The idea of socially responsible business is hardly new, but over the last decade it’s taken center stage.
Still, the tech companies we rely on every day have been slow to the game. Until a few years ago, Facebook, Google, and others could successfully argue they were “neutral” platforms with no responsibility for what got posted.
Not any more.
Socially Responsible Technology
“Five or 10 years from now, we will come to regard 2017 as a turning point,” the New York Times predicted. “Why? Because this year, for the first time, tech giants began to grudgingly accept that they have some responsibility to the offline world.”
“The scope of that responsibility, though, is another matter entirely,” it concluded.
Today that responsibility has assumed a critical importance. “The cost of inaction is starting to become bigger than the cost of action,” according to one CEO.
The Times offers these tips on how to be an ethical tech consumer. I offer my list in the same spirit — of supporting socially responsible technology.
B Corp: The Standard for Social Responsibility
Mixing business and politics has traditionally been considered bad for business. But now we can’t avoid the social and environmental impacts of our actions as consumers.
As a result, the situation has reversed. Social responsibility has become a business advantage. The social enterprise credo of “doing well by doing good” makes more business sense than ever.
Indeed, it’s now central to our buying decisions. An October 2019 survey found that nearly three-quarters of consumers “want to know what the brands they support are doing to address social and environmental issues.”
The de facto standard for business social responsibility is certification as a B Corporation — a company that emphasizes the triple bottom line of social responsibility, sustainability, and profitability.
The strict criteria for certification look at a company’s environmental footprint, treatment of workers, community engagement, customer service, and corporate governance.
B Corp certification is voluntary and doesn’t grant any formal legal status. But it sets a high bar for how a company should act, and so it’s earned wide credibility. The four B Corps in my list tout their certifications proudly.
Who’s on the List?
I looked for apps and platforms you’re likely to encounter in your daily web browsing, social media, and other online activities. B Corp status helps but isn’t a requirement for inclusion.
My list isn’t exhaustive. Indeed, the B Corp directory lists 80 US companies, and 224 worldwide, under “IT Software & Services/Web Design.” If you think a company should be included, let me know in the comment section below.
1. Firefox (web browser)
Mozilla released its massive Firefox update in 2018 with much fanfare over its built-in socially responsibility as well as its browsing speed (tagline: “Fast for good”).
Among the browser’s strongest features are its privacy protections, such as data security and ad tracker blocking. Indeed, a free and healthy internet is central to Mozilla’s mission.
The non-profit is known as a place that values its highly diverse workforce. Fast Company listed Mozilla among its 2019 Best Workplaces for Innovators, and the Human Rights Campaign recognized its mission to end workplace discrimination.
The Mozilla Foundation tackles a wide variety of issues through its campaigns, fellowships, and technologies. Mozilla also filed its own legal briefs against the FCC in the fight to preserve net neutrality.
2. Hootsuite (social media dashboard)
Social media meets social responsibility in Hootsuite. I admit I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it’s a B Corporation; it didn’t strike me as having a social mission. On the contrary, it earns high marks for its commitment to its workers, the community, the environment, and its own corporate governance.
I think Hootsuite is one of the best social sharing dashboards anyway. The company also helps non-profits use social media better to have more of an impact. Socially responsible technology times two.
3. ConvertKit (email marketing)
”We exist to help creators earn a living online,” this email marketing company states on its website.
ConvertKit shows dedication to its workers by encouraging and investing in them. And its value statement emphasizes teaching, generosity, transparency, caring, and honesty. I use ConvertKit for my own email marketing because I appreciate its vocal support for creative people. (I’m a ConvertKit affiliate and earn a commission if you buy it through the links in this paragraph.)
4. Kickstarter (crowdfunding)
The popular crowdfunding site Kickstarter is dedicated to the idea that creativity is “essential to a healthy and vibrant society, and the space to create it requires protection.
Kickstarter is a B Corp and a Public Benefit Corporation, which means its social mission is embedded in its charter as a priority alongside shareholder value.
5. Change.org (online petitions)
The well-known petition platform Change.org is itself a model for positive change. It’s a B Corp with high marks almost across the board. Since 2011 the San Francisco-based company has provided a place for individuals to launch their own petitions and bring change to where they need it.
6. Sonic (internet service provider)
Sonic is a California-based internet service provider that’s popular in part for its commitment to keeping the internet free and fair. Unlike AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon, the company spoke out in favor of net neutrality during the FCC hearings.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has repeatedly honored the way Sonic protects personal data: informing users of government data requests and standing up to gag orders.
7. Oculus VR (virtual reality)
“There’s nothing virtual about the difference we can make,” rings the bold claim by virtual reality firm Oculus.
“We have the potential to transform education, improve productivity, advance social movements, and expand our understanding of people and cultures around the world — all through the power of virtual reality.”
Oculus VR headsets help ER medical teams prepare for emergencies and societies to discover and preserve their cultures. And you thought they were just for gaming.
8. Etsy (small business)
Etsy had to give up its B Corp certification on a legal technicality, but it continues its social mission of giving local and small craft businesses a fighting chance in the world of online commerce.
Its mission is to “keep human connection at the heart of commerce.” And environmental sustainability is embedded in its business practices.
For instance, it’s “the first major online shopping destination to offset 100% of carbon emissions from shipping,” boasts its website. When you buy something on Etsy, they “balance out the carbon emissions by creating positive environmental impact.”
The company gave early proof that investors would support a socially responsible technology startup that showed good business sense and a commitment to sustainability. It showed you could do well by doing good.
9. Azavea (mapping software)
Azavea makes mapping software and mobile apps that enable communities to gather data for local projects like neighborhood revitalization, crime and traffic analysis, economic development, and elections. Their apps are helping to map agricultural patterns in Africa and teach students and scientists to model watersheds.
Its B Corp certification gives it especially high marks for being good to its workers and the community. The company gives at least two percent of its profits to non-profits; staff members get parental leave and student loan assistance, and are encouraged to pursue personal research projects on company time.
Got an addition to my list? A comment? Criticism? Put it in the comment box below and share it will all of us.