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Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Campbell Soup (NYSE:CPB), and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) top the list of American companies that the US public sees as most socially responsible, according to the 2008 Corporate Social Responsibility Index (CSRI), from the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship and Reputation Institute.

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The companies that round out the top 10 on the list are Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS), Kraft Foods (KFT), General Mills (NYSE:GIS), Levi Strauss, UPS, Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT).

The CSRI (pdf), a new ranking of companies that the US public distinguishes for corporate social responsibility, was created using a subset of data collected for Reputation Institute’s 2008 Global Pulse Study that focused on more than 200 companies that have a dominant presence in the US and high recognition factors with the general public.

By specifically homing in on three responsibility-related dimensions from the Global Pulse study - corporate citizenship, governance and workplace practices - researchers were able to calculate the combined influence on reputation of social programs, management practices, and employee relations. These three dimensions account for more than 40% of a company’s reputation, according to Reputation Institute.

The study finds that a company’s reputation is closely linked closely to the public’s perception of its corporate responsibility. Companies who have invested in high-profile CSR initiatives get a much higher level of support than other companies.

Some 66% of the US public would recommend the top 20 socially responsible companies to others, compared with only 26% saying they would recommend the bottom 20. More than 27% would not recommend the companies not seen as socially responsible in a time where “word of mouth” recommendations is a top driver of business success this is a critical area for companies to improve, the study said.

Specific company and industry findings:

  • On a scale of 1 to 100, top-ranked Google scored 80.84. With the exception of Berkshire Hathaway, consumer-oriented companies made up the majority of the top 20 CSRI performers. The general public tends to rate makers of consumer products, computers, and beverages higher along social dimensions.
  • Only a few business-to-business companies were included in the top 50: Cisco Systems (70.96), Sun Microsystems (70.70), Express Scripts (70.32), Deloitte & Touche (70.12) and Boeing (69.88).
  • Industries that fall below the global average include construction/engineering, finance, utilities and telecommunications.
  • Companies who have invested in a strong Social Responsible profile get a much higher level of support than other companies. Some 66% of the US. general public would recommend the Top 20 socially responsible companies to others compared with only 26% saying they would recommend the bottom 20 companies. More than 27% would not recommend the companies that are not seen as socially responsible In a time where “word of mouth” recommendations is a top driver of business success this is a critical area for companies to improve.
  • Perceptions of social responsibility for computer companies are mixed, ranging from a high of 74.83 (Microsoft) to a low of 66.90 (McAfee). Most companies in the industry earn positive standings with consumers for their social initiatives: Intel (74.67), Apple (74.03), Adobe (73.39), Texas Instruments (72.87), IBM (71.99), Hewlett Packard (71.03) ,Cisco Systems (70.96), Sun Microsystems (70.70), and Dell (70.08).

“Although the survey was taken before the Wall Street collapse, the findings show that corporate governance - including ethics and transparency - is increasing in its importance to overall corporate reputation,” said Philip Mirvis, senior research fellow for the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship.

About the research: The Corporate Social Responsibility Index was created using data collected for Reputation Institute’s Global Pulse 2008 study, which was conducted online between February and March of 2008. The Global Pulse survey asks the public to judge a company on how it treats employees, its ethics, and its community involvement and respect for the environment. A Pulse score is a measure of corporate reputation calculated by averaging perceptions of four indicators of trust, esteem, admiration and good feeling obtained from a representative sample of at least 100 local respondents who were familiar with the company. Scores range from a low of 0 to a high of 100. The global mean for all companies included in the study was a 64.2.

Source: Perception: Top Socially Responsible Companies Include Google, Campbell, J&J