Veolia shares three distinct characteristics with many other companies on this list. One, it's old, founded in 1853 to provide irrigation services. Two, it's not based in the U.S. -- Veolia hails from France. And three, it pulls in a tremendous amount of revenue ($50 billion euros annually) providing relatively anonymous, arguably dull services that modern civilization can't live without.
Veolia, in fact, could be considered the king of unsexy green. The company has four lines of business: public transportation, water treatment, heating and cooling and garbage. Ever take the SuperShuttle to the airport? Veolia owns that. Roughly 75 percent of its revenue derives from providing services to public agencies and government.
The trust that governments are willing to give the conglomerate, however, explains its inclusion on the list. For the foreseeable future, governments will remain some of the largest consumers of green technology and services. Homeowners might own their own solar panels to get off the grid, but don't expect to see an explosion of eco-friendly home sewage systems anytime soon. Like GE and Siemens, Veolia has something of a free pass when it comes to the initial stages of due diligence.
Earlier this year, the company has created an accelerator program to recruit startups to participate in live prototype projects. It is working with NanoH2O, a company that has devised an energy-efficient desalination membrane, and Veolia wants to find a trash company to help it separate recyclable metals in waste streams.
"What we can provide is the customer base and pilot capabilities," said Philippe Martin, senior vice president of Veolia Environement.