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If you’ve come to believe that Amazon, Walmart, or Apple are “sustainable companies,” I’m sorry, but I think you’re wrong.
Or, you should check the “sponsored by” section for whatever media publication you read that on…
As part of hosting The Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation Podcast, I’ve interviewed nearly 200 business leaders in the space of social impact and sustainability.
I’ve learned that the most sustainable companies are doing much more than just going “green,” they’re doing much more than just offsetting or mitigating a negative impact.
They’re actively making positive social and environmental impacts core to the way they do business.
This post highlights 14 truly sustainable companies so that you too can learn what it looks like to use business as a force for good.
The Top 14 Most Sustainable Companies
First, we have tentree.
As tentree’s CEO Derrick Emsley told me on our podcast, ”tentree is a tree-planting company that happens to sell apparel…”
Since their founding in 2012, tentree has planted over 50 million trees and they’ve set the ambitious goal of planting 1 billion by 2030!
tentree selectively partners with charitable organizations around the world to plant trees. They’re also regularly visiting the sites of their projects to ensure that their tree planting programs are benefiting local communities in a variety of ways—economically as well as environmentally.
As a result of tentree’s practices and commitment to transparency, millions of trees have been planted through their collaborations in Peru, Indonesia, Canada, Brazil, Senegal, Madagascar, and Kenya.
And of course, tentree is committed to sustainably producing their apparel line.
tentree is advancing the fashion industry by using sustainable materials like organic cotton, hemp, recycled polyester, and TENCEL™.
And yes—as you may have already put together with their name, tentree plants 10 trees for every purchase as they hope to make big changes accessible to everybody, everyday.
2. Tony’s Chocolonely
On a recording of our Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation Podcast, Chief Evangelist of Tony’s Chocolonely, Ynzo van Zanten, shared how Tony’s was founded by a Dutch Journalist named Teun van de Keuken after he was shocked to learn the extent of how much illegal child labor exists on cocoa farms.
In 2003, Teun attempted to “turn himself in” for consuming chocolate that he knew was produced using illegal child labor. The public prosecutor refused to prosecute Teun.
While he never achieved the legal recourse he was hoping for, Teun decided to lead by example. And in 2005 he produced Tony’s 100% Fair Trade, 100% Slave Free Chocolate Bars.
Tony’s was a smash success! They quickly sold out on their first 5,000 bars.
I think what most stands out about Tony’s is their willingness to tackle the problems of their industry head-on and to “learn in public” as they do so.
- It turned out, 100% Fair Trade didn’t mean 100% Slave Free. Tony’s launched a research project in Africa to study the cocoa supply chain deeply and determine how to improve Fairtrade Certification.
- In 2010, Tony’s was called out for the child labor that happens in hazlenut production in Turkey—Tony’s switched producers.
- In 2014, Tony’s discovered that Fairtrade prices aren’t enough for Cocoa Farmers—they introduced a premium that pays farmers 25% more than Fairtrade to ensure they make a living income.
And, the best part of all this? I know this because Tony’s documents these short-term failures and their responses, and evolution of their operation very publicly on their website for anyone to see.
They are serious about their mission to make the entirety of the chocolate industry 100% slave-free.
That’s the reason for their tagline, crazy about chocolate, serious about people.
3. Greyston Bakery
The Greyston Bakery slogan is simple and straightforward:
“Eat Brownies, Change Lives.”
The Yonkers, New York-based bakery and social enterprise have gained some notoriety for their “Open Hiring” policy.
This means no background checks, no resumes, no interviews…
As the Greyston folks say, “when people say, yes, I want to work; we say yes right back.”
And this has been a policy in place with Greyston since their founding in 1982.
Best of all, they’ve since created The Greyston Center for Open Hiring, which offers training, implementation support, research, and more to ensure other interested businesses have all they need to implement this more inclusive hiring practice.
📼 Video: Environmentally Friendly Companies
Catch the video (to the right) for a different way of digesting this list, here.
This video specifically focuses on the environmental angle of sustainable business—the brands that are truly in business to save our home planet.
Watch here or on our Grow Ensemble YouTube Channel
Ahhh…are we surprised?
Patagonia has spent its near 50 years in business being at the cutting edge of what it means to be a “sustainable & environmentally conscious” company.
As they proudly state, they “[a]re in business to save our home planet.”
For the last 35 years, Patagonia has pledged 1% of sales to the conservation of our natural environment.
This practice led to Patagonia’s Founder, Yvon Chouinard, co-founding 1% for the Planet so other companies could make the same contribution to environmental protection.
Now, Patagonia is approaching over $90 million in donations to national and international grassroots, environmental groups.
You might remember…they even sued a former president to preserve national monuments in 2017!
Patagonia has diligently reviewed, assessed, and improved the sustainability of their supply chains, and a lion share of their raw materials are either recycled or grown organically.
They’ve also set the goal to be completely carbon neutral by 2025.
➡️ Patagonia is the way that it is because of its founder Yvon Chouinard.
And if you haven’t yet, I’d recommend reading Let My People Go Surfing if you want a little more background on both the environmental & social principles behind Patagonia.
While Allbirds is a completely carbon neutral shoe & apparel company, they have the ambitious goal to become a completely zero-carbon company.
That’s right, when companies can claim “carbon neutrality” that typically means they are offsetting whatever emissions they can reduce with carbon credits.
Allbirds, however, hopes to emit no carbon in the first place. And, I think they are on track to get there.
Allbirds has committed to complete transparency when it comes to their carbon emissions.
Like a nutritional facts label you see at the grocery store, Allbirds has a label attached to their shoes that shows exactly the amount of emissions that’s been produced from the making of each style of shoe.
Allbirds has also recently invested in a plant-leather producer that can produce an alternative to traditionally manufactured leather and synthetically manufactured leather while also reducing the associated carbon footprint by 40 times!
Allbirds shoes are wildly comfortable and, as it turns out, wildly sustainable too.
Bombas abides by the bumblebee way of life: a lot of small actions make up remarkable collective achievement.
Well, to date, Bombas has donated over 47 million pairs of socks. This is because of their “Buy one, Give one” model, where, for every sock purchased, Bombas donates another to someone in need.
They call these 47 million+ donated socks and counting the “Greatest Socks Never Sold.”
Because Bombas Founders, Randy Goldberg, and David Heath, discovered that socks are the #1 requested item at homeless shelters.
They designed the socks specifically to address the needs of people experiencing homelenesses:
- reinforced seams
- antimicrobial treatment
- made with darker colors to show less visible wear
Following closely behind socks are new t-shirts and underwear as the 2nd & 3rd most requested items at homeless shelters; this explains Bombas’ recently expanded product line.
📼 Video: Socially Responsible Companies
Catch the video (to the left) for a different way of digesting this list, here.
This video focuses on the social side of sustainable business—the businesses that are truly committed to putting people above profits.
Watch here or on our Grow Ensemble YouTube Channel
7. Dean’s Beans
He first started in coffee through the nonprofit sector, but in 1993, Dean set out to forge his own direct relationship with coffee growers around the world.
Dean Cycon, the Founder of Dean’s Beans, was previously an indigenous rights and environmental lawyer before becoming a “social entrepreneur.”
Today, Dean’s is a USDA Organic, Fair Trade, Bird-Friendly, Certified B Corporation coffee company.
As Dean so impactfully shared with me during our podcast recording,
“I believe that if your business is based on the suffering of others, you have no right to be in business.”
Of course, I couldn’t agree more—and Dean’s business finds itself on the complete opposite end of the spectrum.
Dean’s Beans produces & sells “specialty coffee as a vehicle for positive change.”
They maintain long-standing relationships with their growers, pay a fair price for the coffee beans, and redistribute profits back to the growers themselves.
Dean’s also attempts to affect sustainable change in coffee-growing regions through their People-Centered Development Programs.
These are a variety of economic, environmental, or social developmental assistance projects that they only take on WHEN INVITED BY THE LOCAL COMMUNITIES (not governments or foreign aid agencies)!
If invited, they listen to & talk to local groups to learn about what might be holding them back from their self-identified development goals.
Then, they design the project with the local stakeholders, avoiding bringing in outside organizations/help at all costs if the local community can manage it themselves, and they fund the projects with the sales from Dean’s Beans or, Dean’s home equity loan (as he states himself).
Now, if you look at a 5 lb bag of Dean’s Beans you’ll understand why it reads, “Brew Great Coffee, Create Real Change”.
Did you know…The four biggest banks in America lend more than $240 billion of their customers’ money to fossil fuel projects every year?!?!
At the same time, every $1,000 you transfer to Aspiration has the planet-saving climate impact of 6,000 fewer miles driven by the average car.
Well, Aspiration is an online financial institution that provides spending, saving, and investing options that allow you to put your money where your values are.
If you open up an Aspiration account (opposed to one with a traditional ‘big bank’) you can…
- Get back 5%-10% on socially conscious spending
- Save over $300 in fees with a “pay what you feel is fair” model
- Drive your car without hurting the planet, as Aspiration automatically offsets the carbon dioxide from every gallon of gas you purchase (if you have a “Plus” account)
- Most importantly, feel confident that your money isn’t fueling the climate crisis, but rather trying to stop it, as Aspiration won’t just not invest in fossil fuel projects (what a crazy idea), but will actively use your money in ways that will help us avoid climate catastrophe!
9. Grove Collaborative
Grove was founded to make finding healthier & greener home essentials easier. Their membership certainly does just that.
Grove is the first plastic-neutral retailer in the world.
This means that for every ounce of plastic you receive from Grove, they divert the same amount of plastic from the ocean through their partners at Plastic Bank.
And, plastic neutrality isn’t the end of the road, as Grove has the goal to be completely plastic-free by 2025.
Yes! Over the next few years, Grove has plans to remove plastic from every product they make and sell.
Not to mention, while that might be Grove’s primary focus, that’s not all—they are also involved in plenty of reforestation work as well as work to reduce their own carbon footprint.
And, of course, their marketplace does make it very easy to find household products that are natural, cleaner, and more sustainable than traditional counterparts.
10. Leesa Mattress
Like Bombas, Leesa Mattress was founded with a similar “Buy, then Give” business model.
Their chosen area of impact: ending childhood bedlessness.
For every 10 mattresses sold, Leesa donates one mattress to a family in need. Leesa calls this their “1 Good Bed Promise.”
1 in 7 children in the U.S. are living in poverty. As a mattress can be one of the most expensive items of furniture to purchase for a home, children living in poverty are more likely to sleep:
- on a couch every night
- in an overcrowded bed with other family members
- or…in some cases, on the floor
Research shows that children without access to quality sleep are far more likely to drop out of school, suffer from depression, or even commit suicide.
That’s why with the help of their network of giving partners, Leesa, a Certified B Corporation, has given over 38,000 mattresses and counting.
11. A Good Company
A Good Company’s mission is to transform mindless consumption into conscious decisions.
A sustainable e-commerce company, A Good Company was founded in 2019 and has since expanded their product line to cover all sorts of everyday “climate positive” goods.
A Good Company calls them “Climate Positive,” because they will:
- Offset all carbon emissions from the production of each product using carbon capture programs such as tree planting
- Go even further and make sure each “Climate Positive” product is capturing more carbon than it’s emitting
They want every product possible to be carbon negative.
For example, their waterproof stone notebook is the world’s first “climate-positive” notebook made from recycled stone.
No wasted trees, no wasted water, no harmful chemicals.
Their mobile cases are made in Sweden from the byproduct that comes from organic linseed farming. And after use, you can either send it back to A Good Company where they’ll turn the old case into a new one for someone else, or you can plant it in the garden where it will biodegrade.
A Good Company is also extremely transparent about where and how their products are made, and in what conditions.
You can even use their interactive map and directory on AGood.com to see for yourself! Get a world tour of A Good Company’s supply chain.
12. Thrive Market
Thrive Market was founded on a very specific mission: they wanted to make natural groceries & organic foods more accessible to everyone.
For every Thrive membership purchased, Thrive gives a membership to a low-income family, teacher, first responder, or student.
Thrive wanted lower prices for high-quality, highly nutritious products, to make eating better easier. It’s one of the reasons they offer a “Low Price Promise,” where they price-match with any product you find on their marketplace.
Organic, natural foods and supplements have universally been expensive, and undoubtedly exclusive as a product of that.
While Thrive isn’t yet making the products they sell attainable by everyone, I do appreciate where they are pushing the market for organic & natural foods.
Also, everything on their marketplace is highly vetted, supporting sustainable sourcing, farming, & fair trade practices, and you can shop by almost every categorization imaginable:
- By certification — Like Certified B Corporation, Biodynamic, FSC, and more
- By diet — Vegan, Keto, Paleo, whatever
- By health & ingredients — Hypoallergenic, nut-free, Paraben-Free and so many more
- And EVEN by Environmental or Social Cause — BIPOC-owned Businesses, Regenerative Agriculture, Locally Sourced, Family-Owned Businesses, and more!
Thrive also has a program called “Mission Task Force”, where every six months Thrive selects new employees to spend 10% of their weekly work time on “impact-related work.”
Thrive Market themselves just recently became a Certified B Corporation in late 2020, which makes them the “largest grocer to earn this coveted qualification.”
13. Eileen Fisher
In 1997, harsh and exploitative working conditions in the fashion industry were in the headlines—at the same time, the EILEEN FISHER team took it upon themselves to establish a “Social Consciousness Department”.
They specifically wanted to raise awareness around three values:
- Practicing business responsibly with absolute regard for human rights.
- Guiding our product and practice toward sustaining our environment.
- Supporting women to be full participants in society.
20+ years later and cumulatively 30+ years in business, you could say that EILEEN FISHER, as a sustainable clothing brand, has lived those values:
➡️ In early 2020, it was reported that EILEEN FISHER employees own 40% of the company, through an employee stock ownership plan which was started in 2006. Employees can cash that stock out when retiring or leaving the company. The company is currently valued at $400 million.
This was largely a motivation for the company to remain privately owned by Eileen Fisher herself.
➡️ As well, the brand claims to be able to track their clothes “from field to factory”. With a visit to their website, it’s quite easy to find their list of suppliers, most having an exact address of the farm or factory, a note of the material that’s been supplied, and in some cases, an estimation of the amount of employees the supplier has.
➡️ To date, EILEEN FISHER has not found evidence of human trafficking or slavery in their supply chain. And that’s not because they aren’t looking for it. They invite rigorous and frequent third-party audits of their supply chains as well, they conduct their own “Social Life Cycle Assessments” on their garment and material supply chains to identify where issue spots might be present.
➡️ They’ve likewise taken environmental impact seriously for years as they’ve taken back over 1.5 million garments since 2009. These are then resold or remade into something new. They are also committed to using sustainable materials from the beginning—organic & traceable cotton, recycled polyester, nylon, and cashmere, and now regenerative wool.
It seems fitting to quote Eileen Fisher herself, here:
“We don’t want sustainability to be our edge, we want it to be universal.”
14. Avocado Mattress
And last but not least on this list, Avocado Green Mattress.
Avocado has called out that they are on a mission to be one of the world’s most sustainable brands. They might very well be!
Avocado’s mattresses might just be the most sustainable, or “eco friendly”, on the planet:
- They don’t use toxic chemicals
- Their factories are powered by renewable energy (and are approaching zero waste)
- They’ve cared for and raised 200,000 of their own sheep
- They offer vegan alternatives
- They grow and produce their own natural latex
- They’re carbon negative
- They’re certified organic by the Global Organic Textile Standards (or GOTs)
Best part? They claim they’ve just begun on their sustainability and climate action.
Avocado is a Certified B Corporation, 1% for the Planet business member, and Certified Climate Neutral Company, and they’ve engineered their organic, natural mattresses to make for the best night of sleep you can possibly get!
Like all the other companies we’ve listed here, they’re setting the standard for what it means to be a “sustainable business”, and use their business as a force for good in the fight to save our home planet.
🌎 Better Business for a Better Planet
The definition of what’s good business is changing. It has to. The circumstances of the world demand it.
Thankfully, there are businesses (and business people) like those I shared above who are helping to set this standard and redefine the expectations for how business can and should be done.
Are there other businesses that you feel deserve a spot on this list? Who are they and why do you think they do?
Let me know in the comments below!
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I’m Cory Ames. I’m a writer, podcaster, social entrepreneur, and the Founder of Grow Ensemble.
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