And businesses are responding by making social change part of their business model. They're coming up with programs that are good for society. And they're making those programs impactful and highly visible, so that the public is aware of the effort being made.
A Trane Technologies video explains the company's various commitments to social sustainability.
Trane Technologies is a company that has practically made its brand about sustainability, with a huge emphasis on the social component. The company has a dedicated webpage to sustainability where they commit, as of the time of this writing, to "achieve workforce diversity reflective of our communities, gender parity in leadership roles, and create pathways to green and STEM careers." Proving their seriousness, they cite that 22% of leadership positions in the company are held by women, they have spent $11 million on "philanthropic giving which includes donations from [their] foundation, in-kind giving, employee fundraising," and they have made an 11% increase in spending "on diverse-owned businesses in 2020."
Another example of a company embracing social sustainability was when, one day in October 2005, Whole Foods funded the Whole Planet Foundation, donating 5% of its nationwide store sales from that day. The foundation is “dedicated to poverty alleviation,” aiming to “empower the world’s poorest people with microcredit in places where Whole Foods Market sources products,” according to its website. As of September 2020, it had authorized $101 million in micro-loans to micro-entrepreneurs and their family members.
Similarly, Whole Foods created the Whole Kids Foundation, which “since 2011, [has] provided over 8.2 million kids with opportunities to connect with nature and food through our grants and programs,” according to its website. Along the same lines, their Whole Cities Foundation, founded in 2014, aims to “improve individual and community health through collaborative partnerships, education, and broader access to nutritious food.”
Whole Foods is just one example of companies realizing that behaving as if they have a responsibility to society is attractive to consumers. Indeed, it’s known as “corporate social responsibility,” or “CSR.” And as far back as 2007, it was recognized as a potential aid to a company’s image. Specifically, an article by the Society for Human Resource Management explained that “being an ethical, socially responsible company can attract investors, customers and top talent.”
Even companies that might not have ongoing programs have made visible efforts during times of crisis. For example, in 2020, USA Today compiled a list of 30 companies that were aiding Americans in the global COVID-19 pandemic. Major corporations like Apple, Amazon, and 3M as well as lesser-known ones like Beyond Meat, Casetify and Fanatics all found ways to contribute. They did things like pledge food, donate masks, give to COVID-19 aid organizations, and give special services to health care workers and first responders.
Another way companies have shown their interest in addressing social issues is through criminal justice reform. The NBA Milwaukee Bucks, for instance, partnered with Represent Justice to host a basketball game in 2019 at a correctional institute. The Bucks coaching staff played against incarcerated individuals, with players serving as coaches. Prior to the game, the Bucks team members, coaches, and executives, along with Represent Justice staff, had an hour-long conversation with the incarcerated individuals. The event drew attention to the issues surrounding mass incarceration, extreme sentencing, and legal system inequality.
It’s clear that companies are taking social responsibility seriously. They’re organizing programs and interacting with local governments and non-profits in the communities in which they're headquartered in order to work together to address social problems. One might wonder how many more companies could capitalize on the opportunity to show their passion for a better society.