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Civic group monitors business


DECEMBER 31,1993


Civic group monitors business


Dealing responsibly with the environment is more than a moral imperative; it’s good business to Alice Tepper Marlin, founder and head of the Council on Economic Priorities.  And when she and her council speak, business leaders –and millions of investors and other people as well—pay attention.

The CEP has issued, for the second year in a row, al list 10 corporations dubbed ‘America’s Least Wanted,” selected because the organization considers their pollution records among the worst in environmentally risky industries.  The list includes General Electric, Exxon and International Paper.

Tepper Marlin emphasizes that there is a very close link between the environment and economic factors, “Environment has become an important factor in screening companies,” she said “It also has become the screen most likely to increase stock prices and earnings records because there are a lot of factors involved that could contribute to profitability over a long-term period.”

The CEP has been in the business of rating companies for their environmental and other “ethical concept” policies for a quarter of a century.  Judging from the acceptance enjoyed by its publications, it has been doing it very successfully.  Its paperback book “Shopping for a Better World—The Quick and Easy Guide to Socially Responsible Supermarket Shopping” has sold more than one million copies since 1989.

The organization has also published a version for students, and a series of “research reports” on issues of corporate social responsibility. It has 3,800 members and annual revenues of $1.3 million. Its supporters say they admire its down-to-earth approach and the way it speaks out without shrillness or sanctimony. Tepper Marlin says she got the idea for CEP while working as a Wall Street securities analyst a few years after her graduation from Wellesley College. One of her clients, a religious institution, did not want to invest its pension fund’s assets in companies supplying arms for the Vietnam war, but she discovered to her surprise that such information about companies was not readily available. That is when she developed the concept of a “peace portfolio,” which led to the formation of CEP. The organization later expanded its role to include screening of companies’ performance on other ethical and social issues, including the environment. The success of the council, she says, can be measured by one figure: there is now $700 billion in funds in which some elements of social-responsibility screening have been applied. Similar research organizations have sprung up in Japan, Germany and England. She is quick to point out that not all of CEP’s reports are negative. Recently, it praised Georgia-Pacific for what the report called its commitment to reform and public disclosure.