Sometimes the big companies surprise (and sometimes they don't)
Scanning for good news from corporate America is like reading Highlights for Children magazine -- for every old lady that Gallant helps across the street, there's Goofus, throwing rocks at cars. Following is a heroes gallery of corporate overachievers to inspire hope (and a nod to the rogues, to keep things in perspective).
Gallant: In 2005 the Swiss pharmaceutical company began paying a methodically calculated living wage to its 78,500 employees in 140 countries, an unprecedented step among major international industrial companies (the latest internal review found that just 93 Novartis employees had compensation below a living wage). This year, the company is asking third-party suppliers to pay the same wage.
Goofus: People allergic to peanuts may have been deprived of something much more than a living wage when the drug maker teamed up with Genentech last year to ruthlessly squash the release of an effective allergy drug made by a smaller biotech rival.
Gallant: Deciding that doing environmental good, in the long run, could be hugely profitable, GE launched 'ecomagination' last May, an initiative that will double its investment in green technologies to $1.5 billion by 2010 (twice the proposed 2007 federal R&D budget for renewable energy and conservation); rolls out new products, like diesel-electric hybrid locomotives; and pledges a 1 percent absolute reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2012. (Based on GE's projected growth, those emissions would otherwise increase 40 percent.)
Goofus: Most environmental groups applauded the turnabout from one of the world's largest polluters. But even among GE's senior management the move was greeted with skepticism, since the company's ecological (and public relations) footprint (and foot dragging) still looms large, in particular with respect to the cleanup of PCBs it once dumped in New York'sHudson River.
Walt Disney Company and McDonald's Corporation
Gallant: The two have teamed up with faith-based groups, local organizations, and socially responsible investors on Project Kaleidoscope, a labor monitoring and compliance effort to promote better working conditions at 10 Chinese factories that make their toys, shoes, and clothes. (McDonald's has exclusive restaurant marketing rights to Disney properties.) The idea is to work with factory management to create a 'culture of compliance' that would catch sweatshop abuses beforethey occur.
Goofus: The effort comes amid claims made last year about accidents, long hours, low pay, and abusive foremen at Chinese factories making Disney's children's books.
Gallant: The world's third-largest oil and gas company has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent below 1990 levels, introduced a system for internal business units to trade emissions allowances, and launched a profitable solar subsidiary. BP also recently partnered with Home Depot to sell installed home solar power and is working with other energy companies to build theworld's first hydrogen-fueled power plant.
Goofus: Don't be fooled, say critics, by BP's 'Beyond Petroleum' makeover. Oil still makes up the majority of its reserves and fuels controversial energy projects like a 1,100-mile pipeline in the country of Georgia that runs along an earthquake fault and through a national park, several villages, and the famous hot springs of Borjomi. The company churns out an estimated 6 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.
Gallant: DuPont has been piloting greenhouse gas emissions programs, such as the Chicago Climate Exchange. It's on track to cut its emissions by 65 percent from 1990 levels and has saved nearly $2 billion through renewable energy and conservation measures. It has also developed a range of energy-saving products, including better-insulating Tyvek HomeWrap and a less polluting refrigerant. The company has partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy to build the world's first 'biorefinery' and produce chemicals and fuels made from corn and other renewable resources.
Goofus: Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency is pushing DuPont to phase out perfluorooctanoic acid, a likely carcinogen, which the company is emitting into the environment and the bloodstream through its beloved Teflon products. As for harnessing energy from corn, DuPont need only turn to its subsidiary Pioneer, a leading developer of genetically modified corn seeds.