LONDON: Unilever and BT are among the UK companies with the most impressive records in the area of corporate social responsibility, a report has argued.

BITC, the specialist business network, assessed how the activities of 117 firms positively or negatively impacted the environment, local communities, their own staff and the market as a whole in its CR Index.

The utilities sector dominated the top Platinum Plus rankings, which sought to recognise cases where "commercial business strategy is underpinned by thinking around long-term sustainability."

EDF Energy, National Grid, Northumbrian Water, Scottish & Southern Energy and United Utilities were all members of this group.

"We talk about being part of the community and wanting to take a leading role in adapting our energy use to climate change – and there is nothing there about shareholder value," said Steve Holliday, ceo of National Grid.

KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers, the consultants, also both featured in this cluster, as did BT, the telecoms provider.

They were joined by the Co-operative, which was one of the first retailers to sell ethically-sourced Fairtrade products.

Unilever, the consumer goods giant, was also among the most highly-regarded operators, having previously received a similar accolade from the United Nations.

It recently ran ads for Lifebuoy soap in India encouraging children to wash their hands five times a day, based on the discovery that this could reduce diarrhoea, a major cause of infant mortality.

Tata Consultancy Services, headquartered in India, Heineken, the brewer, and media owners BSkyB and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation took Platinum awards for being committed to CSR.

Marks & Spencer, the retailer, formed part of this cohort, and has hired 3,500 employees through its Marks & Start initiative for the homeless, disabled, lone parents and young unemployed.

Sainsbury's, the supermarket chain, was also praised for working with the Marine Conservation Society to add labels to fish its products showing how at risk individual species were, and halting sales of those most in peril.

Elsewhere, BITC surveyed 60 senior executives responsible for corporate social responsibility, and revealed 95% of firms were still focused on this area despite the downturn.

A further 63% of organisations were likely to maintain their expenditure going forward, while 42% stated there was now a more noticeable interest in the subject from the boardroom.

BITC also partnered with Legal & General and Ipsos MORI to analyse the financial performance of 34 corporations featured in the CR Index.

The organisations which were dedicated to the on-going development of CSR strategies, and tracking their results, delivered an above-average return to shareholders from 2002 to 2007.

Separate analysis found that 28 companies with an equally strong impetus generated the best shareholder returns in 2009, meaning they were well-placed to tap in to the economic recovery.

Another 83% of firms said they regularly interacted with consumers regarding sustainability, while 80% were attempting to stimulate new behaviours among customers.

More specifically, 37% of brand owners provided updates through websites, reports and guides, with 22% adhering to formal guidelines and 12% improving their products' sustainability credentials.

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff