For years, Dell Computer Corp. was known as one of the tech industry's environmental slackers; in 2003, green groups gave it an "F" on a "clean computer" report card. Today, Dell has a program to recycle almost all of its PCs, has purged new products of six toxic substances, and is working to remove other hazardous materials.
But Dell didn't get religion on its own: Its conversion was prompted by a tough new set of European Union regulations that is transforming American business in a way no U.S. law has in recent years. Last summer, the Europeans began enforcing new restrictions on lead, mercury, and four other hazardous substances, flat-out banning violators from selling to Britain and the Continent. Palm had to stop shipping its Treo 650 (a move that sent its share price plunging), and Apple admitted that it had "withdrawn a few products from sale in Europe," though it wouldn't say which ones. In all, 75 percent of U.S. tech companies have eliminated the banned substances from their products. "It has just caused an enormous amount of teeth-gnashing and a lot of reactive scrambling," says Michael Kirschner, president of Design Chain Associates, a consulting firm.
It's no accident that corporate social responsibility campaigns are often handled by the marketing department. A few notable examples of CSR that confuse selflessness with self-promotion:
Laying Astroturf Spin: Project Evergreen promotes the environmental benefits of green spaces. Reality: Funded by Dow, TruGreen, and other chemical companies, the alliance campaigns behind the scenes against regulating lawn pesticides and water use.
An Uncomfortable Fit Spin: American Apparel hypes its humane working conditions. "You don't have to fuck the Third World up the ass…or the Canadian and American workers to do business," boasts CEO Dov Charney. Reality: The National Labor Relations Board has slapped the hip T-shirt maker for union-busting. Charney is facing two sexual-harassment suits.
"I was really too honest a man to be a politician and live," Socrates once said. So stands the crux of survival in today's Washington, where bribery and kickbacks, nepotism and self-dealing are the lifeblood of a durable political career. Despite the high-profile downfalls of congressmen Tom DeLay and Bob Ney, and the short-lived attention to ethics reform, corruption charges remain little more than a speed bump on the road to reelection. That the respected nonpartisan newspaper Congressional Quarterly predicts the following congressmen will win comfortably is a testament to the power of incumbency.
In September the journal Nature reported that a government agency was suppressing science on links between global warming and hurricanes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration blocked release of a report that suggests global warming is contributing to the frequency and strength the storms, Nature said. At the time, NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher disputed the story, saying the report was only an internal document and that the agency could not take an official position on the issue. But new evidence has turned up that contradicts his claim.
According an update released by the Society of Environmental Journalists:
House Science Committee Ranking Member Bart Gordon (D-TN) on Oct. 4 released the text of a NOAA internal e-mail that seemed to directly contradict that assertion, since it said that the document had been cleared for publication by NOAA top brass. . .Gordon's letter outlines a detailed sequence of events that seems to indicate that the disputed (report) had passed clearance for publication all the way up to Lautenbacher's level, and that it was stopped when clearance was sought from political appointees at the Department of Commerce, which oversees NOAA.
We should soon see who at Commerce was responsible; NOAA must comply with Gordon's request for more info by Monday.
Say youre the CEO of a company whose bookkeeping involves a bit of creative flair. Youve watched Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling go down; you wonder, naturally, what happens if your outfit turns out to be the next Enron. How do you keep the creditors, the IRS, and the retirees away from your hard-earned millions? Consult an asset-protection attorney, thats how; even in the wake of anti-corporate abuse legislation such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and last years bankruptcy reform, the law is full of loopholes. Remember, paying up is for suckers.