Are You Going Green to be Politically Correct?

Every year Vault conducts employee surveys to rank companies according to various standards including diversity, prestige, work/life culture and salary.

Last year, we added a short section on green, i.e., energy conservation, recycling, environmental friendliness and workplace safety, hoping to get a glimpse into what companies were doing to be green.

For most companies, these initiatives begin within the HR department and get delegated to employee volunteers, and sometimes, a green team. At others, the initiatives remain restricted to the familiar footnote often seen in emails (Please think before you print…and similar versions) and double-sided printing policies.

Going green has made sense for many companies in the past years, and the proven benefit to the bottom line has begun to sink in gradually as companies battle tarnished reputations (BP ,Goldman Sachs , etc.) and distrust in the marketplace. Suddenly, sustainability and going green are popular. Ernst' & Young's CEO Jim Turley voiced the industry sentiment at a recent keynote, saying, "Our profession operates on trust… this is a game-changing time for corporate responsibility and businesses."

Being sustainable isn't a choice anymore. And it doesn’t have to start from the top. However, as Alice Korngold, CEO of consulting firm Korngold Consulting pointed out in a recent interview: for any initiative to have teeth, it needs a mandate from senior management. "CSR needs leadership from the top, since the plan needs to be designed to advance the company's reputation, branding, relationship-building, hiring and retention, leadership development, and community improvement."

As a member of the executive team, how much play do you afford to the company's environmental responsibility, if at all? While Vault's ranking of the top law, consulting and banking employers for 2010, including a Green Score, will be released in the coming months, here are just some of the "green comments" we received.

Bankers Talk a Different Kind of Green

"Not really that relevant, given our industry."

"The firm provides some programs but, they do not honestly interest me."

"… is very environmentally conscious. Our New York HQ building was, in fact, one of the first buildings in New York to install ice-based air conditioning technology that utilizes off-peak electricity to generate ice during the evenings and then uses the stored ice to condition the air during the day. This helps reduce peak loads in the electricity system and helps reduce the need for additional power plant construction."

Consulting Firms: "We are rather Friedmanite about this"

"I don't at all see how this could be relevant, and if it became a priority at my firm I would seek employment elsewhere."

"They do very little...our bananas come individually wrapped in plastic."

"Our firm promotes flex travel schedules and telecommuting whenever possible. We have started using TelePresence technology to hold virtual meetings, which really cut down on the amount of travel. Our firm also purchases carbon offsets to compensate for the airline miles that we travel."

Law Firms: "Does putting 'think before you print' on emails count?

"Almost overly so... the silverware is biodegradable (try cutting a steak with a knife made out of corn)."

"We theoretically recycle. We literally do not recycle."

"The firm is a die-hard pit of environmentalists to the point that it is a joke. When you lay off a bunch of single mothers and old ladies who are your secretaries and then make a large purchase of carbon credits a few months later, your priorities are all wrong."

"From recycling to energy saving to encouraging public transportation (plus subsidizing Zipcar membership), the firm has engaged in a sustained and constantly-revisited effort to continually improve its environmental policies."

Seems like it's back to the age-old argument: Is corporate responsibility more of a personal responsibility? You be the judge. Join the discussion by leaving a comment, emailing Vault or connecting with us on Twitter.

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Aman Singh is the Corporate Responsibility Editor at She is a New York University alum and previously wrote for The Wall Street Journal. Her area of work includes corporate diversity practices and sustainability, and how they translate into recruitment and strategic development at Fortune 1000 companies. Connect with her on Twitter @VaultCSR.

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