Considering our country’s current economic woes, it stands to reason that most of us are cutting back on our discretionary spending – in layman’s terms, we’re buying less stuff. And though we’ve been told that buying more stuff supports our economy, it doesn’t necessarily support our environment.
That’s why it’s more important than ever to make those purchases count. Not all companies are created equal when it comes to sustainable business practices, and many people underestimate the power that they have as consumers. And, though November’s elections were certainly historic, your right to vote didn’t end there. Vote with your dollars! Supporting companies that are doing the right thing by adopting eco-friendly practices, or “buycotting”, will help ensure that those companies make it through these tough economic times.
So how do you determine which companies deserve your hard-earned dollars? How do you spot those greenwashers? It’s not always easy, but fortunately there are some resources that can help.
Turn to the Experts
Recently, a couple of studies have been released that identify specific companies as tops in their class when it comes to sustainable practices.
First up, The Global 100 Most Sustainable Companies in the World, a list of publicly-traded companies that best manage the environmental, social and governance risk associated with sustainability. Brought to us by Corporate Knights: The Canadian Magazine for Responsible Business and Innovest Strategic Value Advisors the fifth annual list includes familiar American companies like Amazon.com, Coca Cola, Dell, Nike, and Walt Disney. (Note that these are all large, international, publicly-traded companies – no Tom’s of Maine here!)
Having a bit of info regarding these large companies’ efforts in sustainability can, and should, influence your buying decisions. Drop your laptop in the bathtub? Think Dell. Desperate for a carbonated caffeine jolt? Consider Coke.
But, when you make these purchasing decisions, just make sure that you keep the bigger picture in mind – do you really need a new computer? Updating your old one is a greener option, as is bringing water in a reusable container, washing those old sneaks, or borrowing books from the library – regardless of the sustainability efforts of Dell, Coke, Nike or Amazon. Vote with your dollars when it’s appropriate to do so, remembering that even the “greenest” of products do not actually help the environment – they just hurt it less.
Look for Green Brands
That said, you’re probably thinking, “When I think of a green beverage company, I don’t think Coca Cola, I think of Green Mountain Coffee.” Did I read your mind? Cool, huh? Actually, my source is a recent Earthsense report that takes another angle, examining consumer perceptions of popular brands.
Of 350 companies studied, 35 were singled out by consumers as tops in four categories:
- Sustainable business practices
- Product impact
- Investment likelihood, and
- Recommendation likelihood
The resulting list reads like a who’s who of companies for whom green is a big part of who they are. Topping the list were grocers Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, both of which achieved high marks on all four measures. Other familiar brands listed as “standouts” include Earthbound Farms, Tom’s of Maine, Burt’s Bees, Kashi, and Fresh & Easy. Google and Yahoo also made the list. You can download the entire report fromGreenBiz.com.
On the flip side, check out Climate Watch’s list of “Climate Laggards” – those who are behind the curve on corporate responsibility and the environment. Who’s on it? Exxon Mobile (no surprise there), General Motors, and home-builder Standard Pacific.
Though some carbon-intensive industries are over-represented on the list, some companies (like GM) were singled out due to their total inaction, as they lag behind their competitors, are unresponsive to investor concerns, and fail to report their environmental impact to the public. Sounds like the trifecta of unsustainable business practices.
According to many analysts, the hard-hit stock market is a great place to pick up some investments on the cheap. If you’re trying to live a green lifestyle, don’t you want your investments to reflect your values? Research continues to show that companies that are strong on sustainability outperform their counterparts financially.
If you’re looking to buy stock, or just want to find out more about a particular company’s environmental performance, check out the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility’s “climate risk profiles”. Covering more than 150 companies, the profiles are particularly useful because they compare companies within a sector. For more on green investing, check out last year’s post on the topic.
Buy Used Stuff
Supporting companies that get it is important when you need something new. But what if you need something that’s just “new to you”? I’m a big proponent of thrift stores, garage sales, antique stores, libraries, Craigslist, borrowing, lending and dumpster diving (OK, so I’m not quite that hard core). If there’s a way to get it used, do it. Not only will reusing or recycling something keep it out of the landfill, but it will avoid the environmental damage done by a new product, from raw material extraction to manufacturing to shipping and finally, disposal. Plus, it’ll be easier on your wallet.
However you choose to go about finding the things that you need to get through life, just keep in mind that you have a lot of power in your bank account, even if your balance doesn’t make you feel so powerful.