A number of businesses are providing leadership and defining the look and scope of sustainable business practices.  These companies are the real innovators and while they represent different types of businesses, they universally focus on building a fully integrated and comprehensive sustainable business practice.  The elements of a sustainable business include:  sustainable products, supply chain, manufacturing and distribution processes, as well as philanthropy.  They strive to reduce the carbon footprint of their company and the consumers that they rely upon.

General Electric, Fairfield, CT (energy, entertainment and appliance Frim)

Since 2006, GE has sold $43billion worth of ecomagination products (CFL lightbulbs, Energy Star appliance, home-energy monitors, solar-panel systems, and wind turbines) helping both companies and consumers reduce their carbon footprint.  GE wind turbines alone prevent the emission of 18.3 million tons of greenhouse gases annually.  The company has reduced its own emissions by 8 percent since 2004 through a range of projects that includes meeting LEED standards for its new buildings and renewable energy use.  Since 2005, it has committed more than $2.5 billion to clean technology research and development, looking at building more efficient aircraft engines and – coming soon – hybrid trains.  Also in the works – a smart grid that supports plug-in cars and makes renewable energy available to households across the country.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car, St. Louis, Mo (car rental company)

With nearly 25 percent of its 927,000 vehicles getting at least 32 miles per gallon, Enterprise, which includes Alamo and National, is the most fuel-efficient rental company in the country.  It recently added 5,000 hybrids to its existing fleet, bumping the total number of hybrids to 9,000.  The company has placed itself at the forefront of alternative-fuel research by using $25 million donation from  its founding family to create the Enterprise-Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuels in St. Louis.  Enterprise has also pledged $50 million to plan 50 million trees within the next 50 years.

Patagonia, Ventura, California (high performance outdoor clothing company)

Long before the term “climate change” entered the public vernacular, Patagonia adopted corporate social responsibility as its ethos. IN 1998, Patagonia became the first company in California to purchase 100 percent wind power.  Today,  its headquarters use a combination of wind and solar from a private 66-kilowatt solar arrays.  It greatest impact, however, may be the amendments it has made to its supply chain.  Since 2005, Patagonia has worked 12,000 pounds of recycled fabric into new clothing through its garment-recycling program. It has saved more than 267 tons of wood, 2.3 million gallons of water, and 5.1 billion BTUs of energy by printing catalogs on 40 percent postconsumer recycled paper.  And since 1996, it has used only 100 percent organic cotton in its products.  Through its footprint Chronicles, Patagonia invites consumers to see the environmental impact of its manufacturing processes, from raw material to finished product.  Finally, Patagonia has donated nearly $31 million since 1985 to support charities and advocacy groups that promote conservation.

Seventh Generation, Burlington, VT. (green cleaning and paper products)

Competing in a heavily polluting industry, Seventh Generation annually saves some 171,000 trees, 62 million gallons of water, and 103 billion BTUs of energy thanks to its green product line (chlorine free recycled bathroom tissue, recycled plastic trash bags, and natural dishwasher detergents, to name a few).  Since 2005, the company has cut its own greenhouse gas emissions by 34 percents, and its plans to obtain LEED gold certification for its Burlington headquarters will bring them down even more.  By funding home energy audits and offering forgivable loans for fuel-efficient car purchases and solar-panel installation, Seventh Generation also helps employees reduce their own carbon footprints.

Stonyfield Farm, Londonderry, NH (organic-yogurt maker)

An early advocate of organic farming, Stonyfield Farm helps keep more than 100,000 acres of farmland pesticide – and chemical-free through its purchases of organic milk, fruit and sweetners.  The milk alone comes from a collective of roughly 1,300 organic dairy farmers.  The company has paid equal attention to the impact of its own manufacturing processes., reducing its facility energy use per ton of product by 19 percent from 2007 to 2008.  It has also lowered transportation emissions by more than 40 percent since 2006.  For 12 years the company has offset its CO2 emissions through investments in reforestation and clean energy projects, including  a partnership with Preserve, the company has prevented more than 23 million pounds of materials from entering the landfills.  Creative packaging techniques have annually eliminated more than 18 tractor-trailer loads of plastic.  Stonyfield donates 10 percent of its annual profits – giving 10 million since 1993 – to environmental groups and causes.

Burts Bees, Durham, NC (natural cosmetic and personal care company)

As a vocal proponent of transparency in the cosmetics world, Burt”s Bees has played a central role in developing labeling standards for natural products and ingredients.  On average, the line contains 99 percent natural ingredients, and the company aims to achieve 100 percent by 2011, with absolutely no parabens or petroleum- based compounds.  Already using recycled material in its packaging, Burt’s Bees has set a goal of making 100 percent biodegradable or postconsumer recycled packaging by 2020.  Even as it focuses on expansion – Clorox – purchased the company in 2007 – the company has comprehensive waste reduction targets .. in 2009, for example, to cut water waste by 1.4 million gallons, energy consumption by five gigawatt hours, and waste by 90 tons, and even more ambitious goals of zero waste and 100 percent renewable energy by 2020.  To ensure it meets its targets, the company ties employee bonuses to achieving overall sustainability goals.  The company’s latest initiative, The Greater Good Foundation, delivered its first grants of more than $150,000 to education and environmental stewardship programs throughout the country.

Preserve, Waltham, MA (100 percent recycled and recyclable plastic houseware maker)

Preserve is proof that with a little creativity, one person’s waste can turn into another person’s profit – and the whole planet benefits.  The company’s simple business model uses recycled plastic to create a stylish line of toothbrushes, mixing bowls, tableware, shaving razors and more.  In 2008, the company saved more than 500 tons of plastic (collected from individuals and partner companies like Stonyfield Farm) from becoming landfill.  Its innovative production process uses 54 percent less water and emits 64 percent less greenhouse gas than that of a virgin plastic manufacturing.   Moreover, all of Preserve’s products can be recycled, either at the curb or through its postage-paid mail-in program.  The growing company also advocates for stronger municipal plastic recycling programs and cutting edge plastics research.

Whole Foods Market, Austin, TX  (Natural and Organic Grocery Chain)

One of the country’s largest sellers of organic and natural foods.  Whole Foods has brought environmental consciousness to the grocery store aisles.  As a representative to the National Organic Standards Board, it helped formulate organic-labeling standards and made these products accessible to mainstream America.  At the same time, the company has tackled its own impact, offering 100 percent of its energy use with wind credits since 2007.  It’s currently retrofitting stores with efficient lighting and solar power at more than 20 locations, and looking at hydrogen-powered fuel cells as a source of cleaner energy. Nearly half of its distribution centers employ trucks than run on biodiesel fuels. In several regions of the country, it has reduced its landfill by 80 percent, and most stores participate in an extensive composting program.  The company’s charitable arm has committed over $9.9 million in micro-credit loans to more than 40,000 small entrepreneurs (coffee and vegetable growers, store owners, textile weavers) and $2.5 million in low interest loans to local farms.

Organic Valley, LaFarge, WI (organic farming cooperative)

Organic Valley illustrates the strength of the collective, annually delivering consumers $527 million worth of sustainable grown products from organic farms.  Representing 10 percent of the organic farming community in the United States, the cooperative offers a lifeline of its 1,332 member-owners, providing price stability and a viable alternative to agribusiness.  Almost half of its profits – which added up to $194 million in 2007 – goes directly to the farmers.  Organic farmers also funds renewable-energy initiatives, helping farmers become more energy efficient through wind, solar and biodiesel programs.

Pixel Organics, Los Angels, CA (organic clothing)

Pixel Organics uses 100% certified organic cotton sourced from Turkey and India, fully milled, dyed, printed (low-impact) and sewn, warehoused, and distributed in Los Angeles.   They are the first company to use recycled water bottles as batting for our comforters and pillows.  There are no toxic chemicals used in growing our certified organic cotton.  “In fact, all of our products use exclusively organic, sustainable or regenerated fibers”.   “At Pixel Organics our mission is to leave tiny footprints on this planet while providing modern infant products that embrace color and innovative design. Pixel Organics is changing the question from “why organic? to ”why not organic!” We make decisions every day big and small. Choosing organic or recycled isn’t the easiest or most convenient, nor is doing the right thing. Pixel Organics has made that choice easy for you.”