I’m tired of seeing disingenuous companies make money through the exploitation of nature and people in third world countries. I want the good guys to win, so I’ve compiled a list of awesome companies I think deserve your attention. If you’re trying to start a company yourself, look to these guys. They’ve shown that you can have profits, AND make the world a better place. In fact, being socially responsible pays off. According to Edelman’s 2012 goodpurpose study, 76 percent of global consumers believe that companies should be able to profit while doing good, which is a 33 percent increase from 2008. Here are some of my favorite companies:
This online retailer of shoes and clothing launched in 1999 with a minimal advertising budget and grew mostly by word of mouth. Tony Hsieh, initially an investor in the company, jumped on as co-CEO after realizing that he had “the most fun with Zappos.” They set out to build a strong company based on a couple on unconventional ideas and goals. One of the goals was to be included in Forbes’ list of Best Companies to Work For, which they achieved in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. Another goal, which became essential to their huge success, was to deliver a supreme customer service experience, and make that their main “thing.” Employees are encouraged to go above and beyond for their customers (and they mean it). Here are some highlights about the company:
- Customer service reps have no scripts, and no limit on call times. The longest reported call was 10 hours, and 29 minutes.
- They have a long interview process, and if you make it to the end, you can either accept the job, or take $2,000 to walk away. The idea behind this offer is to only keep the people who truly want to work for the company.
- A customer service rep, upon learning about a customer who was returning a pair of boots because her husband died in a car accident, sent her flowers and billed it to the company without checking with a supervisor.
- Zappos often upgrades customers to overnight shipping for free.
- Zappos has an unlimited return policy—meaning you can try on and return as many pairs of shoes as you want.
You can read more about Zappos’ insanely awesome company culture in Tony Hsieh’s best-selling book, Delivering Happiness. I read it in one sitting—it’s really good.
The Lesson: You don’t have to compromise your ideals to build a profitable company.
Fun fact about Zappos: For the first few months, the company was originally called shoesite.com.
You’ve probably heard of Toms Shoes and their One for One business model. If not, here it is in a nutshell: for every pair of shoes they sell, they give a pair of shoes to someone in need. Serial entrepreneur Blake Mycoskie started the company in 2006 after he volunteered for an organization that delivered used shoes to children in Argentina. After seeing the “alpargata,” a type of slip-on shoe that has been worn in South America for centuries, he realized that he could create a for-profit company to sell an updated version of the alpargata, and use the profits to continually give new shoes to children in impoverished regions.
By 2010 Toms Shoes had sold (and delivered) over one million pairs of shoes to children in need, and by 2013, they’d reached 10 million. In 2011, they expanded to selling sunglasses, although their sunglasses operation doesn’t fully use their One for One model. Instead, a lot of the money goes towards helping to deliver eye care in over 13 countries.
Toms’ one for one model has been fairly criticized here and here, but its still an innovative way to look at business that has spawned a new wave of social entrepreneurs. You can read more about Blake Mycoskie and Toms Shoes in his #1 New York Times best-selling book, Start Something that Matters.
The Lesson: Sometimes a for-profit corporation can be more effective at creating social change than a non-profit.
Fun Fact About Toms Shoes: Founder Blake Mycoskie never finished high school (he’s one Spanish class short), but got into college anyways. He dropped out after the second year to start his first company.
Founded by Yvon Chouinard in 1973, Patagonia is a sports clothing company most well known for their fleeces and coats. They contribute regularly to environmental groups, and have committed to always donating 1 percent of revenue, or 10 percent of sales—whichever is bigger. In fact, Patagonia is the creator of the 1% for the Planet movement, an alliance of businesses who’ve committed to donate 1 percent of their profits to build a healthy planet. As of 2011, they’d reinvested over $100 million towards positive environmental change.
Here are some of the other positive causes they’ve started:
- The World Trout Initiative. A grant program that supports organizations working to protect endangered fish.
- The Common Threads Initiative. A project that aims to make every product sold by Patagonia recyclable, and asks the company and customers to take mutual responsibility for the life cycle of each product.
- The Footprint Chronicles. An interactive website that shows the trajectory and life cycle of products that Patagonia sells, and lets customers make suggestions as to how to improve the process.
The Lesson: You can use your business as a platform for greater positive movements.
Fun Fact about Patagonia: Employees can take leave of absences with full pay and benefits for up to two months if they are volunteering at an environmental nonprofit.
Change it from the inside
One of the reasons why I studied business in college and got an MBA, was to infuse social good into our current economic systems. There’s a whole movement of new socially responsible companies doing some really remarkable projects. Which ones are your favorites? Let me know in the comments below.
Featured Image Credit: Miroslav Vajdic