by Jenny Coyle
It may be hard to believe, but General Motors, Bethlehem Steel and Sunoco are among 50
companies that have signed a vow to protect the biosphere, conserve energy and use natural
resources in a sustainable way. They also promise to conduct all aspects of their business
"as responsible stewards of the environment by operating in a manner that protects
So who got them to sign on the dotted line? And how can environmental activists make
hay with these John Hancocks?
Stuart Auchincloss thought you'd never ask. He's eager to talk about CERES, the
Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies, a decade-old coalition of more than
40 environmental, labor, investor and social justice groups. Their goal is to achieve
corporate environmental responsibility - worldwide. Former Sierra Club Chairman Mike
McCloskey cofounded CERES in 1988, and now Auchincloss, chair of the Atlantic (New York)
Chapter, represents the Club on the CERES board of directors.
At its heart are 10 principles that form an environmental code of conduct to guide
corporate decision-making, Auchincloss explained. For instance, in one principle a company
commits to "reduce and where possible eliminate the use, manufacture or sale of
products and services that cause environmental damage or health and safety hazards."
It includes a pledge for companies to "inform our customers of the environmental
impacts of our products or services and try to correct unsafe use."
Wait a minute. General Motors signed those principles five years ago. Yet, as Sierra
Club Global Warming Director Dan Becker pointed out, the company is selling vast fleets of
polluting SUVs, and pays its lobbyists to push for weaker pollution laws and rules.
"In order to hold GM accountable to its commitment, it would be interesting to
check out their marketing budgets for the more-efficient Geo Metro compared to the
gas-guzzling Suburban, and what the company has done in the past five years to improve
fuel efficiency," said Becker.
That's the right idea, according to Auchincloss. But CERES won't hold a company's feet
to the fire. That's up to groups like the Sierra Club and other coalition members. So far
the environmental movement has made little use of this tool. In other words, the hammer is
there; someone just needs to pick it up and use it. CERES leaders are encouraging
coalition members to do just that and hold companies accountable.
Becker suggests that interested volunteers get involved in reviewing and fact-checking
the annual environmental reports that CERES requires companies to file. These reports are
available to the public from both CERES and the corporations.
Auchincloss said the organization also provides a forum where Club activists can voice
concerns to company officials.
For more information: CERES is holding its annual conference on April 13-14 in San
Francisco. To learn more about CERES, corporate environmental reports or the upcoming
conference, contact Stuart Auchincloss at firstname.lastname@example.org;
(914) 639-6972; or check their Web site at www.ceres.org.
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