Just about every business can scurry up a mission statement that sounds inspiring, warm and fuzzy. To live out those values, though—to have them guide your every business decision and that of your employees—that’s not so easy.  

And yet it’s important on many different levels. Having a specific “why” for what you do every day gives you and your employees a sense of purpose. Core values also act as a guide when the right thing to do isn’t exactly clear. They can help a company stand out when they’re specific and bold, and the company actually follows through (because as we all know, there are plenty that don’t; Enron’s core values included “integrity” after all). Here are three companies that hold inspirational core values and do business accordingly.

Gotham Greens

Gotham Greens is a Brooklyn, New York-based company not only committed to “quality, taste and sustainability,” but also “innovation and technology.”  So what on earth does that look like?  Acres of salad greens cropping up on otherwise vacant rooftops, that’s what. As Gotham Greens proclaims on their website:  “We fuel blooming communities where others fear urban decay” and “we know that the crunch of fresh local sustainably grown food sets off a chain reaction of good things in the world.”

True to its philosophy, Gotham Greens owns and runs more than 170,000 square feet of greenhouses on rooftops of buildings in New York City and Chicago. High-efficiency solar panels reduce electrical and heating demands. Recirculating irrigation systems minimize water waste. Biological pest controls keep salad leaves, from arugula to baby kale, lush without the use of chemical pesticides, insecticides, or herbicides.

The company recently expanded their offerings to include “Ugly Greens (Are Beautiful)”—a line of cosmetically challenged, but still delicious, produce. By building on their revenue sources in this way, Gotham Greens is also drawing attention to the issue of food waste in this country and, true to its core values, doing its part to help alleviate the problem.

Life is Good

On the surface, Life is Good seems like just another T-shirt company. Nice quality T-shirts for sure (they refuse to cut corners and instead opt for Peruvian cotton), but what’s with the “life is good” messaging on them? Turns out, that’s what the company sees itself as really in the business of selling: “spreading the power of optimism,” as it declares on its e-commerce site—not so much the rose-colored glasses sort, but the kind that “explores the world with open arms and an eye toward solutions, progress and growth.”

Besides selling tees that make people feel good, Life is Good has made unconventional choices to stay in step with what they believe in. For instance, instead of rushing into selling in big-name stores, they’ve opted to limit those venues to only a handful, and instead focus on neighborhood shops (which it sees as a solution to bringing vibrancy back to fading homogenous downtowns).

What’s more, the company’s founders have also decided against franchising and against going public, preferring, instead to spread optimism in their own unique way. One of these measures is the Life Is Good Kids Foundation, which helps kids suffering from trauma. They’ve also expanded their repertoire to include outdoor festivals—which spread the feel-good vibes to all who take part, including employees.  


As most who appreciate a pair of comfortable shoes know, TOMS gives a pair to a person in need whenever it sells a pair. Its mission (which has since expanded a bit) has been: “Give shoes that fit. Give sustainably. Give responsibly.” They could have left it at that, but their charitable mission has expanded as their line has expanded. When you buy a pair of glasses, they provide vision care for the poor; when you buy a bag, they help provide training for skilled birth attendants and safe birth kits for women in need.

A few years ago, after taking a sabbatical, founder Blake Mycoskie decided to add coffee beans to TOMS offerings—an odd move to some folks, but given the company’s heritage, it made sense.

TOMS launched because, when Mycoskie was taking some time off in Argentina, he accompanied a friend who was distributing shoes to the needy for a nonprofit—and saw what a difference something so ordinary to us, like shoes, could make. What sparked the coffee bean idea was a chat with someone whose son was improving the lives of Rwandans by helping them process their coffee beans with clean water so that they could sell them and make a profit. Since 2014, TOMS has been giving a week’s worth of clean water for every bag of TOMS Roasting Company coffee sold—and bolstering his company’s reputation as a global giving company.

As a small business you may not be able to give back at the scale that these well-known companies do. But if you can establish core values for your business and embody those within your community and your industry, you’re on the right track.