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The Planet
Ceres: Pick up the Hammer

by Jenny Coyle

It may be hard to believe, but General Motors, Bethlehem Steel and Sunoco are among 50 companies that have signed a vow to protect the biosphere, conserve energy and use natural resources in a sustainable way. They also promise to conduct all aspects of their business "as responsible stewards of the environment by operating in a manner that protects the Earth."

So who got them to sign on the dotted line? And how can environmental activists make hay with these John Hancocks?

Stuart Auchincloss thought you'd never ask. He's eager to talk about CERES, the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies, a decade-old coalition of more than 40 environmental, labor, investor and social justice groups. Their goal is to achieve corporate environmental responsibility - worldwide. Former Sierra Club Chairman Mike McCloskey cofounded CERES in 1988, and now Auchincloss, chair of the Atlantic (New York) Chapter, represents the Club on the CERES board of directors.

At its heart are 10 principles that form an environmental code of conduct to guide corporate decision-making, Auchincloss explained. For instance, in one principle a company commits to "reduce and where possible eliminate the use, manufacture or sale of products and services that cause environmental damage or health and safety hazards." It includes a pledge for companies to "inform our customers of the environmental impacts of our products or services and try to correct unsafe use."

Wait a minute. General Motors signed those principles five years ago. Yet, as Sierra Club Global Warming Director Dan Becker pointed out, the company is selling vast fleets of polluting SUVs, and pays its lobbyists to push for weaker pollution laws and rules.

"In order to hold GM accountable to its commitment, it would be interesting to check out their marketing budgets for the more-efficient Geo Metro compared to the gas-guzzling Suburban, and what the company has done in the past five years to improve fuel efficiency," said Becker.

That's the right idea, according to Auchincloss. But CERES won't hold a company's feet to the fire. That's up to groups like the Sierra Club and other coalition members. So far the environmental movement has made little use of this tool. In other words, the hammer is there; someone just needs to pick it up and use it. CERES leaders are encouraging coalition members to do just that and hold companies accountable.

Becker suggests that interested volunteers get involved in reviewing and fact-checking the annual environmental reports that CERES requires companies to file. These reports are available to the public from both CERES and the corporations.

Auchincloss said the organization also provides a forum where Club activists can voice concerns to company officials.

For more information: CERES is holding its annual conference on April 13-14 in San Francisco. To learn more about CERES, corporate environmental reports or the upcoming conference, contact Stuart Auchincloss at stuart.auchincloss@sierraclub.org; (914) 639-6972; or check their Web site at www.ceres.org


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