Despite the increased hype about companies going green, American business isn't making much of a dent in major environmental problems, according to a new report card on the state of corporate environmental initiatives.

American companies as a whole are making progress in eight out of 20 environmental categories tracked in the State of Green Business 2008 study, while losing ground in two categories and treading water in 10 others.

"With all we are hearing, you think we'd see progress, but I was surprised at how little the needle has moved," said Joel Makower, executive editor of, the Oakland Web publisher that produced the report card, which was released Wednesday.

The environment has received an unprecedented amount of attention from business over the past couple of years - from neighborhood dry cleaners switching to less toxic chemicals, to Wal-Mart's commitment of $500 million annually to long-term goals such as using 100 percent renewable energy and producing zero waste.

But many of those steps remain dwarfed by the scale of the problems they're meant to address, said Makower, who is also a longtime consultant on environmental programs by business.

For instance, U.S. businesses nearly doubled their purchases of hybrids and other alternative-fuel vehicles from 2006 to 2007.

But those 31,000 alternative-fuel vehicles amounted to just 1 percent of the more than 2.8 million new commercial vehicles bought during that period.

"In all fairness, a lot of the environmental commitments we're seeing are long-term commitments that will take a few years to play out," Makower said. "But still, I wish we'd seen more movement."

Among areas where American businesses are showing the most environmental progress, Makower singled out the categories of green buildings and paper conservation.

The market for green or environmentally-efficient buildings has been growing at 23 percent annually. It will double to $4.7 billion over the next four years, according to market research firm SBI.

"Green building is becoming less the exception than the norm, embraced by sectors ranging from hotels to health care to housing," the GreenBiz report said.

Meanwhile, U.S. companies' overall use of paper has leveled off - or fallen by as much as 23 percent over the past decade, if measured relative to gross domestic product. At the same time, rates of paper recycling are rising.

So even though technology has not produced the ballyhooed "paperless office," it may be leading to a less-paper office.

"There are significant positive shifts taking place, both in terms of how much paper is being used, and how much of that is recovered and recycled," the report said.

On the other side of the ledger, the report identified greenhouse gas emissions and electronic waste as two areas where business deserves a failing grade.

Companies have in fact started to reduce their output of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, with total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions falling by 1.5 percent in 2006.

But that is nowhere near enough to halt global warming.

"According to many scientists, greenhouse gases need to decrease a sky-high 80 percent by 2020," the report said. "At current rates, the U.S. will never get there."

Meanwhile, although the number of electronics recycling programs is growing, the piles of discarded computers, monitors, cell phones and other e-waste are growing even faster.

Many of the items contain toxic materials that present a potential health hazard if not disposed of properly. And no one is verifying whether used electronic equipment that is sent to developing nations for dismantling and reuse is being handled safely, the report said.

"Companies literally have warehouses devoted to old-fashioned computer monitors, computers, PBX switchboards and other digital detritus that they don't know what to do with, and that they can't dispose of legally in this country," Makower said.

Online resource

To read the report: www.stateofgreenbusi

Report card on green business

Here are a few of the criteria on which American businesses were rated in the first State of Green Business report:

CriteriaWhat was measuredWhat was found


Emissions of greenhouse gases per unit of GDP Slight declines, but far from what's needed


Corporate, government, and VC investments Strong, steady growth, especially from VCs

Green power


Renewable energy as a percentage of all

electricity generation
Gradually increasing, but gains wiped out by overall electricity growth



Materials used

per unit of GDP
Gradually more efficient, even as economy grows
Pesticide use

Pesticide application

per acre
Not much improvement
Toxic emissions

Toxic releases per

unit of GDP

Continuing an

improving trend