Companies turn up the green

In the greening of Corporate America, U.S. companies have made progress but still face a long trek to improve environmental practices, says a report Wednesday.

"There's a green business revolution taking place, but it's just getting started," says Joel Makower, executive editor of GreenBiz.com, a website and research firm that has studied business and the environment since long before it became trendy.

Beyond the hype, according to the firm's "State of Green Business 2008" report, obstacles include:

•Toxic emissions. While total emissions into the air, land and water have declined since 2001, several U.S. industries — led by the metal mining, electric utility and chemical sectors — still spew out lead, mercury and toxic materials that could be reduced substantially by current technology.

•No standards. No widespread U.S. or global standards or reliable data exist yet to define or measure all of the business practices that make a company green. At times, it's hard to tell whether individual companies are moving forward or backward on environmental issues, the report found.

•Misleading claims. Various market-research studies indicate that many companies make unfounded or misleading claims that their products are "green," and some skeptical consumers don't want to pay higher prices for the goods.

The good news, according to GreenBiz? A rising number of corporations deserve praise for their environmental efforts in energy efficiency, reduction of toxic emissions, paper use and recycling, clean-technology investments and patents and other practices.

Nor is it all public-relations window dressing, Makower says. More businesses truly believe that green practices will improve their operations, attract customers and boost revenue.

Target TGT and other retailers are reducing toxic materials from products and packaging. Computer firms such as Dell dell are recycling trashed computers. Citigroup, c Bank of America bac and other financial giants are pouring billions of dollars into environmentally friendly investments and clean technology.

More companies — Philips Electronics PHG, Procter & Gamble, pg REI, Wal-Mart, wmt Whole Foods wfmi and others — are selling truly green products. Home Depot hd offers a line of Eco Options products.

As concern grows over global warming, Nike, nke Dole Food, Coca-Cola, ko the Green Mountain Power utility in Colchester, Vt., and many others have vowed to become "climate-neutral companies" and reduce emissions from facilities, retail stores and employees' travel.

Spurred by high gas prices and consumer demand, automakers and car rental companies — General Motors, gm Ford Motor, f Chrysler, Enterprise Rent-A-Car — are moving quickly to plug-in hybrid or alternative-fuel vehicles. Truckers also are starting to use more fuel-efficient vehicles.

One big quandary, Makower says: A lot of environmental gains made by U.S. companies could be wiped out by economic growth. There may be more fuel-efficient autos on the road, but a rising economy also means more vehicles guzzling gas and spewing emissions. In short, no one knows for sure how much the efforts by green companies will help the climate.

"That's the $40 trillion question," Makower says.

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