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A New Social Responsibility Seal of Approval

By August 19, 2009

I've never confirmed this but it would seem reasonable to assume that products sold by Whole Foods are grown or made by socially responsible companies. And we can probably assume that companies that are included in Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For list would be good employers. And firms on Business Ethics 100 Best Corporate Citizens list are likely models of corporate governance.

Now a small group in Los Angeles wants to tie all those things together with a single seal of approval for consumers. The Good Company Seal would judge companies by examining its conduct in five areas: employees, the environment, their consumers, the community and their suppliers. If they pass the group's review they'll be awarded the Good Company Seal, which they can display on their products and in their advertising and marketing materials, providing assurance to consumers that they are socially responsible firms.

The idea was conceived about 13 months ago by Jeffrey McKinney, a marketing and advertising professional who says he was frustrated that there wasn't a comprehensive and simple way to assess whether or not the products you're buying are in step with your personal politics.

McKinney says he and three others drew up their principles and are assembling an "integrity committee" of people who are expert in social responsibility in those areas. They'll be the group who will judge companies when they apply for the Good Company Seal.

Except that this is where McKinney's idea, while a good one, still has a long way to go. He's not a well known non-profit or the federal government. He has not brought in any other established groups in social corporate responsibility to lend credibility. He's working to convince companies that his group has the expertise to judge them by its criteria and that this seal of approval from his group will have meaning. At some point he'll also need a PR campaign to raise awareness among consumers.

Then there's the question of value to the company. Firms that apply for the Good Company Seal will be asked to pay a $1,000 application fee. If they make the grade, they're then offered a three-year licensing agreement to place the seal on their packaging and elsewhere. That costs $150,000.

McKinney says he's gotten good feedback since he went public earlier this month and that the licensing fee really isn't the big concern for companies. Rather, it's whether or not he and his group have the resources to do the work that establishes with certainty that a company is socially responsible. He says they do. The last thing he wants to have happen, he says, is to award a Good Company Seal to a company that doesn't deserve it.

So why am I blogging about something that is still in the very early stages? I have no connection with Jeffrey McKinney. The whole project may be a way for him to make a living. But it's also in line with what we're discussing on this site. Companies that are considered socially responsible are of interest to socially responsible investors. If the Good Company Seal turns out to be another way to find those companies, all the better.

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