When Tom Friedman published his memorable book, “Hot, Flat, and Crowded”, in 2006, it was a wake up call for many about the potentially desperate set of outcomes that we now find our one and only planet confronting. He linked the coming crisis to America’s loss of focus following “9/11” and the plight of our planet’s environment, ranging from intolerable climate changes to a pressing lack of potable water in all parts of the world. He makes the case that the solution is tied to solving both causes, which he claims are interconnected.
Corporate sustainability has become the watchword over the past decade. A true “Green” revolution must include companies from all corners of the globe to be truly sustainable in any way. In the vein of “if you don’t measure it, nothing will change”, there is one organization that publishes “The Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World”. This company is Corporate Knights,Inc., founded in 2002 and noted as “an independent Canadian-based social enterprise that publishes the global magazine for clean capitalism.”
Their list for 2011 was recently released and included thirteen companies from the United States, constituting 19% of the $3 trillion in revenues for the entire list. While the entire list may only represent 5% of global GDP, large companies must lead so that others can follow. Differentiating oneself through sustainability initiatives has proven to be a new competitive weapon on the corporate battlefield, but the financial benefits have also been quantified from a variety of perspectives. “People, Planet and Profits” has become the new triple bottom-line objective.
The methodology for selection is quite extensive, beginning with a global universe of 3,500 stocks, and then culled down to 100 finalists based on a series of reviews by independent experts, of applying analytical formulas, and by focusing on those companies that has “been most proactive in managing environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.”
Here is a brief update on the top three large companies from the United States and how they are proceeding in 2011 with their respective initiatives:
- Johnson & Johnson (#2 – Not listed in 2010): Known for its pharmaceutical and medical product line, this $62 billion in revenue company announced in July 2011, its “Healthy Future 2015” initiative, “a sweeping citizenship and sustainability program that unites goals for its various businesses under a single, five-year roadmap.” This program follows on the heels of two previous programs, but is broader in its expectations and aligns well with United Nations’ published goals;
- Intel Corp. (#6 – #30 in 2010): Intel has a long history in energy conservation initiatives, accompanied by its “Sustainability in Action” program. The firm recently opened its new four million square foot office campus in Ocotillo, Arizona, that is one of the first technology manufacturing complexes to earn the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), for a manufacturing complex.
- General Electric Co. (#11 – #1 in 2010): This firm’s key growth strategy has been labeled “Ecomagination” that consists of corporate commitments to reduce greenhouse gases and become more energy efficient in all of their global operations. The company has reported progress publicly on these standards and enlisted the support of their partners, suppliers, and customers. In 2011, their investments in environmental R&D will double to $1.5 billion and company-wide water consumption will fall 20% by 2012.
As the largest economy on the planet, the United States must assume responsibility for leading us all to a cooler, rounder, and less crowded world. Tom Friedman, for one, is counting on it.
Written by Tom Cleveland. From 1980 until 1999, Tom Cleveland served as CFO for various Visa International entities, retiring with the title of Group EVP and Treasurer. Currently, Tom Cleveland owns a consulting firm and is one of the main contributors for forextraders.com.