NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Companies can't just go "green around the edges" if they want to turn sustainability into profitability. They need to make major transformations, said Freya Williams, author of Green Giants: How Smart Companies Turn Sustainability into Billion-Dollar Businesses.
"They put it at the center of their business," said Williams. "They work it into their corporate strategy. And they are looking to it to promote growth and opportunity. It's a very different orientation."
Williams is North America CEO of global sustainability communications and consulting firm Futerra, whose clients include Danone (DANOY), SAB Miller (SBMRY), Estee Lauder (EL), Kering, OVO Energy, AXA Insurance and Unilever (UL). Over the course of her career, Williams has advised organizations including Coca Cola (KO), the United Nations, SAP (SAP), Tetra Pak, The Economist, Waste Management (WM) and Kraft (KRFT) on how to incorporate sustainability, responsibility and social good into their brands.
In Green Giants, Williams shines a spotlight nine powerhouse companies -- from Chipotle (CMG) to GE (GE) to Tesla (TSLA) -- that have built successful businesses while selling products and services designed to help consumers to live happier, healthier, more environmentally conscious lives. She pinpoints six factors in her book that set these firms apart.
"It's everything from having a very strong commitment from the CEO of the company to investing billions of dollars into a disruptive innovation that will turn a category on its head and drive growth," said Willliams.
Williams added that green companies need to engage mainstream customers when creating products and "not make something that feels like it's only for tree-huggers and crunchy granola hippies."
When asked to compare two of her auto-making Green Giants, Williams praised Toyota (TM) for its environmental and sales achievements with its Prius model that really opened up the category. Still, she said Tesla's innovation has made it "the one to watch from here into the future."
Regarding Whole Foods (WFM), Williams said this particular Green Giant is trying to address the issue of price, as well as its overcharging problem, which recently came to light.
"The CEO has admitted that they really have to address price. I think they are very aware that unless they address price then it's going to become an issue for them, especially now that Wal-Mart (WMT) is the biggest player in organics in the U.S."