Like most investors, you probably aim for the best possible return when picking potential investments. But as consumers increasingly clamor for companies to embrace social responsibility, good corporate citizenship is becoming a vital part of many companies' success. And it can boost the performance of our portfolios, too.
Corporate Responsibility magazine (CR magazine) recently released its "100 Best Corporate Citizens" list for 2012, in which it rated members of the Russell 1000 large-cap index on 325 different elements related to responsible behavior. The list ranks companies on seven different measures: the environment, employee relations, corporate governance, philanthropy, climate change, human rights, and financial strength.
It also offers an overall ranking, incorporating all the measures. Here are the top-rated companies, overall:
To earn their high scores, the companies above engaged in a variety of good deeds, including offering benefits such as profit-sharing plans and domestic-partner insurance coverage, implementing water recycling programs, disclosing their total use of carbon offsets and their various emissions, paying employees who volunteer, maintaining an independent audit and compensation committee, giving shareholders the right to call special meetings, and not being fined by any government over human rights issues in the past five years.
Bristol-Myers Squibb met its goal of reducing its hazardous waste by more than 50% and its total energy use by more than 10% by 2010, and set new goals for 2015, such as reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 15%. It was ahead of the curve in establishing a worldwide environmental protection policy back in 1983.
IBM has only independent directors on its audit and compensation committees. Its formal energy and environmental policies date back to the early 1970s, and it won the World Environment Center's 2012 Gold Medal for International Corporate Achievement in Sustainable Development. Between 1990 and 2010, "the company saved 5.4 billion kWh of electricity consumption, avoided nearly 3.6 million metric tons of CO2 emissions (equal to 52% of the company's 1990 global CO2 emissions) and saved $399 million through its annual energy conservation actions."
Microsoft has committed to being carbon-neutral as of 2013, and beginning next year, it will require many of its suppliers to provide reports on how well they're meeting Microsoft's standards for legal compliance, business ethics, labor and human rights standards, environmental protection, and respect for intellectual property. Microsoft has been named the world's top multinational workplace by the Great Place to Work Institute and the Best Diversity Company. It earns the respect of LGBT-rights supporters with a top rating from the Human Rights Campaign.
Intel has a company policy on human rights that not only prohibits discrimination on the basis of traits such as religion, race, and sexual orientation, but also gender identity and gender expression. It also holds its suppliers to high standards, expecting them to not discriminate, to prohibit child labor and forced labor, and to recognize collective-bargaining rights. Intel employees have volunteered more than three million hours of service over the past three years, and since 2008, "Intel has linked a portion of every employee's variable compensation -- from front-line employees to our CEO -- to the achievement of environmental sustainability metrics."
Johnson Controls, named one of the World's Most Ethical Companies in 2012, not only employs many planet-friendly practices for itself, but it also helps other companies do so. For example, its Global WorkPlace Solutions division worked with Agilent Technologies, which wanted to reduce facility operating expenses by 22%. In just seven months, Johnson Controls helped Agilent save $5 million in operating costs across 33 countries.
Doing good is powerful
Companies that treat employees well can boost your portfolio. A Goldman Sachs report found that leaders in social, environmental, and governance policies outperformed their peers by some 25%. That's a great motivation for even the most coolly rational investors to take social responsibility to heart.
Many of these socially responsible companies will prosper mightily over time. If you're in the market for some stocks that should be strong growers, check out our special free report, "3 American Companies Set to Dominate the World." One of them is among the top 10 in Corporate Responsibility's list.
Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian, whom you can follow on Twitter, owns shares of Microsoft and Intel, but she holds no other position in any company mentioned. Click here to see her holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Intel, Microsoft, and IBM. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Intel and Microsoft, as well as creating a bull call spread position in Microsoft.
The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.