Earth Day 2010 has come and gone, but many companies are pursuing new environmentally sustainable initiatives all year long. Let's look at several interesting recent green developments that merit investors' attention -- and a few that are the opposite of eco-friendly.

Redefining "epic fail"
(NYSE: BP) has given us a good example of how not to operate in an environmentally sustainable manner. The Deepwater Horizon disaster has turned into an ongoing ecological nightmare, gushing oil into the Gulf for more than 70 days now.

Investors have received tons of good reasons to ditch BP stock. Corporate management undertook a procedure without an adequate contingency plan for a worst-case scenario, which is plenty of motivation to cut and run by itself. In addition, BP's financial liabilities for the disaster are unknown -- but they'll likely be very large.

Not surprisingly, many socially responsible investors have led the pack in pulling their money out of BP. Interestingly enough, under BP's former chief executive, the company had broken ranks with rivals like ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) and actively courted socially responsible investors and funds. Its "Beyond Petroleum" slogan gave the impression that BP wanted to be a part of the solution, not the problem. So much for that idea.

Even if some consumers are losing interest in green products, environmental disasters don't go over well with anybody. BP shares have lost more than half of their value since the disaster occurred. Whether or not BP shareholders feel a bit socially irresponsible, they're certainly a heck of a lot poorer.

Hopefully, the industry takes note of what not to do, and shareholders encourage their managers and boards to keep an eye on safety and contingency planning.

Going clean
General Electric
(NYSE: GE) has touted environmental friendliness for some time with its "ecomagination" program. Last month, the company announced that it has not only invested the $5 billion allotted for environmental projects ahead of time, but also plans to spend another $10 billion on such projects by 2015.

GE touts clean-energy products like its GEnx aircraft engine (which boasts 15% reduced fuelburn during cruising than the previous architecture), its Evolution Series locomotive (6% less fuelburn), and its 2.5-megawatt wind turbine. GE also said it's reduced its own carbon footprint, with 2009 greenhouse gas emissions down 22% from 2004 levels.

Meanwhile, GE's commitment to additional clean-energy products translates into the addition of hundreds of much-needed new American jobs over the next several years.

Do the right thing
(Nasdaq: SBUX) recently faced criticism regarding its cups' potential to clutter landfills. In a vote, 11% of its shares supported a proposal encouraging the coffee giant to recycle more. It looks like Starbucks is coming up with a sustainable solution for some of the 3 billion paper cups its customers tear through every year. Starting this autumn, it will send the used cups from its Chicago stores to a Georgia-Pacific paper mill, to be transformed into napkins.

The coffee giant already has some recycling and composting operations in several cities, including 90 Seattle stores after a new city ordinance mandated it.

It's good that Starbucks is finding innovative solutions to its waste problems, given the socially responsible halo it strives to place atop its brand. The java giant may not wish to be outdone by its rivals; Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (Nasdaq: GMCR) recently announced a new eco-friendly cup lid developed by International Paper (NYSE: IP).

Meanwhile, Costco (Nasdaq: COST) is receiving environmentally focused attention regarding policies it may have to correct. Greenpeace has targeted the warehouse retailer about sustainable seafood; its Oh No Costco! campaign points out that Costco sells 15 out of 22 species that Greenpeace has identified as "destructively farmed." Although many retailers could be called out for similar practices, Costco apparently makes a good target, because it has boatloads of loyal customers and a well-known brand.

It will be interesting to see how Costco responds. Rival Trader Joe's has been working on improving the sustainability of the seafood it sells, after a similar Greenpeace campaign dubbed the grocer Traitor Joe's.

What's next?
Sustainable initiatives not only make the world a cleaner, less wasteful place, but often help companies drive additional revenue, save money, or devise better operational processes. Given consumers' growing interest in sustainable living, companies that source their power or otherwise conduct business in eco-friendly ways could enjoy a significant boost to their public image. In the long run, that could benefit their shareholders as well.

Have you noticed any interesting green innovations among publicly traded companies? Want to call a company out for lame, half-hearted efforts to "greenwash" its image? Sound off in the comment box below.