U.S. Business Making Limited Green Progress, Says Report

Despite an apparent flurry of activity by corporations to improve their environmental performance, U.S. companies aren’t yet making much of a difference in addressing major environmental problems, according to a new report.

OAKLAND, CALIF. -- Despite an apparent flurry of activity by corporations to improve their environmental performance, U.S. companies aren't yet making much of a difference in addressing major environmental problems, according to a new report.

"State of Green Business 2008," a free report published by GreenBiz.com, reports that companies are making good progress on fewer than half of the 20 measures of performance it investigated. In some cases, environmental problems are losing ground, even as companies gradually improve their environmental performance, due to the expanding economy of recent years.

For example, generation of electricity from wind, solar, and other renewable sources has grown steadily — from 81 billion megawatt-hours in 2000 to 96 billion in 2006, the most recent data available. But overall electricity consumption has grown, too, with the result being that renewables represent slightly more than 2% of overall U.S. electricity generation, about the same percentage as in 1995.

"Amid the cacophony of headlines and hype, companies are getting greener, but it's not always obvious or straightforward," says Joel Makower, executive editor of GreenBiz.com and the report’s principal author. "And the progress itself can be illusory. Companies, in aggregate, aren't changing quickly or significantly enough to move the needle on climate change and other challenges."

The report, which can be downloaded at www.GreenBiz.com, marks the launch of the GreenBiz Index, a set of 20 indicators of U.S. business environmental progress. They include macroeconomic measures, such as carbon emissions, toxic releases, packaging materials, and paper use per unit of gross domestic product, as well as tracking corporate fleet purchases of alternative fuel vehicles, construction of green office space, investments in clean tech, and corporate reporting on environmental and climate impacts.

Among the findings:

  • ●Alternative fueled vehicles, such as hybrid and electric vehicles, represent slightly more than 1% of all corporate fleet purchases.
  • ●The energy efficiency of office buildings, measured as energy use per square foot, has leveled off in recent years, following a dramatic growth in efficiency during the 1990s.
  • ●U.S. greenhouse gas intensity, measured as emissions as a percentage of gross domestic product, is dropping, though actual emissions remain about the same.
  • ●The percentage of employees carpooling or taking public transit to work dropped almost 10% between 2000 and 2006, though employee telecommuting from home or remote locations eight or more hours per week has risen by 16%.
  • ●The amount of used computers and other e-waste has more than doubled since 2000, though e-waste recycling grew by only about 20% during that period.
  • ●Paper use, measured against gross domestic product, has declined by more than 20% over the past decade, while the recycling rate has increased by 20% during that same period.

"State of Green Business 2008 offers clear insight into how, and how well, companies are integrating environmental thinking into their operations," says Pete May, president of Greener World Media Inc., which produces GreenBiz.com. "This is the first time anyone has created a comprehensive and authoritative assessment of the progress being made."

The report also includes the top 10 green business trends of 2007. They include the greening of transport — planes, trains, trucks, and ships — that move people and goods around the world; the rapid growth of green computing, as makers of chips, PCs, and other devices vie to be the most energy efficient and major equipment companies partner to help capture e-waste; and how banks are launching an impressive array of initiatives to support clean energy, climate change mitigation, green building, and other things.