Newsweek’s 2011 Green Rankings

Nov 4th, 2011 | By | Category: Environmental Management

Newsweek released on October 17th its third annual Green Rankings, which rates the 500 largest publically traded global and U.S. companies on the basis of performance in three categories:

  • Environmental impact (emissions, water, waste, and product impact)
  • Environmental management (environmental policies and initiatives)
  • Disclosure (company reporting and transparency efforts)

The Green Rankings were first released in 2009. Newsweek intended them to be “a reliable, cross-industry framework for comparing the environmental commitment and performance of major companies” (FAQ, 2011).

That first year Newsweek admitted that comparing environmental performance across industries was akin to trying to analyze “whether Tiger Woods or LeBron James is the world’s greatest athlete” (McGinn, 2009).  The “apples and oranges” effect made it difficult to compare, for example, financial services companies, which have a much smaller environmental footprint, with utility and mining companies, which have a much larger one.  It was also difficult to obtain information. In 2009, corporate environmental data weren’t widely disclosed, and there were few standards in place to facilitate uniform disclosure. 

Much has changed in the past three years.  Today, companies are more willing to disclose environmental performance publically.  Perhaps this trend is due, at least in part, to the introduction of reporting standards such as the Global Reporting Initiative and the Carbon Disclosure Project.  These standards have improved both access to and consistency of reported information.  At the same time, Newsweek has improved its analysis methodology.  Newsweek reported this year that the ranking process has finally achieved a level of maturity that should allow for year-over-year comparison of company rankings. 


2011 Top 5 Green Scores


  • Munich Re (83.6)
  • IBM (82.5)
  • National Australia Bank (82.2)
  • Bradesco (82.2)
  • ANZ Banking Group (80.9)

United States

  • IBM (82.5)
  • Hewlett-Packard (75.8)
  • Sprint Nextel (75.6)
  • Baxter (74.9)
  • Dell (74.7)


Common Themes of the Top 15 Global Leaders

Waste Reduction

  • Hewlett-Packard (15) earned its position by implementing a strict environmental, health, and safety (EHS) policy that ensures environmentally responsible practices through the product lifecycle, from purchase through end of life.  The policy applies both to HP and to its suppliers.
  • In addition to constructing all new buildings using international environmental standards, TaTa Consultancy Services (7) has started composting at sixteen of its facilities, and it has also installed bio-digesters that have increased waste conversion to manure by 60 percent.
  • Bell Canada (12) recycles or converts 89 percent of its waste into fuel.
  • In 2010, Bradesco (4) of Brazil recycled almost 2 million tons of paper.

Sustainable Product Offerings

  • Philips’ (9) EcoDesign process and Fujitsu’s (13) Super Green products are two examples of sustainable product design. 
  • IBM (2) also offers Smarter Planet products that evolved, at least in part, from a long history of sustainable performance.  It established its first environmental policy in 1971. 
  • Munich Re (1) has a similarly long history— it established the Geo Risks department in 1974 to study and plan for the effects of climate change. In 2009, Munich Re was also one of the founding members of Dii GmbH, an initiative to develop solar and wind power in the North African desert to supply up to 15 percent of Europe’s electricity demands by 2050.

Carbon Emission Reductions and Alternate Energy

  • Wal-mart de Mexico (14) saved more than 76.5 million kwh of energy in 2010 by investing in wind and solar power.
  • Societe Generale (11) offset 75 percent of its carbon emissions by funding alternative energy projects in Morocco and Guatemala.
  • ANZ Banking Group (5) achieved carbon neutrality in 2010 through offsets and by installing smart meters that reduced energy consumption by 25 percent in just one year.
  • The National Australia Bank (3) also achieved carbon neutrality in 2010 through energy efficiency improvements, by purchasing alternative energy, and through offsets.
  • All of Swisscom’s (10) electricity comes from renewable sources, and it has reduced carbon emissions by 53 percent since 1998.
  • InfoSys (8) is one of the biggest solar consumers in India.  
  • BT Group (6), one of the United Kingdom’s biggest electricity consumers, has reduced carbon emissions by 54 percent against an 80 percent reduction goal by 2020.


Who Didn’t Make the Top 15?

A few companies are conspicuously absent from the Top 15. Schneider Electric (204) has integrated sustainability into its core business, with four of the company’s five product lines containing alternatives, renewables, and energy efficiency solutions; however, because it is an energy company, its environmental impact score was just 51 out of 100.  General Electric (141) invested billions in wind and other alternative energy technologies but had low environmental impact (61) and environmental management (63) scores.  Wal-mart (124) created its own sustainability index and has been a consistent leader in sustainable retail practices, but it received a low disclosure score (59).

Could these companies be better at marketing sustainability than they are at actually committing to a more sustainable business model? Or is it their size or their market that makes them less sustainable? These are questions to ponder while viewing the 2011 Newsweek Green Rankings.


About the Author

Maureen O’Donnell is a sustainability professional in the aerospace and defense industry. She has more than fifteen years of IT experience, including nine years in strategic and emerging technology planning. Over the past six years, Maureen has been working across her company to develop and implement Green IT and sustainable business strategies.

Image: Spiral by Merve Toprak, Tuzla, Istanbul, Turkey.

Other Articles by Maureen O’Donnell in the EHS Journal

Green IT: Sustainability and Cost Savings

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