Social Entrepreneurship: 8 Companies That Impress Activists & Investors Alike

By marrying purpose and profit, these innovative companies address social and environmental challenges in a way that is financially sustainable--a virtuous cycle that benefits all involved.
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The email from Good Eggs--the online organic grocery service -- arrived and instantly caught my eye. Not only could I choose the groceries I wanted delivered for Thanksgiving, but they would donate the food of my choice to a family in need. And I could order extra food for them to deliver directly to a local food bank.

I must admit--I kind of swooned.

The funny thing was, at the time I saw their offer I had stopped using Good Eggs. But by giving me a way to help others at this time of year, my affection for the company was renewed. I might go to the farmers market on the weekend, but I'm more likely now to use Good Eggs for a mid-week delivery.

This example illustrates how businesses committed to making a positive social impact stand out from the crowd and influence consumer behavior. It's also why companies with a baked-in double (social and financial) or even triple (social, environmental, and financial) bottom line have a natural competitive advantage.

Most customers feel good about supporting companies that do good. And by valuing the three Ps (people, planet, profit), social entrepreneurs are creating sustainable business models that operate differently than traditional nonprofits. From their commitment to social enterprise, businesses also achieve a boost in productivity and employee retention. When you feel that your work as an employee has a tangible, positive impact on the lives of others, you're more likely to go above and beyond.

In the spirit of offering karmic kudos where they are due, I'd like to give a quick round of applause to these companies doing well by doing good in the world:

Good Eggs. This online grocery brings the farmers market to your front door--giving people access to local, fresh, sustainable foods. Their belief is that better food leads to a better world, and their mission to support local food systems is both socially responsible and environmentally optimal.

Indiegogo. Their mission statement says it all: empower everyone to change the world, one idea at a time. By helping artists, entrepreneurs, and dreamers of every kind bring their visions to life, they create connection and community for both funders and makers. Just last week I was pleased to donate to Gaza's only startup accelerator via Indiegogo.

Sanergy. Based in Kenya, they are working tirelessly to solve the sanitation crisis that plagues the country's urban slums. The social entrepreneurial component stems from the way they are tackling the issue--by creating a dense network of small-scale sanitation centers and converting this waste into useful byproducts, such as organic fertilizer and renewable energy.

Warby Parker. This company represents a perfect example of the double bottom line. From the beginning, Warby Parker set out to be a socially conscious business, mandating that for every pair of eyeglasses sold, one would be donated. (I also have to give a shout out here to Tom's, who set the gold standard for corporate responsibility in 2006 by creating a product using environmentally responsible materials AND instituting a buy one, give one policy.)

GoldieBlox. I dare you not to fall in love with GoldieBlox. Not only is their mission to create toys that inspire girls to pursue careers in engineering and technology but they also make a product that even I want to play with.

Uncommon Goods. On the hunt for holiday gifts? Explore this excellent online and catalog retailer for well-made presents with a little extra purpose. A certified B Corp, Uncommon Goods places a premium on sustainability, featuring socially and environmentally responsible products from artists and small manufacturers.

Lush. This luscious (pun intended) cosmetics company leads with environmental awareness and ethical consumerism. Lush products are "naked," or free of packaging, as they make it their mission to make the world better for "people, animals and the environment." And they've given away almost $6 million to environmental and other worthy causes in the last seven years.

Adobe Systems. Not all socially conscious companies are small(ish) or startup(ish). When Fortune 500 companies align business practices to environmental purposes, the impact can be significant. And with a goal of achieving global carbon neutrality by 2015, Adobe is setting an example.

By marrying purpose and profit, these innovative companies address social and environmental challenges in a way that is financially sustainable--a virtuous cycle that benefits all involved.

And I'm personally very grateful to be working at a company that lives a commitment to positively impacting the world. It hardly feels like work when my company's mission is to "create economic and social value on a global scale" by using the Internet to bring work to people regardless of where they live. People finding work via our sites include those living in struggling economies and rural communities, millennials building their careers, retired professionals contributing their expertise, individuals with disabilities that prevent commuting or working traditional jobs and many taking care of children or other family members. I'm inspired by their stories every day.

Work well. Do good. And happy Thanksgiving!

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