We're all looking for great buys in the stock market, aren't we? We want companies that will dominate their industries. We want strong performers. Given that, would you be interested if I were to tell you which companies have had total returns over the past three years that were 26 percentage points higher on average than the overall market?

I thought so. The answer might even surprise you: They're the companies that have been named by the publication CRO as among the 100 Best Corporate Citizens during the past nine years.

These companies stand out because of their policies and practices in these areas: environment, climate change, human rights, employee relations, philanthropy, financials, and governance. Here are the top five in the newest list:

Company

CAPS Rating
 (out of 5)

3-Year Average Annual Return

5-Year Average Annual Return

Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY)

*****

4.6%

4.8%

General Mills (NYSE:GIS)

****

9.6%

10.3%

IBM (NYSE:IBM)

***

12.8%

7.4%

Merck (NYSE:MRK)

****

0%

7.7%

Hewlett-Packard

***

9.7%

21.1%

Data: CRO, Motley Fool CAPS, Yahoo! Finance.

That's just five out of the 100, and of course their performances all vary. But you can see that these are still strong performers.

As a fan of companies aiming to do right on social measures, this is exciting news to me. The link between social responsibility and strong stock performance should suggest that there can be actual profitable consequences for doing the right thing.

Strong and bouncing back
This is the list's 10th year, and in that time, while almost 400 companies have appeared on (and sometimes disappeared from) it, only three companies have been included all 10 times: Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO), and Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX).

Meanwhile, demonstrating how forcefully companies can rebound, both Bristol-Myers Squibb and Hewlett-Packard, among of the top five, were actually in the list's Penalty Box last year. According to CRO, Bristol-Myers Squibb was there because of trouble with patent litigation surrounding the drug Plavix. Because of corporate governance problems, the company's CEO and general counsel resigned back in 2006. The company also paid more than $500 million to settle claims of improper pricing, marketing, and sales practices. Hewlett-Packard faced a scandal involving boardroom leaks, and its chairman ended up resigning.

Yet despite those dark episodes, these companies rebounded, demonstrating commitment to doing right by the world and ending up back on the list, and in high spots.

We investors would do well to pay attention to how socially responsible our companies are. We may make more money by investing in do-gooders.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Starbucks. Motley Fool Options has recommended buying calls on Intel, which is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Starbucks is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Try any of our investing newsletters free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.