The 10 Most Socially Responsible Companies in the World?

In their upcoming issue devoted to the world’s most admired companies, Fortune Magazine includes a section listing their top 10 most socially responsible companies.   The list actually features 11 companies, since there is a tie at both the eighth and tenth spots (although it’s not entirely clear what scoring metrics the editors used and how a tie could be possible).

Whether or not this list should be taken seriously is up for debate – it includes five companies with significant exposure to fossil fuel based energy (Statoil, Edison, ENI, Total and Nextera) and two companies  with questionable CSR credentials (Total and Nestle).   Either way, it's interesting to see how a mainstream financial magazine rates social responsibility amongst publicly traded companies.

So, without further adieu, let’s take a look at the list, shall we?

1. Statoil – Fortune’s pick for the most socially responsible company in the world is this Oslo-based oil and gas giant which is 67% owned by the Norwegian government.  While the company is beginning to expand into alternative energy, the bulk of their profits come from oil exploration, refining and distribution (Statoil owns and operates over 2000 gas stations worldwide).  While the company certainly places a high premium on corporate social responsibility (not surprising for a company based in forward-thinking Scandinavia), they have had their share of blemishes.  Most recently, in February 2011, Statoil faced environmental charges levied by Alberta, Canada for improperly diverting water from their oil sands operations.

2. Grupo Ferrovial – A Spanish conglomerate involved in transportation and urban infrastructure services, Ferrovial is a member of both the Dow Jones Sustainability and FTSE4good investment indices (each comprised of global companies that meet high CSR standards).  They’ve also created an Environmental Performance Index, the first of its kind, to track the company’s global environmental performance in real time.

3. Walt Disney Company – The house that Mickey built is the only US-based company in the top 5.  Some of their more interesting initiatives include:  running Disneyland trains on biodiesel made with cooking oil from the resort’s hotels, establishing a worldwide conservation fund and instituting a “green standard” for all employees and cast members.

4. Edison – Founded in 1884, this Milan-based firm is Europe’s oldest energy company.  Despite its age, Edison is one of the leading renewable energy providers in Europe with 68 hydroelectric facilities, 29 wind farms, and one solar facility currently online (17% of the company’s installed capacity is in renewable and is their fastest growing segment).

5. ENI – Another Milan-based energy company, specializing in oil, gas and petrochemicals.  In 2010, ENI was named the best company in the world for the online communication of its corporate social responsibility initiatives in the annual survey conducted by Lundquist which analyzed the 91 companies listed in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index.

6. Whole Foods Market – The supermarket chain that brought organic products to the mainstream American consumer.  Given Whole Foods’ longstanding commitment to CSR issues, it’s not a surprise to see it make this list.

7. Total – French oil and gas conglomerate.  This one is a head scratcher.  Despite efforts to appear socially responsible on their website, Total is a habitual offender of CSR issues including: the environment, human rights and corruption.   Hard to agree with this choice.

8. (tie) Hochtief – Germany’s largest construction company and a leader in the green real estate space, Hochtief is also a member of the Dow Jones Sustainability index.

8. (tie) Nestle – One of the largest food manufacturers in the world, in 2009 Nestle instituted "The Cocoa Plan" in an effort to encourage sustainability, labor rights and fair trade in the cocoa industry.   But, like some of the other larger companies on this list, Nestle has been frequently criticized for their questionable business practices and alleged greenwashing.

10. (tie) NextEra Energy – Formerly known as Florida Power & Light, Nextera rebranded themselves in 2009 in an effort to disassociate themselves from a regional sounding name (they operate is 28 US states and Canada) and to highlight their aggressive move into renewable energy.  NEE is the largest owner and operator of wind power farms in the US and second only to Iberdrola in the world (44% of NEE’s total energy output comes from wind power).

10. (tie) Weyerhauser –one the biggest players in the global forest products industry, Weyerhauser owns 6.6 million acres of commercial timberland worldwide and another 15.2 million acres on long-term leases in Canada.  According to their website, 99% of these forests are certified to sustainable forestry standards.

Let the debate begin.

Image Credit: Kevin Trotman