When one thinks of environmentally forward-thinking businesses, some companies spring immediately to mind: Whole Foods Market (WFM), Annie's (BNNY), Patagonia, Seventh Generation, and Method, for example, are all known for their commitment to being green.
However, there are other firms putting a lot of resources into planet-helping initiatives -- companies whose green tactics are far less recognized, and may even come as a surprise to you. Let's take a look at a few.
Huge companies making huge strides
5 Surprising Companies Going Green
The name Waste Management (WM) probably makes most people think of dirty dumpsters, but its business is not just about trash hauling. It's also one of the country's biggest recyclers, and has been able to pull off single-stream recycling, which means far fewer difficulties for customers when it comes to sorting different recyclables. In addition, Waste Management has invested in -- and has begun using -- technologies that turn waste into energy.
There's a much more to Google (GOOG) than a search engine, Android and Google Glass. Embedded in its corporate DNA (as seen on its "Big Picture" page) is a commitment to reducing its environmental impact, which it does through everything from green energy initiatives to purchasing carbon offsets to take its footprint down to zero. Google has put serious financial weight behind its green philosophy: In late 2012, it invested $200 million in a Texas wind farm, and in 2011, it invested $280 million in a fund that helped now-public Solar City (SCTY) finance more solar installations in America, focusing on the residential and business markets
Unilever (UL) is a massive multinational corporation that owns diverse brands like Ben & Jerry's, Dove, Suave, Hellmann's, and tons of other household names. Behind the scenes, Unilever has taken a major lead promoting the view that environmental responsibility is a win-win for businesses -- reducing waste and increasing profits. The company's most notable achievements have been its specific performance goals -- for everything from water, waste and greenhouse gasses to nutrition, health and hygiene and sustainable sourcing -- and more than 50 targets related to its Sustainable Living plan. Also notable: Unilever has been altering its business model with a focus on sustainability, not simply envisioning this as a nice add-on that's not central to the business.
Sprint (S) may seem like just another wireless service provider, but it boasts some serious green cred. Just for starters, Sprint customers have probably noticed the double-duty envelopes the company uses for its bills -- they are designed to be reused for the payment's return trip. Last year, Sprint embarked on a Buyback program for its electronics products, reducing e-waste, which is the fastest growing type of waste in America. Its buyback program is in fact revolutionary: Sprint will accept any mobile device regardless of its condition or origination, and will give customers up to $300 in account credit for the traded-in devices.
Some of Walmart's (WMT) policies on labor, aggressive price controls and other aspects of its business may make for terrible PR, but the discount retail giant has long had strong environmental policies. In keeping with past initiatives, on April 15, the retailer committed to dramatically increase its use of renewables and boost its energy efficiency. By 2020, it plans to produce or procure 600 percent more renewable energy than 2010 levels, and reduce the energy intensity required for its buildings by 20 percent. In the recent announcement, CEO Mike Duke said, "The math adds up pretty quickly -- when we use less energy that's less energy we have to buy, and that means less waste and more savings. These new commitments will make us a stronger business, and they're great for our communities and the environment."
The massive scale of companies like these actually results in more meaningful reductions in pollution and waste. Every small step counts, and every attempt each of us makes to reduce our impact on the environment is important, whether it's recycling, using public transportation, biking, or driving a hybrid vehicle. However, corporate giants like these do have the biggest footprints and the greatest potential to reduce waste -- and in effect, they can push their rivals and suppliers to do the same.
That's good for the bottom line and for Mother Earth.