Social investing: 4 companies make a difference

USA Today
June 1, 2014

By Sam Becker

As con­sumers, it’s easy to become dis­il­lu­sioned by all of the neg­a­tive press cov­er­age point­ed in the direc­tion of major cor­po­ra­tions. For every heart­break­ing sto­ry of neg­li­gence or mali­cious prof­i­teer­ing, many oth­ers slip through the cracks that cen­ter around the phil­an­thropic or good-natured con­tri­bu­tions to the world that many com­pa­nies make. With so much neg­a­tiv­i­ty, from sto­ries involv­ing Gen­er­al Motors’ (GM) recalls, to alleged work­er exploita­tion by Wal-Mart (WMT) or McDon­ald’s (MCD), and even giant envi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ters at the hands of com­pa­nies like British Petro­le­um (BP), it’s all too easy to get swept up in an anti-cor­po­rate fer­vor, much of which is deserved­ly earned by many companies.

For every pub­lic hit a big com­pa­ny like any of the afore­men­tioned takes, every oth­er pub­lic rela­tions depart­ment in the world gets a chance to watch from a dis­tance and learn from its mis­takes. Calls for high­er cor­po­rate tax rates and large-scale protests like Occu­py Wall Street have also put big com­pa­nies in an awk­ward posi­tion in which they must still strive for increased growth and and prof­its for their share­hold­ers while also main­tain­ing a good rela­tion­ship with the pub­lic. How are com­pa­nies actu­al­ly man­ag­ing to pull off such a jug­gling act?

Many cor­po­ra­tions have some sort of out­reach pro­gram to invest back into its com­mu­ni­ties or offer a char­i­ta­ble arm in some shape or form. Oth­ers don’t do any­thing at all. Then there are some that are active­ly tak­ing ini­tia­tive to have a real, tan­gi­ble, and pos­i­tive impact on soci­ety through var­i­ous means. Here are four com­pa­nies that are chang­ing the way they do busi­ness to have less harm, or sim­ply stick­ing to an old promise to help out.

Read on to see four com­pa­nies that are active­ly invest­ing in the bet­ter­ment of society:

1. SolarCi­ty (SCTY)

SolarCi­ty is at the fore­front of the com­ing wave of renew­able green ener­gy that is start­ing to chip away at the stran­gle­hold the fos­sil fuel indus­try holds on most of the world. Amer­i­can busi­ness has been sit­ting by while Ger­many has tak­en the reins as the world’s solar leader, although solar has final­ly start­ed to pick up momen­tum across the Unit­ed States. SolarCi­ty became one of the first pub­licly trad­ed solar installers in the Unit­ed States in late 2012, and last year saw growth of its cus­tomer base by more than 100%, accord­ing to the Mer­cury News. But SolarCi­ty is doing more than just sup­ply­ing cheap, renew­able ener­gy to communities.

Recent­ly, the com­pa­ny has announced a plan to intro­duce an online plat­form to sell debt invest­ments backed by its solar projects. Indi­vid­ual investors will be able to take part, which was pre­vi­ous­ly only avail­able to large lenders. By intro­duc­ing this new plat­form, SolarCi­ty is open­ing up the solar ener­gy mar­ket to many more peo­ple who were pre­vi­ous­ly shut out and allow­ing indi­vid­ual investors to sup­port renew­able energy.

In the words of CEO Lyn­don Rive, “peo­ple want to sup­port clean ener­gy devel­op­ment. Cus­tomers are see­ing the ben­e­fits of get­ting solar for their homes but they would like to par­tic­i­pate in oth­er ways as well.” He added that, “With our invest­ment plat­form, we’re hop­ing to allow far more indi­vid­u­als and small­er orga­ni­za­tions to par­tic­i­pate in the trans­for­ma­tion to a clean­er, more dis­trib­uted infrastructure.”

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