In the midst of such confusion, it's little wonder that companies spend billions of dollars to trumpet what successful programs they do have. Since the late 1980s, the expense of building a good and green corporate image has become an increasingly important part of companies' public relations budgets. "Some companies actually spend more to advertise what they do than on actually developing and implementing progressive policies," says Thea Lee, the assistant director of public policy for the AFL-CIO.

And, obviously, not all corporate claims about walking lightly upon the surface of the earth are true, at least not completely. Take British Petroleum and Royal Dutch/Shell. The two companies have made plenty of seemingly sincere statements - and booked some very expensive advertisements - touting their desire to move their business models beyond the mere extraction and refining of petroleum. BP especially has taken real steps by tying executive bonuses to environmental performance. Yet both companies number among the basic pillars of humankind's fossil-fuel-dependent energy system.

Much the same is true of Ford Motor Co. The company made headlines by publicly accepting the concept that burning fossil fuels may bring on a perhaps disastrous warming of the earth's climate. And at the behest of chairman William Clay Ford, Jr., the company board approved plans for a vast new plant to test cleaner ways of building cleaner cars. Yet Ford's fundamental goal is still to make billions of dollars by selling internal combustion vehicles, and the company has been especially aggressive at marketing gas-swilling SUVs.