Green Rankings a Means, Not an End For Journalists

Are you invested in a dirty company? If you work for the state of New York and plan to draw benefits from one of its pension funds, you might be.

“One aspect of Newsweek’s just-released rankings of 500 leading companies’ environmental policies and performance is to view the list from an investor perspective,” wrote Joel Makower, the editor of, in a post about the magazine’s classification effort.

One of things that Makower found while analyzing the rankings and other, publicly available data was that “the 50 largest investors in the companies receiving the lowest scores—those ranked 490 through 500 on Newsweek’s list—include three leading public employee pension funds as well as major mutual funds that hold millions of Americans’ retirement accounts.”

Makower’s piece is an excellent example of the strong, investigative follow-up story that can result from ambitious, data-driven news projects like Newsweek’s. As I pointed out in a review last week, its rankings aren’t perfect, but they are by far the most strategic attempt at such classification by any news outlet to date. What Newsweek’s rankings had that others didn’t was a well-planned, well-defined methodology for gauging companies’ environmental performance. The magazine spent over a year working on the project. But the real beauty of the robust list that resulted from that investment is that it’s a trailhead for journalists, not an endpoint.

With the rankings in hand, intrepid journalists from Newsweek or anywhere else can launch even deeper investigations into environmental performance within the business world. Makower’s work is a great example. Hopefully, it won’t be the only one.

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Curtis Brainard writes on science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.