America’s Toxic 10 Corporate Polluters – A Story of Contradictions

condenast.jpg America’s “Toxic 10,” a special report put out by Conde Nast, demonstrates that we have entered a new realm of corporate environmental governance. We frequently read headlines that highlight corporate sustainability initiatives, like “Ford’s New Green Roof Initiative” or “Boeing’s New Fuel-Efficient Airplanes.” But the sad reality is that corporate giants, by and large, continue to commit egregious crimes against human health and nature. Almost every company listed in the “Toxic 10” has promoted some form of corporate greening, but this article shows that these may be attempts to legitimate and continue their polluting practices more than anything else.

What’s even more disconcerting are some of the companies listed in their “Top Green 11.” Bank of America, for example, is touted for its recycling program and hybrid-car incentives for its employees. Yet, this month I received an action gram from Co-op America asking members to reprimand Bank of America for their continued investments in coal plants.
Conde Nast admits that their list uses subjective criteria for assessment of the “Toxic 10” and “Top Green 11.” However, I think it’s fascinating that journalists really can’t tell who’s legit and who’s not in this field. As we know, corporate sustainability initiatives are often “add-ons” to existing operations. We also know that they are completely voluntary and unregulated. As a result, we can expect to find contradictions and inconsistencies at this stage of green business development. Yet, we also know that there is a difference between organizations founded on green principles, such as Tesla and Organic Valley, and those that are motivated primarily by profits, such as GE and Walmart. However, all four of these companies are listed side-by-side in the “Top Green 11.”
There has never been a better time for a systematic, verifiable strategy for assessing the “green-ness” of a company.

Shannon Arvizu, Ph.D., is a clean tech educator and cutting-edge consultant for the auto industry. You can follow her test drives in the cars of the future at

5 responses

  1. I agree with the premise of this article. The path to sustainability is ahead of us and both citizens and organizations need to follow it. We do need a verifiable strategy (tool) for assessing the “green-ness” of a company and that tool is under development in the form of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). At some point in the near future a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) framework like the GRI will need to become a reporting requirement and social regulatory standard interpreted by watchdog organizations and policed by the economic & political decisions of citizens. This is an important part of the social evolution of our species…if we are to survive on living planet Earth. MB.

  2. Good points there Mark, I firmly agree with you on our need for formal/regulated reporting. Unfortunately I have some reservations with the reporting mechanisms on offer at the moment. Unless we/business/society/government change our emphasis from accounting and reporting on financial entities to communities and ecologies, we will continue to chase our tail.

  3. Shannon, thanks once again for yet another of your many good posts; just a language issue here: you state that [some] corporate giants “violate egregious crimes….” Since you cannot technically violate a crime, I believe you mean “commit egregious violations” or “perpetrate egregious crimes” against human health and nature.
    I point this out only because your posts will doubtless be copied and used elsewhere, thus perpetuating the error.

  4. Thanks for mentioning our banking campaign! We agree that not all of the companies on the Portfolio list are truly green.
    We’d love to have your help persuading Bank of America – and other banks – that financing new coal-fired power plants is a bad investment for America’s energy future. It’s as simple as [writing a letter!|]
    Jocelyn Allen
    Online Campaign Outreach Intern
    [Co-op America|]

  5. Whoops – sorry about the HTML formatting issues in my comment above!
    Here is that link to write a letter helping us convince Citigroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Wachovia to end all financing of coal, set targets for the reductions of CO2 emissions for all their borrowers, and set targets for investments in energy efficiency and renewables:
    Jocelyn Allen
    Online Campaign Outreach Intern
    Co-op America

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