A puzzling list of sustainable companies

Canada's oil sands: Sustainable?

Canada’s oil sands: Sustainable?

Here comes a new list of the “most sustainable corporations in the world,” and it’s a doozy.

Two of the top five companies on the 2013 Global 100 list are oil and gas companies:

3. Norway’s Statoil ASA

4. Finland’s Neste Oil.

Read farther down and you find:

No. 81. Suncor Energy,

which was the first company to develop Canada’s oil sands, source of some of the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet.

A notch below is:

No. 82. Unilever

the consumer products giant whose sustainable living plan embodies the broadest and deepest commitment to corporate responsibility of any big, global company.

This is….er….puzzling.

So what’s going here? And what does this tell us about corporate sustainability rankings and their meaning, a topic that never seems to go away? [See my blogpost Corporate sustainability: Who's up, who's down, who cares?] [click to continue...]

Who was the greenest president?

Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, in Yosemite

Most environmentalists this fall will vote for Barack Obama, and for good reason. But when a dozen of America’s environmental leaders were asked to select our nation’s greenest president, they put two Republicans — Teddy Roosevelt and Richard Nixon — atop the list.

Roosevelt, of course, was a conservationist and champion of what became America’s national parks. It was on Nixon’s watch that the EPA was created, along with landmark legislation protecting air, water and endangered species. When Russell Train, a moderate Republican who chaired the White House Council on Environmental Quality under Nixon, died the other day, he was lauded by environmentalists.

“Conservative environmentalist is not an oxymoron,” says Theodore Roosevelt IV, an investment banker and the great-grandson of Teddy Roosevelt. Unhappily, Republican environmentalists like TR IV have become an endangered species.

The survey to identify America’s greenest presidents was conducted by Corporate Knights, a Toronto-based publication that calls itself “the magazine for clean capitalism.” It was released this moring [Sept. 18] at the National Press Club in Washington, where several of the voters — Ralph Nader of Public Citizen, Joe Romm of Climate Progress and Robert Engelman of The Worldwatch Institute — talked about the results. Others who participated in survey include Mike Brune of the Sierra Club, Phil Radford of Greenpeace, Frances Beinecke of NRDC, Mark Tercek of The Nature Conservancy, Carter Roberts of WWF, as well as Van Jones and Bill McKibben. [click to continue...]

Ratings, rankings and the world’s most sustainable company

I’m skeptical about efforts to rank and rate green or sustainable companies, and I have been for a time. [See 100 Best Corporate Citizens? What a CROck!] It’s terribly difficult to compare big and small companies, retailers with manufacturers, software firms with oil companies, etc. We once tried at FORTUNE, and gave up because we decided it couldn’t be done right.

Having said that, I’m impressed with the rigor and methodology used by a Canadian magazine called Corporate Knights to produce its 8th annual list of Global 100 Most Sustainable Companies, which it calls “the most extensive data-driven corporate sustainability assessment in existence.” The ratings are transparent and they encompass social as well as environmental metrics, among them energy, carbon, waste and water productivity, diversity and employee turnover, safety and, interestingly, the ratio between CEO and average worker pay–a revealing metric that most such rankings do not include. Disclousre: While I played no part in putting the list together, I did write a profile of Novo Nordisk, the top-ranked company, for Corporate Knights.

A couple of things to note about the list. First, US companies perform poorly. There’s not one US-based company in the top 10. Intel (No. 18) Life Technologies (No. 15) is the highest ranked US-based firm, followed by Intel (18), Agilent (59), Johnson Controls (64), Procter & Gamble (66) and IBM (69). Lest you suspect a Canadian bias, our neighbors to the north did no better. The top-ranked Canadian firm was Suncor (48), which calls itself an “oil sands pioneer. Go figure.

Of the 22 countries with companies that made the list,  the UK led the way with 16 Global 100 companies, followed by Japan with 11 and France and the US with eight. Northern European countries (Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden) punched above their weight, which isn’t surprising.

Int [click to continue...]