Last month's Business Week article "Little Green Lies" is no doubt tough on the corporate greening movement for overstating its accomplishments in the fight against global warming. Still, I'm encouraged by the article because it shows we've come a long way in acknowledging the complexities of tackling this colossal challenge. In other words, the days of green rhetoric are over and the hard work of achieving tangible, verifiable greenhouse gas reductions has arrived.
Don't get me wrong: corporate America getting religion on global warming is huge. Up until a couple of years ago, company CEOs were largely silent on the subject. Then GE's Jeff Immelt came out and unveiled the "Ecomagination" initiative to kick-start the low-carbon economy. Wal-Mart followed with an ambitious effort to cut energy use and its greenhouse gas emissions. Then Citigroup, IBM and News Corp jumped in by announcing climate-saving programs --- all in the same week.
As the Business Week article noted, much of this corporate greening is real tangible stuff. Dow Chemical and DuPont received specific praise for significantly trimming their greenhouse emissions, while Wal-Mart got kudos for offering major shelf space to energy-saving fluorescent bulbs even though incandescent bulbs are more profitable. Bank of America is also building climate change into all aspects of its business.
But like a sought-after party that everyone wants to attend, we now need a bouncer so that only those who are deserving get champagne. With so many companies touting their green virtues, it's more important than ever that we able to separate what's real from what's not.
For example, saying a company is carbon neutral is not good enough. It's relatively easy to buy carbon credits and renewable energy certificates (RECs) and then say you're 100 percent powered by wind energy. But as the Business Week article noted, there's a vast gap between credits and RECs that are purchased and new wind farms that are actually built.
This isn't to say companies don't deserve praise for trying to move in the right direction. But businesses that are really serious about reducing their carbon footprint -- and the world's carbon footprint -- need to go a few steps further.
Companies need to use carbon offsets as a last resort. Energy efficiency and other measures that directly reduce greenhouse emissions in their operations should come first. If carbon offsets are being utilized, the companies should also support tougher accountability standards to ensure that offsets -- whether for a forest project in the Amazon or a clean energy project in Russia -- are real and legitimate.
And, lastly, companies should support state and federal policies that will enable more wind farms and other renewable energy projects to be built. Otherwise, renewable energy certificates could be little more than pieces of paper.
Mindy S. Lubber is president of Ceres, a leading coalition of investors, environmental groups and other public interest organizations working with companies to address sustainability challenges.
Image credit: flickr/doegox