The Greenest Big Companies in America

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This week Newsweek’s cover story promotes an exclusive ranking of “The Greenest Big Companies in America”. This is an important moment in time. In 2006, Vanity Fair was among a few high profile publications to introduce entire annual issues to the green movement and their readership was reported to have been the lowest of the yearly issues.

Fast forward three years and six months later, the introduction of Newsweek’s list marks an important moment in time. Joining the annually released lists of the Best 100 Companies to Work For (Fortune), the 100 Best Global Brands (BusinessWeek) and The Largest 500 Companies (Fortune), the (presumably) annual list represents a palpable and permanent shift in business ethics and operations. Transparency is a leading value of those engaged in the green movement but it is still interesting to read that 70% of the companies participating voluntarily provided the data necessary to compile the list (otherwise utilizing publicly available information).

As self-reported, the release of the rankings is sure to provoke welcome debate. Measurement and metrics is the hallmark of an industry trying to develop and defend its value. It is part of credibility building and it helps to snoop out those whose efforts are deemed dubious and actually detrimental to mass receptivity. To this effect, it’s interesting and promising to see four companies actively involved in the sustainability debate lead the Top 10 (HP #1, Inte l#4, Nike #7 and Starbucks #10). And even more interesting to see other very public spokesmen for green business practices fall very low in the list (WalMart #59, Yahoo #69, eBay #76). Because this is an American focused list, companies such as BP, Toyota and IKEA were not on it but perhaps response will fuel vetting for a globally inclusive list.

The exciting news is that this ranking will provoke public debate over the reliability and objectivity of the data, weighting formulas, evolution vs. complacency of the standards suggested and it will establish a benchmark for future measurement and discussion. LEED standards were the hot architectural story of the last few years impacting one channel of operational metrics. Progressive implementable outcomes are hoped for at this year’s international climate change summit in Copenhagen. And WalMart’s introduction of a Sustainability Index are all specific and tangible indicators that a more sustainable mindset is not simply a trend.

Maybe Vanity Fair will bring back the Green Issue.  Or maybe that’s the point. As they stated earlier this year “environmental is very well integrated into the mainstream media discussion“.  Maybe Vanity Fair has already done their job and now it’s time for Newsweek to take the torch to the next level.

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