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The Race to Decide Who's Greenest

Companies are buried in requests for data as groups jockey to be arbiters of sustainability

Every year, Suzanne Fallender’s corporate responsibility office at Intel receives dozens of requests from sustainability analysts and nonprofits looking to rate the company on its water usage, carbon emissions, workforce diversity, and scores of other factors. While some queries can be answered quickly from Intel’s annual sustainability report, others require further research, so Fallender prioritizes a core list of about a dozen requests and responds to the rest when she can get to them. “There are many, many ratings out there,” she says. “More every year.”

Investors and the public are demanding increasingly detailed information on nonfinancial metrics that define sustainability. Companies that take the lead in the field, the thinking goes, are likely to continue churning out profits in an era of growing global competition, climate change, and diminishing resources. In response, scores of data analysis and rating outfits have sprung up, vying to be the arbiter of who’s really green. That’s “confusing, congested, chaotic,” says Allen White, a senior fellow at the Tellus Institute, a nonprofit research group. “If you are an investor trying to move $1 billion, you’re left throwing up your hands. In the worst case, you just ignore all of the ratings.”