Big Companies Go Green to Ensure Business


Sept. 1, 2006 — -- As California moves to limit its greenhouse gas emissions to fight global warming, the state joins an existing corporate movement to embrace environmentalism -- but California's motivation may be different from what is driving some in the business world to go green.

For companies like General Electric, environmentalism is not about fighting global warming or hopping on a trend: It's about the bottom line.

"We can't afford to have hobbies," said Gary Sheffer, executive director of communications with GE. "This is not something we launched to burnish our reputation or to make us feel better. This was about growing our company."

Sales of environmentally friendly products -- from energy-efficient light bulbs to cleaner locomotive engines -- topped $10 billion last year, almost double the year before.

"We are sold out of our solar products, we're sold out of our wind products … and we're pretty much sold out on some of our most efficient aircraft engines," Sheffer said.

Wal-Mart has also discovered the "green" in being green: The retailer is now the number one consumer of organically-grown cotton in the world. The retail giant is also doing brisk sales of organic clothing and food.

"Companies are seeing that increasingly people want more efficient, cleaner products," said Fred Krup, president of Environmental Defense. "The smart companies are looking ahead and seeing there are profits to be made here."

California businesses now worried about the cost they'll incur cutting emissions under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's global warming bill should know it may end up saving them money.

DuPont cut its emissions and saved $3 billion over the past decade by using cleaner technologies to make chemicals and textiles.

FedEx found a way to save money and ease the strain on the California power grid by running its airport operations in Oakland almost entirely on solar power. The company's director of corporate and international environmental programs said the savings will last decades.

"We will have a clean renewable supply of power at a consistent price, free, from the sun, for 30 years," FedEx director of environmental programs Mitch Jackson said.

And companies are not stopping there, the next step is the greening of corporate offices.

For its new headquarters in New York City, the Hearst Corporation included a waterfall designed to cool the lobby, and the new Bank of America building is being planned so that cafeteria leftovers can be turned into methane for electricity.

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