HP and Best Buy on Best, Worst Company Lists at the Same Time

They were the worst of companies, they were the best of companies.

Hewlett Packard and Best Buy have managed to get themselves on at least two “top companies” lists at the same time. The problem is, the lists rate diametrically opposed qualities.

Both companies were “good” enough in 2009 to get on the Ethisphere’s World’s Most Ethical Companies list. And yet both were also “bad” enough to make it into the Consumerist’s 2010 Worst Company in America tournament.

HP was also number one on Corporate Responsibility Magazine’s (CR) 100 Best Corporate Citizens List, an even more widely watched industry measure.

Cutting GHG emissions while ripping you off

The Ethisphere and CR use a number of sophisticated benchmarks, like greenhouse gas emissions reductions and fair global labor practices, to compile their lists of companies. As Triple Pundit reported last week, it is an open secret that companies tailor their ethical initiatives to the CR list to improve their ranking.

The Consumerist deals more with day-to-day behavior of companies in dealing with their customers. It cited HP for selling (along with Compaq) laptop batteries with a penchant for catching fire. Best Buy was nailed for its “optimization” service, which Consumerist called “a big stupid annoying waste of money.”

These two worlds — one, the realm of fair trade practices and complicated greenhouse gas accounting, the other that of basic customer service — can seem mutually exclusive. But they are actually closely tied to each other.

You again

The companies on these lists are almost all globally-recognized brand names. They spend billions of dollars each year to wiggle their way into our consciousness so that we’ll spend trillions on their products, and we do.

All of which means if your new computer catches fire and burns down your house, there’s a 1 in 3 chance it’s an HP model, all things being equal. This makes it easier to understand why the same company might want to preemptively burnish its image in other ways.

I do not mean to disparage the efforts made so far. The fact that these corporations are — at worst — merely gaming the requirements of these various ethics lists means they’re doing something, and something is better than nothing.

Put it this way: even if you knew the university you applied to got to the top of the US News & World Report’s list by playing to the rankings, you’d probably still go…right?

As for the “worst” rankings, who else are you going to buy your laptops from? Dell?

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.