Portfolio, the Condé Nast business magazine that debuted last year, started out looking as if it would be little more than a glossy celebration of the corporate world’s movers and shakers. It has, however, shown a willingness at times to address the seamier side of capitalism, such an October 2007 story on links between Chiquita Brands and death squads in Colombia.
The new (March) issue of the publication has another article that shows business at its worst. “The Toxic Ten” by Harry Hurt III is a welcome antidote to the endless stories published these days about the ways in which big business has supposedly gotten religion about the environment. Hurt shows that there are still large companies that are dumping toxic substances in rivers, spewing mercury out of power plants, using harmful materials in their products and contributing mightily to global warming. His list is not meant to be a ranking but instead an assortment of companies that “could be doing better, given their resources and position in their industry.”
The “Toxic Ten” consists of:
- J.R. Simplot (the potato king generates lots of waste products)
- Cargill (the $88 billion agribusiness giant contaminates air and water)
- Ford Motor (has dragged its feet on producing truly fuel-efficient vehicles)
- Boeing (has been evasive about its carbon footprint and has been involved in water pollution)
- Apple (uses toxins such as polyvinyl chloride and brominated flame retardants)
- Southern Co. (operates some of the dirtiest power plants in the country)
- American Electric Power (operates some of the other dirtiest power plants)
- Massey Energy (mines coal via mountaintop removal)
- Chevron (is involved in more than 90 active Superfund sites)
- Alcoa (operates power plants for its smelters that are heavy polluters)
The list could have gone on much longer. To begin with, how did Exxon Mobil not make the cut? Most of the top air polluters on a list assembled by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts are also missing. In fact, several of the companies on the Institute’s list—including DuPont and General Electric—appear (along with the likes of Wal-Mart) in a sidebar to Hurt’s article called “The Green 11: Some of America’s Most Eco-Savvy Corporations.”
If by “eco-savvy” Portfolio means those companies that have been most successful in giving the appearance of environmental responsibility, then those slick purveyors of greenwashing do indeed deserve to be singled out.