• 04.19.12

The 100 Best Corporate Citizens

A new list of the most admirable companies has some curious additions, including oil and tobacco companies. Is there more to being a good business than not destroying people or the environment?

A tobacco company. An oil company. A mining company. Unlikely as it may seem, these companies all found their way onto Corporate Responsibility Magazine‘s 13th annual list (PDF) of the 100 best corporate citizens. How did this happen?


Any ranking like this is subjective, but CR Magazine does take into account over 320 data points in seven categories: environment, climate change, employee relations, human rights, finance, governance, and philanthropy. Employee relations and environmental impact are given a greater weight than other categories. One big contributing factor to the makeup of the list is that companies only qualify if they’re part of the Russell 1000 index of high ranking stocks–so small and private companies can’t make the cut.

The top 10 list contains a few surprises: Bristol-Myers Squibb, IBM, Microsoft, Intel, Johnson Controls, Accenture, Spectra Energy Corp, Campbell Soup, Nike, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, and Sara Lee. Co.Exist has written about some of the corporate social responsibility initiatives from companies like Microsoft and Intel.

But Spectra Energy? That’s a natural gas company with a controversial plan to build a pipeline through a New Jersey state park (as a former New Jersey resident, I can safely say that it’s important for the state to hang on to every piece of parkland it has). Here’s the thing. Spectra is extremely transparent and works hard to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to its ranking on the Carbon Disclosure Leadership Index. It also has a strong code of ethics. And the bar isn’t set particularly high in the pollution-generating natural gas industry.

Another surprise is Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, one of the world’s largest producers of copper and gold. Far from being just another dirty mining company, Freeport has transformed itself from a human rights pariah to a company that has outside agencies audit its human rights policies (note: there are still plenty of legitimate criticisms of the company’s mining practices, including their massive carbon footprint).

The rest of the list also contains some unlikely companies, including Marathon Oil and tobacco company Altria. Clearly, a company’s poor performance in one area–an oil company will never be as good for the environment as a company that isn’t involved in resource extraction–doesn’t preclude it from making the list. There’s a lot more that goes into corporate social responsibility than environmental good–or, apparently, whether the product you sell kills your customers.

One encouraging statistic from this year’s report: There are only 21 companies that have managed to stay on the list for five years running. This isn’t because all the other companies are doing worse; it’s because large companies in general are improving in the CSR realm. Says Richard Crespin, president of CR Magazine: “We’re trying to create a race to the top.”


The full list is available here (PDF).

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.