Newsweek's 2012 Green Rankings: This time it's serious

If you’re looking for big one-year swings in rankings or company performance, you won’t find many. That’s a good thing — a sign of a maturing methodology reflecting the incremental nature of corporate change on a year-to-year basis. In the U.S. rankings, for example, the average Green Score went up 3 points, to 54 (out of a possible 100 points); on the global list the average change rose 2 points, to 59. Eight of the top-10 companies on the U.S. list in 2012 were also in the top 10 last year; Intel and Staples were the newcomers, knocking two healthcare companies, Baxter and Johnson & Johnson, down to #18 and #36, respectively. The global list was slightly more volatile, with only 5 of the top-10 companies remaining from 2011.

The main story, as I said, is year-to-year comparability, a positive development. But the comparability also points up one of the cold realities of the rankings: Progress is very, very slow. “We haven’t gotten anywhere really fast in terms of making a significant improvement in the environmental impact of companies in the ranking,” James Salo, Trucost's Senior Vice President, Strategy and Research, told me last week. He points to the fact that the environmental impact scores, both in the U.S. and globally, changed only about 1 percent — that is, hardly at all.

Not that there weren’t some big movers, both up and down. For example, the Las Vegas Sands Corp. hit the jackpot, rising 238 slots to #128 on the U.S. list. Goodyear Tire got traction, moving up 178 slots to #74. Hershey’s sweetened its position, rising 172 slots to #256. All told, 26 companies moved up 100 or more places in the U.S. rankings.

Only two companies dropped more than 100 places: Sunoco, which took a spill of 139 places to #331; and Caterpillar, which dug itself 108 points deeper, dropping to #252.

On the global list, 17 companies gained 100 or more slots, 11 of which were U.S-based. Eleven companies dropped 100 or more slots (including only two U.S. firms). Asian companies suffered the biggest losses, including LG, Kia, Bank of China, China Mobile, ICBC, and Agricultural Bank of China among those declining 100 or more slots.

One good bit of news is that corporate disclosure is on the rise, based on companies’ scores on the Environmental Disclosure metric. The average U.S. company’s disclosure score was 38 this year, up nine points from last year. On the global list, the average improvement was up 10 points to 59. To the extent that disclosure is a leading indicator of future improvement, in that it publicly highlights a company’s successes and failures, that could foretell future progress in actual impact reductions.

But enough about the numbers. You can find the complete, detailed listings online. What’s more interesting are the stories behind the numbers.

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