Portfolio Magazine Slams Top Corporations as 'Toxic Ten'

     For its March 2008 issue, the business magazine Portfolio hit hard at 10 major companies “in a variety of industries, not just the traditional smokestack polluters,” complete with skulls and cross bones and exaggerated graphics of pollution, in an article called “The Toxic Ten.”

     Portfolio’s Harry Hunt III said the magazine was “Concerned that many corporate environmental efforts may be degenerating into self-serving marketing stunts,” meaning no matter what the “Toxic Ten” companies did to help the environment, it wouldn’t be enough.

     Hunt let the businesses have a say – about one sentence per company.


     Hunt wrote that despite the efforts Boeing (NYSE:BA) put forth to build fuel-efficient planes like the new 787 Dreamliner and reduce CO2, the company has been “less than transparent” about its record on greenhouse gas emissions.

     Hunt pointed to Boeing’s original decision not to participate in the Carbon Disclosure Project, a not-for-profit dedicated to oversight of CO2 emissions by companies, as a reason for the lack of transparency.

     Nevertheless, after the company decided to participate in the program, Hunt chided Boeing for not making the information public.

     Forbes.com reported that Boeing is planning to conduct a biofuels demonstration flight with Continental Airlines in the first half of 2009 and, according to the Chicago Tribune March 9, Boeing’s 747 was the first commercial jet to use biofuels when Virgin Atlantic flew a passengerless 747 from London to Amsterdam.

     The fuel was made from palm and coconut oil and did not compete with food or fresh water sources.

     Portfolio went after Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) for a recycling program that takes back computers for free but puts a time restriction on when customers can do so – apparently having a recycling program wasn’t good enough for Hunt.

     Framed by a picture of toxins emitting from an iPhone, Hunt listed Apple’s use of “ Significant amounts of phthalate, a toxin thought to cause birth defects” that are found in the iPhone and iPod headphone cords as a reason for toxicity.

     CNN’s “American Morning” also reported Nov. 9, 2007, that Apple was using phthalate in its products, but Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta cautioned against any assertion that using an iPod or an iPhone as intended would be dangerous.

     “But again, remember, as we've been talking about, it’s really hard to quantify just how much of a risk these phthalates are,” Gupta said.

     “So the immediate takeaway is, don’t eat your iPhone or your earbuds?” asked anchor John Roberts.

     “Or breathe it in,” Gupta replied.

     Despite billions of dollars spent on alternative-fuel technology and research as well as investing in a biodiesel plant in Texas, the article took aim at fines Chevron (NYSE: CVX) incurred throughout the years piled on by government regulation. Chevron’s portion of the article was punctuated with a picture of an oil fire.

     February 22, Chevron responded to Portfolio’s claims that it was in their “Toxic Ten” and the statement was posted on Portfolio’s Web site.

     Chevron mentioned that the corporation has been ranked on some prestigious environmental lists including:

    Dow Jones Sustainability Index for North America, for the last three years. The top tier of North American integrated oil companies by the Goldman Sachs Environment, Social and Governance Framework. The U.S. Department of Energy Annual Merit Review Recognized as a "best in class" for work in hydrogen infrastructure technology validation.

     Whatever the companies’ environmental efforts, Portfolio’s hit job was similar to most mainstream coverage of “greening” business – a push for companies to adopt certain practices, often without knowing how effective they are, and often at high cost.

     The Business & Media Institute documented this media trend in 2007, noting that sometimes “‘Going Green’ Puts Business in the Red.”

     On Oct. 29, 2007, BusinessWeek interviewed an environmentalist named Auden Schendler – one of the very first “corporate sustainability” advocates.

     Schendler, who works for Aspen Skiing Company, said “I’ve succeeded in doing a lot of sexy projects yet utterly failed in what I set out to do…How do you really green your company? It’s almost f------ impossible.”

     Contrary to what Schendler once thought, “many major initiatives simply aren’t money-savers. They come with daunting price tags that undercut the conviction that environmental salvation can be had on the cheap,” wrote BusinessWeek. Schendler also discovered the “renewable energy credits” his company had proudly invested in weren’t accomplishing what the seller claimed.