This year, we’ve seen many companies go above and beyond to protect the environment, help people in need, and solve the world’s biggest problems.
We compiled a list of the 20 most inspiring companies based on their actions for good this year. These inspiring organizations, listed alphabetically, are role models for their efforts in social responsibility year-round.
Who they are: A billion dollar startup which lets people rent out their apartments to other people for short periods.
Why they’re inspiring: Last year saw some less than flattering headlines about destroyed or ransacked apartments, but the company’s more than made up for it this year. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Airbnb not only waived its fees for hosts and guests in the affected area, but created a whole new platform for discounted and free listings for refugees.
Who they are: A startup launched in June of this year, which helps third party developers integrate school data with their apps.
Why they’re inspiring: From attendance records to grades and test scores, students produce a great deal of data, which schools keep electronically. Unfortunately, there’s no standard way that this data’s organized. Clever is attempting to solve that problem and create an API for education, so developers can create products that are tailored to individual students.
Code for America
Who they are: An organization that pairs professional coders with city governments to create accessible and efficient apps.
Why they’re inspiring: Code for America brings innovative ideas and cutting-edge technology to local government. Programs like these are increasingly important for areas looking to serve their citizens well with reduced budgets.
The group’s professional coders have already developed 28 apps for cities from Philadelphia to Chicago and beyond. This year, the organization launched an accelerator for disruptive civic technology startups and over 235 companies applied.
Flowers For Dreams
Flowers for Dreams
Who they are: A flower delivery service and floral event caterer that donates a backpack full of school supplies to a student in need for every bouquet sold.
Why they’re inspiring: The Chicago-based business was started in March of this year by Steven Dyme, who believes there should be a social impact in everything you do. The company’s flowers are sourced organically, grown sustainably, and delivered locally in and around Chicago and Boston.
After their first six months of operating, Flowers for Dreams had donated 1,750 backpacks to students in Chicago and 525 to students in Boston, according to Dyme.
Girls Who Code
Who they are: An organization that teaches high school girls coding, programming, and computer science.
Why they’re inspiring: Girls Who Code was founded by Reshma Saujani, a local New York City politician who saw the gender income gap and the inequalities girls faced in the tech industry.
Girls involved in the program “learn how to build websites and mobile apps and start their own companies. There will also be workshops on topics such as financial literacy, computer science and robotics,” according to the Wall Street Journal. The program launched this past summer and Saujani hopes to expand to other cities in 2013.
Who they are: A major global investment banking and securities firm.
Why they’re inspiring: This past year, Goldman started the 10,000 Small Businesses (10KSB) program, an initiative to help entrepreneurs create jobs and economic opportunity by providing greater access to education, capital, and business and legal support services. The program has already helped entrepreneurs start 881 businesses in 10 different cities.
In November, Warren Buffet met with participants of the 10KSB program in Cleveland, where business owners could deliver their growth opportunities pitches to him and receive advice.
Who they are: A website that encourages people around the world to discuss global issues and foreign news in their own languages.
Why they’re inspiring: Härnu, which is Swedish for “here” and “now,” hopes to inspire people around the world to have direct conversations, form friendships, and talk about issues and news in their areas.
Härnu co-founders started the site earlier this year when they became troubled by the increasing lack of interest in foreign news, especially among Americans. Co-founder Jason Gowans tells us that within the first few months thousands of users from more than 100 countries signed up for Härnu. These users are posting articles from their local papers and engaging in thoughtful conversations and live group chats.
Who they are: One of the world’s largest technology companies.
Why they’re inspiring: IBM was recently named the world’s greenest company by The Daily Beast. It’s at the forefront of helping companies measure, and then reduce, their resource consumption. It puts those tools into action itself, and uses water that cools a supercomputer in Zurich to heat nearby buildings.
On the social front, IBM’s CEO and Chairman is Virginia Rometty, one of the most powerful female CEOs in the world and the most powerful woman in business according to FORTUNE Magazine. She also may have indirectly caused indirectly caused the Augusta National golf club to finally get rid of its policy prohibiting female members.
Who they are: Karmio is an e-commerce site that promotes local businesses while benefiting global nonprofits.
Why they’re inspiring: Karmio’s goal is to help local businesses thrive while encouraging them to give back to the community and the world. The startup, which just launched this year, brings deals and discounts on anything from clothing to furniture to piano lessons from your favorite local stores and retailers. Those businesses then donate a portion of their sales to nonprofit organizations.
Sibté Hassan, founder and CEO of Karmio, wants to drive a movement for “business-led consumer empowerment” on the web. Hassan says that what makes Karmio different from its competitors, like Living Social or Groupon, is that anyone with anything to sell can sign up, as long as they partner with a nonprofit and donate a part of the sales they bring in through Karmio to that nonprofit.
Here’s how it works: the business signs up on Karmio and posts a deal or discount for a product or service. The business then picks the nonprofit they want to partner with and designates the percentage of each purchase that will go to that nonprofit. Both the business and the nonprofit organization will advertise the deal to capitalize on the partnership.
Who they are: A non-profit that provides free, world-class education to anyone anywhere in the world via video-recorded lessons.
Why they’re inspiring: Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, believes that quality education is a right, not a privilege. Khan, who has three degrees from MIT and an MBA from Harvard, left his hedge fund job and founded Khan Academy in 2008.
The site, which has demos, live examples, and homework lessons, now has over 3,600 video lessons, some of which have been adopted in some schools. Celebrities, such as LeBron James, serve as guest teachers, making classwork fun for students.
Khan Academy also released an app for iPhone and iPad.
Who they are: A non-profit organization that arranges microloans for aspiring entrepreneurs in underprivileged areas around the world.
Why they’re inspiring: Kiva’s mission is simple, but very ambitious: to alleviate poverty around the world by giving entrepreneurs the starting capital they need to run successful businesses. And Kiva is making tremendous progress. Since the organization was founded in 2005, they have generated $386,557,225 in loanswith the help of 859,659 lenders in 67 different countries.
And the entrepreneurs pay back their lenders; Kiva.org sees a 99.01 percent repayment rate among the entrepreneurs receiving loans.
Who they are: A Danish pharmaceutical company which focuses primarily on diabetes equipment and medicine.
Why they’re inspiring: Novo Nordisk takes its responsibility to the environment very seriously. It was named the world’s most sustainable company this year by Corporate Knights.
Though the company makes a point of having low carbon emissions, their commitment to sustainability goes beyond that. Susanne Stormer, the company’s vice president of global sustainability, told us that the forward-thinking company factors in society and the environment in all of its endeavors.
“If we want, as a company, to be sustainable, it means we have to [be in] business for the next 100 years,” Stormer said. “We have to consider, how do we interact with society and what does society look like? So the basis for our sustainability work is to say we believe that a healthy society, healthy environment, and healthy communities are the foundation for success as a business.”
The company reports its social and environmental targets and results right next to its financial results in its annual reports to investors, which Stormer credits with keeping them accountable.
Who they are: A tool to help you connect with your neighbors and make your city a better place.
Why they’re inspiring: Neighborland allows residents anywhere in the U.S. to connect with and get the support of their neighbors to make improvements to their neighborhoods.
Neighborland started as an experiment in New Orleans in 2011, and quickly caught on in other places in America. And it seems to actually be working. Already this year, users banded together to reprogram a dangerous traffic light in Houston and launch the first mobile transit app in New Orleans. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is using Neighborland to rally support for a plan to end gun violence in Manhattan, in light of the Sandy Hook shooting.
Who they are: An online retail and residential mortgage lending company.
Why they’re inspiring: Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert is moving his company from the suburbs to the city of Detroit in order to encourage other businesses to move there and stimulate the city’s economy. The company will even cover the Detroit income tax for its 1,700 employees.
Gilbert grew up in Detroit, so he feels a personal stake in the city’s well-being. Some of the efforts he is spearheading include financing efforts to improve the city’s riverfront, developing a light rail system, and providing seed capital for other entrepreneurs in Detroit. Forbes calls him “the city’s most visible champion these days.”
Who they are: A startup that provides companies with affordable health care and round-the-clock access to doctors.
Say, for example, you cut your finger slicing a bagel a few minutes ago. You send us an email with a photo you just took with your iPhone. We look at it and then text it to our network of plastic surgeons in the area to see who has the bandwidth to sew you up in the next hour or so.
Our goal is to give you a great experience, and as a side-effect, also decrease your costs. Because it’s quite idiotic that triage has been allocated to the ridiculously expensive ERs and ridiculously inaccessible primary care doctors.
Who they are: A venture capital fund from former Facebook Vice President Chamath Palihapitiya, whose investors include Peter Thiel and Reid Hoffman.
Why they’re inspiring: The fund focuses particularly on technically risky, early stage investments in healthcare, education, and financial services, which Palihapitiya thinks are most resistant to change.
The company seems to believe that venture capital “can solve the biggest problems, filling a void left by the shrinking scientific ambitions of governments, foundations, and international organizations,” according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
Social+Capital Partnership has invested in Integrated Plasmonics, a low cost medical diagnostics startup that uses nanotechnology; Brilliant, which gives gifted kids around the world a shot at Western universities; and Yammer, an enterprise social network which made the fund money after Microsoft bought it.
Who they are: The company helps governments, businesses, and homeowners design, finance, and install solar power systems.
Why they’re inspiring: SolarCity is bucking a trend in which a number of high profile solar ventures have faltered. Backed by Elon Musk (he’s the chairman), SolarCity went public in early December and the stock is up 30 percent since.
One of the company’s most innovative solutions is a solar lease program that significantly reduces, and can even eliminate, the upfront costs for homeowners or businesses that want to use a more sustainable form of energy.
Tesla Motors and Space X
Who they are: Respectively, an electric car manufacturer and space transport company, both started by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk.
Why they’re inspiring: Space X was founded in 2002 and Tesla Motors a year later in 2003, but both companies have taken huge leaps in 2012.
Tesla’s Model S sports car was named car of the year by Automobile Magazine, the first fully electric vehicle to win that honor. It won based on performance, design, and innovation, rather than its loftier goal of reducing greenhouse emissions.
SpaceX made history in May when its Dragon capsule became the first private craft to successfully dock with the International Space Station. That was a test run, and it successfully brought cargo to the station in October.
Virgin Group/Virgin Unite
Who they are: The non-profit arm of Virgin Group, created by Richard Branson and Virgin employees in 2004.
Why they’re inspiring: Unite was formed to be a model for businesses, with a voice that says corporations can, and should be, forces for good. Virgin Unite operates in three areas to create lasting impact: Business Action, to provide businesses with different services and advice; Leadership and Advocacy, to incubate new leadership initiatives and global advocacy campaigns; and Our Community, to bring together a group of people who want to do what’s right for people and the planet.
In 2012, Virgin Unite partnered with Virgin Galactic and UNCF to launch a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) scholarship program for young women who want to pursue the sciences in college.
Aimee Groth, Business Insider
Who they are: An online shoe and apparel retailer headquartered near Las Vegas, Nev.
Why they’re inspiring: Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is investing $350 million of his own money into revitalizing downtown Las Vegas, where the company is based. (The company is in the process of moving its headquarters from suburban Henderson, Nev., to Las Vegas’s old City Hall building.)
Through the Downtown Project, Hsieh is investing $200 million into real estate and residential properties, $50 million into tech startups, $50 million into small businesses, and $50 million into arts, education and culture.
Hsieh’s goal is to foster a thriving community where people can live, work and play within walking distance. Essentially, he wants to create one of the world’s next greatest cities.
And his enthusiasm has caught on: many Zappos employees and friends of Hsieh have devoted themselves to the Downtown Project and are bringing new life to the city.