Corporations Put More Green into Their Bottom-Line Plans More Firms Embrace Environmental Efforts, but Some Activists Say It's "Greenwashing."

Article excerpt

In a push to become known as the "greenest of the green" electric companies, Northeast Utilities is adopting the latest international environmental standards in all its power plants.

British Petroleum is joining forces with the Environmental Defense Fund to reduce carbon- dioxide pollution. And Union Carbide is touting new biodegradable industrial detergents for washing grease-stained uniforms.

After decades of battles with - even animosity toward - environmentalists, many corporate executives are now embracing ideas they once dismissed. Among a growing number of firms, caring for the environment is being incorporated into the bottom line. "It's incredible, particularly if you put it in the historic context: 30 years ago there wasn't even an {Environmental Protection Agency}," says Andy Savitz, who heads Coopers & Lybrand's environmental consulting division - which didn't exist six years ago. As international leaders gather at the United Nations this week to assess the progress since the 1992 Earth Summit, the question of "corporate greening" has taken on a magnified role. Government and institutional aid for environmental projects has fallen, leaving more responsibility for green innovations to the free market. While some moves may do more to buff the corporate image than the planet, many companies today are doing regular environmental audits. Complying with environmental standards is increasingly a responsibility of the board of directors, and compensation for executives is tied to environmental performance. But this apparent dawning of an environmental corporate conscience has some is some environmental activists very concerned. "It's going great for the corporations, but not too well for the rest of the world," says Robert Weissman of Essential Information, a nonprofit consumer watchdog group. Weissman and other staunch environmentalists applaud genuine corporate efforts to clean up their act, but contend they are more the exception than the rule. Instead of corporate green, they see greenwashing: superficial changes that are used as marketing tools to woo consumers. "There are certain corporate realities that make industries like the auto, oil, and chemical industries incapable of being green," says Andre Carothers, a member of the board of directors of Greenpeace International. "The earth requires they completely rethink the way they're doing business, not just change the processes or the details of what they do." But for many environmentalists, that view is too extreme and denies economic realities. They applaud the steady trend in corporate greening, and are doing their best to nurture it. In May, The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) announced it was undertaking a joint project with British Petroleum (BP), one of the world's largest oil firms, to develop projects that will use "emissions trading" and other innovative ways to try to bring down the levels of "greenhouse" gases that contribute to global warming. …


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