Explore the full 2022 list of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, 528 organizations whose efforts are reshaping their businesses, industries, and the broader culture. We’ve selected the firms making the biggest impact with their initiatives across 52 categories, including the most innovative workplace, media, and social good companies.
As commitments to cut emissions, plastics, waste, and water become standard in the corporate world, the question becomes how companies will actually reach those goals—and what other ways can they continue to give back as they do? The forefront of innovation in corporate social responsibility is going well beyond simple charitable programs or carbon-offset purchases. These 10 companies are pursuing innovative paths to shrinking footprints (or to helping other companies shrink theirs) or supporting their communities.
Stripe has embedded a carbon-removal project inside the core of its business, bringing along tens of thousands of its customers to fund ambitious new carbon technologies and bring down the price by being their first customer. Relatedly, the athleisure giant Lululemon’s exploration of polyester made from carbon emissions and lab-grown leather normalizes these next-generation materials that can reduce the impact of apparel production. Sustainable home brand Ecos removed the water from its laundry detergent, washing away a lot of excess water and plastic use as well as the need to ship all that weight. Outdoor apparel brand Smartwool has embraced the circular economy, upcycling customers’ old socks into dog bedding and pursuing regenerative agricultural practices in its wool farming. Doconomy is building calculators that help both individuals and businesses understand their carbon footprints and where particular changes in lifestyle or materials, respectively, could have a meaningful impact. Sweetgreen, the newly public chain of salad restaurants, is engaging its customers in the company’s aggressive push to net-zero carbon emissions (by 2027) by sharing its menu options that require the least carbon emissions to produce. Beyond climate-related issues and conserving resources, Land O’Lakes has continued to push rural broadband as the events of the past two years have only reinforced the importance of good internet access as an essential element of participating in society. And Zoetis has helped contain the spread of COVID-19 among the animal population.
For being the first buyer of bold carbon-removal tech
In the fall of 2020, the online payments infrastructure company (one of the world’s most highly valued private technology companies, with a valuation of approximately $95 billion) launched Stripe Climate. It allows any internet business to support carbon-removal technologies. Companies that run on Stripe can direct a portion of their revenue to carbon removal, and Stripe does not charge any processing fees for Stripe Climate. The effort is designed to make Stripe the guaranteed first buyer for new carbon dioxide removal tech, which leads to further investment and is designed ultimately to bring down the price so that more organizations and countries embrace them. At the COP26 event in the fall of 2021, Stripe reported that more than 10,000 customers are now part of Stripe Climate. It’s identified nine projects that it’s backing—from submerging kelp farms onto the ocean floor to creating building materials out of CO2. There’s already evidence that Stripe’s early support has spurred progress: Charm Industrial, which captures CO2 from the air and submerges it deep underground, delivered Stripe’s first purchase ahead of schedule, and Climeworks, which makes machines that remove CO2 from the atmosphere, began construction on a new plant with 80 times the capacity of its previous manufacturing facility.
Stripe is No. 1 on Fast Company’s list of the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies of 2022.
For making meaningful measurement of environmental impact easy
Swedish startup Doconomy helps people understand the carbon footprint and environmental impact of our consumption habits. Founded in 2018, the company spent the past year pursuing partnerships that roll out these calculations to consumers and companies alike in intriguing and impactful ways. In 2021, it launched the 2030 Calculator, a tool that simplifies the process of calculating the carbon footprint of manufactured products at a high level of accuracy across (currently) 11 product categories. This allows brands to both quantify the impact of all stages of their value chains up until the point of sale of a product (based on factors such as materials, processes, energy, and transportation) and offer their customers a transparent look at the environmental impact of products and services, in press releases and even environmental impact labels. Doconomy plans to launch additional product categories (including food and drinks and a pilot for consumer electronics products) for the 2030 Calculator by the end of 2021. Doconomy also launched a white-label application and an API that allow financial service partners to tap into the startup’s original Åland Index, which quantifies the carbon and water use footprint of different transactions. The application and API enable partners such as Mastercard, Klarna, Bank of the West, and other global banks to let customers immediately and seamlessly see the environmental toll of their purchases. The company claims a user base of 360 million users.
Doconomy is No. 7 on Fast Company’s list of the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies of 2022.
For making a salad that cuts your footprint
The fast-casual salad chain Sweetgreen set an aggressive goal to be carbon-neutral by 2027, assessing its entire supply chain to look for places to cut emissions. That information has allowed it to label some of its menu offerings as having the lowest emissions to produce, letting customers make climate-friendly choices when they order—all of which have seen increased popularity. These “Earth-friendly picks” include its warm crispy rice bowl and its guacamole greens salad.
4. Land O’Lakes
For creating a culture of rural broadband access
Expanding a project it began during the pandemic to help rural communities now working from home access the internet via corporate Wi-Fi, Land O’Lakes, the dairy cooperative, now supports free, public Wi-Fi at 3,000 locations in 49 states, and has funded what it calls the American Connection Corps, which will give 50 fellows in communities across the country training on community organizing and broadband and digital inclusion to help work on bridging the digital divide. The work takes place community by community; in January, for example, the cable company Midco worked with Land O’Lakes to install fixed wireless in the rural areas surrounding the southern Minnesota town of Trimont, bringing high-speed access to less than 2,000 people. But Land O’Lakes’s efforts and advocacy played a central role in the $65 billion allotted for rural broadband investment in the infrastructure bill signed into law last November.
For investing in material alternatives
On top of initiatives to help recycle and reuse its clothing, Lululemon, the athletic apparel company, has taken big steps to re-create the process of making them entirely. Last May, it debuted its Earth Dye collection, relying on plant waste from beets and oranges rather than synthetic dyes. It’s partnered with companies to experiment with using lab-grown polyester made out of carbon emissions and to incorporate lab-grown leather—Lululemon is a founding member of the Mylo Consortium devoted to using mycelium, a mushroom’s root structure, as a viable material alternative—into its fashions. In July 2021, the company made yoga accessories such as a mat and bags incorporating Mylo. Lululemon also invested in the bioengineering company Genomatica to find new ways to create plant-based fabrics such as a plant-based nylon.
For cleaning up the plastic and water from its products
The cleaning products made by Ecos are plant-based and dye-free, but until this year, they still required a plastic container. No longer: The company introduced a liquid-free laundry detergent, which reduces water use by more than 50,000 gallons a month and has helped the company reduce its plastic use by nearly 30,000 pounds a month. And without the weight of all that water, it requires much less energy to ship. In January, the company became the first manufacturer in Illinois to earn LEED Zero Carbon, LEED Zero Energy, and LEED Zero Waste certifications.
For unrolling its old socks
As part of its efforts to be both carbon-neutral and 100% circular by 2030, Smartwool, the performance wool company, launched a program to take back old socks from customers and repurpose them into the filling for dog beds (while it works on figuring out a system for turning them into new yarn that can be reused). On the other end of the production process, Smartwool—along with other clothing companies such as Allbirds and Icebreaker—launched ZQRX, an effort to create sustainable wool using regenerative agriculture projects that sequester carbon on 2.4 million acres of sheep pasture in New Zealand. In January 2022, ZQRX revealed that it had grown significantly, with 460 farms participating, representing more than 3.7 million acres and 20-plus brands taking part in the effort, including the New Zealand Merino Company, Helly Hansen, and Fjällräven.
For vaccinating our animal friends
COVID-19 hasn’t just infected millions of humans; it’s also been found in household pets, livestock, and wild animals. While scientists raced to find a vaccine to protect humans from the virus, animal health company Zoetis was working on a similar process, resulting in an animal vaccine, first used on the great apes at the San Diego Zoo in January 2021. Last summer, the company donated more than 11,000 doses of its animal vaccine to help protect 100 mammalian species living in over 80 zoos, conservatories, and sanctuaries. The company delivered its strongest year in its history in 2021, growing annual revenue 15%.
9. Oxford Properties
For topping off its buildings with acres of solar
The real estate giant Oxford Properties is already working on large net-zero buildings, including the Stack in Vancouver (which is set to open in 2022), and the 57-story Hub in Toronto (expected to open in 2025), and some of the largest wooden skyscrapers in the world. But in 2021, it also completed the development of 260,000 square feet of rooftop solar across its buildings, representing 26% of a commitment to have 1 million square feet installed by 2025. This is in addition to Oxford’s work in bringing additional sustainability elements to its real estate portfolio, such as gray-water use and reducing energy usage via smart technologies.
For stopping leaks
For many companies, managing water use is becoming as important a sustainability metric as measuring emissions. In many parts of the world, water is a scarce resource, and even where it’s not, it takes energy to purify, transport, and treat it. HydroPoint, which makes internet of things technology to monitor water use and leaks, helped its clients save 14 billion gallons of water, cutting water costs by $104 million. Its Water Compass Enterprise product helps businesses and property owners sense water irregularities and any residual property damage before they can create significant problems.