Behind the Newsweek Green Rankings: IBM

I had a very negative visceral reaction to Newsweek’s inaugural “Green Rankings” of America’s 500 largest corporations. My personal disgust was directed mostly to their choice for #5: IBM. Most people don’t know that my hometown of Endicott, NY is an EPA superfund site, and one of the potentially responsible parties is –you guessed it — IBM.

When a company dumps toxic chemicals on your hometown and covers it up for almost 30 years, it changes your opinion of them, to put it mildly. Your neighbors get cancer. They can’t breathe the air in their own homes.  The Erin Brokovich attorneys get a lot of new business.

So I left. A lot of us did. The moral dilemma that I can’t get over is that I know the problem will still be there for a long time.

Like many people, sometimes I have an issue separating logic from emotion. IBM is doing many great things to become a sustainability leader. In the past, companies (like IBM and potentially Endicott-Johnson in my hometown) dumped toxic chemicals at will because they weren’t regulated. IBM is slowly cleaning up their messes throughout upstate New York. There comes a time in a company’s history when they have to leave their past exactly where it is. In the past.

Despite trying to talk some sense into myself, my gut feeling about IBM remains. IBM’s marketing and PR machine helps them get positive press for their sustainability work nearly every single day.  To find something negative about the company in the press, you’d have to dig pretty deeply. What does this say about the state of sustainability reporting? Are we, as media consumers, getting the full picture? I feel duped.

Or maybe, emotion’s just getting the best of me.