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Good Guys and Bad Guys: Environmental Stewardship Among Tech Companies

With all the recent internet hubbub over SOPA and PIPA, the US Congress legislation that would have created unprecedented censorship of popular websites, along with last year’s furor over Wall Street excesses, business owners are thinking more frequently about corporate responsibility and business ethics than they otherwise might.

While any judgment about “good” companies and “bad” companies is bound to be subjective, it’s worthwhile to take a moment to step back and recognize who’s making an effort to make the world a better place and who’s simply trying to make money at any cost. We all need to put food on the table, but hopefully we can do it while making an effort to leave a better planet for our grandchildren.

Assessing every aspect of corporate social responsibility (CSR) for every tech company is a mammoth task being attempted by a broad and disconnected coalition of watchdog groups. As such, for this article we’ll touch only on environmental responsibility. Here’s our view of things as they stand in the dominant English-speaking market, the United States.

It’s Not Easy Being Green

The current global climate of outsourcing materials, labor, and merchandising make environmental stewardship an arduous and sometimes difficult journey for many tech companies. Some, however, are clearly making a better effort than others.

According to Greenpeace’s ongoing assessment of the major electronics manufacturers, Nokia consistently ranks as the company trying hardest to keep its nose clean, followed by Sony Ericsson. At the bottom are Microsoft, Nintendo, and Toshiba. Companies like Dell, Samsung, HP, Philips, and Apple consistently make efforts and unveil new initiatives and clean up toxics, but so far none have broken through in fostering consistently eco-friendly practices.

In Newsweek’s 2011 Green Rankings, IBM rightfully earned the title of the greenest tech company, a rank it earned through years of building CSR into its business infrastructure and a stellar CSR website. Others achieving high marks included HP, Nokia, and Sprint Nextel. Googlewhose high visibility, along with its CSR motto, “Don’t Be Evil,” invitescloser scrutiny, achieved a mediocre rank of 134th out of the top 500 companies worldwide. Some of its proposed green initiatives have excited environmentalists in the past, but the company has yet to carry any significant, game-changing environmental plan to fruition. Fortunately, none of Newsweek’s15 worst US offenders were tech companies.

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