Business today is about more than just making a profit. As climate change, economic inequality, and other major problems impact communities worldwide, companies are increasingly expected to be purpose-driven and contribute to the greater good.

In a recent study by Deloitte, 93 percent of business leaders said they believe companies are not just employers, but stewards of society. On top of that, 95 percent reported they’re planning to take stronger stances on large-scale issues in the coming year and devote significant resources to socially responsible initiatives.

With more CEOs turning their focus to the long term, it’s important to consider what you can do in your career to make a difference. Here’s a look at what corporate social responsibility means in business, and five examples that can inspire you to influence change at your organization.

What Is Corporate Social Responsibility?

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a business model in which for-profit companies seek ways to create social and environmental benefits while pursuing organizational goals, like revenue growth and maximizing shareholder value.

Today’s organizations are implementing extensive corporate social responsibility programs, with many companies dedicating C-level executive roles and entire departments to social and environmental initiatives. These executives are commonly referred to as a chief officer of corporate social responsibility or chief sustainability officer (CSO).

While CSR might look different for each organization, the end goal is always the same: Do well by doing good. Companies that embrace corporate social responsibility aim to maintain profitability while supporting a larger purpose.

Rather than simply focusing on generating profit, or the bottom line, socially responsible companies are concerned with the triple bottom line, which takes into consideration the impact that business decisions have on profit, people, and the planet.

It’s no coincidence that some of today’s most profitable organizations are also socially responsible. Here are five examples of successful corporate social responsibility you can use to drive social change at your organization.

Sustainable Business Strategy

Successful Corporate Social Responsibility Examples

1. Lego’s Commitment to Sustainability

As one of the most reputable companies in the world, Lego aims to not only help children develop through creative play, but foster a healthy planet.

Lego is the first, and only, toy company to be named a World Wildlife Fund Climate Savers Partner, marking its pledge to reduce its carbon impact. And its commitment to sustainability extends beyond its partnerships.

By 2030, the toymaker plans to use environmentally friendly materials to produce all of its core products and packaging—and it’s already taken key steps to achieve that goal.

Over the course of 2013 and 2014, Lego shrunk its box sizes by 14 percent, saving approximately 7,000 tons of cardboard. Then, in 2018, the company introduced 150 botanical pieces made from sustainably sourced sugarcane—a break from the petroleum-based plastic typically used to produce the company’s signature building blocks. The company has also recently committed to removing all single-use plastic packaging from its materials by 2025, among other initiatives.

Along with these changes, the toymaker has committed to investing $164 million into its Sustainable Materials Center, where researchers are experimenting with bio-based materials that can be implemented into the production process.

Through all of these initiatives, Lego is well on its way to tackling pressing environmental challenges and furthering its mission to help build a more sustainable future.

Related: What Does "Sustainability" Mean in Business?

2. Salesforce’s 1-1-1 Philanthropic Model

Beyond being a leader in the technology space, cloud-based software giant Salesforce is a trailblazer in the realm of corporate philanthropy.

Since its outset, the company has championed its 1-1-1 philanthropic model, which involves giving one percent of product, one percent of equity, and one percent of employees’ time to communities and the nonprofit sector.

To date, Salesforce employees have logged more than 5 million volunteer hours. Not only that, but the company has awarded upwards of $406 million in grants and donated to more than 40,000 nonprofit organizations and educational institutions.

In addition, through its work with San Francisco Unified and Oakland Unified School Districts, Salesforce has helped reduce algebra repeat rates and contributed to a high percentage of students receiving A’s or B’s in computer science classes.

As the company’s revenue continues to grow, Salesforce stands as a prime example of the idea that profit-making and social impact initiatives don’t have to be at odds with one another.

3. Ben & Jerry’s Social Mission

At Ben & Jerry’s, positively impacting society is just as important as producing premium ice cream.

In 2012, the company became a certified B Corporation, a business that balances purpose and profit by meeting the highest standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability.

As part of its overarching commitment to leading with progressive values, the ice cream maker established the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation in 1985, an organization dedicated to supporting grassroots movements that drive social change.

Each year, the foundation awards approximately $2.5 million in grants to organizations in Vermont and across the United States. Grant recipients have included the United Workers Association, a human rights group striving to end poverty, and the Clean Air Coalition, an environmental health and justice organization based in New York.

The foundation’s work earned it a National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy Award in 2014, and it continues to sponsor efforts to find solutions to systemic problems at both local and national levels.

Related: How to Create Social Change: 4 Business Strategies

4. Levi Strauss’s Social Impact

In addition to being one of the most successful fashion brands in history, Levi’s is also one of the first to push for a more ethical and sustainable supply chain.

In 1991, the brand created its Terms of Engagement, which established its global code of conduct regarding its supply chain and set standards for workers’ rights, a safe work environment, and an environmentally-friendly production process.

To maintain its commitment in a changing world, Levi’s regularly updates its Terms of Engagement. In 2011, on the 20th anniversary of its code of conduct, Levi’s announced its Worker Well-being initiative to implement further programs focused on the health and well-being of supply chain workers.

Since 2011, the Worker Well-being initiative has been expanded to 12 countries and more than 100,000 workers have benefited from it. In 2016, the brand scaled up the initiative, vowing to expand the program to more than 300,000 workers and produce more than 80 percent of its product in Worker Well-being factories by 2025.

For its continued efforts to maintain the well-being of its people and the environment, Levi’s was named one of Engage for Good’s 2020 Golden Halo Award winners, which is the highest honor reserved for socially responsible companies.

5. Starbucks’s Commitment to Ethical Sourcing

Starbucks launched its first corporate social responsibility report in 2002 with the goal of becoming as well-known for its CSR initiatives as for its products. One of the ways the brand has fulfilled this goal is through ethical sourcing.

In 2015, Starbucks verified that 99 percent of its coffee supply chain is ethically sourced, and it seeks to boost that figure to 100 percent through continued efforts and partnerships with local coffee farmers and organizations.

The brand bases its approach on Coffee and Farmer Equity (CAFE) Practices, one of the coffee industry’s first set of ethical sourcing standards created in collaboration with Conservation International. CAFE assesses coffee farms against specific economic, social, and environmental standards, ensuring Starbucks can source its product while maintaining a positive social impact.

For its work, Starbucks was named one of the world’s most ethical companies in 2021 by Ethisphere.

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The Value of Being Socially Responsible

As these firms demonstrate, a deep and abiding commitment to corporate social responsibility can pay dividends. By learning from these initiatives and taking a values-driven approach to business, you can help your organization thrive and grow, even as it confronts global challenges.

Do you want to gain a deeper understanding of the broader social and political landscape in which your organization operates? Explore our three-week Sustainable Business Strategy course and other online courses regarding business in society to learn more about how business can be a catalyst for system-level change.

This post was updated on March 31, 2021. It was originally published on June 6, 2019.

Matt Gavin

About the Author

Matt Gavin is a member of the marketing team at Harvard Business School Online. Prior to returning to his home state of Massachusetts and joining HBS Online, he lived in North Carolina, where he held roles in news and content marketing. He has a background in video production and previously worked on several documentary films for Boston’s PBS station, WGBH. In his spare time, he enjoys running, exploring New England, and spending time with his family.