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Which one is greener, Apple or Wal-Mart?

By Erin Ailworth
Globe Staff / December 12, 2008
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Apple Inc. and Whole Foods Market Inc., viewed by many as being environmentally friendly, ranked relatively low in a new report on how large companies are addressing climate change, while Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Dell Inc., and IBM Corp. fared well.

Mindy S. Lubber, president of Ceres, the Boston-based green investment coalition that published the report, said companies that scored the highest believe "climate change is as much an economic and financial risk as the subprime mortgage meltdown."

The report looked at 63 large companies in the retail, pharmaceutical, apparel, and other sectors, partly by examining annual reports and documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Ratings were based on such factors as whether the companies sought ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and engaged employees in climate-control efforts, including ways to become more energy-efficient.

Of three New England companies reviewed, Staples Inc. of Framingham scored in the middle, while Boston Properties Inc. and CVS Caremark Corp. of Woonsocket, R.I., placed closer to the bottom.

Staples, the report said, has set goals for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and is installing solar power systems on some of its roofs.

"They are clearly moving in the right direction," said Anne Kelly, director of governance programs at Ceres.

Mark Buckley, Staples' vice president of environmental affairs, said that in addition to about two dozen rooftop solar projects, the company has four large wind-power projects under consideration and is scheduled to complete a fuel cell project in California this month.

"From a CEO level and a board level, we obviously can't get what we've gotten accomplished without support from [CEO] Ron Sargent and our board," Buckley said.

Representatives of Boston Properties, which counts the Prudential Tower among its holdings, defended their company's low score - 16 out of 100.

"I don't think that score is reflective of us as a company and where we are," spokeswoman Arista Joyner said, pointing to Boston Properties' efforts to have its buildings certified as environmentally friendly by the US Green Building Council.

Brian Swett, also of Boston Properties, said the score may partly result from a lag in promoting its environmental efforts. "In general, we're focused more on action than information because it's the action that gets you environmental results," he said.

But Jeff Seabright, a vice president at Coca-Cola Co., said transparency and corporate accountability are critical to a company's success in being considered "green." Coca-Cola scored one of the top 10 highest marks in the Ceres report. Seabright said it plans to "flatline carbon growth" by 2015 and is working to reduce emissions and expand the use of ecofriendly refrigeration.

Whole Foods, meanwhile, plans to use its modest showing as a guide for how it can improve on green initiatives already underway, said Kathy Loftus, who oversees sustainable engineering, maintenance, and energy for the Texas-based chain. Whole Foods, she said, takes a regional approach to many of its environmental projects.

"It's more about trying to engage everybody rather than having somebody at the top say, 'By 2015, we will reduce emissions by X,' " Loftus said, adding that Whole Foods plans to implement a system to track energy use.

"Other companies may have scored well because they have systems and processes and numbers, but they may not have the ethos and the mission," Loftus said. "We've got all that, but we need to get better on the numbers side."

Topping the Ceres list was IBM; in last place was Abercrombie & Fitch Co.

Erin Ailworth can be reached at eailworth@globe.com.

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