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5 Companies That Did Something Good for the World This Year

While no company is perfect, it's good to know that at least a few for-profit entities did some good things for the environment and society this year.
 
 
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Occupy Wall Street has us all thinking about the bad things companies can do - and rightly so, because often those things are very, very bad. (The 2008 financial meltdown, anyone? How about the ongoing foreclosure crisis?) But sometimes some companies take steps in a positive direction, and it's worth giving those efforts a look as well.

First, let me make one thing clear: a company's inclusion on this list does not mean it is outstanding in every facet of its business. Quite the contrary. But each of these companies has done at least some things this year that are worthy of praise.

It's also worth acknowledging that there are scores of companies that launched socially responsible initiatives in 2011, and many of them were surely commendable. But the purpose of this article isn't to pat companies on the back for giving back to the world; really, every company should be doing that, at the bare minimum. Below you'll find only companies that engaged this year in efforts that are changing - or at least have the potential to change - corporate America for the better. That's a slippery metric, no doubt, but it offers a good starting point for examining corporate social responsibility.

1. Ben & Jerry's

In October, when Occupy Wall Street was in its relative infancy, the Ben & Jerry's board of directors recognized the power of the movement, and issued a letter of support. The letter, titled "We Stand With You," read in part:

We, the Ben & Jerry's Board of Directors, compelled by our personal convictions and our Company's mission and values, wish to express our deepest admiration to all of you who have initiated the non-violent Occupy Wall Street Movement and to those around the country who have joined in solidarity. The issues raised are of fundamental importance to all of us. These include:

--The inequity that exists between classes in our country is simply immoral.

-- We are in an unemployment crisis. Almost 14 million people are unemployed. Nearly 20% of African American men are unemployed. Over 25% of our nation's youth are unemployed.

-- Many workers who have jobs have to work 2 or 3 of them just to scrape by.

-- Higher education is almost impossible to obtain without going deeply in debt.

--Corporations are permitted to spend unlimited resources to influence elections while stockpiling a trillion dollars rather than hiring people.

Ben & Jerry's is known for having maintained its social and environmental standards even after "selling out" to Unilever. But still, it was a bold move for a corporation to throw its support behind a movement that is largely defined by its anti-corporatism.

The company also gave out free ice cream to protesters in  New York and D.C., where the company's founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, did a little ice cream scooping of their own.

Some protesters have expressed concerns about Ben & Jerry's co-opting the Occupy movement, and that's fair. They have reason to be skeptical. But it's noteworthy that Ben & Jerry's is the only major company to have explicitly endorsed Occupy Wall Street. In fact, it's hard to imagine another large company that would.

2. Patagonia

Outdoor gear and clothing company Patagonia made waves towards the end of 2011 when it rolled out an anti-consumerist ad campaign featuring the slogan "Don't buy this jacket."

patagonia

Introduced on Cyber Monday (the post-Thanksgiving shopping holiday), the ad campaign is tied to Patagonia's Common Threads Initiative to reduce excess consumption. The five tenets of the initiative are to:

 
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