NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- The term "ethical company" can seem like an oxymoron since a financial crisis that revealed some of the dirtiest secrets in the mortgage and housing industries.
But not every company has grown so large and so greedy that the only thing its executives can think of is how high and fast they can boost their share price. In fact, there are a host of companies that see it as their mission to be more than profit generators.
Each year the Institute seeks to identify companies that "truly go beyond making statements about doing business 'ethically' and translate those words into action," according an institute statement. Companies submit applications on their ethics and compliance programs to a panel of experts, which select winners based on seven categories: corporate citizenship and responsibility; corporate governance; innovation that contributes to public well-being; industry leadership; executive leadership and tone from the top; legal, regulatory and reputation track record; and internal systems and ethics and compliance programs.
Winners included Starbucks (Stock Quote: SBUX), American Express (Stock Quote: AXP) and Target (Stock Quote: TGT), along with even a few smaller -- relatively speaking -- companies, such as Whole Foods, Amazon's (Stock Quote: AMZN) Zappos.com and Salesforce.com (Stock Quote: CRM).
Mary Gentile, a senior research scholar at Babson College, says there could be many reasons why some companies choose to be more ethical than others.
"Some of the companies and their owners/managers take this kind of action because they are community-based and want to establish themselves as good citizens, building customer loyalty in the community. Sometimes a company owner/manager will take such actions because they are consistent with his or her own personal or religious values," Gentile says.
"There is also some research that suggests that when a firm is a good citizen, its employees feel more pride and loyalty and commitment to the firm," she adds.
Here are five small companies taking their mission beyond just profit-making: