Look no further than your environmentally conscious Prius-driving neighbor, Whole Foods' Whole Planet Foundation, and even crowd-sourcing websites like Kickstarter. Each is an example of people and businesses casting aside selfish greed and acknowledging that caring for the world at large might be a more noble pursuit than money alone.
Tom Serres, founder and CEO of Rally.org, a crowd-funding website devoted to raising money for charitable and political endeavors, says such altruistic outcroppings are creating what he calls a "cause-based economy." And it's growing like wildfire.
Also known as "conscious capitalism" -- after the book of that name by Whole Foods co-founder John Mackey and Bentley University marketing professor Rajendra Sisodia -- this movement champions the idea that, at their best, companies should create value not just for customers, employees, and stakeholders but also for society at large.
Make no mistake: These do-good companies are no weaklings when it comes to traditional, financial measures of success. In fact, they've provided a bright spot in a dismal economy. Companies like Whole Foods (WFM), Google (GOOG), and Chipotle (CMG) have proven that good deeds and good business do indeed mix.
Some Not-So-Obvious Investment Angles
Of course, for investors who want to devote a portion of their portfolio to companies that do good, Whole Foods is the obvious example. As a health-focused grocer with award-winning company benefits and socially conscious business practices -- all with tremendous growth potential -- it is the poster child for conscious capitalism.
Another company that's cashing in on doing well in the world is Clean Harbors (CLH). It's the largest hazardous-waste disposal company in North America. But it also is the go-to company for big environmental messes like the BP oil spill. It similarly looks out for the environment in its own operations, preferring lower-emitting transportation options like railroads to freight trucks.
Of course, these aren't the only companies making positive changes today that will have a lasting impact on the world. Even mainstream companies like Walmart (WMT) and McDonald's (MCD) are incorporating business practices that would have seemed completely out-of-character just a few years ago, becoming better stewards of the Earth by focusing on using recyclable packaging, increased use of renewables, and boosting energy efficiency. (Here are a few other big companies making changes you might not expect.)
Some companies are created to help foster a cause-based economy. Others are integrating these ideas slowly into their traditional approach to business. However it comes about, someday we may look back and call this the time when Wall Street and Main Street recognized that capitalism and conscientiousness could successfully coexist.
Motley Fool contributor Adam Wiederman has no position in any stocks mentioned. he Motley Fool recommends Chipotle Mexican Grill, Google, McDonald's, Waste Management, and Whole Foods Market. The Motley Fool owns shares of Chipotle Mexican Grill, Clean Harbors, Google, McDonald's, Waste Management, and Whole Foods Market. Read Adam's free report for two more investing ideas aligned with conscious capitalism.