West Coast, Best Coast When It Comes to Sustainability

The sustainability space has been a bit clouded recently, with many companies trying desperately to hop on the "green" bandwagon. Greenwashing -- or attempting to spin a company's sustainability creds without real substance -- has been an issue that has been building for years. More detailed sustainability reporting and regular communication has helped to better mitigate the issue, with credibility and recognition being garnered by the companies who aren't afraid to be transparent. Several west coast companies, starting right here in San Francisco, are leading the charge.

A prime example of getting sustainability reporting right is bay area-based retail giant Gap Inc. The company has clearly broken out its efforts into four focus areas -- supply chain, environment, employees and community investment -- in its approach to social responsibility. Last year, the company's "Recycle Your Blues" campaign collected more than 360,000 units of denim, which was used to create fiber insulation for nearly 700 homes. Gap also appointed an Environmental Council of executives and managers to create positive environmental change for the company, with transparency among employees and stakeholders at the core of the council's mission.

Gap Inc. has set very clear corporate goals in terms of improving its global environmental impact, including a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2015, based on 2008 measurement levels. It's the details and transparency the company has been willing to share that has made Gap Inc. extremely credible in the space.

Another San Francisco-based iconic American brand, Levi Strauss & Co., has earned significant praise for their sustainability initiatives in the environmental and social arenas. The company clearly addresses sustainability in terms of people (workers rights, HIV/AIDS, equality, community), planet (energy, water, chemicals, materials) and product (life-cycle, suppliers, raw materials) with detailed goals and areas in need of improvement clearly highlighted.

Levi's made headlines last year when they announced its "water less jeans" initiative to educate consumers on how to save water while enjoying their apparel. To keep the company honest, Levi's is also a signatory of the UN Global Compact and its CEO Water Mandate and is a founding member of Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), a coalition of mostly consumer companies that advocates for sound national climate and energy policies.

One other global brand based in Denver (sort of west coast) building buzz in the space is Molson Coors Brewing Company. Molson Coors has been able to creatively chronicle their leading CSR efforts in what they call their 'Beer Print' (not pint -- where my mind automatically wanders), which not only showcases their commitment to making sustainability a core business driver, but also outlines how they plan to do it. A lot of sustainability reports highlight positive achievements, but few specifically outline how the companies plan to improve further. Molson Coors, recently selected for inclusion in North America's Dow Jones Sustainability Index, is among a few that do.

The company has set some aggressive goals in this year's sustainability report, including improving energy efficiency by 25 percent, increasing water efficiency by 20 percent and reducing carbon use by 15 percent globally by 2020.

West coast companies like Gap Inc., Levi Strauss & Co. and Molson Coors still have significant improvements to make, but what's refreshing is that they will be the first to tell you that. The transparency and the clear goals they set and measure is what makes these companies three examples of business that get it right when it comes to sustainability reporting.