FORTUNE’s Green Giants

The April 2 issue of FORTUNE (cover boy: Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia) has a special section devoted to green business that’s been in the works for months. We’ve got a story on Patagonia (natch), another about DuPont, a q-and-a with Gov. Schwarzenegger by my friend and colleague Nina Easton, and a list of 10 “green giants” — companies that are ahead of the curve on sustainability issues.

The green leaders? Honda, Tesco, Goldman Sachs, S.C. Johnson, Hewlett Packard, PG&E Corp., Swiss Re, Suncor, Continental Airlines and Alcan.

Compiling the list was challenging, for two reasons. First, so many companies are doing so much good work on environmental issues that selecting 10 green leaders proved harder than we expected. Second, we struggled to decide what criteria to use–the company with the most impact? the lightest environmental footprint? the most innovative ideas? In the end, we consulted with about a dozen experts and made a bunch of frankly subjective picks. We left out GE and Wal-Mart because their efforts have been so widely covered. We skipped over smaller companies that have been thought leaders like Stonyfield Farms and Shaklee. Why didn’t Starbucks or Whole Foods make the list? Well, if I ran the show…they might have.

I did write the introduction to the package, and tried to make the point that we are entering a new era of opportunity when it comes to green business:

For the past 30 years or so, most of what passed for environmentalism in Corporate America was driven by two things: compliance and efficiency. Industry stopped polluting the air and water after it became illegal or unprofitable to do so. Going a step further, some companies also recognized that by reducing their consumption of energy and materials, they could save money, help the planet, and maybe clean up their image. Now we’re at the threshold of a different era, one in which smart companies are trying to figure out how to profit by solving the world’s big environmental problems. This won’t be about efficiency—although there are still lots of gains to be made there—but about increasing revenues and inventing entirely new businesses…

Global warming is the game changer. A number of influential FORTUNE 500 CEOs, including GE’s Immelt, Wal-Mart’s Lee Scott, and utility industry leaders like Jim Rogers of Duke Power and Peter Darbee of PG&E Corp., have agreed that climate change is real and that national action is required to slow, stop, and then reverse the growth of greenhouse-gas emissions. That is a very tall order. Transitioning to a low-carbon economy will require new ways to generate power, run our cars, grow our food, and design, build, heat, and cool our homes and offices. Only business is capable of innovation on that scale.

What most excites me about the issue is that it signals a commitment by FORTUNE to devote space, attention and resources to the environment in the months and years ahead. Much of the package should be online by now at www.fortune.com. I’ll post links here ASAP to the stories as they go up. (Here’s the list of green giants.) Please let me know what you think.

Comments

  1. Fantastic news Marc, will read with interest.

    Re Tesco, a much better pick would have been Marks and Spencer or Innocent Drinks, ideally both. M&S is probably half a decade ahead of Tesco and accelerating fast. Much of Tesco’s work so far is talk, rather than action. They may even be back tracking on their committments since they don’t actually know how they are going to do it. M&S are really far and away the leaders in sustainable supermarkets. Waitrose too, is a much better pick, albeit smaller.

  2. Thanks, Marc. Also worth checking out for future referemce is the KLD Global Climate 100 Index, a specialty index of 100 global companies that “will provide near-term solutions to global warming while offsetting the longer-term impacts of climate change through renewable energy, alternative fuels, clean technology and efficiency.” More info at http://www.kld.com/indexes/gc100/index.html

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