Among mainstream environmentalist and labor professionals, however, skepticism about such PR efforts is less than might be expected. While their general philosophy is that no company is truly "good," they increasingly accept that some companies do act better - often much better - than their competitors. Most corporations are so big, and their operations so complex, that they produce a very complex mixture of positive actions and bad practices, says Rebecca Eaton, the senior program advisor for global threats at the World Wildlife Fund's U.S. headquarters. "A company can be the worst polluter on one end, and have tops-in-class environmental systems on the other end."

The goal of many labor and environmental professionals, therefore, is to spread the knowledge of what works and to reward companies for good practices when possible. A grudging admiration has grown for the efforts of, say, British Petroleum and Ford. Though far from perfect, these companies have taken risks - and incurred costs - that others have not. Speaking of Royal Dutch/Shell's support for the Kyoto Treaty to reduce greenhouse emissions, one long-time promoter of socially
responsible business, Wouter Van Dieren, who runs an international consultancy in the Netherlands, put it this way: "To have a corporate giant like Shell take the lead on this issue is truly astounding."

Just as the truth at most companies is more complex than a simple, black-and-white label of "good" or "bad," so the process of remaking an old-line manufacturing company has proven extremely complex for Anderson and Interface. Their efforts, however, have led to clear results. Interface redesigned its factories and its production processes, and it launched massive efforts to cut its use of energy and raw materials. The company's R&D team is working with scientists at Cargill/Dow to replace petroleum-based supplies with vegetable- based substitutes.