Last Updated Oct 13, 2009 11:12 AM EDT
Green ratings are a tricky subject; there are so many different elements to look at. Which is more important -- a company's carbon footprint or its water footprint? Do companies get points for going organic? Should use of genetically modified ingredients be a factor at all?
There are no simple answers, but I liked that the Newsweek rankings broke things down by sector -- acknowledging that, for example, a bank might have an easier time being sustainable than, say, an oil company. So although Coca-Cola Enterprises was No. 1 in the food and beverage industry, it took only 36th place out of the 500 major companies Newsweek looked at.
Newsweek's food and beverage industry does not include restaurants, however; Starbucks actually ranked above Coca-Cola Enterprises at No. 10, giving it first place in the Media/Travel/Leisure category, just above McDonald's.
Brown-Forman was third on the food and beverage list -- it's another big recycler, and it earned bonus points for the solar roof on one of its wineries. Molson Coors Brewing came in fourth for its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, though Newsweek scolded the company for not doing more to recycle. I'm sensing a theme here.
ConAgra was at the other end of the scale; it not only had the lowest ranking in the food industry, but also came in 497th* out of 500 companies total, well below several oil companies. Unfortunately, Newsweek did not provide much information about how ConAgra earned such low scores. In fact, Newsweek did not seem to think any of the bottom companies deserved comment; those entries are missing the paragraph of explanation found on the pages of the high-scorers.
Newsweek itself acknowledges its system isn't perfect. "Rankings inevitably provoke controversy--and we welcome that. Our hope is to open a conversation on measuring environmental performance--an essential first step toward improving it."
*UPDATE: From Newsweek: "There was a miscalculation in ConAgra's water usage, so they have been re-ranked at number 342 from 497 on our Green Rankings."