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8 Revolutionary Socially Responsible Companies (PHOTOS)

First Posted: 08/12/10 12:00 PM ET   Updated: 05/25/11 06:20 PM ET

There is no shortage of examples of excess, risk taking and abysmal leadership in today's corporate ranks. But the success stories of socially-minded capitalism, while decidedly less common, are still out there.

The uneasy state of the American middle class and the excesses of corporate America are chronicled in-depth in Arianna Huffington's new book, "Third World America," which is due out on September 7. As a reminder that large profitable companies don't have to have the destabilizing effects of a BP or an AIG, we've compiled a list of some of America's most groundbreaking socially responsible entrepreneurs.

From Anita Roddick, who demanded that her company do more than just peddle beauty products, to Stonyfield Farms' Gary Hirshberg and Patagonia's Yvonn Chouinard, who believe that giving should be built into a business's bottom line, these leaders have expanded our notion of how business can affect social change.

Which was most revolutionary? Check them out and vote below:

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  • Seventh Generation

    The name "Seventh Generation" comes from the great law of the Iroquois tribe which states that in every action one takes, one must consider the effect on the next seven generations. Jeffrey Hollender, founder and CEO of Seventh Generation, shares that outlook; telling <a href="" target="_hplink">Kleerkut</a> that he started Seventh Generation because he's a dad: "I have kids! They've got their whole lives ahead of them...I don't want them inheriting a broken planet damaged to the point of irreparability." That's why all of Seventh Generation's cleaning and personal products are chlorine-free, their detergents are phosphate-free, and their paper products are made from 100 percent recycled materials. Seventh Generation is also partnered with seven different organizations that promote corporate responsibility. These organizations range from Toxic Chemical Policy Reform and the Breast Cancer Fund, which supports federal legislation requiring ALL household care products to disclose ingredients on their labels in plain English, to organizations such as Save the Rainforest which promotes sustainability and economic development. Learn more about Seventh Generation's partnerships and values <a href="" target="_hplink">here</a>.

  • Patagonia

    Yvon Chouinard (pictured), the founder and CEO of Patagonia, lives and breathes for the environment. In fact, he's openly stated he doesn't care about business growth or advertising. Patagonia's mission <a href="" target="_hplink">according to Chouinard</a>, "to use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis." A nonprofit under the guise of selling outdoor clothes, really. Patagonia co-founded <em>1% For the Planet</em>, an alliance of businesses pledging to commit at least 1 percent of their total sales to environmental causes. Every year since 1985, Patagonia donates either 1 percent of their total sales or 10 percent of their total profits, <em>whichever one is more</em>, to environmental causes determined by customer ballot. To date, Patagonia has donated over $25 million to over 1,000 organizations. But Patagonia goes above and beyond financial giving with their "Enviro Internships" program: Patagonia allows their employees to take time off their jobs and work for the environmental group of their choice, all while still continuing to pay their salaries and benefits while they’re gone.

  • The Body Shop

    When Anita Roddick founded The Body Shop in 1976, controversy immediately swirled around her company. The first store was nestled right in between two London funeral homes and the name was, well, suggestive. But Roddick outsmarted them all. She was revolutionary back in that day for becoming one of the first companies to turn its back completely on animal testing and, although she died in 2007, her company is still revolutionary. Aside from recently introducing bottles that are made from 100 percent recycled materials, using exclusively biodegradable foaming ingredients in their products, saying no to animal testing and refusing to use any raw material that is classified as persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic or eco-toxic, The Body Shop also has its own foundation dedicated to supporting human and civil rights. Currently, 100 percent of the profits from the sale of their Soft Hands, Kind Heart Hand Cream are donated to the ECPAT foundation to prevent the sex trafficking of children. To date, The Body Shop has raised $2 million dollars for this cause. Pictured: Anita Roddick

  • Green Mountain Coffee Roasters

    Green Mountain Coffee Roasters' <em>Brewing A Better World</em> campaign earned the company the recognition as the #1 Corporate Citizen, as rated by, for two years in a row. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters is dedicated to responsible energy use, reduction of solid waste, ecological packing initiatives and eliminating poverty and hunger in the communities that supply Green Mountain with beans. As part of its campaign, their fully compostable ecotainer coffee cup (it's made from corn!) prevented over one million pounds of harmful petrochemicals from entering our landfills and seeping in to the earth. Green Mountain was among the first major coffee providers to sell Fair Trade-certified beans. They're now one of the world's largest sellers of Fair Trade coffee.

  • Interface Carpets

    In the summer of 1994, Interface CEO Ray Anderson gave his sales force some talking points that would forever change his life. When asked about Interface's environmental philosophy, Anderson responded, "That's simple. We comply with the law." But something inside Anderson didn't feel right. So he started educating himself on Interface's environmental footprint and suddenly realized, he recounted to the <a href="" target="_hplink"><em>NY Times</em></a>, “I was running a company that was plundering the earth." That's when Anderson changed his business philosophy and created its "Mission Zero commitment" to become a company with zero negative impact on the atmosphere. Interface carpets now use fibers made from corn, flax, hemp and wool, as opposed to oil. Known as PLA fibers, the benefits of PLA include decreased dependence on oil-based materials, a 20-50 percent reduction in usage of fossil fuels, lower water usage and reduced aquatic pollution, and the capability to recycle the products back into compost. Interface also actively participates in a variety of community and philanthropic partnerships, including contributing over $150,000 toward environmental education, donating its carpets to Habitat for Humanity homes, and providing up to $6,000 of down payment assistance per home for needy families in its Georgia community through a local nonprofit. Learn more about Interface <a href="" target="_hplink">here</a>. Pictured: An Interface carpet.

  • Stonyfield Farms

    When Gary Hirshberg first launched his seven-cow start-up, one of his missions was "to serve as a model that environmentally and socially responsible businesses can also be profitable". Twenty-five years and over $330 million dollars in annual sales later, Hirshberg has done nothing less than build a movement. As part of Stonyfield Farms' Profits for the Planet grant program, the company gives 10 percent of its annual profits toward efforts that help to protect and restore the earth. This past year, Stonyfield Farms awarded its grant to PCC Farmland Trust. PCC Farmland Trust is an organization that is not only dedicated to securing and preserving threatened farmland in the Pacific Northwest, but also supports local communities by employing farmers who will use the land to produce organic food. Thanks to Stonyfield, the PCC farmland trust was able to grant preserve over 100 acres of farmland in Pierce County, Washington.

  • TOMS Shoes

    You might be surprised to learn that the founder of TOMS shoes isn't named Tom. Blake Mycoskie, the company's founder, chose the name TOMS to signify "Shoes For Tomorrow", because with every pair of shoes sold, the company will donate a pair to a child in need through their program. Blake Mycoskie came up with the idea during a trip to Argentina where he noticed that many of the children he befriended didn't have shoes -- a problem in developing countries where one of the leading causes of disease is soil-transmitted parasites that penetrate bare feet. Since May 2006, TOMS has given over 600,000 pairs of shoes to children in need. Check out the recent video of their shoe distribution in Haiti above and explore their collection <a href="" target="_hplink">here</a>.

  • Honest Tea

    Seth Goldman, the co-founder and "TeaEO" of Honest Tea, wanted something healthy and natural to drink, but all he could ever find were drinks that were either too sweet or too tasteless. At about the same time, his Yale business professor and co-founder, Barry Nalebuff, coined the term "Honest Tea" after returning from a trip to India to describe bottled tea made from real leaves (unlike traditional American tea made from lower-quality dust). When Goldman heard this, a light bulb went off: it was the perfect name for an all-natural tea company striving for healthy and honest production and consumption. From the tea bush to the factory and office, Honest Tea strives to be sustainable and transparent throughout every level of their company. First, their headquarters in Bethesda, MD features energy-saving CFL bulbs, reclaimed bricks that Honest Tea saved from going to a landfill, renewable bamboo plywood desks, recycled rubber flooring and the company even installed a shower to encourage employees to bike to work. Secondly, Honest Tea purchased renewable energy credits to offset the carbon dioxide generated during production and transport. Finally, to prevent landfill buildup, its "Upcycling Honest Kids Drink Pouch Brigade" program converts its used drink pouches into fashionable tote bags. Honest Tea even goes one step further by <a href="" target="_hplink">donating </a>$.02 cents to the charity of your choice for every drink pouch that is sent back for conversion. <em>Pictured is Goldman visiting a tea garden in China.</em>

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Filed by Ryan McCarthy  |