IBM, Dell and Intel stand out among technology and consumer-products companies for their policies directed at averting climate change, according to a study released on Thursday.
Ceres, an investor coalition focused on environmental concerns, commissioned the study evaluating how effective 63 companies in the tech, consumer products, leisure and drug sectors have been in institutionalizing policies intended to reduce their energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
IBM, Dell and Intel ranked first, third and fourth among the companies studied, while British retailer Tesco came in second. At the bottom of the list were U.S. apparel retailer Abercrombie & Fitch, Canadian coffee-and-doughnuts chain Tim Hortons and Burger King, the world's No. 2 hamburger chain.
"What we're really looking at here is the degree to which companies are incorporating climate risk and opportunities into their core business strategy," said Anne Kelly, director of Boston-based Ceres' corporate governance program. "It isn't an add-on, it's not a question of philanthropy ... It's really core to their strategic thinking."
Reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas associated with global warming, has become a priority for many businesses as consensus grows that under President-elect Barack Obama the United States will eventually adopt a system that attaches a cost to carbon.
The sectors covered in the survey, while less energy-intensive than businesses like power generation or transportation, were chosen because they are less likely to be subject to specific emissions regulations.
The tech companies stood out for their focus on making their products more energy-efficient. That drive provides other benefits, making servers cheaper for corporations to run and allowing laptops to operate longer on battery power.
They have also been quick to embrace technologies that can reduce their energy needs. For instance, more than 100,000 IBM employees work from remote locations, rather than commuting daily to an office -- thus saving the energy that would otherwise be needed to transport them.
The issue of energy efficiency drew ever more corporate attention over the past few years as prices rocketed higher. The spreading global recession, however, has driven costs down, with crude oil now trading at less than one-third its record high of July.
But Wayne Balta, IBM's vice president of corporate environmental affairs, argued that businesses will not forget the importance of energy efficiency so quickly.
"Good environmental management makes good business sense," Balta said. "When you make your business more efficient it is inevitably good for the environment and vice-versa: When you achieve things that are more positive for the environment they are nine times out of ten more efficient for your business."
Companies fell toward the bottom of the list if they had no clear policies intended to track or reduce their energy usage and emissions. Falling into the bottom third of the list, at No. 43, was Whole Foods Market, a high-end U.S. grocery chain with a focus on natural foods and a green image.
The study evaluated the companies' environmental policies based on publicly available statements, though each business was given an opportunity to respond to the initial evaluation.