A few generations ago it seemed like the world’s resources were infinite, and people needed only to access them to create businesses and grow humanity.
Today, we know how false that is. We now know that rather than finding ways to exploit new resources, people and companies need to focus on finding sustainable ways to grow, while protecting the planet and the resources we have left.
For every company that spills millions of gallons of oil into the oceans, there are plenty more companies operating under this new ethos. Here are a few standout green companies that deserve accolades:
IKEA’s invested in sustainability throughout its entire business operations, including things customers can readily see and things they can’t. It starts with their supply chain, where the Swedish furniture-maker has sourced close to 50 per cent of its wood from sustainable foresters and 100 per cent of its cotton from farms that meet the Better Cotton standards, which mandate reduced user of water, energy and chemical fertilisers and pesticides. You can also see their commitment to sustainability at the store. IKEA has more than 700,000 solar panels powering its stores, and plans to start selling them to customers in the UK. In 2012, IKEA announced its goal to be powered by 100 per cent renewables by 2020 – but just four years later, it upped the ante aiming to be a net energy exporter in the same time.
Unilever has done more than make green investments, it’s made sustainability part of its corporate identity. The company’s Sustainable Living Plan sets targets for sourcing, supply chain and production on everything from energy and water use to treatment of suppliers and communities where they operate. When it was first adopted in 2010, CEO Paul Polman said he wanted to double the company’s business while halving its environmental impact in just 10 years. It’s made amazing strides: three quarters of Unilever’s nonhazardous waste does not go to landfills and the share of its agricultural suppliers that use sustainable practices has tripled. The United Nations awarded the company’s CEO its Champion of the Earth Award in 2015 for his efforts toward reaching this goal.
Panasonic doesn’t get as many public accolades as many companies (something that Interbrand, which ranks companies on sustainability, calls the 'gap'), but it consistently wins high marks from experts. Like many companies on this list, Panasonic has ambitious energy goals, both in terms of efficiency and renewables, and it also focuses on making environmentally friendly products. What sets them apart is the way they’ve incorporated sustainability into their day-to-day life. It moved its North American headquarters from suburban Seacaucus, New Jersey to a LEED-certified building in downtown Newark by Penn Station, an intentional move to eliminate the need for employees to drive to work and reducing their carbon footprint. They’re also partnering with several companies to make a demonstration Sustainable Smart Town in Japan centred around sustainability.
The Venn diagram between environmentalism and Botox has a pretty small overlap, but smack in the middle of it is Allergan, the Botox producer that has been at or near the top of Newsweek’s green companies rankings for years. The California-based pharmaceutical company began its commitment to sustainability more than two decades ago with a policy on water conservation grounded in reporting and benchmarking. Their strategy has grown from water to energy conservation, waste reduction and emissions reduction in both their direct operations and supply chain. In 2016, it won the Environmental Protection Agency’s EnergySTAR Award for the fifth time, recognizing its achievements in energy efficiency.
5. Seventh Generation
Seventh Generation not only uses sustainable practices, it’s also created space for green products in a particularly environmentally destructive industry – household cleaners. Cleaning products are mostly washed down the drain, and despite the best efforts of wastewater treatment plants, some of the strong and toxic chemicals still pollute groundwater and waterways. Often, the argument against more environmentally friendly ones is they don’t work as well – but that myth died with the success of Seventh Generation. Now, even brands like Clorox have created greener versions of their products to meet demand for environmentally friendly cleaning options.
A 2015 New Yorker profile called Patagonia’s corporate strategy 'anti-growth', a tongue-in-cheek nod to the retailer’s crusade against conspicuous and superfluous consumption. They’ve released ads encouraging people to not buy things they don’t need (even their own products) and implemented a program to repair rather than replace their products. Their commitment lies in their products – not just their messaging and marketing. Wetsuits are made of natural rubber and plastic bottles are turned into parkas. Patagonia also recognises the importance of political action on the environment and has made voting for eco-friendly leaders a cornerstone of its sustainability message.
IBM was another early adopter of sustainability and eco-friendly business. Corporate social responsibility and environmental stewardship has been part of the company’s mission since the 1960s. Its first sustainability report was published in 1990 and its data centres have received awards from the European Commission for their long-time energy efficiency successes. Today, IBM’s efforts include smart buildings that reduce resource demand, green procurement, water resource management and more for a truly comprehensive approach.
8. New Belgium Brewing
Colorado-based New Belgium Brewing is an industry leader when it comes to sustainability, an ethos that is shot through every part of the company from its production and marketing to encouraging employees and customers to bike rather than drive. The brewery diverts 99.8 per cent of its waste from landfills. In addition to making energy efficiency integral to their brewing process, they’re also an outspoken advocate for climate change action and signatories to both the BICEP pro-climate business coalition and the Brewery Climate Declaration.
Adobe systems was the greenest IT company in Newsweek’s 2014 rankings, a well-earned distinction. The company has already made some impressive achievements, including obtaining LEED certification for more than 70 per cent of its workspaces, including retrofitting a historic building in San Francisco. It also has ambitious goals—including getting to net zero energy consumption and reducing its packaging, packaging being a resource drain and big contributor to plastic pollution. Adobe was also a corporate leader in reducing its water use to respond to California’s historic drought, even after it had already reduced its water use by more than 60 per cent since 2000 through means like installing environmentally friendly fixtures and landscaping with native plants.
Nike hasn’t always had a stellar record when it comes to corporate sustainability, but they’ve made a lot of change that’s doing a lot of good. Nike topped Morgan Stanley’s list in 2015 of most sustainable clothing and footwear brands. Key to their success is the company’s robust disclosure about its supply chain and production practices. They’re also making it easier for designers to make green choices with an app that helps you compare the environmental footprint of different fabrics. Like, Patagonia, it also uses post-consumer recycled materials in some of its products, including its 2011 World Cup jerseys. It’s also redesigned its boxes to reduce packaging, committed to eliminating chemical discharges, invested in energy efficiency in its factories and more. Nike is also partnering with NASA and other government agencies to spark innovation in chemistry to green the processing of raw materials into goods.
If you wish some of the companies you buy from would follow the lead of those listed above, try creating a petition to get the ball rolling toward a more environmentally friendly future.
Aaron Viles is a Senior Grassroots Organizer for Care2. He works with citizen authors on Care2 Petitions to create petitions that will win concrete victories for animals, the environment and other progressive causes. Prior to Care2 he spent decades working within the nonprofit environmental advocacy field. Aaron honed his craft while working for Gulf Restoration Network, U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Faithful America. He began his career with Green Corps, the field school for environmental organizing. When not in front of a screen or on a conference call, Aaron can be found doting on his daughters, pedaling furiously to keep up with the peloton and serving as a volunteer leader for the Gulf Restoration Network and his church.