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Reputation Matters in Newsweek’s New ‘Greenest Big Companies’ Rankings

The September 28, 2009 issue of Newsweek ranks the top 500 “greenest big companies in America.” The listing is also available online.

According to this list, Hewlett-Packard is the greenest big company in America, with Dell #2, Johnson & Johnson #3, Intel #4, and IBM #5.  Other notables in the top 100: Nike #7, Starbucks #10, McDonald’s #22, Procter & Gamble #26, Microsoft #31, Coca-Cola #58, Wal-Mart #59, and General Electric #82.

Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company, was #500 on the list with a green score of 1.00, compared with a 100 for H-P.

With literally hundreds of ratings, labels and certifications, it’s not surprising that not every leading company ranks consistently high in everyone’s rankings. The interesting twist in the Newsweek research is that, in addition to the primary measures of environmental impact and “green policies,” companies are rated to a lesser extent based on their “green” reputation. 

Reputation has a significant impact for some organizations, as communications-savvy companies such as P&G, Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart and General Electric have much higher Newsweek ratings for their reputation than their environmental impact and green policies – which helps move their overall score into the top 100. What’s confusing, however, is that these companies are often ranked much higher even when reputation is not factored in.

So, again, another sustainability ranking system that raises more questions than it answers. In this rating system, why did these companies “need” reputation to raise their scores? What’s the fairest way to evaluate sustainability performance? And, of course, how many more lists will come out before we realize we need a way to rate the ranking systems?

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