an unsent letter to the editors of newsweek

September 30, 2009

Dear Newsweek,

I should have guessed by the wording of your cover story this week, but your “exclusive” ranking of The Greenest Big Companies in America is more structurally unsound than the US fucking economy. Anyone mindlessly flipping through your beautifully-colored rankings wouldn’t think twice about the recognizable names that made the top 50—Intel, McDonalds, Microsoft–but when Wal-Mart comes in at 59 (under companies founded on eco-friendly principles like Whole Foods Market) it becomes apparent that something else is at work here. How is it that you scored these corporate giants to come up with a grossly misdirected, arbitrary ranking and how is it that corporate image has somewhow been mistaken for actual results?

Although you attempted to “design a ranking system that makes sense,” you failed to make sense on many levels, firstly with your failure to even define what “green” means in the context of these rankings. Furthermore, with the Green Score being based off three arbitrary factors (Environmental Impact, Green Policies and Reputation Survey),  you also failed to prove to me that any of these companies have done more than sign theoretical letters of intent to “go green” (and convince their peers of the same good intentions).

The calculations of your index (above) is flawed in the following ways:

  • Environmental Impact Score: Above everything else, the information that you received in order to conduct these rankings were not even your own, but instead were obtained through a third-party surveyor, Trucost, whose only achievement in the world of providing environmental impact data is for this very ranking. They work off of questionably reliable financial and emissions data provided by the companies themselves, churning it through some algorithm they concocted so that the information becomes readable in “the one currency that business managers are comfortable with: dollars and cents.” For the purposes of your Environmental Impact Score–which is a company’s supposed worldwide footprint “based on more than 700 metrics” provided by Trucost–what does dollars and cents have to do with it? Moreover, who the fuck is Trucost lobbying for?
  • Green Policies Score: Your “comprehensive assessment of environmental initiatives” is as useless as a love letter from an ex boyfriend. Analyzing green policies is just tallying up the number of rules that the companies have in place, announcements of good intentions that give no indication of actual enforcement mus less results. If everyone got fucking gold stars for promising to be good, we’d have a lot of assholes out on parole.
  • Reputation Survey: This logistic was the most infuriating to see on your list of calculating factors. Since when are the opinions of CEOs “and other green experts” in any way shape or form relevant to a company’s actual “greenness”? The opinions of CEOs are not based on actual performance, but on inside opinions and the drama of capitalism that only the rich white men on top could ever understand. Who knows if Wells Fargo’s 38.96 rating is truly because they have a reputation as a non-green company or if they jilted those asked in a past business deal? But moreso, why does that matter anyway?
  • Green Score: In addition to the faulty scores given in the three previously mentioned categories (that are twice-removed the actual impact of the companies), the Green Score is the most misguided yet. As the main number by which all the companies on the list are ordered, the Green Score is “a statistically weighted average” of the three meaningless numbers before it. What the fuck does that mean?! When you statistically weight stuff, that means that you have, again, arbitarily created a formula by which one of the previous faulty scores means more than the other, but I can’t decide which is less important to a green ranking: public image, internal image or an unconfirmed “environmental impact.” Despite your scrambled wording to justify these green rankings, I tried to find a pattern in the incongruous number jumble and figure out which of these factors was weighted more, but I could find no method in your madness. How is it that Owens Corning’s impact of 15, policy of 66 and reputation of 47 comes out to a green score of 80, a number much greater than any of the previous?
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions: The most frustrating thing about your “statistically weighted average” is that the one thing that should be statistically weighted above any of the other bullshit was not even included in the rankings evaluation. A company’s greenhouse gas emissions is an actual representation of its impact on the environment and yet, these numbers remained in a column to the right of the green score as an anecdote to the already-decided company grade. By not factoring in the physical impact of these companies, you are judging them based on their corporate image more than the actual realization of that image.

This leaves companies like Wal-Mart (above, with 21.4 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions, the most of any company on the list) with high rankings despite their unreasonably high contribution to atmospheric decay and their public reputation as professional policy bullshitters. Did you miss the whole New Age of Wal-Mart documentary on CNBC where they dedicated 2 hours to exposing the company’s lack of reliability with manufacturer sustainability audits and spent another hour talking about how their new marketing campaign demonstrating a more environmentally-friendly approach is a great cover-up for a company that would still sell out its own planet for the bottom line. Let’s not even start on Wal-Mart’s rapid expansion in emerging markets (like China’s 300-and-counting stores) which negates installing energy-saving LED lights in American stores by exponentially expanding their horrific global impact. Can we really give the world’s largest corporate producer of greenhouse gas emissions a thumbs up for intentions to make each store a little more green when they’re building 50 new ones every year?

The main point of my rant against your inaugural green rankings is not to say that corporations are bad and we’re all going to hell (we are, though), but more to enlighten whoever created this defective ranking to the scary truth behind bullshit numbers. Intentions to not equal results and I would be hardpressed to believe that your pages of concocted numbers show anything more than whose PR people can paint the prettiest picture. Wake up, Newsweek. Dig deeper (I know you’re good for it). There is a way to do this properly, but you might actually (GASP) have to work for it. The answers are there, my dear favorite slightly-liberal news source, just don’t go to Trucost looking for them.

Sincerely yours,

Normandie Rawlins

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