This week in green business

This week in green business

Yet another lively week in the world of green business brought these headlines—Climate Counts ranks consumer companies (again) on global warming practices, the trucking industry slows down and Goldman Sachs banker Mark Tercek takes the helm of The Nature Conservancy. My reactions:

Climate Counts: I’ve been a skeptic when it comes to Climate Counts, a nonprofit funded by Stonyfield Farm that aims to mobilize consumers to reward companies with good climate-change policies and avoid those that have failed to address global warming. But I’m coming around to the belief that this little NGO could have an impact.

Wood Turner, who runs Climate Counts for Stonyfield “CE-Yo” Gary Hirshberg, tells me that companies are paying attention to their Climate Counts ranking—much as they seek to be included in the lists of responsible companies compiled by socially responsible mutual funds. What’s more, college students and others have become regular visitors to the Climate Counts website, evidently to learn more about where to spend their money. About 40,000 visitors a month check in, Wood says—not a big enough number to move markets, but it’s a start. I found the Climate Counts website useful myself this week when writing a column about Taco Bell.

The encouraging news from Climate Counts is that 84% of the rated companies improved their scores since the first set of rankings a year ago. “For the most part, I’ve been incredibly buoyed by the scores this year,” Wood says. His biggest disappointment, he says, is the lack of engagement by the fast-food and restaurant industry. That’s a key industry when it comes to the environment because big purchasers of food have leverage to bring about more sustainable agriculture. Burger King, Darden Restaurants (which owns Red Lobster and Olive Garden), Wendy’s and Yum! Brands all scored one or zero points (out of 100). So next time you are on the road and need fast food, stop at Mickey D’s. Or hunt down a Starbucks. Both firms take environmental issues seriously.

The top scorer? Nike, with 82, which is no surprise to anyone who knows what the company is doing around corporate responsibility or green design. Others scoring 70 or better were IBM, Stonyfield Farm, Unilever, Canon, GE and Toshiba. My company, Time Warner, lagged News Corp. and Disney in the media sector.

Keep on truckin’: The American Trucking Association held a presser the other day at the Newseum with the message that “Trucks Deliver a Cleaner Tomorrow.” Among other things, the truck companies called for a national speed limit of 65 mph, highway construction to decrease congestion at bottlenecks which wastes fuel and, for the first time, national fuel economy standards for trucks. There’s a lot happening in the industry, notably the development of hybrid trucks, thanks to a partnership between FedEx, Environmental Defense and truck and engine manufacturers. I also learned last week that Coca-Cola Enterprises, the world’s biggest Coke bottler, rolling out hybrids.

Schneider National, a Green Bay, Wisconsin-based company that is the nation’s largest truckload carrier, is leading the industry. (A truckload, I was told, is a truck loaded with stuff from one customer, going to one place, as opposed to say, a UPS or FedEx truck that makes many stops for many customers. Schneider serves 80% of the companies in the Fortune 500.) Schneider’s CEO, Chris Lofgren, said the company is turning down the cruise control on its trucks to 60 mph and setting an upper speed limit for drivers of 63 mph. This will save the company money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Because Schneider offers financial incentives for its drivers to reduce fuel consumption and idling time, their drivers idle their vehicles for about half of the industry average, Lofgren said. Which tells me that the rest of the industry has lots of room to improve.

Fun fact at the event: Some truckers spend $1,000 to fill their tanks! So don’t feel so bad next time you stop at the gas pump. There’s more than you want to know about the greening of the truck biz at www.trucksdeliver.org. “The trucking industry is the driving force behind the American economy,” says Bill Graves, the former Kansas governor who now runs ATA. It’ll be interesting to see if ATA comes out in support of the Lieberman-Warner climate-change bill.

Goldman and the Nature Conservancy: Tercek, who has guided Goldman Sachs’ industry-leading environmental policy, becomes president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy, which calls itself the world’s leading environmental organization. This deepens the ties between Goldman and TNC—Hank Paulson, the former Goldman CEO who now runs the Treasury Dept., used to be chairman of the group.

Tercek, 51, joined Goldman in 1984, became a partner in 1996 and was planning to retire when Paulson persuaded him to create its environmental strategy and lead a nonprofit funded by Goldman to promote the use of markets to solve environmental problems. He played a key role when Goldman joined with KKR and Texas Pacific Group in the $32 billion “green” buyout of Texas coal-burner power generator TXU. Mark is very smart, low-key and a good listener.

The Washington Post did a very tough investigative series on The Nature Conservancy back in 2003. People who work there say it was unfair, but it lead to reforms (as well as a U.S. Senate and IRS investigations). I still remember a Post photo of the oversized mansion in a McLean, Virginia, development that was bought by the conservancy’s former CEO, Steven McCormick, with the help of a $1.5 million loan from the group. It’s hard to respect a conservation group when the guy in charge does not practice conservation.