4. Waste Management (1894)
The General Electric of garbage. Recycling and refurbishing have lagged some of the larger green markets like solar and energy efficiency, but the tide may begin to turn. We’re up to our necks in garbage (each American generates an average of 4.5 pounds of waste a day), oil prices are rising, and new regulations like California’s carpet recycling tax are all conspiring to make reusing consumables and raw materials economical and interesting.
In this environment, WM is the undisputed leader. The company has begun to position itself as a resource management firm, rather than a trash hauler. Wal-Mart, for instance, contracted with WM to help it reduce the solid waste from its stores by 95 percent. Five years ago, that would have been viewed as a threat to the company's core business: WM, after all, manages 290 landfills.
Nonetheless, the company helped Wal-Mart come up with a recycling strategy. The solid waste stream from California Wal-Mart stores dropped from 1,200 containers to 60. Revenue from Wal-Mart's California operations, however, rose 28 percent and profitability went up 25 percent.
WM also worked with a famous doll maker to make its product more recyclable.
"If you told me when I went to Waste Management that I would give plastic surgery to Barbie, I wouldn't have believed you," CEO David Steiner told us last year.
It is also experimenting with technologies like landfill-to-methane systems. A few weeks ago, WM announced that it will work with Genomatica to develop microbes for recycling raw materials. It also invested in Harvest Power, which turns waste into mulch and power. Expect it to be on the forefront of regulatory change: Steiner is an attorney.