From standing up to support the Black Lives Matter movement to inventing the first recyclable toothpaste tube, these companies show a deep commitment to finding solutions to some of the most pressing problems of our time.
1. Ben & Jerry’s
For pioneering corporate activism
As a brand that considers itself an aspiring social justice company, Ben & Jerry’s sees corporate activism as a core part of its business. In June 2020, after years of work to support the Black Lives Matter movement, the company put out a clear statement in the wake of George Floyd’s death: We must dismantle white supremacy. Through projects like a program called Justice ReMix’d, the company works with grassroots activists to make tangible changes, such as closing an antiquated jail in St. Louis that was used to house people who couldn’t afford to post bail.
For mapping neighborhoods to help the COVID response
The pandemic hasn’t hit communities equally. UrbanFootprint‘s digital urban planning platform maps out the areas likely to be hardest hit by COVID-19 based on key factors like underlying health conditions in the population, income and unemployment shifts, and access to healthcare. Policymakers and nonprofits can use the maps to understand where to allocate resources or set up support like new distribution locations for food banks.
For mainstreaming reusable packaging
The waste management company TerraCycle wants to make single-use packaging obsolete. Through a platform called Loop, it’s working with some of the world’s largest brands to design reusable containers that can be returned, cleaned, and refilled repeatedly. In 2020, the platform expanded to new partners like the beauty retailer Ulta. It will soon begin offering the platform in retail stores, from Kroger and Walgreens in the U.S. to Tesco in the U.K.
4. The Body Shop
For implementing open hiring
Because traditional background checks and educational requirements are a barrier for many job seekers, the Body Shop decided to begin using open hiring—a practice that offers a job to anyone who is authorized to work in the U.S. and answers a couple of basic questions about the job itself. When the company piloted the concept at a distribution center in 2019, it saw a decrease in monthly turnover. In late 2020, it became the first large retailer to roll out open hiring at retail stores.
For exposing racist monuments and helping remove them
Through a new platform called Invisible Hate, the creative agency 22Squared worked with the NAACP’s Atlanta chapter to map the hundreds of Confederate monuments still standing in the U.S., and share the racist history behind them. The interactive site lets visitors digitally add graffiti-style tags to the statues and then contact an elected official in the statue’s location to call for its removal. When monuments come down, the platform tracks each change.
For automating one step of the process to protect endangered species
As climate change puts more pressure on endangered animals and plants, it’s challenging for scientists to track changes quickly enough to help. The software company SAS created a tool to help, using AI and advanced analytics to comb through scholarly journals for the newest data on a species, shrinking a process that could take hundreds of hours to a few. The information helps scientists conduct assessments more often.
For making the first recyclable toothpaste tube
More than a billion toothpaste tubes end up in the trash each year in the U.S.—and until recently, they were impossible to recycle because of the way they layer multiple materials. Colgate-Palmolive spent five years developing a new type of tube made from HDPE, the same material used to make milk jugs, instead. The design is still easy to squeeze and works in toothpaste factories, but it can also be processed within the current recycling infrastructure.
For tracking COVID in wastewater
As COVID cases grew in 2020, the digital water management platform 120Water realized that it could potentially help track the spread of the virus faster than traditional swab tests and contact tracing. The system collects samples from wastewater treatment plants, tests for the virus DNA present in the sewage, and then creates a dashboard that epidemiologists or health departments can use to quickly find new hotspots. By catching cases before people experience symptoms, this type of testing can spot outbreaks a week early.
9. United Dwelling
For making it easier to build backyard homes
Tiny backyard houses and garage conversions are a quick way to address the housing shortage in cities, but they’re typically expensive to build. United Dwelling, a startup that makes prefab units to keep costs low, has also experimented with innovative financing options—including a choice where the startup paid for the entire tiny home and let the homeowner split the proceeds from rent.
For helping us cope with pandemic stress
As COVID fueled fear, grief, job loss, and new challenges such as how to work from home while taking care of toddlers, anxiety and depression have spiked. Headspace, the mindfulness app, responded early in the crisis by giving away subscriptions to healthcare workers struggling with burnout. Free subscriptions for unemployed workers followed, along with new meditations on how to adapt to sudden change and regain confidence. The company developed multiple other new tools in 2020, including Sesame Street Monster Meditations, a series of animated shorts designed to help children learn to de-stress with the Muppets, and Headspace Mini in Snapchat, which lets friends practice short meditations and send each other encouraging messages.