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Climate Counts and the Green Race to the Top

If climate regulation will burden businesses or increase costs, then why are so many companies strengthening their voluntary response to the climate crisis in the midst of an economic downturn?

The reason is, there's a race to the top when it comes to sustainability, particularly among consumer companies. No one wants to be seen as a laggard by customers, workers, NGOs, government or the press.

Reputation matters. Ignoring the climate emergency is no longer an option for a big consumer brand.

That, as far as I can tell, is why so many companies are surging ahead in the third annual corporate climate scorecard put together by the nonprofit group Climate Counts. Gary Hirshberg, the CE-yo and "main moover" behind of Stonyfield Farms (yum) put up the money to start Climate Counts, and Wood Turner is its able executive director.

"We see a real competition ensuing, as companies race to the top," Turner told me the other day, as the new ratings came out. "Companies are preparing their businesses and their brands for the future."

{related_content}Once again, Nike (83 points out of 100) and topped the Climate Counts list. Bringing up the rear are Jones Apparel Group (7), VF Corporation (6), Viacom (3), Burger King (10), Wendy's-Arby's Group (2), PNC Financial Services (3), SunTrust (2), Regions (1), ExpressJet (7), AirTran (5) and SkyWest Air (0).

In the argot of the NGO world, this is known as "rank 'em and spank 'em." And it seems to work.

According to Turner, whenever an updated list comes out, his phone begins to ring. And we are seeing companies start to boast about their rankings. UPS, which ranked No. 1 in the shipping category, loves to outperform archrival FedEx, so the company issued a press release today to call attention to its ranking.

So long as we're keeping score, let's also note that Coca-Cola beat PepsiCo, Microsoft outperformed Google, HP nosed out IBM and Marriott crushed Starwood in the 2009 Climate Count rankings.

More meaningful is the fact that many companies made dramatic improvements to their scores. Among the big gainers were Levi Strauss, eBay, Disney, Nokia, PepsiCo, Yum! Brands, Darden Restaurants and US Airways. (Thanks to Mother Nature Network blogger Shea Gunther for pointing this out and, no, we're not related, at least as far as we know.) The entire electronics sector scored above 50, Turner noted, as did consumer shipping.

One last thought about this list -- it's signal that "green products" by themselves aren't enough to signal a company's sustainability commitment. Clorox, for example, has its GreenWorks line of products, but it ranks last in the household products category, far behind P&G. Green companies Method and Seventh Generation aren't rated but it's a safe bet they would do well. Climate Counts plans to come out with an iPhone app soon to help environmentally conscious shoppers.

The bottom line: Smart companies aren't just making "green products." They're taking a deep look at their sustainability practices -- thanks to groups like Climate Counts. Senior Writer Marc Gunther is a longtime journalist and speaker whose focus is business and sustainability. Marc maintains a blog at You can follow him on Twitter @marcGunther.

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