Big Companies Making a Big Difference

The combined revenues of the 44 largest companies in the world exceed the combined GPD of 155 countries according to a recent review by Global Trends. Their ability to influence the progress of global sustainability efforts has often resulted in a high level of public scrutiny.  The Nike sweatshop debacle of the 1990s arguably epitomizes a turning point in public perception regarding fair wages and has had long-ranging impacts in the apparel industry as well as others.

The last 10 years in particular have witnessed a wide of array of sustainability initiatives developed across all sectors and all industries.  Some of these companies have been accused of ‘greenwashing’, e.g., critics have rightly pointed out that Wal-Mart’s sustainability efforts lack transparency and have had mixed results in recent years (see Triple Pundit), still many other large corporates continue to take important steps towards leveraging their supply chains taking a long-term view.  Consistent with the focus of this blog to highlight examples of businesses making good decisions, this entry will highlight a couple of the world’s largest companies and their efforts to incorporate triple bottom line concerns.

Source: ExxonMobil

Source: ExxonMobil

Exxon Mobil is a good example. In 2011, the company and ExxonMobil Foundation provided $278 million in contributions worldwide and $120 million of that was allocated to education.  The company has also partnered with a global nonprofit Vital Voices to support regional businesswomen’s networks in the Middle East North Africa (MENA BWN), Africa (ABWN) and Latin America (LA BWN). (Full disclosure: I volunteered at Vital Voices with the MENA BWN and later worked as a project manager for them while completing my Master of International Business).

In 2012 Coca-Cola gave itself a B+ score by benchmarking its sustainability efforts against the Global Reporting Initiative standards. Rightly acknowledging that there remains a lot of progress to be made, Coca-Cola highlighted the ongoing rollout of their PlantBottleTM technology, which aims to reduce the level of petroleum-based PET plastic by substituting it for plant-based plastic bottles. In the last year they increased their coverage to 20 different countries and 20 million bottles converted in the last year (from 10 countries and 2.5 million).  Additional highlights over the last year include, reduced water consumption, replacement of HFC coolers while also maintaining a commitment to reinvest 1% of operating income into local communities through The Coca-Cola Foundation as well as support women entrepreneurs through their 5by20 (5 million entrepreneurs by 2020) goal.

There are many other examples such as the efforts of major hotels (e.g., Marriott, Sheraton) to recycle leftover toiletries (in partnership with Clean the World) or Starbucks’ efforts to encourage recycling, reduce water & electricity usage and reach 100% ethical product sourcing.  The world has many problems still to be solved yet big companies are making a big difference one step at a time.

What other corporate initiatives have impressed you?

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