Businesses are focusing more on the environmental and social impacts of their work. There is some really cool stuff going on at some of these companies.
DuPont is at the cutting edge–and maybe over the edge–of the movement to make corporations more socially responsible. But poke around any number of FORTUNE 500 companies, and you'll find people grappling with a host of unexpected issues, from renewable energy to global poverty. The UPS fleet, for instance, includes 1,800 alternative-fuel vehicles, while FedEx just announced a plan to convert all its trucks to hybrid electric-diesel engines. Nike has removed vinyl, which has been linked to cancer, from almost all its footwear. It also developed a program with Delta Air Lines called Eco-Class, which invests in projects that offset emissions created when Nike employees take business trips. To preserve biodiversity, Starbucks is buying more organic and shade-grown coffee, which minimizes disruption of rain forests; it is also buying more "fair-trade" coffee, which gives the owners of family farms an agreed-upon price for their harvest. Just last week ten major banks, including Citigroup and Barclays, agreed to meet environmental- and social-impact standards when financing public works projects, such as dams and power plants, particularly in developing nations.
I have always believed that the knee-jerk reactions we have to environmental issues are wrong. As we grow wealthier as a society, and resources get scarcer, good environmental policies can actually mean more profits. I don't worry about running out of oil, global warming, or the rainforests. I believe that free markets and advances in techonology will solve these problems for us, because when the time is right, it will translate to the bottom line.