The green race to the top

If climate regulation will burden businesses or increase costs,  then why are so many companies strengthening their voluntary response to the climate crisis in the midst of an economic downturn?

The reason is, there’s a race to the top when it comes to sustainability, particularly among consumer companies. No one wants to be seen as a laggard by  customers, workers, NGOs, government or the press.

Reputation matters. Ignoring the climate emergency is no longer an option for a big consumer brand.


That, as far as I can tell, is why so many companies are surging ahead in the third annual corporate climate scorecard put together by the nonprofit group Climate Counts. Gary Hirshberg, the CE-yo and “main moover” behind of Stonyfield Farms (yum) put up the money to start Climate Counts, and Wood Turner is its able executive director.

“We see a real competition ensuing, as companies race to the top,” Turner told me the other day, as the new ratings came out. “Companies are preparing their businesses and their brands for the future.” [click to continue…]

FedEx: Pushing the envelope on sustainability

When you need to ship a package, how do you choose between FedEx and UPS? Their services are similar, if not identical. While I’ve never compared prices, I assume they are roughly equivalent.

Could the company’s sustainability practices come into play? I’m told that they do, for select customers. Their employees care as well–people want to work for companies that are helping to solve the world’s big problems, like climate change. Regulators could also be paying attention. Whatever the explanation, FedEx and UPS are competing to become known as the most sustainable shipping company–which means we’re all winners.

FedEx's efficient Boeing 777 freighter
FedEx's efficient Boeing 777 freighter

Mitch Jackson, who is staff director of  environmental affairs and sustainability at FedEx, met with me recently to make the case on behalf of FedEx. He says the company has identified four “building blocks” of its approach to the environment. [click to continue…]

UPS to FedEx: We’re greener than you

Like sports rivalries, corporate rivalries are fun. Think about the TV ad campaigns inspired by the competition between Microsoft and Apple. FORTUNE once put the Roger Enrico, who was then the CEO of PepsiCo, inside a Coke bottle on the cover of the magazine, and the Pepsi people didn’t forgive us for years.

These days, to my delight (and, I hope, yours), big companies are battling over which one is more sustainable. I’m sure Michael Dell wasn’t happy to read that Hewlett Packard landed atop Newsweek’s new sustainability rankings of the S&P 500 companies, even though Dell was right behind at No. 2. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo monitor each other’s environmental initiatives nearly as closely as they vie for shelf space at Wal-Mart, which, not coincidentally, keeps an eye on the greening of all of its suppliers.

Now UPS and FedEx, longtime and intense rivals, are going at it.

logo-upsLast week, as soon as I sat down with UPSers Scott Wicker, who runs the plant engineering group and oversees sustainability, and Lynnette McIntire, director of global reputation management, to talk about UPS’s new sustainability report, they made a point of telling me that UPS is doing a more thorough job of measuring its carbon footprint than FexEd and that UPS runs a more efficient, and therefore less polluting, fleet of aircraft than its rival.

Describing UPS’s carbon-footprint rivalry with FedEx, McIntire says: “We never used to talk about the competition. We’re over that now….This is a big deal for us for a lot of reasons.”

corp_logoIt apparently matters to FedEx, too. The company supplied me with a quick response to UPS, which I’ve attached below. I’ve also agreed to sit down with FedEx’s sustainability people to give them a full opportunity to tell their story.

More is at stake than bragging rights. Forward-thinking customers will want to do business with the more sustainable firm. The environmental back-and-forth also ties in to a bigger reputation battle between the two firms over labor issues being fought out in Congress. (See, for example,, FedEx’s anti-UPS website.”) [click to continue…]

Eaton CEO: Hybrid trucks deliver, big-time

Crawling, stop-and-go traffic is an annoyance to most drivers. To Eaton Corp., a $15-billion a year FORTUNE 500 company based in Cleveland, it’s a business opportunity.

That’s because, as anyone who has driven a Toyota Prius knows, the stopping and starting, braking and accelerating required in traffic is ideal for hybrid-electric engines, which capture energy from brakes and turn it into electric power.

President Obama checks out a hybrid truck
President Obama checks out a hybrid truck

So Eaton, which has been developing electrical and hybrid power systems for trucks and buses for more than 20 years, is now building a nice business around selling hybrid power systems for commercial vehicles. On a California trip last spring, President Obama got a sneak peak at a plug-in hybrid electric utility truck with a power system developed by  Eaton.

According to Alexander M. “Sandy” Cutler, Eaton’s chairman and CEO, the hybrid truck industry—while much smaller, and not nearly as visible as the hybrid car business—is finally taking off. [click to continue…]