The Top 12 Responsible Business Stories Of 2012

From B-Corps to intrapreneurs, social responsibility is infiltrating all aspects of the business world.


Responsible business in 2012 was all about intrapreneurs, social entrepreneurs, and going beyond traditional CSR. Intrapreneurship is all about making changes inside large companies, instead of trying to shake up industry by starting a new socially responsible company. Both the Aspen Institute and Ashoka now have programs for intrapreneurs–because making change from within the depths of a multinational company like, say, PepsiCo, can have a big impact.


That’s not to say more traditional entrepreneurs don’t have a place. This year also saw the rise of the social entrepreneur–that breed of entrepreneur who has a burning desire to make change in the world through business. Many of these people are part of what we call the Change Generation–people under 35 who are making an impact.

Benefit corporations (B corporations) have been around for a couple years, but it was in 2012 that B Lab–the non-profit behind B corps–really vaulted into the spotlight. That’s partially because Ben and Jerry’s announced that it is now a B corporation, meaning that its board takes into account social impact, employees, and community when making decisions. We’re hopeful that the company will inspire a larger movement.

1: Ben And Jerry’s Becomes A B Corporation

Ever since its acquisition by Unilever, the quirky ice cream company has been the poster case for a campaign to create a new kind of company that’s friendlier to social enterprise: the B Corporation. Now Ben and Jerry’s is one, too.

2: The Broken “Buy-One, Give-One” Model: 3 Ways To Save Toms Shoes


Toms has built a popular brand around the buy-one, give-one model. But critical flaws in that model threaten to undo its social impact and business successes.

3: How Patagonia Makes More Money By Trying To Make Less

The company’s proposition–that you not buy its clothes–is resulting in some of its best sales ever.

4: Turning Rural Indians Into Water Entrepreneurs

Anand Shah’s Sarvajal is bringing clean water to India, but with a twist: the franchise model.


5: Homeboy Industries Reboots The Lives Of Tattooed Former Gangbangers, And Even One CEO

Homeboy Industries, the passion project of an L.A. priest, has brought life reboots to hundreds of former criminals, including onetime gang members and the fallen CEO of mega-construction company KB Home.

6: The 10 Most Generous Social Media Mavens

To launch a series on the most generous people in business, we looked at the social media mavens who use the Internet to help draw attention and support to those in need.

7: The Case For A 21-Hour Work Week


It would create jobs and stop the unsustainable cycle of rampant consumerism. Sure, it would also require a wholesale reordering of our economy, but that might happen whether we like it or not.

8: An Office Created For People Who Would Rather Be Outside

Imagine a kayak commute, or taking a break to try out the office climbing wall. At one Bay Area office of the company that includes The North Face, employees are kept happy by being kept active and outdoorsy.

9: How To Create Products For People Living On Less Than $4 Per Day

You probably haven’t heard of D-Rev, but its products–including a revolutionary new prosthetic knee–are making a huge splash in the rest of the world.


10: How A Young Entrepreneur Is Transforming Downtown Vegas (Not The One You’ve Read About)

A certain former Zappos CEO might get a lot of press for his plan to revitalize parts of the City of Sin, but Alex Epstein and the El Cortez hotel are also changing the neighborhood by making it younger, supporting the arts, and giving back to the community.

11: The Rise Of The Intrapreneurs

Discovering a lost tribe in corporate America: The people trying to make it better from the inside.

12: Companies That Are Growing Rapidly While Doing Good


You don’t have to make a choice between making money or making a difference. Just follow the model of these rock stars of the new economy.

More 2012 roundups:

Architecture, cities, clean tech, collaborative consumption, design, education, energy, environment, food, health, infographics, photography, responsible business, and transportation.

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