Bschool.com recently published its list of the “10 Great Companies Who Were Green Before It Was Cool.” This group of ten companies was instituting sustainable principles well before it became a trendy marketing ploy. Here is Bschool.com’s list of the green pioneers that have been at the forefront of the sustainable business revolution:
1. Patagonia: Patagonia, a California-based clothing company, has a long history of being a green business. Founded in 1972 by Yvon Chouinard, it has been a contributor to environmental causes since the beginning, contributing 1% of its total sales or 10% of its profit (whichever is more) to earth-focused charities and organizations. Since the program was started, the company has donated over $25 million to over 1,000 groups. Their commitment to green doesn’t stop there; as their facilities have served as models of LEED certification, they have supported a number of environmental initiatives -including a clothing recycling program and an internship program.
2. The Body Shop: Today, The Body Shop has over 2,400 stores in 61 countries. But back in 1976, it was just the dream of one woman who decided to open a natural and organic personal care store in her West Sussex hometown after being inspired by a California visit. While the shop started out selling natural products, its social activism increased over the years, with initiatives to help save the whales, not test on animals, support women and stop human rights abuses. Today, these initiatives which made the company so revolutionary (and ultimately profitable) when it was founded are still in place, with Community Trade programs that help locals get a fair price for the products they sell to the company. Of course, The Body Shop hasn’t been without controversy, and a story in 2004 indicated that they might not be as green as they claimed to be.
3. Whole Foods: Based in Austin, Texas, this natural foods retail chain started in 1978 when John Mackey and his girlfriend opened a small store. A few years later, after merging with another one, Whole Foods was born and has since expanded to over 302 stores in the United States, Canada, and the UK. Whole Foods is 3rd on the EPA’s “Top 25 Green Power Partners” and is regarded as one of the most socially responsible businesses operating in the U.S. today. The store focuses on retailing food and personal care products that have met its standards for being natural or organic and that do not harm animal or human welfare. This green pioneer in the food market hasn’t been without criticism in recent years, but its CEO and founder have assured customers that the company would work hard in the coming years to return to focusing on its roots by carrying less junk food.
4. Eden Foods: Eden Foods was founded over 40 years ago in 1968 when a group of students at the University of Michigan decided they were tired of the unhealthy, often chemical-laden offerings sold at the grocery store. Unable to find local retailers that sold something better, as this was well before the days of Whole Foods, they started their own organic food co-op. This eventually turned into a retail store and the retail store into a production and distribution business that is one of the biggest and most trusted names in natural foods today. Eden Foods’ commitment to natural products continues, and with the popularity of soy products and organic produce, the business brings in around $75 million in annual revenue, showing that being green can actually earn you green.
5. Collins Companies: History tells us that loggers and timber companies back in the day didn’t give much thought to the long-term consequences of their practices, but there are some exceptions to that -and Collins is a good example. It has been using responsible forestry practices since the 1940s, never clear-cutting or destroying old-growth trees when possible. The company has since further refined its practices, earning them Forest Stewardship Council certification. It might have meant losing some control over their business, but it has also resulted in bigger profits, cost, and energy-saving methods of operations and innovative practices that have kept it greener and leaner than its competitors.
6. Tom’s of Maine: Tom’s of Maine was founded in 1970 by Tom and Kate Chappell with a small investment of just $5,000. Since its humble beginnings, the company has focused on producing natural personal care products. They manufacture deodorants, soaps, and toothpaste using natural ingredients and without performing any animal testing. Many of their products are actually vegan. The company became so successful that in 2006, Colgate-Palmolive set out to buy it. The original owners sold it, but on the condition that any products sold under the name would still adhere to their natural and animal-friendly policies.
7. Honda: Honda has made a name for itself worldwide by selling some of the most popular and fuel-efficient cars manufactured in the world today. Yet even before Honda got into the green market it was a business focused on reducing waste and running lean and clean. Honda rolled out its “Green Purchasing Guidelines” in 2001, which laid out ways that the manufacturer could reduce greenhouse gases and reduce its carbon footprint through better supply chain management. While many other automakers have complained about stringent new emissions guidelines, Honda has been hard at work engineering ways to meet them, developing both a hybrid car and one that is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. Working with the goal of being the greenest automaker in the world, the company has promised to reduce its CO2 emissions by 5% over the next few years, on top of reductions they’ve already made.
8. Xerox: Xerox has never been a business that reveled in waste, even when it could have made them more money selling products. The company has consistently worked to find ways to help office workers create the documents they need without using extra products or paper; in 1969 they introduced the first double-sided copier. While they’ve always had a commitment to the lean ideal, the company has concentrated its efforts over the past 15 years to roll out a pretty serious commitment to going green. This includes a digital DocuShare program, a reduction in packaging and energy consumption, changes in supply chain management, a reduction in the use of toxic materials, ink cartridge recycling, and companywide contests challenging employees to come up with environmentally-friendly designs. These changes haven’t just been good for the environment (cutting an estimated 2.6 million pounds of waste) but have also saved the company $10.2 million in 2010 alone.
9. Stonyfield Farm: Visit almost any grocery store today and you’ll see dairy products from this sustainable producer. While they might be popular today, two decades ago when the company was founded, finding funding and marketing all-natural foods wasn’t quite as easy as it is today. Company founder Gary Hirshberg managed to turn his farm with a mere seven cows into a thriving sustainable and socially responsible business with annual revenue of over $250 million. Stonyfield hasn’t forgotten its green roots, however. They use only organic ingredients, donate 10 percent of their profits to environmental causes and use a number of energy-saving processes to produce their products making them not only admirable green pioneers but a model to be emulated for any of today’s sustainable entrepreneurs.
10. Seventh Generation: The head of Seventh Generation, Jeffery Hollender became intrigued by the ideas of natural and earth-friendly cleaning and personal care products, he sold his company and joined the team at Seventh Generation. Founded in 1988, it has been working for decades to make eco-friendly products more readily available to consumers, well before most other businesses were keyed into the idea of being green. The company uses recycled and post-consumer materials in its packaging and products and can now be found in most natural food stores across the United States, bringing in revenue of over $150 million last year.
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