Explore the full 2022 list of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, 528 organizations whose efforts are reshaping their businesses, industries, and the broader culture. We’ve selected the firms making the biggest impact with their initiatives across 52 categories, including the most innovative corporate social responsibility, energy, and consumer goods companies.
When immigrants arrive in their new home countries without translatable credit, it forestalls their chances at economic success. As children have lost school time during pandemic lockdowns, they’ve missed eye tests at school at a vital age, leading to worsening vision. In our Social Good category, we honor companies pinpointing these problems, which may appear niche but affect so many.
In a moment of devastating carbon emissions, soaring waste, and heightened domestic abuse, customers are demanding that the companies from which they buy step up to the challenges. Some 77% of Americans are motivated to use businesses that are actively making the world a better place; almost a quarter have a zero-tolerance policy for those with ethically questionable practices. Those attitudes are only becoming more pronounced as millennials and Gen Z gather more purchasing power.
Our chosen companies not only address the issues, but make solving them the very core of their business. Beyond Good has revamped the entire chocolate supply chain model in order to pay Madagascan cocoa farmers a more just wage; Neste has formed a line from fast-food waste to sustainable aviation—powering passenger jets with fuel refined from deep-fat fryers. And the innovation is exciting: There are smart cameras that spy on piles of garbage and learn their activity to help reduce environmental waste, and fashionable bracelets that double up as alert systems for people encountering sexual harassment.
1. Warby Parker
For providing free eyecare during lockdowns—and proving healthy eyes improve education
During the Zoom-schooling era of lockdown, the spectacles retailer Warby Parker resumed “Pupils Project,” a 2015 initiative that has provided half a million free vision screenings and 120,000 pairs of glasses to low-income and majority-BIPOC communities. As children lost opportunities for eye testing at school—and nearsightedness among young kids rose up to three times higher in 2020 than in the previous five years—Pupils Project relaunched in existing cities like Baltimore and New York, and dedicated $10 million to expand the project to new areas in 2021, including Washington, D.C., 26 counties in Pennsylvania, and 75 school districts in California, aiming to reach 500,000 more kids by the end of 2025. To prove its hypothesis that better optic health leads to higher educational attainment, Warby Parker teamed up for a three-year study with the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute, which was published in September 2021. Among the findings: For students in the lowest quartile, and in special education, wearing glasses equated to almost half a school year of additional learning.
For powering planes with renewable fuel—made from fast-food fryer oil
Finnish company Neste is the world’s largest producer of renewable diesel—refined from animal fats and cooking oil from fast-food cookers, from McDonald’s to mom-and-pop eateries around the world. To help save 20 million tons of emissions annually by 2030—a goal that’s halfway achieved today—Neste also moved into sustainable aviation fuel. Air travel, which represents 9% of U.S. transport emissions, does not yet have a viable electrification alternative. Neste powers flights from major airports including San Francisco International (SFO), for American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and JetBlue, with a continuous supply of renewable fuel. In 2021, the millionth gallon of Neste’s sustainable fuel entered SFO. As well as creating cleaner air near the airport, Neste expects to produce roughly the same greenhouse gas emissions reductions as 1,200 flights between San Francisco and New York on an Airbus A320 or Boeing 737.
3. Nova Credit
For lending incoming immigrants a fairer chance at economic success
“Arrive and thrive,” goes the slogan of Nova Credit, a fintech company that allows immigrants to share credit history from their home countries to qualify for such essential services as housing, autos, and cellphones in a new land. Typically, new U.S. immigrants have to start from scratch, severely delaying their opportunity for economic success. Nova Credit works with auto loan providers and credit card providers like American Express, (soon adding mortgage and telecoms partners) to underwrite immigrants using their international credit, and with Experian and TransUnion to translate varying international credit formats into one analogous to an immigrant’s new home country. In 2021, the company expanded its list of country integrations to total 15, adding Brazil, Kenya, and Mexico to existing ones including Spain, Germany, and the Philippines. The hope is that opening up an overlooked, potentially large consumer segment will not only promote financial inclusion, but also create new business opportunities for service providers.
For monitoring trash, to divert it from landfills in the long term
Dumpsters are being watched. That is, the rubbish receptacles outside the business outlets or offices of 1,300 major brands have been fitted with 170,000 AI-powered cameras from Compology, a company that performs “waste metering”—monitoring trash in the same manner as a smart meter measures water or gas. Compology’s technology—trained on 100 million data points—analyzes the garbage content, its fullness, and activity, such as leaving to go to landfills, then offers data and insight back to its corporate clients to advise their waste-mitigation strategies. On average, dumpsters are serviced at 51% fullness, leading to carbon emissions from wasted trips that can be prevented with more data, which can also divert more landfill-bound waste to recycling. Apple, for instance, found that it was overestimating its waste by 50%; McDonald’s reduced its annual trash truck miles by 8,000 miles per year in the Las Vegas area alone. In 2021, Compology, which was certified as one of B Corp’s “Best for the World,” also launched city grants in order for municipalities and state governments to use the tech in their waste diversion strategies, and is currently working with 20 U.S. cities.
For inventing a discreet alert system, hidden in a bracelet, to prevent assault
Flare, founded by two survivors of sexual assault, sells a fashion-item-meets-safety gadget that may soon make whistles and pepper sprays obsolete. It’s a wrist bracelet—in styles including beaded, leather, and metal cuff—that doubles as an alert system for anyone who may fear abuse or assault, including commuters, college students, and gig economy workers. In case of threats or attacks, a discreet button push can alert police, send a GPS location to friends and family, or trigger a prerecorded incoming call with an excuse to leave a threatening situation. The Flare bracelet, which also pairs with a mobile device, sold out three times in 2021. Company data shows that owners wear them on average three days a week, and have activated them more than 25,000 times in the last year. Gender-neutral bracelets are now on sale, and athletic options are on their way.
6. Cabinet Health
For seeking to eliminate single-use plastics in medicine
Cabinet Health, a certified B Corp company, created a refillable, compostable pouch for pills, made of wood blends and other bio-based materials, as an alternative to the billions of plastic medicine bottles used (and scarcely recycled) annually. The pouch can withstand elements such as moisture and heat, providing a cozy home for active drug ingredients included in most common remedies for colds, allergies, and nagging tummy aches. The company also manufactures its own brand of over-the-counter and supplement medicines to fit within its packaging; prescription drugs, to fit in their already available packaging, are expected in 2022. Cabinet Health racked up more than 700,000 customers by the end of 2021, and the company’s Bundle box, filled with common medicinal reliefs, purports to save an average of 3.5 pounds of plastic from entering the environment. It’s also working directly with community pharmacies, hoping to provide packaging for thousands of outlets next year.
7. Beyond Good
For trimming the chocolate supply chain so African farmers can earn more
The cocoa industry is responsible for millions of farmers living in poverty. Beyond Good, a chocolate company formerly known as Madécasse (the French word for Madagascar, where it cultivates its cocoa), is making inroads into curbing the maltreatment of African workers, principally by eliminating the various middlemen between the farmers and the finished product. The company expanded its production with a factory in Madagascar, doubling its employees there in 2021 and producing 2.8 million bars. It boosted farmers’ pay by six times the industry average, from about 60¢ per day to $3.84. Additionally, Beyond Good is planting trees to restore wildlife habitats; a conservation study with Bristol Zoo has confirmed five species of lemurs, 19 species of birds, and the Madagascar flying fox in its forests.
For making luxury luggage carbon neutral
As tourism has picked up in the post-vaccine landscape, sustainable luxury luggage company Paravel has benefited from the surge, claiming to double sales in 2021 compared to 2019, the last peak-travel period. Paravel’s wheeled luggage, duffle bags, and cabana totes encourage a shift away from jet-setters’ uses of hefty boxes of plastic, instead employing materials like canvas and nylon upcycled from 3.5 million plastic bottles to date, as well as circular cotton from upcycled fabric scraps, and recycled vegan leather. Its signature Aviator suitcase, in colors like Scout Tan and Scuba Navy, is a carbon-neutral product, thanks to the company offsetting emissions from its manufacture and transport, as well as from the customers’ first flight with it, of a distance equivalent to New York to Los Angeles. Paravel, which in 2021 became Climate Neutral Certified and entered into new partnerships with Banana Republic and Marie Kondo, says it has offset more than 12,000 tons of carbon dioxide since 2019.
9. Safe Stays by ReloShare
For facilitating safer rehousing of domestic abuse victims
Hotels often serve as havens for victims of domestic abuse and human trafficking, but they can also be identifiable by abusers. During the pandemic, when domestic abuse surged and crowded shelters had to limit capacity, ReloShare, a business-to-business hotel and corporate housing booking site, launched Safe Stays, allowing government agencies and nonprofits, such as the Domestic Abuse Women’s Network, to book hotel rooms discreetly on behalf of victims. After they book on ReloShare’s platform, guests can arrive at the hotel using an alias, and without a credit card or photo ID. In 2021, ReloShare expanded nationally after successful pilots in Seattle and Chicago, now partnering with 6,000 hotel properties, including national hotel chains; it reports a 2,000% increase in platform traffic from June to December 2021, and more than 3,000 nights booked through Safe Stays through January 2022. With a proven concept, the company says it’s exploring providing the same service to other groups that need emergency or anonymous stays: refugees, disaster responders, and youth aging out of foster care. In February, the program expanded nationally with partnerships such as one with Choice Hotels.
For making online shopping returns and exchanges greener
More than 1,100 global brands, including Levi’s, L’Oréal, and Sephora, use Narvar’s software to navigate “post-purchase” online shopping logistics such as text notifications and order tracking. As the pandemic accelerated a shift from brick-and-mortar retail to online shopping, Narvar’s client base surged 40% in 2021 and the company, which touches 2 billion packages a year, aimed to make the returns process more efficient and environmentally friendly. Its smart returns routing for retailers helped replace many central, faraway return hubs with local returns centers, slashing distances traveled and carbon emissions; one home goods retailer saved 545 million miles of travel in processing returns. Narvar also increased boxless returns with FedEx and UPS, and for the remaining physical returns, an online portal means customers only print labels for the 15% of packages that get sent back, obviating the need for an estimated 35 million physical receipts.