Warren Buffett closes his letter in the Berkshire Hathaway annual report with an invitation to the annual meeting, calling it "Woodstock for Capitalists."
Having grown up with the anti-war, civil rights, environmental, and feminist movements and the real Woodstock, it was not conventional thinking to portray big business as being on the correct side of most major social issues.
Today, more and more companies are on the acceptable side of social issues. They realize that the role they play in society impacts corporate growth, that they have a responsibility to customers, shareholders, staff, and their communities. They realize that doing good is good for business.
A GolinHarris study, "Doing Well by Doing Good 2005," ranked the top 12 corporate citizenship drivers. Among them were treatment of employees, product safety, ethics, the environment, and human rights.
The foremost corporate characteristic was treating employees well and fairly, caring about worker welfare, respecting their rights, and providing a safe, clean working environment.
Women and those 55 and older found product safety (the willingness to go beyond what's required to provide safe and reliable products and services) the next most important issue. Blacks and Hispanics rated human rights promotion as next in importance.
As a result of Enron-like scandals, more and more companies are defined by the character and integrity of their people. It is critical that executives behave in an ethical, honest, responsible, and accountable manner.
Going to the Web sites of those companies considered good citizens, it is easy to find a common link. Whether it's Johnson & Johnson's "Our Credo," Ben & Jerry's "sustainable linked prosperity," or Southwest Airline's "Share the Spirit," they all make a concerted effort to focus on corporate responsibility.
These companies, in their words and actions, provide quality products, are financially sound, treat staff with dignity, and respect the community and the environment.
They each understand that these core corporate values cannot be compromised and they do not change from time to time or situation to situation.
Good citizenship pays dividends to these companies.
It helps with the retention of employees who want to work for a "good" company. It helps with sales. Consumers are more likely than ever before to use a product for the first time from a company they perceive to have unassailable core values. And they listen to other people - whether that is relatives, friends, or bloggers - in making their buying choices. And socially responsible companies are made to feel more welcome in the community where they have a corporate headquarters, a plant, a store, or even a restaurant.
In a profit-sharing speech in 1927, HF Johnson Sr. said, "The goodwill of the people is the only enduring thing in any business. It is the sole substance... the rest is shadow."
He made this speech at the height of the Roaring '20s, a flamboyant time of great prosperity. Little did he know his words would be even stronger in today's socially responsible world.
Michael Lissauer is EVP/marketing and business strategy for Business Wire, a Berkshire Hathaway company.