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This article might just surprise you. You are probably expecting to see a wet noodle taken to CEOs of the chemicals industry and some blows to Walmart. But the truth is much more complicated. In fact, the chemical industry CEOs have led some of the greatest advances in green. And although greed may have been one driving factor, many issues subtly play into putting the chemical industry in a leadership position. Greed? Your brain hits the pause button. What is greedy about green?
The chemical industry may have begrudgingly entered into waste minimization. But that was decades ago. Spurred by government programs like the toxic release inventory (TRI) reporting, which gave the public information on how many tons of waste were flooding the environment and which companies were the biggest polluters, the industry had to act. And guess what? Pretty soon waste reduction and minimization was being sold to boards everywhere as a cost-saving measure. Product that had been spilled into rivers or pumped underground was suddenly being sold for profit. And the industry survived. And thrived. Sustainability became a common word in board rooms, environmental planning became intrinsic in business planning.
So how about Walmart? Whether driven by the heated breath of activists on their necks, experience gained from the field of employee relations or simply surfing a trend that consumers embrace, Walmart has begun to use their huge purchasing power and overwhelming infrastructure for green leadership. No, these two boogie-corporations are not on the list of begrudgingly green CEOs. So just who did make the list?The Golden CEO
To be fair, many gold companies have been awarded recognition for ethical and sustainable efforts, have adopted the International Cyanide Management Code, which attempts to ensure independent oversight to prevent environmental disasters such as the loss of cyanide tailings ponds in Romania in 2000. But while some jewelry designers such as Ingle and Rhode or Katherine Hamnett have committed to using so-called green gold and the No dirty gold campaign has been underway for several years, one fact dominates the Gold CEO's perspective: there is no other feasible process for mining gold. The days of panning nuggets out of bubbling brooks are gone. Gold remains only at very low concentrations, 10 grams in one ton of earth rich enough to justify mining. The only way to collect that gold is to remove tons of earth, pulverize it and soak it in cyanide solution. The resulting "tailings" require management forever to prevent leaching of dangerous minerals into the environment. And cyanide, an efficient miracle molecule for the purpose of separating gold from ore, represents serious toxic risks. Game score: 20 tons of waste for one gold ring. Probably not getting greener. Until they do: Green your accessories.
The Electronics Executive
You will buy their gadgets. They know it. There is no label stating whether the electrical doodad you just bought has mercury in it. In order to find out if your printer can print on recycled paper, you have to dig deep in the owner's manual: who does that during a purchasing decision? And what is the recycled plastics content of that device? The design for disassembly plan? The end-of-life take-back program? Electronics could be much more green. They know it. You know it. Europe is passing laws to force electronics manufacturers to go green, but e-waste is still being unloaded on developing nations. Memo to Electronics Exec: time to act. Green.
The Personal Care Products President
Two meters of skin stand between the delicately balanced biochemical workings of the human body and the environmental pollutants that bombard it. Sunscreens. Lotions. Cleansers. Make-up. Hair care. One third of personal care products contain at least one chemical linked to cancer, according to the Skin Deep report by the Environmental Working Group quoted in TreeHugger How to Green Women's Personal Care. And while frogs are performing as the canary in the mineshaft, we just keep buying and applying these products. The advertisements say we will look younger, healthier, more beautiful: what could be wrong with that? What indeed.
Household Cleaners Honcho
A short step behind the product we actually apply to our skin are the chemicals with which we fill our household. Companies like Ecover and Seventh Generation have had success forging a market for green cleaners. So much success that even the big boys have stepped in, such as Clorox Green Works. But ask yourself this question: when Clorox went green, did they take the older non-green products off the shelves? Consumers hate reading chemical labels, despise waffling over whether the green will clean as well as the old stand-by. Make it easy on everyone guys: just go green.
Prepared, Packaged Food Potentate
How we use the land to meet our basic need for sustenance says a lot about our relationship with our planet. Led by companies that turn big profits by processing cheap,subsidized, monocultured grains such as corn, wheat and soybeans into high-calorie, low nutrition, overpackaged munchies, we have lost touch with the delicate flavors of ripe fruit, the mouth texture of fresh vegetables, the thriving surge of energy that nutrient dense, high fiber foods imbue. Our advice? Don't wait for the food execs to go green. Put them out of business by greening your own eating. Start today. Bon apetit!