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Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, brought to you by Webstop, your first stop for retail website design services.

It used to be that all a company had to do was create a quality service or provide a quality product, and then make it accessible to consumers. Then, with luck and hard work, a company would be a success.

Oh, for the days…

These days, for an increasing number of customers, it also is important that a company be right politically, socially and culturally. It can’t just be a good company, but it also has to be a company that does good…or, at the very least, doesn’t do harm to the community, the environment, the culture, etc…

Now, this may seem like an unfair burden for a retailer or a manufacturer to bear. But fairness has nothing to do with it. For many consumers, the planet we live on is perceived as an increasingly fragile construct; how else to explain the popularity and the influence of the Al Gore global warming documentary, ‘An Inconvenient Truth”? (And you know that Gore is having an impact when the normally conservative Food Marketing Institute invites him to keynote its annual show in Chicago.) Even if customers aren’t making all their decisions based on their concerns about the culture and the environment, it seems to me that more and more of them are at the very least paying attention to such issues.

Wal-Mart is perhaps the biggest example of a company that has decided to make sure it is on the right side of the environmental issue. There are plenty of good economic reasons for it to do so, but my sense of the company’s commitment is that there also is a moral and ethical underpinning to what CEO Lee Scott is trying to do. While some spend their time trying to deny that global warming even exists or is hurting the planet, Wal-Mart is doing something about it. I admire that, and I don’t think I am being naïve about the motivations.

What’s interesting is how hard it is to evaluate what companies are doing in these areas, and what their motivations are. For example, the Natural Marketing Institute this week published its ranking of “the fifty most environmentally and socially responsible companies,” noting that the ratings are “for the first time based on both a consumer perspective and investment analyst ratings of corporate sustainability and responsibility.”

Some of the top 10 didn’t surprise me, and won’t surprise you. Like Microsoft, Whole Foods, PepsiCo and Starbucks.

But McDonald’s? Home Depot? Well, the fact is that McDonald’s has a long history of social responsibility, with its Ronald McDonald House program just the most obvious example. And Home Depot has a long association with programs like Habitat for Humanity. So while neither of these two retailers would have made my list for most-admired companies, the fact is that they are staking out territory and doing the right thing when and where they can.

That’s something we all need to do. It’ll be good for business, it’ll be good for customers, and it’ll be good for our souls.

He was talking about a different kind of soul, but this line from Ray Charles says it all:

“What is soul? It's like electricity - we don't really know what it is, but it's a force that can light a room.”

For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
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