Making a difference can seem a mammoth challenge in a world where it often feels like there are more problems than one can list, it's hard to know where to start. Corporate responsibility stretches to many different facets and businesses often follow marketing trends to understand where to help, usually attempting to capitalise on improving their company image by 'jumping on the bandwagon'. This is why knowing where you can really make a difference is important - understanding the reach you have is exemplary. Amongst the many, there are the few that know their niche and place in the industry, using their unique voices and positions to make improvements in realms that make sense to their businesses. Here are a few we thought were nailing it.
When accomplished rock climber Yvon Chouinard opened his first Patagonia store in 1973, the company was focused around climbing equipment and apparel. As time went on, and their market expanded, Patagonia began catering for a wide breadth of sports and activities that all centre around being outdoors, or in touch with nature; surfing, snowboarding, mountain biking etc. This connection to the world has been sewn through the companies entire reason for being - using their business, investments and voice to "defend the place we all call home". Patagonia have a reputation for taking action, Chouinard himself was a founding member of the One Percent for the Planet organisation - encouraging businesses to commit a 1% of their annual net revenue to nonprofit charities focused on sustainability and conservation. Patagonia have been a part of this since its fabrication and in 2016 even contributed 100% of their Black Friday sales to various environmental organisations. As well as these contributions, the company is extremely active in opposing policies that aim to reclaim federal lands in the US - these spaces are not only pivotal to the clientele of Patagonia (many are national parks and hiking spots) but protecting them contributes to the preservation of biodiversity and natural environments. Patagonia understands their voice and uses it in conversations that matter to their communities, cleverly understanding where they have the most influence. On top of their actions, they are extremely transparent about their production lines being completely fair trade and their cotton being totally organic. On their website you can even find 'The Footprint Chronicles' - clear information highlighting where their materials are sourced and products are made, diving into their corporate responsibilities and how they maintain their ethos. The company clearly sees the value in caring, both for the planet and for the people on it, a shining example for how a business can be extremely successful, international AND conscious.
Probably one of the most recognisably socially-active companies, LUSH cosmetics have been proudly wearing the mantle of being a conscious company since conception. Mark Constantine and Elizabeth Weir set out creating handmade cosmetic products from fresh fruits and vegetables in the upstairs of a small site in Poole, selling their products downstairs. This production approach still holds today, with 100% of their products being vegetarian and 85% vegan. They hand make their produce and make sure it's as fresh as possible, 65% of them are even self-preserving and have no added synthetics. Reflective of their attitude towards the product ingredients, they commit to as little packaging as possible - in fact only a limited selection of lines (usually liquid based ones) use any packaging at all, the rest of their stock is either 'naked' or plastic-free. Many companies pledge to make products without plastic or using recycled materials, but usually after market pressure - LUSH have been on the frontline in the fight for our planet from day dot, setting the example for what can be achieved. Through their strong sense of identity and unwavering commitment, LUSH have become a great leader in highlighting the possibilities in packaging reduction and plastic-free potential. Recent years have seen a great growth in cosmetics companies being more transparent about where and how their products are tested and made, but it's safe to say that LUSH were pioneers in this movement. Since 2007, LUSH have been actively against animal testing, refusing to buy products from any companies that carry out, fund or even commission any forms of vivisection. They're well known for using their voice, acts of protest and raising awareness. A 2012 performance piece featuring a woman sat in their Regent St. store window illustrated the horrendous acts involved in animal testing, throughout the entire day she was subjected to various experiments. It received huge media coverage and put LUSH on the map as a company using their voice for a greater cause.
If someone told you that espadrilles were changing the world, would you find it hard to believe? Shoe brand TOMS were founded by Blake Mycoskie in 2006 after visits to Argentina opened his eyes to the lack of resources for those living in poverty. What we wear on our feet is often taken for granted, it's typical for us to worry more about whether we're colour coordinated rather than whether we'll be able to wear shoes at all. TOMS saw the opportunity to produce shoes not only that he could sell to consumer markets, but that he could also donate to communities in need around the globe - for free. In their first year, TOMS sold 10,000 pairs of shoes and distributed the same amount amongst children in Argentina, Mycoskie's trademark concept of "One for One" was born. As of 2019, an impact report stated that TOMS had donated more than 95 million pairs of shoes across 82 countries. The promise to deliver a pair of free shoes to a child in need for every sale of their retail products understandably originated with just footwear, but as their lines have expanded to include bags, eyewear and even coffee, their contributions to societies have also evolved. Causes respective to each product line are supported by various initiatives - eyewear sales give the gift of sight through free eye exams and glasses, coffee sales translate to clean and safe drinking water access and their bag sales have provided safe birth kits and training for over 175,000 mothers.
There will always be more that a business could do to help those in need, most businesses exist for-profit and their corporate responsibility often falls short of what they could achieve given a shift in focus. Saying this, it's amazing to see companies like the above three putting serious action at the forefront of their models, without distancing themselves from their initial purposes. All three brands support causes that are relative to their products and at the core of their messaging - imagine if all companies put the same efforts into supporting their industry-adjacent causes, we'd see a lot more change and a much greater breadth of issues tackled. The first key to making a real change is knowing what you can change, in trying to change everything efforts can become diluted. By all means reach for the stars, but they're all pretty far away - work out which are nearest first and start there.