never heard of a few of the companies included, such as Steelcase (NYSE:SCS), a newcomer to the list that makes office furniture with an eye on environmental sustainability. And as I said before, some of the companies revealed might not even be best known for their good citizen tendencies as much as for their semiconductors or consumer goods.

I believe being good corporate citizens and addressing all stakeholders is an idea whose time has come when it comes to forming great long-term businesses. Therefore, I'd say lists like this one make an excellent starting point for looking for the best and brightest investments, as long as careful research and due diligence are used to form investment theses as well.

For related Foolishness, check out "Capitalism's Social Side."

Also, get acquainted with The Motley Fool's own Foolanthropy center, where you can find excellent charitable ideas, nominated by our readers and carefully researched by our committee of volunteers. You'll also find discussion and articles on topics ranging from tax breaks for charitable deductions to how to become a volunteer.

Starbucks is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. To find out what other great businesses David and Tom Gardner have recommended to subscribers, click here for a 30-day free trial.

Intel is an Inside Value selection.

Alyce Lomax owns shares of Starbucks. The Fool has a disclosure policy.