Shades of Green

If you have some money to invest, you may want to put it to work doing double duty, both promoting a healthier environment and incubating your nest egg. Some carefully selected stocks will yield immediate results for the environment; others require more patience.

stock tips' width=Just as smart investors balance their portfolios among small-cap, mid-cap and international companies, they can balance their support of companies in various “shades of green.” Here are some stock picks for each shade.

Dark Green Product, Light Green Impact Today

Smaller companies whose products could someday revolutionize the way we all preserve natural resources, even if today the company’s difference to the planet is commensurately small:

WHOLE FOODS (NASDAQ: WFMI) is an aggressive and fast-growing chain that sells organic foods and natural health remedies. Why the investment may be sound: Stock prices have increased during the past year, when most stocks have decreased in value. People are tending toward healthier choices in foods they buy, and the natural foods industry grows 20 to 25 percent a year.

Also, BALLARD POWER SYSTEMS (NASDAQ: BLDP), a Canadian maker of zero-emission fuel cells for engines, generators and power plants. Ballard’s shares rose sharply this fall after the company announced it would demonstrate the mass marketability of its alternative energy by supplying fuel-cell engines for 60 DaimlerChrysler cars and 30 city buses to be used in Europe.

Light Green Product, Dark Green Impact Today

Larger, traditional-product companies that make what we all use today, but are evolving methods to reduce environmental harm now (and by raising the bar are influencing their mainstream competitors):

LSI LOGIC (NYSE: LSI) makes customized semiconductors for cell phones and other communications products. LSI’s goal is minimizing waste within a water-, chemical- and energy-intensive industry. LSI Logic has reduced its use of hazardous manufacturing chemicals by 88 percent since 1987, saving $1.2 million in expenses. Why the investment may be sound: LSI is one of those “on-sale” stocks in the badly damaged technology sector. The semiconductor market, which traditionally grows 15 to 30 percent in good years, is also the first to recover from electronics industry downturns. LSI’s semiconductors are customized and not suffering the same price erosion as “off-the-shelf” products.

A Green Product in a Brown Industry

Companies in traditionally “brown” industries (like oil and gas) that are starting to reverse negative impact:

EQUITABLE RESOURCES (NYSE: EQT) is a natural and liquid gas utility that manufactures exceptionally clean natural gas-powered fuel cells. The company’s reporting mechanisms allow for transparency on environmental issues. Why the investment may be sound: Share price has remained flat to slightly up in a down market. Its price/equity is 30 percent higher than the average utility. Money managers at US Bancorp Piper Jaffray consider this to be a good investment that also meets environmental criteria.

Also, AIR PRODUCTS AND CHEMICALS (NYSE: APD), producer and distributor of industrial gasses, has several environmental initiatives, including a joint venture with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to help electric utilities reduce sulfur dioxide emissions. And TREX (NYSE: TWP) is a maker of composite recyclable deck material from wood waste, with high durability and pesticide resistance.

Don’t Expect Solid-Green Companies

Although these companies were selected with the environment in mind, corporations are rarely green in all aspects. “We don’t consider whole companies green as much as their initiatives,” says Emily Felt of US Bancorp Piper Jaffray’s philanthropic division. “Most companies have environmental problems, and the price of the products we buy doesn’t cover the harm that the companies’ operations do to the environment. We pay for that harm through clean-up efforts and health care costs.” Of course, some costs to the environment, such as species extinction, are not reparable at any price.

PAMELA J. GORDON is president of Technology Forecasters and the author of Lean and Green: Profit for Your Workplace and the Environment.