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April 28, 2006
Survey Shows Public Corporations Upping Green Initiatives While Smaller Companies Lag

Since the new environmental, or "green," thinking began sweeping through corporate culture in the 1990s, the larger, publicly traded companies are more likely to continue devoting time and energy to adopting business practices that reduce waste, save energy and water, and consider their social impact. But smaller companies are less likely to adopt formal stewardship programs because of a lack of resources, according to an analysis of about 100 northeast companies conducted by East Coast engineering firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin (VHB) and released by the Environmental Business Council of New England (EBC) and the Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

The findings, presented on April 20, show that about 34% of companies commit to public reporting; and 67% have a formal stewardship policy.

Only about a quarter of the approximate 100 companies surveyed have Environmental Management Systems and most do not regularly report performance to the public. Companies reporting improvements in environmental stewardship see them in their facilities, their measurement, monitoring and reporting, and in their production processes. Companies see the greatest future gain in their operating practices, education, and production processes, so greater efficiencies still seem possible. Product improvement, resource consumption, and improved transportation practices lag in both progress made to date and perceived likelihood of potential improvements. Many companies surveyed have formal environmental policies, but only half of those surveyed have clear goals and specific performance measures.

"These findings indicate that the leaders are still leading, but that the ranks of followers have not filled in," said Leo Pierre Roy, director of environmental services for VHB. "This shows that while progress has been made, there is much work to be done. Organizations like the Environmental Business Council of New England and the Associated Industries of Massachusetts are to be commended for encouraging research such as this, and for sponsoring education and outreach to their membership, to help more companies in the region become good corporate stewards."

Environmental stewardship, sustainability, and corporate social responsibility have become topics of steadily increasing interest since the early 1990s. Many leading companies are advancing initiatives to address the impacts and their operations have on society, to improve their business practices, and to involve their employees, suppliers, customers and communities in defining ways that achieve more sustainable and environmentally-friendly operations.

When environmental laws were promulgated beginning in the 1970s, companies sought to comply with the new statutes and regulations. By the 1990s, however, forward-thinking companies began to look beyond mere compliance, seeing the competitive advantages of adopting business practices that reduced waste, saved energy and water, and considered social impacts. Over the years and increasing number of companies have formalized environmental stewardship programs, and begun to track and publicly report on their progress regarding sustainability and social responsibility. Many of these companies, such as Interface Carpet, The Body Shop, and Ben & Jerry's, have been widely recognized for their efforts. The present question is whether other companies are learning from and picking up on these initiatives and adding to the momentum, and whether the results of these initiatives are sufficiently compelling to broadly sustain that momentum.

For many years, regulations have required corporations to report on certain aspects of their operations, such as their emissions through the Toxic Release Inventory, and accidents through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Because of this history, it is not surprising that most corporate stewardship reports address environmental health and safety. Emissions and energy consumption are the most frequently identified metrics, followed by waste reduction and water conservation. Not surprisingly, waste, air emissions, water, and energy efficiency also topped the list of greatest environmental concerns in corporate America.

The research conducted by VHB involved the analysis of recent sustainability/citizenship reports plus a survey of firms in the Northeast. The research investigated trends in public reporting and attempted to identify specific "best practices." Such practices, often referred to as best management practices have yielded significant benefits for those companies which have undertaken proactive initiatives to improve their environmental and social impacts. The corporate stewardship reports of 25 companies were analyzed and their contents summarized. Surveys were completed by 71 Northeast companies and the results compiled into charts and graphs available in the report.


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