What Makes a Company Impactful?

January 2019 | Impact Investing

Today, many companies are producing goods and services with the mission of making the world a better place. Here are a few examples:

  • Tesla: Accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.1
  • Whole Foods: Nourish people and the planet. We’re a purpose-driven company that aims to set the standards of excellence for food retailers. Quality is a state of mind at Whole Foods Market.2
  • Patagonia (core values): Build the best product. Cause no unnecessary harm. Use business to protect nature.3

Goals like sustainable energy, high-quality/sustainable food and environmental protection are very specific missions, and thus we usually consider these companies to be making a positive impact to society. But positive impact is not always so black and white.  In fact, there are many companies contributing to positive societal and environmental outcomes – irrespective of their products or services.  

Online retailer of prescription glasses and sunglasses Warby Parker is one example. The founders of Warby Parker were graduate students on a backpacking trip when one of them lost his glasses and couldn’t afford a replacement. The cost of a new frame and lenses were much too high for a traveler on a college budget. At the time, the eyewear industry was dominated by a single company, Luxottica, which owns brands like Oakley and Ray-Ban and stores such as Sunglass Hut and Lenscrafters. This sparked the idea of a business model to produce prescription eyewear at affordable prices and sell directly to consumers.

warby parker logoImage source: Warby Parker

Although their product might not contribute directly to sustainable energy, their social mission includes donating a pair of glasses to someone in need for every purchase. Based on the Warby Parker website, “2.5 billion people around the world need glasses but don’t have access to them; of these, 624 million cannot effectively learn or work due to the severity of their visual impairment.” The program, entitled “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” has donated over four million pairs of glasses.4

toms logo

Image source: Toms

The aforementioned model, ‘sell one, donate one’, is also employed at Toms Shoes. The company founder, Blake Mycoskie originally visited Argentina with his sister while on the second season of The Amazing Race. He returned a few years later and noticed a type of simple, flat footwear called espadrilles, which were popular with local polo players. He also noticed that many children playing in the suburbs of Buenos Aires didn’t own shoes, so he hatched the idea of selling espadrille-inspired shoes in North America and simultaneously donating a pair to an Argentine child.

toms image

Image source: Toms

Toms has since donated over 60 million pairs of shoes, 40% of which were given away in the countries where they were manufactured.5 

Both Warby Parker and Toms Shoes are challenging the traditional definitions of what makes an impactful company with their social missions and helping to expand the standards for good corporate social responsibility.  









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