These companies are making it part of their business to sell high-quality products and help communities, the environment, or both.

By Beth Lipton
Updated August 03, 2015
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Credit: Getty Images

Seems like all we hear these days is bad news about corporate America; they pollute, they abuse workers, they sell products meant to sound healthy, but that really aren’t.

Thankfully, there are some companies that are making it part of their business to sell high-quality products and help communities, the environment, or both.

Gotham Greens
When you think of New York City, a farm growing fresh vegetables is probably the last image to come to mind. Enter Gotham Greens, a company that develops and manages large-scale greenhouses in urban areas to bring fresh, locally produced vegetables to city dwellers.

Yes, you can go to any upscale grocery store in New York and buy organic vegetables. But those are often  shipped in from across the country or another part of the world. “We wanted to be able to provide a better quality, local product that created local jobs, is sustainable, and is grown without chemicals,” Nicole Baum, the company’s marketing and partnerships manager, tells Health. “People care about buying locally. And because we don’t have to transport the products far, they’re harvested every morning and can be enjoyed that afternoon,” whether customers purchase them at Whole Foods or eat them in restaurants, such as famed eatery Gramercy Tavern.

Along with building its third rooftop greenhouse in New York, scheduled to open this year, the company is also partnering with eco-friendly cleaning products company Method to build what it says is the world’s largest rooftop farm, with 75,000 square feet, in Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood.

So Gotham Greens is growing products without pesticides and helping the environment by not shipping (winning it accolades such as New York State’s Environmental Excellence Award), but that’s not all: The company is committed to helping the community. It creates jobs for local workers in corporate offices, in the greenhouses, and in the packing rooms. Plus, it partners with community organizations such as Wellness in the Schools and City Harvest, donating plants and lending their expertise around sustainable farming.

“A lot of businesses have taken a stance to do something for their community,” Baum says. “There’s a lot of good being done if you look around.”

Theo Chocolate
By now, you already know the benefits of chocolate. Here’s a company that is aiming to take this much-loved product and use it to better the world, too.

“Our belief is that the only way things are really going to change is if we change the way business is done,” Debra Music, chief marketing officer and co-founder of Seattle-based Theo, tells Health. “Chocolate is a food that people feel emotionally connected to, so what a way to tell the story.”

Her fellow co-founder, Joe Whinney, had a background in sustainable agriculture, and had been working on creating a supply chain for organic cocoa beans to the United States. Whinney and Music, who had been working in social marketing, set out to make a product that could improve the lives of the farmers and factory workers on the supply end, and give consumers a good product. Theo was the first company to sell all organic, all fair trade chocolate in the U.S.

“We think everyone should have access to healthy, organic, high-quality food, and we think everyone has a right to make a fair wage,” Music says. “That’s our vision for what sustainability really means.”

One unique way that Theo is trying to make a difference is by focusing on sourcing chocolate from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country with one of the lowest gross domestic product rates in the world. More than half of Theo’s cocoa supply comes from the troubled country, thanks to a partnership with the nonprofit Eastern Congo Initiative. The company supports an initiative to train thousands of farmers there in how to grow high-quality cocoa.

Another feel-good element to Theo Chocolate is how it’s made once the cocoa is here. “Our ingredients are clean, we don’t use fillers or other items like that,” Music says. “Chocolate has so many health benefits, we want to let the benefits in the cocoa remain intact and viable through consumption.” Whereas you might see fillers and stabilizers such as soy lecithin and PGPR (polyglycerol polyricinoleate) in mass-market bars, a Theo Sea Salt 70% Dark Chocolate Bar, for example, only contains cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa butter, sea salt, and ground vanilla bean.

“It’s not easy to commit to an organic, fair trade, non-GMO supply chain, but we do it because it’s the only thing we consider worth doing,” Music says. “This company is about our ideals, how we think things can and should be.”

Primal Derma
It isn’t just food companies that are working to make a difference while also selling high-quality products. Primal Derma uses food-grade, grass-fed beef tallow as the basis for its moisturizer. Because the tallow, or rendered fat, comes from grass-fed cows, it’s rich in nutrients, containing vitamins A, D, and K, as well as Omega 3 fatty acids s and conjugated linoleic acids.

“For grass-fed beef, there isn’t much call for the fat, so farmers dump or burn it,” Matthew Stillman, founder of Primal Derma, tells Health. “This was a cause of sadness to me. I wanted to make a product that would use the fat in a way that is good for people, to honor that life as best we can and use as much of the animal as we can.”

The moisturizer contains only the tallow, moringa oil (to soften the fat) and essential oils for scent.

“We don’t use any junk, no stabilizers,” Stillman says. “Skin is the largest organ on the body; what you put on it gets absorbed. I wouldn’t use anything that isn’t safe enough to eat.”

Along with reducing waste and creating a skincare product that’s safe and healthy to use, Stillman says helping the environment is a goal for the company as well.

“When we buy this fat, we’re helping small farmers who have made this really brave choice. They made a financially tricky choice” to raise grass-fed cows, which is a more expensive process than industrial cattle farming. “We’re helping small farmers make a few more bucks per cow, which allows them to keep a little bit more pasture. This is a small buffer toward keeping what’s rural rural, and supports the health of the earth” because it supports a process that is far healthier for the environment than large-scale industrial cattle farming.