Big, familiar firms in our corporate landscape are taking surprising steps to help the environment, among other nifty projects. As Dennis Walsh wrote in a recent article at

Most of the 'corporate social responsibility' initiatives we see today are reactionary. Attitudes are changing, so companies are reacting to our changing world. The corporations that are going green recognize the gigantic profit opportunities in doing so, and the competitive danger of lagging behind.

This makes sense to me; I've often wished that more big companies would enthusiastically support alternative energy and other mutually beneficial initiatives. Going green will certainly cost these companies greenbacks, but it could also position them to be big players in emerging industries. A few risks early on for eco-friendly firms may pay off later.

Here are just a few examples of big firms doing good:

  • Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) has started asking its many suppliers to refrain from using polyvinyl chloride (PVC) packaging, which reportedly harms the environment. Since Wal-Mart represents a big chunk of many smaller companies' revenue, its wishes aren't easily ignored. In February, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott announced "Sustainability 360," a companywide commitment to sustainability and pro-environment initiatives that affects employees, suppliers, communities, and customers alike. According to Walsh's article, "Wal-Mart has taken steps to improve its environmental performance, including working to be supplied 100% by renewable energy, creating zero waste, and selling products that sustain natural resources and the environment."

  • Meanwhile, General Electric (NYSE:GE) has been focusing heavily on energy-related issues through its "ecomagination" initiative. The company is already taking in more than $10 billion annually from energy-efficient products, with that number expected to double by 2010. GE thinks a 30% reduction in energy consumption is possible in the near future.

  • Nike (NYSE:NKE), once lambasted for its factory conditions abroad, has been working hard to change its systems and reputation. The company has announced various environmental supply-chain initiatives, aiming to "reshape their supply chain management the same way the human rights abuse issues changed their policy 10 years ago." The company is committing to using more and more organic cotton, too, which is very good news for the planet; traditional cotton production results in significant pollution. Wal-Mart is another organic cotton supporter.

  • Many companies have also committed themselves to decreasing global warming. At, you'll find a list of participating companies, including Burger King (NYSE:BKC), Motorola (NYSE:MOT), Gap (NYSE:GPS), and Anheuser-Busch (NYSE:BUD).

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Wal-Mart and General Electric. Anheuser-Busch, Gap, and Wal-Mart are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Gap is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our investing services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.

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