Fast Company Readers — Not Anti-Social

Our current issue of Fast Company magazine, #111 for December/January, is our 2007 Social Capitalists Awards issue. When the story went live on November 20 we published a poll on our homepage asking, "Is your company socially responsible?" The results at first glance were very positive. In the first 30 days of the question appearing online, 212 readers responded, with 65% responding "Yes" and the other 35% responding "No." Nearly two-thirds of the respondents felt that they work at a socially responsible company.

But, this was not the first time this poll had appeared on the homepage. On January 13 I asked the same question, for the 2006 Social Capitalists Awards featured in January's issue. At first glance the earlier poll showed and upward trend—the first 30 days of that poll resulted with 346 votes, with 48.5% responding "Yes" and 51.5% responding "No." Comparing the positive votes, that is a tangible jump from 48.5% to 65%. This would be remarkable if it stood up to greater scrutiny.

When comparing the first 200 votes of each poll, removing an anomalous day which had a spike of 58 "No" votes, there were remarkably similar results: the January poll showed 65% positive and the November poll showed 66% positive. The truth then is that companies aren't changing. Those who were not socially responsible 10 months ago have not changed.

And what do these statistics tell us about readers? That their positions are immovable? Or that they are as socially-conscious as they will ever be? Or maybe even, one of the voters, on January 27, asked all of their friends to swing by and press "No" 58 times? Regardless of the interpretation, it reveals that the idea behind social capitalisism isn't being spread wide enough and that we could all learn more by reading more about it.

More revealing than the poll numbers may be the comments for each of them. The seven comments on the January poll were all positive. For example, Renee Moorefield, CEO, of Wisdom Works Group said, "The feeling that we are making a difference in the world through the power of our business and our brand is what drives us!" The three comments that have been posted on the November poll are all negative: "Unfortunately, when too much money is involved, social responsibility must be the breaking point," commented Shane Brenner of Precision Auto Care.

What does the disparity of the comments say? That the positive feeling of an upward trend that was evident in January (even though there is no such growth in our poll statistics) has been replaced with negativity? Or that those who are pro-social entrepreneurship are becoming concerned about its future? How do you see social capitalism faring in 2007?

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  • Nick Rice

    Social responsibility is one of the best ways for a company to differentiate itself in a crowded market.

    Consumers are looking for corporations that are socially conscious. They remember the brands that stand for something. And they have a better feeling when buying their products.

    I think most people today agree that the world and humanity is pretty fragile; companies that give back and make the world a better place are set up for success. When you address the "triple bottom line" (profits, people, and planet), you break out of the commodity mentality.

  • mahendra kumar dash

    We only talk.The basic motif is always to make money and name even at the cost of charity and
    social welfare.

  • David Carlson

    For me there are only one way forward and that is to be social responsible. For companies as well as for private persons. We have to skip the greed and help each other.

  • J. Stanuszek

    It would be curious to determine how a company is deemed socially responsible. In some cases, companies have strict policies that dictate how it's employee's may/may not act which contributes to it's ranking, whether good or bad.

    What criteria would you use to define whether a company is/isn't "socially responsibile"? What are the benchmarks of a company that exceeds these criteria?

    Perhaps it hasn't been compared to yet, but one might describe this great big world we all live in as a great big "Survivor: Earth", where aliances are drawn, deals are done where the ultimate goal is; to be the one that comes out on top or end up with the most things.

    Lets be honest and admit that while there is a groundswell of people and organization dedicated to being a positive force in making whomever they come in contact with better for it, there are too many examples of companies/people that are leaders in there respective industries using their vast resources and powerbase to mold business law and regulations to their singular benefit.

    Will the world continue to tolerate these robber barons from monopolizing markets and bending policy to their benefit without accountability to the communities, employees, stakeholders and yes, stockholders to which give these companies the lifeforce the keeps them going?

    Here's a thought. Why not establish a world wide "minimum wage" Seems that might even things up quite a bit and pretty much eliminate the migration of jobs to "cheap labor" countries.

    I'm tired of constantly seeing articles where health insurance companies raise there rates under the guise of having to combat ever increasing health care costs and then shortly thereafter, report huge profits which translate to more money for stock holders, or as big pay offs to company execs, all the while the companies carrying policies with these insurance companies struggling to keep their hard working employees covered with the barest of coverages. Talk about an industry with a social responsibility reputation issue.

    I've ranted long enough. Time for someone else to chime in.