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Creating A Healthier America: How Can Business Lead The Way?

A growing number of companies recognize the impact they can have in supporting a healthier country and are stepping up.

Richard Whitcombe/ Shutterstock
Richard Whitcombe/ Shutterstock

In recent years, some of America’s largest companies have made a series of bold investments to support their workforce and the communities in which they do business. Earlier this year, Microsoft made national headlines by investing $500 million into affordable housing in Seattle. Google raised pay for temp workers to $15 an hour. Cigna has expanded its paid maternity leave to twelve weeks, while both Humana and Medtronic have offered employees assistance for adoption. Just last month Prudential announced it would invest $180 million to support opportunity youth and in March, and JP Morgan committed to a five-year global investment to prepare for the future of work.

Yet the backdrop of these moves is a landscape of increasing inequality that has left too many Americans behind – in jobs that can’t sustain them, in workplaces that fail to protect them, and in environments that provide little opportunity for growth or progress – undercutting the long-term success of businesses and the whole economy.

The private sector has a significant role to play in shifting this dynamic to build a more resilient, inclusive, and healthy nation. Businesses wield significant influence over jobs, housing, transportation, and other key determinants of healthy communities. Through decisions over wages, benefits, and workplace policies and practices, companies can help families living in these communities thrive or decline.

The good news is that a growing number of companies recognize the impact they can have in supporting a healthier country and are stepping up. That’s the conclusion of a groundbreaking new list of the 100 companies doing the most to support healthy communities recently released by JUST Capital with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Investments – like those made by Microsoft and Cigna – into workers, local communities, and the environment is about more than just higher wages, better housing, or cleaner air and water. They systematically lead to healthier outcomes across the board and provide a competitive advantage to the companies that make them.

Companies on the list are scored on 16 different social, economic, and environmental factors defined by the American public, which shape how businesses contribute to healthy outcomes for workers, their families, and the communities in which they operate.

The companies on the list stand out for their commitment to better wages and workplaces. Compared with other companies in the Russell 1000, the top 100 performers on average pay 12% more of their workers a living wage and paid 90% lower worker safety fines. They score 10% higher on crowdsourced work-life balance satisfaction and 8% higher on benefits satisfaction.

Their record on environmental and community impact is no less impressive. The companies produced 52% lower greenhouse gas emissions intensity in 2017 than other Russell 1000 companies, pay 74% lower EEOC fines per dollar of revenue over the last three years, and experienced 63% fewer controversies related to community impacts as reported in the media over the last three years.

And this isn’t just about being a good corporate citizen. It’s good for business and the bottom line too. Companies in the top 100 have generated 3% higher Return-on-Equity over the past five years.

These higher financial returns should be no surprise. Research tells us that healthier communities achieve improved education outcomes, attract more talented workers, and are more productive and competitive. Investing in workers and communities helps companies succeed.

A stronger culture of health is not simply a positive social good, but a clear and urgent business priority for corporate America. Companies need to deeply examine their impact on the health of the communities in which they’re operating and adopt a holistic new approach that works with other market stakeholders to support families along the way to a healthier life.

If we want a more resilient, inclusive, and healthy nation, we need more of our corporate leaders to continue to step up and lead the way.

This piece was developed in collaboration with Victoria K. Brown, Senior Program Officer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

JUST Capital, an independent nonprofit organization, believes that business can and must be a positive force for change on some of the greatest social challenges of our time.

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com

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