5 Steps to Finding Out if a Company Is Green

And how can you know for sure that a company is as green as it says it is?

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General Electric wants to recruit workers who are looking to "change the world." Enterprise Rent-A-Car seeks employees who are "committed to a greener tomorrow." And even Dow Chemical is on the lookout for job candidates who want to "solve problems with global ecosystems," and conserve "precious resources."

Call it the greening of the hiring process.

"One of the biggest trends we've seen on staffing pages this year is the improvement of messages about the environment. Companies realize it is an issue, especially among top students," says Gerry Crispin, who keeps tabs on corporate recruiting Web pages for Career Xroads, an annual guidebook he coauthors.

But for the eco-conscious job seeker, there is a big difference in culture, values, and inevitable job satisfaction between a company that has been green from the get-go, like Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, a company that is making a concerted effort to become greener, like Nike, and one that is inherently not-green, such as Dow.

If it's important to you that your employer be environmentally responsible, how can you know for sure that a company is green enough—or even as green as it says it is? Here are five steps to help you find out all that you want to know about how green—or greenwashed—a company might be.

Look for the corporate social responsibility report

They're called by various names, and can stand alone or be part of an annual financial report, but more and more, companies are issuing a yearly accounting of their good deeds. Often they're downloadable from the Careers section of a website, and if not, check under a heading like "community," "culture," or "our values."

If you can't find one on a company's website, CorporateRegister.com keeps several years' worth of reports from nearly 5,000 international companies in its online database.

Once you have the report in hand, "check the table of contents for a page that says 'goals,' says Rafael Reyes of the not-for-profit Eco-America. "On that page, I look for real metrics and make sure they're being applied across the board." If there is no such page, but there are a lot of feel-good photos or efforts that involve a single product, project, or location, he says, "it could be a sign that there isn't as much there as it first appears."

Google it

Googling a company, along with phrases like environment, sustainability, eco, or greenwashing, will turn up an obvious track record of good deeds, or the black marks companies would prefer to keep hidden.

"I know a company that touts itself as environmentally responsible but it conveyed to me in a research context that it tests products in underdeveloped countries because environmental laws are more lax," says Frank Montabon, a professor of supply chain management at the Iowa State University. "That's the kind of discrepancy a Google search will easily turn up."

Scan watchdog websites

A growing number of not-for-profits and activist groups keep an eye on corporations all day long. Their websites provide quick studies of those companies whose efforts are consistent and significant, and whose might be more hype than substance.

Greenwashingindex.com, Corpwatch's Crocodyl wiki, Climate Counts, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Greenbiz.com are good places to start.

Take advantage of the interview

Once you've done your research, says Reyes, sustainability efforts are fair game during a job interview. You can ask about upcoming programs related to reducing emissions, recycling, and cutting energy use. You can question how the company's CEO supports these efforts. And you can ask about opportunities for employees to contribute and specific roles that might be a good fit for someone in the job you're applying for.

And, of course, if you can find employees to talk to, it always pays to do a reality check with them on what the HR or recruiting folks touted to you.

Use your own good judgment

No company's environmental record is perfect, and your idea of good enough is probably different from the next person's. So, the experts say, everyone needs to decide for himself how far along the eco continuum their employer needs to be.


Corrected on : Corrected on 10/17/08: An earlier version of this article should have reported that Frank Montabon is a professor at Iowa State University.