The folks at sustainablebusiness.com just released a list of the 20 top sustainable companies. In this case, "sustainable" means not only companies involved in alternative energies, but also established blue-chip firms that are being admirably eco-friendly.

The list of companies for 2008 includes:

  • Staples (NASDAQ:SPLS)
  • IBM (NYSE:IBM)
  • Lindsay (NYSE:LNN)
  • Hewlett-Packard
  • First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR)
  • Ormat Technologies

Companies that have fallen off the list since last year include Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFMI) and Nike (NYSE:NKE).

Lindsay is a major irrigation specialist, helping farmers avoid wasting water, while Ormat focuses on geothermal energy.

Staples was singled out for having become, since 2002, "a center for recycling used electronics and accessories like cell phones and toner cartridges, and all its paper contains an average of 30% post consumer waste, with a goal of 50% by 2010."

IBM is aiming to "reduce energy use at [data centers] by 50% by 2010, while increasing computer capacity by a factor of 10. The technologies will eliminate the need for air conditioning and the need for additional data centers."

Lessons from the list
Clearly, mainstream companies can do well while doing good. Staples has upped its net income by 10% annually over the past two years; IBM has seen its stock rise about 10% annually, on average, over the past five years, handily beating the market.

In addition, the list reveals that the environmental arena isn't some narrow niche. It encompasses everything from wind, solar, and water power to modular carpets and metals recycling. And the fierce competition to make the list shows just how many companies are now involved in eco-friendlier practices. Though Canon (NYSE:CAJ) fell off the 2007 list, it's still committed to the aggressive goal of reducing C02 emissions by 50% per unit of sales by 2010.

Now more than ever, big-name companies are proving that making greenbacks and being green aren't mutually exclusive. And that's as good news for the planet as it is for Fools' portfolios.

Further Foolishness on socially responsible investing:

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article  Whole Foods Market and Staples are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Try our investing newsletters free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.