5 Greenest Companies of 2009

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Palm oil plantationPhoto:
Picture by SWPA-winner Daniel Beltra of a dead, lone tree at the Indomoro mine toxic waste runoff in Palangkaraya, Kalimantan, Indonesia.
Image copyright of © Daniel Beltra, courtesy of The Prince’s Rainforests Project and Sony

Many companies talk about corporate social responsibility, but how many of them actually walk the walk and not just talk the talk? Unfortunately, when it comes to deciding between profits and the environment, the latter is often the loser. But, despite this, a few companies are proving that being environmentally friendly and profitable can go hand in hand. We’ve checked out those who have consistently tried to make an effort with often innovative green campaigns. Here’s our Top Five:

5. Unilever

As one of the world’s largest household goods and food producers, Unilever has the opportunity to reach consumers almost anywhere in the world, right in their homes. Good to know then that the company is setting a good example with its own operations: over the past decade, Unilever reduced CO2 emissions in its manufacturing units by more than 30%. In 2006, it sourced almost 15% of its energy from renewable sources, 8% of which is self-generated.

Brands we all know – but could we do more as consumers?
brandsPhoto:
Image via Unilever

It has also introduced ice cream cabinets with hydrocarbon (HC) refrigerants instead of CFC or HCFC gases. They are said to use up to 9% less energy and, just as significantly, do not increase the concentration of greenhouse gases. Even at the top level, Unilever executives are not exempt from doing their bit: they are encouraged to use video-conferencing instead of business travel whenever possible. As far as sustainability is concerned, the company banks on the green responsibility of each of its brands. For example, by the end of 2010, the majority of Lipton’s tea bag packages in the U.S. will carry the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal, at a minimum of 50% certified content.

4. Whole Foods Market

Hardly any company embodies ethical consumerism as much as the Whole Foods Market chain. Trying to buy as much locally-grown and seasonal food as it can, the company is committed to reducing food miles while encouraging reduced packaging and energy conservation.

A typical Whole Foods store, here in New York’s East Village:
WholeFoods New YorkPhoto:
Image: David Shankbone

The company is also big on composting – which makes a whole lot of sense for a food chain – and this reduces dramatically the amount of waste sent to landfills. In addition, the company’s new stores are built with green building techniques wherever possible and its fleet of delivery vans has been converted to biodiesel. Never has shopping for food been so green and felt so stylish. Oh, and if you’re looking for a job, they’re also #18 on the list of 100 Best Companies to Work for.

Starting right from the source with organic soil:
Organic soilPhoto:
Image via WholeFoods

3. Nokia

Getting a good ranking in Greenpeace’s Green Electronics Guide, established in 2006, is not easy. Nokia managed the top slot for two years in a row, ranking 7.3 out of 10 in 2010, and making it as our No. 3. The company did, however, lose a point compared to last year for failing to carry out proactive lobbying for the revised Restriction of Hazardous Substances in electronics (RoHS).

Image via Greenpeace

However, it gained a point for having almost all of its new models of mobile phones free of ‘brominated flame retardants’ (BFRs). All new models have also been free of PVC vinyl plastic since the end of 2005 and Nokia therefore scores well on toxic chemical issues.

The company scored maximum points for its comprehensive voluntary take-back program, meaning old mobile phones can be returned at almost 5,000 collection points in 85 countries around the world. Greenpeace’s main point of critique was Nokia’s recycling rate of just 3-5%; the company acknowledged it needs to start using recycled plastics for other purposes than just packaging.

2. Timberland

What we like about Timberland is that their social and environmental commitment figures right along their products. Their website, for example, carries the environmental message on their sleeve. Timberland realized long back that you can’t achieve anything without involving the community, and that’s the reason why they combine environmental stewardship and global human rights with community engagement.

Bringing the community together:
communityPhoto:
Image via timberland

The company’s CSR strategy focuses on four strategic goals:
– becoming carbon neutral by 2010 through reducing emissions created by facilities and employees.
– designing recyclable products with less harm before and after their life as a shoe.
– establishing fair, safe and non-discriminatory workplaces.
– creating green community-service campaigns to involve employees at grass-roots level.

Timberland’s Earthkeepers campaign:
Timberland EarthkeepersPhoto:
Image via timberland

Timberland’s Earthkeepers “Don’t Tell Us It Can’t Be Done” campaign reminds us that it can, in fact, be done and states that “businesses can find a way to make environmentally conscious products and profits at the same time.” Stressing the role governments play in setting standards enforcing the vital connection between environmental and business profits, the company put together a petition that was presented at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

1. Sony

As one of the world’s largest media conglomerates and leading electronics manufacturers, Sony is in a position where its policies and strategies affect millions of consumers and employees, as well as the environment in which they operate. According to Emily Young, General Manager of Environmental Communications at Sony Europe, the company is committed to reducing the environmental impact of their products by aiming for an eco-friendly product life cycle and cutting down on their carbon footprint.

Young forest guards at work in California:
Forest GuardsPhoto:
Image: H. Buck

One of Sony’s key beliefs, namely that technology can play a significant part in combating climate change, can be seen in its Forest Guard program. Here, students with the help of Sony engineers developed an innovative technological solution to track and prevent wildfires.

According to another key belief of the company, technology has a strong role to play in reconnecting people with their global environment and the issues affecting it. The Sony World Photography Awards (SWPA) in connection with the Prince’s Rainforest Project showed how this can work in practice: amateur and professional photographers from around the world were asked to submit environmental photography, therefore connecting them through the lens with the environment around them.

Other projects include a research partnership with leading European Business school ESCP- EAP, to host a series of lectures around Europe debating the role of technology in helping to solve climate issues.

Picture by SWPA-winner Daniel Beltra of a palm oil plantation in Indonesia:
Palm oil plantationPhoto:
Image copyright of © Daniel Beltra, courtesy of The Prince’s Rainforests Project and Sony

The list of companies who not only manage to marry environmental consciousness with profitability but also believe in its advantages is, thankfully, getting longer. And it’s creating a ripple effect: if it is seen to work for one, it can work for another, bigger company…. We’re sure hoping that the big examples given here will inspire a few more.

• If you’re thinking of great jobs, rather than green firms, then you can always look here, at SuperScholar’s list of The Highest Paying Jobs In America.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

We’ll even throw in a free album.

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