9 ways companies are making a difference, Citigroup to SolarCity

Ikea's replica of a Syrian refugee home.
IKEA
Ikea's replica of a Syrian refugee home.

The world finally bid 2016 goodbye and welcomed 2017 with open arms. In the middle of all the cynicism, social upheaval and increasing materialism of last year, some companies took the initiative to do their fair share of good deeds. Here are major ways companies gave back to the global community in 2016.

1. They tackled waste

Whole Foods partnered up with Imperfect Produce to address the growing food waste problem. In April, the company took a test drive through Northern California to check for flawed vegetables and fruits. 

The Trash Trek challenge was launched at the FIRST* LEGO League Arabia Open, where kids in fourth and eighth grades were asked to research on issues related to waste management. Trash Trek asked the students to come up with their own solutions to waste reduction. 

And Timberland’s new partnership with Thread, a B-corporation focused on responsible fabric, is working to recycle bottles into footwear. Both of these organizations are leading the way to tackle the waste problem in the U.S. while educating their employees and communities to invest in each other.

2. They moved towards clean energy

In the summer of 2016, Elon Musk hinted that he might acquire SolarCity. The innovator stood by his words and presented the proposal in front of the board of Tesla Motors.

As a result, the $2.6 billion offer was finalized in August. The move is part of creating the largest clean-energy, vertically integrated company in the world. The company was quick to release plans proving how this move will help push towards cleaner energy in efforts to creating low-cost solar roofs, as well as powering an entire island with clean energy.  

3. They brought charitable causes online

With today's revolutionary online technologies, giving back has become a lot easier. Individuals and companies are more confident that every dollar they contribute will make a positive impact. 

DoneGood, a browser extension that works with Firefox and Google Chrome, works in line with the same philosophy. The extension connects people to donation options during their online browsing experience, helping them make smarter shopping decisions. Apple Pay and YouTube furthered the cause by launching their own donation add-ons.

4. They helped refugees in crisis

The refugee crisis continues to be prevalent on a global scale. With this in mind, companies are coming forward to do their part and help out people who need the assistance. As part of this effort, Ikea created an in-store experience where it transformed one of its showrooms into a replica of what Syrian refugees now call a home. The campaign helped to raise $24.3 million to support the Red Cross's efforts in Syria.

5. They promoted transparency in the food industry

San Diego-based Chicken of the Sea is working to promote transparency in terms of what consumers have on their dinner plates. The brand’s digital traceability initiative allows consumers to use a code to gain access to a wealth of information about where the fish contained in their food was caught, the method was used to catch it, the vessel it was caught in and other seafood sustainability factors.

6. They fought Zika with data

Google recently made a $1 million contribution to a charity that supports the fight against the Zika virus. The tech giant also set up a team of engineers and data scientists at UNICEF to organize the virus research they collect and make it freely available online.

7. They promoted social values 

Last year, PayPal announced that it would pull its Charlotte, North Carolina, Global Operations Center plans and took up to 400 jobs elsewhere. The company felt the state’s new legislation, the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, violated the rights of the LGBT community and, therefore, the company's own values.

At the same time, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff raised his voice — and gave $3 million — towards promoting equal pay to all genders. He even went so far as pressuring other CEOs into making similar commitments to combat discrimination. 

8. They transformed CSR

American nonprofit shoe brand, TOMS, donates a pair of shoes for every customer purchase. In 2016, the company and AT&T launched the "A Walk in Their Shoes" campaign following the story of a TOMS customer who travels from California to Colombia to meet the child who benefited from his purchase — it was also TOMS' first venture into virtual reality, giving philanthropy a futuristic edge.

9.  They bolstered employee engagement

Getting employees to give back to the community boosts loyalty and productivity. In 2016, Citigroup launched an immersive travel experience with the goal of attracting and retaining millennial talent. Under the program, junior bankers were allowed to be a part of a four-week microfinance project in Kenya. In New York, investment bank Meolis and Co. offered a four-week paid sabbatical to employees who had served five years with the company to pursue their passion. 

It’s amazing how much can be done in just one year — and how much good news was buried under the uncertainty of 2016. The examples above are only the beginning of a momentous tide of corporate environmental and social consciousness.  How are you going to make an impact in 2017?

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