Looking for ethical leaders in corporate America? It might seem like an impossible task, when we think of Wall Street handing out massive bonuses to people in failing companies that have been taking taxpayer bailout money. (Fool co-founder Tom Gardner is disgusted, too, having suggested firing hundreds of people.)
Take heart, though. Remember that every greedy bank probably has done some redeeming things, too. And that while most companies probably do some things we wish they wouldn't, many also do quite a bit of good. And the more we recognize and reward that, the more we're likely to see.
Enter the folks at Ethisphere magazine, which lists the 100 most influential people in business ethics each year. Here are some of the CEOs who made their latest list, a few of whom might surprise you:
- Lee Scott, Wal-Mart
- David Steiner, Waste Management
- Jeff Immelt, General Electric
- Anne Mulcahy, Xerox
- Jim Senegal, Costco
- Brenda Barnes, Sara Lee
The reasons for their inclusion are varied. Wal-Mart has been investing in solar and wind energy. Costco has served shareholders well by offering employees relatively generous pay and benefits and capping markups on products at 15%. Xerox has been keeping billions of pounds of waste out of landfills -- for nearly 20 years. McDonald's
These kinds of initiatives do my heart good. What's most exciting is that many companies are realizing that doing the right thing can also be a very profitable thing. As a bigger example, General Electric's "ecomagination" initiatives, for example, aim to help the environment by reducing water usage, doubling clean technology research and development, and more. When I learned that, my cynical side was ready to think, "OK, that's nice, but it could just be a bit of lip service. Are they really taking this seriously?" Well, the answer seems to be yes: GE is looking for $25 billion in ecomagination revenue by 2010. That's just next year, and that's 14% of the company's annual revenue!
Companies that do good are all around us. Remember, though, that social responsibility isn't a black-and white issue. Learn more about it:
Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Wal-Mart, General Electric, Costco, and McDonald's. Waste Management is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Wal-Mart, Waste Management, and Costco are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Costco is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Try our investing newsletters free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.