Please tell me what you think about the notion that doing good, improving and evolving the way things are done, and innovating with the common good in mind and as a goal. Can that be a good approach to good business, successful business, and a sustainable path forward for the economy? Can CEOs and big companies be their own type of hero?

Quick answer:

Businesses can be sustainable and do good in the community by extending their core activities into altruistic ventures. This can sometimes be achieved by partnering with a charity, or by social programs such as that operated by the sandwich company, Pret A Manger, to distribute fresh food to homeless people.

Expert Answers

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The 2003 documentary film The Corporation argued that if companies were people (as they are in law), they would be psychopaths. The board of a company has an obligation to maximize the value of its shares, and this often leads corporations to behave in socially irresponsible way. This is the polar opposite of the way Fred Rogers is portrayed in "Can You Say...Hero?" and the feature film based on this article: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.

Newsweek's Good List aims to remedy this impression by highlighting the socially responsible and altruistic activities of 300 companies. However, it is clear that such attempts often misfire, particularly when they are perceived as virtue-signaling, jumping on the bandwagon of some fashionable cause without making any substantial contribution. The attempts by Starbucks to encourage conversations about race in 2014–2015 are an example of this type of failure.

Instead of shallow attempts to attach themselves to the latest popular cause, companies and their CEOs should think about how their business can most effectively do good in the community. This may be by partnering with a charity that complements what they do or with social initiatives such as the sandwich company Pret A Manger to give to the homeless all food not sold by the end of the day. This helps reinforce one of Pret A Manger's main messages: that its food is made fresh every day, while providing food for people who cannot afford to buy it.

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