Achieving a "zero carbon" environmental footprint is still a distant goal for most corporations.
But that doesn't mean many aren't trying. Take Intel, for instance, the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy in the United States. Or Dell, whose headquarters is powered by 100 percent renewable energy, counting credits.
At the top of Newsweek's list of green corporations, environmentally conscious Hewlett-Packard takes great pains to reduce greenhouse gases at its own buildings and across its massive 700-partner supply chain. That doesn't mean organizations like Greenpeace don't goad it to do better. But at least it is making an effort.
The company's "corporate try" comes through in its 2009 Global Citizenship Report, released last week. HP laid out several freshly burnished goals for carbon reduction and environmental stewardship. They include the 2013 goal of reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions from internal operations by 20 percent. The company's 2010 goal of 16 percent was revised after its purchase of EDS.
This same determination infuses Sony's new "Road to Zero" sustainability targets, released the same day. As a centerpiece, Sony lays out the laudable, if distant, goal of a "zero environmental footprint" by 2050. Fortunately, there are many interim goals according to which it can demonstrate progress.
Electronics makers are in a strange bind when it comes to environmental concerns. The vast bulk of greenhouse gases associated with their products get generated by consumers actually using them. Often less than ten percent of emissions are produced at the plant. Still, the sprawling size of many of these operations creates an opportunity. Many ideas that seemed outlandish in the past are becoming feasible. Samsung, for instance, has started to tinker with its chemical formulas for chipmaking. It also manufactured a phone with a somewhat sturdy bioplastic. Sony, for its part, has cut bundling manuals -- those bulky piles of paper few actually read -- with some products. (Packaging is part of a larger category you could call Stupid Green: changes that can save money, don't take a tremendous amount of money, can curb resource consumption, and yet still aren't undertaken because no one has really paid that much attention.)
Who will benefit? Companies like Hara and Carbonetworks that sell energy monitoring software will likely be big beneficiaries of these trends in the future. Startups and stalwarts like DuPont with green chemicals can expect to see sales creep up. Options like localized manufacturing to curb transportation and rail shipping get talked about more and more. And saving water is on everyone's mind.
Here are top points from both reports, starting with Hewlett-Packard's:
*Double the purchase of renewable energy to 8 percent by 2012;
*Reduce the energy consumption of HP products 40 percent by 2011 (baseline 2005). This replaces the goal of a 25 percent energy cut for products and operations by this year, which was met. Some of the cuts will likely be met by reducing standby power to single-digit levels.
*Increase the reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from first-tier and second-tier suppliers. This year's goal is to report on 85 percent of H-P spending with top-tier suppliers and 40 percent with second tier companies. Reporting amounted to 29 percent in 2009.
*Reduce CO2 emissions from shipping and transport by 180,000 tonnes compared with 2008. The company increased its use of less-polluting rail last year;
*Eliminate all mercury from HP notebooks by the end of the year. Sixty-four percent of notebooks were free of mercury last year. And
*Reduce water consumption by 5 percent this year compared with 2007 consumption.
Sony's goals target greenhouse gas reductions as well as resource conservation and chemical use. The company set 5-year targets starting next year and they include:
*Reducing the energy consumption of Sony products by 30 percent (baseline 2008).
*Reducing CO2 emissions related to transportation and logistics 14 percent.
*Cutting waste 50 percent (baseline 2000).
*Trimming product mass by 10 percent.
*Slashing water consumption 30 percent.
*Shrinking packaging waste from parts and components 16 percent.
Already, Sony reports substantial progress in lowering CO2 emissions from electricity and heat use at its European sites by about 93 percent over seven years. Obviously, there is more to do -- and no reason to stop trying.