This month Greenwasher lists some of his favourite companies and explains why

In May, Greenwasher was asked for some thoughts for a conference about the companies he thinks get it on responsible business, and those that do not. So, with a deep breath, here’s a few companies that Greenwasher thinks are half decent at responsible business and why.

When reading this, it’s important to be clear that this is not a pseudo-democratic or scientific ranking, even a “best of” list. It is what it is. It’s a list of companies Greenwasher has observed recently, and a few thoughts on them. Nothing more, nothing less.

Next month in this column Greenwasher will list the firms he thinks need to buck up their ideas, and why.

So, here in no particular order is the totally non-scientific, utterly subjective, non-ranking list.

Chiquita: labour and environment

The banana company has led the way in its sector on sustainability. Whilst competitors have made up some ground in recent years, Chiquita’s deals with both trade unions and the Rainforest Alliance means the company is an often-cited leader in improving labour conditions on plantations and working with NGOs.

Unilever: sourcing and entrepreneurship

Unilever’s deal with the Rainforest Alliance on tea sustainability and certification has shown real leadership in an industry that often lags behind other commodities, such as coffee. Unilever’s long-standing work on entrepreneurship and bottom of the pyramid strategies is well known. The company has also taken a progressive position on sustainable palm oil sourcing.

Nike: considered design, integrated sustainability

Nike’s head of sustainability has a say in both product design and supply chain strategy. The firm has done a root and branch review of its business from a sustainability point of view, worked hard on cultivating loyal suppliers, and won plaudits from campaigners for its openness on difficult labour issues. Good work, then, from Nike, and helpful margins on products too!

Ikea: low margin, but committed on key issues

Ikea has used its helpful structure – it is owned by trusts – and its continued growth to fund its important and leading work on child labour in places such as India, and environmental management in stores.

Timberland: labour and environment

With probably the most inspiring, honest and authentic leader in big business today – Jeff Swartz – Timberland really does get it. From labelling boots with the factories where they are made, to sourcing recycled rubber from tyres, the firm stands head and shoulders above most others.

Kraft: sourcing and certification

Kraft has switched most of its Kenco coffee range to Rainforest Alliance standards in recent years, and is quietly going about its business as a bit of an unsung hero in its sector, particularly in lower grade coffees. One to watch.

Marks & Spencer: 100 targets on sustainability

An example that has been well-covered, by everyone from the Economist to this magazine. However, M&S has to work hard to hit its 100 targets on sustainability by 2012, but it’s 20% there already, and might just do it. Consistent support from senior leadership has been key, next to a long-standing and committed sustainability team.

Wal-Mart: supplier scorecards, task forces on products

While competitors claim to be further ahead, Wal-Mart clearly leads the way in global supermarkets. Whether beaten to the table by campaigners, or genuinely led to enlightenment by former chief executive Lee Scott, the behemoth has impressive plans on supplier score carding on sustainability, and sustainability taskforces on around 100 key products. Unions still hate it, but environmental NGOs are impressed.

Cadbury: fair trade as ethical risk management

Switching to Fairtrade-only cocoa for a flagship brand in a recession, albeit whilst still making good money, shows real commitment to responsible business, as well as being sensible risk management. Cadbury also deserves Greenwasher’s plaudits on cutting energy use and responsible marketing.

So much for the good guys. Next month, Greenwasher looks at big brands that could do much, much better on responsible business, and why.

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