Robert Hass, chairman and CEO of Levi Strauss Company, said, "The organization needs to be an ethical creature—an organism capable of both reaping profits and making the world a better place."

In the past six months, the world has gone through incredible changes. The tragic events of a single day forever changed the way many people think, work and live. But out of tragedy came countless stories of human greatness. Not the least of which has been an outpouring of generosity from individuals and organizations far removed from Ground Zero—people helping people they’ve never known. Time and time again, we hear about people contributing time or money because, as they say, "I felt like I had to do something."

Americans have always been known for their generosity. And in recent years, even before September 11, corporate America has been socially responsible—giving to nonprofit organizations that make their communities and their world a better place. Today, the number of businesses that call themselves "socially responsible" is growing at an impressive rate. The national organization Business for Social Responsibility now has more than 700 members.

Besides the obvious community benefits, increased social responsibility and commitment to values can, in the long run, help make a company more respected, more profitable and a more desirable place to work. While a business must first satisfy its customers’ demands for price, quality and convenience, studies show a growing need to buy based on several other factors, including a company’s commitment to its community and other social issues.

In fact, a British study done in 1999 showed 90 percent of people surveyed want to do business with companies that focus on more than just profitability. Another study done that same year, cited in the Business and Society Review, found companies which made a public commitment to rely on their code of ethics outperformed companies that didn’t by two to three times in market value.

Ben & Jerry’s, the popular Vermont ice-cream maker, is a great example of a company with a strong history of success and a strong sense of social responsibility. According to the book Ben & Jerry’s Double Dip: Lead with Your Values and Make Money, Too, the company donates approximately 7.5 percent of its annual pre-tax dollars to charitable causes. This is the highest percentage of any publicly held company. The authors of the book, Ben and Jerry themselves, hope the readers of the book will do "what their hearts and souls have been aching to do—integrate social values into their daily business activities … and that as you integrate your values more and more, you’ll be just as profitable, if not more so."

Ben and Jerry see big business as the place where human beings today are organized into their most powerful force. Because this is true, they believe business has an obligation to have a social mission as well as a profit motive. Instead of the sole measure of their success being how much profit is made at the end of the year, their measure is twofold: They look at how much money they have made and how much they have improved the quality of lives in their communities. Their annual report has a social audit right next to the financial audit.

This is all interesting and good, but what if we have the desire to make our company more socially responsible, but don’t have the assets or profitability of a Ben & Jerry’s? After all, it’s hard to think about social responsibility when so much time is spent making sure our own bottom line is positive every month.

The season for giving is never over. So as we enter a new year—one filled with lingering uncertainty and unfulfilled needs—we should continually ask ourselves what more can we be doing to help. And if we really listen, we’ll always hear an answer. IBI