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Renita Jablonski: Jeffrey Hollender makes a lot of judgements.
He’s CEO of Seventh Generation, a maker of non-toxic household products. He’s an unpaid environmental advisor to Wal-Mart. He blogs too about what he thinks does and does not constitute green business. Marketplace Sustainability reporter Sarah Gardner caught up with Hollender to see how he separates the mean from the green.
SARAH GARDNER: First off, Jeffrey Hollender wants you to know even his company’s not perfect.
JEFFREY HOLLENDER: We make mistakes. We make compromises.
Hollender was painfully reminded of that in March. The Organic Consumers Association took Seventh Generation to task for calling its dish soap “natural” while still containing traces of a suspected carcinogen. That may help explain the first of his top three criteria for judging a company’s green “cred.”
HOLLENDER: Look at the whole company, don’t look at the product.
Hollender cites GE as an example. He applauds the company for EcoImagination, GE’s clean energy venture. But the company doesn’t get his green stamp of approval. Not when it’s still doing big business in nuclear power and coal, he argues.
HOLLENDER: What we find is companies doing something very good or trying to do something good with one hand, while with their other hand they’re still continuing to do bad.
Hollender’s number two criterion? Honest, accurate advertising.
HOLLENDER: Don’t overstate it. Don’t mislead people. And don’t make claims that are totally irrelevant. Don’t say, “This product doesn’t have phosphates,” if it never did.
Hollender cites Toyota and British Petroleum as offenders. BP for running ads touting its green logo, “Beyond Petroleum,” when it’s considering a sale of its green energy unit. And Toyota for airing tree-hugging commercials while lobbying against California’s higher fuel standards.
HOLLENDER: You can’t put an ad on TV, you know, with this Prius built with twigs and “We want to leave no footprint behind.” Well, you know, that sounds good. But, I hate to say it, it’s total bullshit.
Number three: transparency. Hollender says any company aspiring to be truly green should file a corporate responsibility report, preferably one that uses a global standard called the “G3 guidelines.” That way, he says, consumers can find out for themselves whether a company is backing up its eco-talk with eco-walk.
I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.
Responses from companies:
GENERAL ELECTRIC: We view providing safe, cleaner, affordable power as a good thing. It’s helping families in India get electricity for the first time. It’s powering clean water facilities in rural China. So we sell a lot of products that help get cleaner power to the people: wind, cleaner coal; solar, nuclear and so on.
We invite your listeners to read up on the next generation of advanced nuclear and clean-coal technologies at www.ecomagination.com.
BP: BP does not intend to dispose of its Alternative Energy (AE) business. At our strategy presentation held Feb. 27, we announced an acceleration in the rate of BP’s investment in BP Alternative Energy — almost double the annual rate of investment announced just two years ago. BP’s strategy presentation presented an estimate of the market equity value of the AE portfolio as the key measure to test the growth performance of this portfolio of growing, developing and “incubator” business and
As we grow BPAE, we will look at what options there are to capture some of that value for BP’s shareholders while also helping the continued growth of the businesses. This could include options such as bringing in partners to parts of the portfolio who could provide other opportunities, expertise or capital to maintain growth at an appropriate time. No decisions have been made and this does NOT mean that we are looking to dispose of BP Alternative Energy. We remain committed to it, and our plans for investment in it are accelerating.
TOYOTA: A new energy law has been passed and signed into law by the president. The bill calls for a 40 percent increase in fuel economy and sets a 35 mpg standard by 2020. Toyota drew flak when it joined with much of the auto industry in opposing early versions of the bill, but endorsed the current bill and urged its passage. It is likely that because of Toyota’s unique product mix, it may have to meet a higher overall number than 35 mpg by 2020 (38+ mpg is one estimate).
We supported the passage of the current energy bill. It will challenge all automakers to achieve dramatic fuel economy increases. It represents a major step in the right direction by establishing nationwide standards that will result in significant oil savings and reductions in CO2.
Toyota will aggressively pursue the target by adding advanced technology and expanding our hybrid offerings across our vehicle line up. Toyota has significant development programs underway for conventional hybrids, plug-in hybrids, high-tech diesel, fuel cells and many other technologies. We also continue to improve the efficiency of our internal combustion engines with such features as variable valve timing with intelligence (VVTi) and six-speed (and more) transmissions that give better real-world performance for conventional power trains.
Toyota will make every effort to achieve the standards well in advance of 2020.
It is important that the U.S. EPA has further clarified that the federal government is best suited to regulate fuel economy standards for the benefit of the entire nation. This national approach to a national challenge with global implications sets a high bar, but is a clear and sensible goal from which all 50 states will benefit.
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