Transparency -- it's a good thing to seek out in a company. It means you have a chance of seeing the things you need to see in order to make smart investment decisions. The folks at CRO magazine (which is aimed at CROs, or corporate responsibility officers) recently celebrated transparency, releasing their 10th annual list of the "100 Best Corporate Citizens." Drawn from the Russell 1000 index of America's biggest public companies, the named firms were singled out for their attention to the environment, climate change, human rights, philanthropy, employee relations, finance, and good governance. They drew on all kinds of publicly available information, including information provided by the companies themselves.

Why does this matter? Well, various studies have suggested that companies that do good also see their stocks perform well. (It seems effective to have women on board, and to pay attention to environmental and social policies, for example.) So it may be smart to keep an eye on which firms are being recognized for being progressive or responsible. Here are the top five companies on the list:

  • Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY)
  • General Mills (NYSE:GIS)
  • Merck (NYSE:MRK)
  • Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ)

Hold on, though ...
It's really not enough to take this list at face value. Companies vary considerably on where they behave best. If you care more about the environment, for example, then you'll find more highly ranked companies than General Mills, which is ranked 98th on that count. It sits in third place when it comes to employee relations, though, and its other scores are high enough to place it second overall. Similarly, Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE:AMD) is ranked 15th for human rights, but 905th for financial performance. You can also use the list to compare competitors. ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM), for example, is ranked 96th environmentally, while Hess is ranked 27th.

You might also look at improvement. General Mills was ranked 94th last year, so it has clearly been paying attention to social issues.

So when it comes to issues that many people care about (the environment, human rights, etc.), keep an eye on the actions of your holdings and would-be holdings. Firms that do right also often do well.

Learn more about socially responsible investing:

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article. Try our investing newsletters free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.