America's 100 Best Corporate Citizens

Apr 18, 2013 5:30 AM ET

AT&T is the best corporate citizen in the U.S. right now, according to a new ranking by CR Magazine. That means it beat out everyone else in the Russell 1000 index of large-capitalization companies in terms of virtues like good corporate governance and environmental impact.

“A good corporate citizen is one that demonstrates its good faith and genuine value to all stakeholders by acting transparently,” says Dirk Olin, Editor-in-Chief of CR Magazine. “There is always, and must be, a place for confidentiality and proprietary trade information. But a presumption of openness shows all those affected by corporate behavior, whether internally or externally, that the company in question has, in aggregate at least, nothing to hide.”

Beth Shiroishi, vice president of sustainability and philanthropy at AT&T, says: “We’re honored to be recognized for our progress and comprehensive approach to sustainability. We’re continuously learning, but know that the full impact of sustainability comes when it is integrated across the company operations and benefits both the community and our shareholders.  We’ve been serving communities for over 130 years, and we understand the interconnectedness of the success of our company and a strong society.”

The Dallas-based communications giant ranked thirty-third last year, when Bristol-Myers Squibb took the top spot.

“All credit for our efforts to date goes to our employees and leadership,” Shiroishi adds. “We know there’s more work to be done and look forward to finding new and innovative ways to drive shared value for our company, our shareholders and our communities.”

AT&T has devoted tens of millions of dollars to continue its It Can Wait campaign, which aims to raise awareness and put an end to texting while driving by encouraging people to take the pledge to never text and drive. To date, more than 1.3 million pledges have been taken.

In addition, AT&T recently joined forces with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to launch cooling tower efficiency pilots to identify best practices for saving millions of gallons of water a year; it launched a new program in California called Skip the Bag, which allowed customers to generate a donation to the Nature Conservancy by opting to skip a bag at retail stores; and AT&T teamed up with America’s Promise Alliance (APA) during their Building a Grad Nation Summit to help share the encouraging news that the nation’s high school graduation rate is—for the first time—on pace to reach 90% by 2020.

The company also announced in November that the Guinness Book of World Record certified that AT&T’s customers broke the world record for number of cell phones recycled in a week.

“They have clearly succeeded in demonstrating transparency’s value proposition to the C-suite at AT&T,” Olin says. “I’m not in the business of icing corporate cakes, but this kind of performance just does not happen without the proverbial buy-in from leadership.”

The 100 Best Corporate Citizens list, now in its 14th year, ranks companies based on publicly available information in seven categories: environment, climate change, employee relations, human rights, governance, finance, and philanthropy. The list’s creators assign a 19.5% weighting to environmental impact and employee relations, because they think they are what consumers, shareholders and employees care most about.

The list suggests that companies have ramped up their do-gooding ways, or are at least doing a better job of promoting them. In total, 32 companies rose in ranking in 2013 (up an average of 20 ranks). Twenty-six companies are newcomers this year; 11 made the list for a six consecutive times; and three, Intel, Starbucks, and Cisco, have made it all 14 years.

Mattel is the second-best corporate citizen in the United States.

“Mattel is honored to be recognized for our ongoing commitment to being a responsible corporate citizen,” says Lisa Klein, Mattel’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Responsibility. “At Mattel, we believe playing responsibly is our opportunity to positively impact our communities, our people, the environment and the business. Being consistently named among the best corporate citizens in the world is a huge honor, and moving into the No. 2 spot this year truly underscores that a commitment to transparency and responsibility is not only the right thing to do, but it is also recognized, and rewarded.”

Rounding out the top three is Bristol-Myers Squibb, a global pharmaceutical company headquartered in New York.

“I don’t know which is more impressive, leaping up the ranks, or repeating at such a high level,” Olin says.

Susan Voigt, vice president of environment, health, safety and sustainability at Bristol-Myers Squibb, says: “We are pleased to receive this recognition from CR Magazine. We are committed to conscientious citizenship and recognize the importance of being socially responsible and the significant contributions we can make to improve sustainability in our global communities. For us, sustainability means conducting our business to help patients prevail over serious diseases in a manner that contributes to economic growth, social responsibility and a healthy environment now and in the future.”

Voigt says sustainability is woven into Bristol-Myers Squibb’s corporate culture, and integral to its daily operations. “For example, we are focused on improving the environmental footprint of our company by reducing energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and water use,” she says. “We also work to enhance the environmental and safe handling aspects of our medicines throughout their life cycle. Regarding health and well-being, we are focused on addressing unmet medical needs for patients around the world who have serious diseases such as cancer, type 2 diabetes, hepatitis B and C, and HIV/AIDS. In addition to developing and delivering innovative medicines to treat these diseases, we are also helping to improve health outcomes for patients by partnering to strengthen health care infrastructure, services and education, and by increasing transparency about and access to information on our medicines.”

What do the top companies have in common? “They all realize that the tedious work of self reflection and measurement pays dividends—for customers, suppliers, and society at large—in ways that improve sustainability immediately and the bottom line eventually,” Olin says.

He adds: “We track 298 data points, most of which are about environmental, human, legal, and financial transparency. Those three companies opened more windows for their stakeholders to look through than any others.”

Some companies on the list haven’t always been model corporate citizens.

Last year Allergan and Exxon Mobil were issued a “red card” and were removed from the list. Allergan was first red-carded in 2011, after pleading guilty to misbranding Botox in September 2010. Exxon Mobil received its red card in 2010 after the company was found liable for contaminating groundwater in New York City.

The only red card this year went to Amgen, a California-based biopharmaceutical company.

“Amgen pleaded guilty in a case brought by the Justice Department for ‘misbranding’ their anemia treatment product Aranesp,” Olin explains. “According to the Justice Department, Amgen was marketing the drug and training sales representatives using studies rejected by FDA as insufficient. The company agreed to a settlement of $762 million.”

In addition, Abbott, Carnival, and JPMorgan Chase were slapped with “yellow cards,” denoting that an official legal action was ongoing. JP Morgan Chase, for example, received a yellow card for its now discontinued practice of posting of transactions related to debit cards and consumer deposit accounts causing overdraft fees. The company settled class actions suits for $110 million.

Yellow-carded companies remain on the list without impact on their ranking until the investigation is resolved.

In Pictures: The 10 Best Corporate Citizens

The benefits of being a good corporate citizen? “Virtue is its own reward,” Olin says. “But it also leads to healthier workforces, happier customers, and clients who are better served.”

Good corporate citizenship is also excellent for public relations–and recruiting efforts may benefit, too. “This is more true with each passing year,” Olin says. “People are even willing to take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company.”

Olin says he’s the first one to call out bad actors, whether in the public or private sector. “But I’m no cynic,” he says. “Celebrating such performance is deeply gratifying. In some ways, this entire dynamic is a demonstration of the worth of self-regulation,” he concludes.

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