Amazon’s a great company. But good? Nope.

amazon-logoLike millions of people, I like to shop at Amazon. But the more I learn about the company, the less I like it.

Amazon’s  performance on environmental and social issues has been truly dismal, as a I wrote in a story posted today on Guardian Sustainable Business. Here’s how the story begins:

Jeff Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric and one of American’s most influential business leaders, likes to say that “if you want to be a great company today, you also have to be a good company.”

Another celebrated chief executive named Jeff — Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO– is putting that proposition to the test.

Amazon is, in many ways, a great company. But good? Nope.

Amazon doesn’t publish a sustainability report, probably because it would have little to say. It doesn’t respond to the Carbon Disclosure Project. (More than 80% of big companies do.) It’s ranked very low by Climate Counts, which rates companies on their efforts to mitigate climate change. Amazon’s  data centers get low marks from Greenpeace.

Nor does Amazon do well on social and political issues. Until Bezos agreed to install electricity last year, warehouse workers literally toiled in sweatshops where the temperatures could top 90 degrees. The company has fiercely fought efforts by states to collect sales taxes, using bullying tactics at times. If you believe the Seattle Times, and I do, the company gives less to charities than other Seattle companies and “cuts an astoundingly low profile in the civic life of its hometown.” For more, read the rest of the Guardian story. [click to continue…]

Corporate sustainability, by the numbers: Who’s up, who’s down, who cares?

This has been a big week for corporate sustainability rankings, with the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) and the Carbon Disclosure Project releasing new reports. Vote Solar and the Solar Power Electric Industries Association showcased the  top 20 corporate users of solar power in the US. A book called Good Company just landed on my desk, along with its own 2012 Good Company Index. And October will bring the World Series, Halloween and, of course, the annual Newsweek “green” rankings of big public companies.

All of which raises a couple of questions.

Do these ratings and rankings matter?

More important: Should they?

Undeniably, they do matter, mostly but not entirely because of the prestige they confer upon companies that do well. Press releases are flying! “Carbon Disclosure Project Salutes Con Edison” (Really?) “PepsiCo Earns Sustainability Accolades.” “GM Named Top Solar User in the U.S. Auto Sector.” This is all well and good. Some middle-management executive had to fill out those CDP forms or buy those solar panels, and why not recognize their efforts with a salute or an accolade? [click to continue…]

The looming “water gap”

There’s good and bad news from a sweeping new report on the world’s water scarcity out today from McKinsey & Co., commissioned by such water-dependent companies as Coca-Cola, Nestle, SAB Miller and Syngenta, along with the World Bank/International Finance Corp.

1798824344_d4951982bbThe bad: Global demand for water already exceeds supply—about 1.1 billion people don’t have access to clean water—and the so-called water gap is increasing at an accelerating rate.

The good: Cost-effective, sustainable solutions are available to close the gap, particularly if governments and business focus on reducing demand rather than trying to generate additional supply.

The challenge: Getting beyond the nostrum that water is a “human right” so that water, which is obviously a scarce resource, can be priced in a way that drives conservation.

One more thing to know: Water issues are at least as complex as energy, and all water problems are local, so generalizing about water, while inevitable, is invariably misleading.

As Martin Stuchtey of McKinsey put it: “We are not saying there is one way to close the water gap, and we fully acknowledge the complexity of the water arena.”

The 185-page report, published by the 2030 Water Resources Group, was released this morning at a [click to continue…]