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The CSR Christmas List: Who’s Naughty and Who Is Nice?

Words by Leon Kaye

This month Consumer Reports came out with a “Naughty and Nice” list that focuses on what companies preached and compared that to what they actually practiced. The list is full of zingers and high-fives that probably will not surprise most readers. And of course the list is very subjective--listed companies, such as naughty BMW, will surely have their defenders. Then there are some on the nice list, such as Home Depot, who may have a seamless delivery policy on appliances--but try having other items installed, and the contractor assigned to your home may give you a very different estimate from what the clerk at the store promised. Then again, at GreenBuild, they touted a LEED program. Who knows?

Well, when it comes to sustainability and corporate social responsibility, I thought I would add my random thoughts on who is naughty, and who is nice, this holiday season:



Ford Motor: The cars overall have improved design and mileage, and the C-MAX Energy Plug-in would be a sweet gift to find under the Christmas tree next month. Competitively priced at $32,950, that number drops to approximately $29,000 with incentives including tax credits. This plug-in hybrid is a sweet drive, and is a step forward for PHEVs. Employees appear to be happy working for Ford, too.

Zappos: How can we dislike Zappos? The online shoe retailer is Exhibit A on how to recruit and retain employees. Employees at Zappos’ call centers are encouraged to develop new skills and score higher wages in the process. After a week of orientation new employees are offered a check for $4,000 if they decide they are not a fit. And by the way, if you ordered an item during yesterday’s Cyber Monday madness before 1:00 pm PST, that was shipped to you next day air . . . for free. Speaking of shipping:

UPS: Surely UPS and its competitors get a boost from Cyber Monday and the rest of the holiday season. Cynics will bemoan the carbon footprint all this online gift buying will generate, but we here at Triple Pundit have long given UPS credit for being up front about its challenges. Becoming a sustainable delivery company is hard; the effort UPS invests on this front is one from other companies can learn a lot.

Starbucks: Coffee snobs are quick to sniff this Seattle giant, and critics point out the waste the company’s products generate. But this polarizing company (you love it or hate it, and 3p writers are all over the place when it comes to Starbucks) makes a huge difference in the lives of students, single moms and small business owners who can deliver a skinny-pumpkin-latte-extra-foam-hold-the-whip-cream-add-a-splenda-wait-throw-another-espresso-shot-in-there-please faster than the rest of us can say “grande.” These aforementioned folks often open the stores at 5:00 a.m., on holidays, and even carry another job or two. Their American dream has not turned into a complete nightmare because Starbucks provides them health insurance.

Nordstrom: Imagine a department store that still believes in customer service. This retailer time and again scores highly on employee satisfaction surveys. And above all, this was one company that did not follow the Black Friday madness: Nordstrom stayed closed on Thanksgiving Day and did not decorate its stores for Christmas until November 23rd.

Honorable mention: Marks and Spencer, Kohl’s, Costco, SAP, Unilever


Walmart: We understand that Walmart has done a lot on the sustainability front. Now it is time for the company to step up and ensure that its employees can live sustainably--as in making ends’ meet. Whether the Black Friday strikes in 100 cities will make any long term difference will be debated for a long time. But what it is time for is to show some compassion for employees: the fact that too many of them are on food stamps while they toil for a paycheck is not a badge of honor. And therefore, those always low prices hit our pocketbooks in other ways. Then there’s that 8:00 pm Thursday opening for Black Friday. Walmart, please lead, don't bully.

Bank of America: Not a great year for one of the largest bank in the U.S., despite its very aggressive public relations machine. Many stories, like this sad tale on The Consumerist, demonstrate how a bank too big to fail is too inept to provide decent customer service. Accusations of misconduct over foreclosures still fester. Even the Wall Street Journal yanked BofA’s chain over its reluctance to waive fees for its customers as  Hurricane Sandy hurled towards the Atlantic Coast. If I were president of a credit union, I would send a huge holiday basket to BofA’s executive team for all the customers gained thanks to BofA’s arrogance.

PepsiCo: True, the beverage and snack foods behemoth has achieved considerable work on water stewardship issues. PepsiCo was also the third largest contributor to the anti-Proposition 37 onslaught, donating almost $2.5 million to the No-on-37 effort. Plus the company keeps talking about nutrition; but we keep looking for the company’s healthy products, and they are no where to be found except hummus (which by the way has soybean oil; not the most healthful vegetable oil). Where are they? What are they?

Hostess: Let’s see, the company had not changed its products much since Eisenhower was president; the executives gave themselves huge pay raises; its marketing strategy was non-existent. But don’t worry about the fact that innovation was not in the company’s kit; just blame the unions for its demise. We would give this company a big piece of coal . . . but is not around anymore, is it? At least the Twinkies, which will survive as long as cockroaches and Cher, are fetching massive sums on eBay.

Close to getting coal in their stockings: McDonald’s, Safeway, Apple

So who do you think has been naughty or nice this year?

Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable BusinessInhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter.

Image credits: Leon Kaye, Nordstrom

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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