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Study: 51 of 100 Top Companies Emitting Unsustainable Levels of CO2

Mary Mazzoni
| Friday December 20th, 2013 | 7 Comments

Climate Counts StudyIf a company pledges to reduce carbon emissions by 15 percent by 2020, is that good? Better yet, is that enough? Climate Counts and the Center for Sustainable Organizations just released what they call the “world’s first” science-based company rankings, aiming to answer questions like these.

The study assessed the emissions performance of 100 companies from 2005 to 2012 within the context of climate science to identify the number of companies on a sustainable emissions path. By looking at factors such as emissions output and contribution to GDP, researchers assigned a company-level carbon budget to evaluate self-reported emissions data.

Nearly half of the 100 companies analyzed rated sustainably in the study, meaning they are on track with science-based targets that seek to limit climate change to 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Autodesk, Unilever and Eli Lilly came away with the top three spots in the rating, but the list gets a bit more surprising as you move on.

While one might assume that all oil and gas companies would score unsustainably due to the nature of their products, one of the primary caveats is that only direct emissions and emissions from the purchase of electricity, heat or steam (known as Scope 1 and 2) were analyzed for this study, not indirect emissions from the supply chain and product use. This puts the likes of Chevron, BP and Halliburton above burgeoning sustainability darlings Marks & Spencer and IBM, though only two out of five oil and gas companies analyzed were rate sustainably.

Five of Fortune 500′s top 10 companies appeared in the rankings, but big earners like Walmart and Amazon are notably absent, as the study is limited to companies that have voluntarily disclosed their emissions through the Carbon Disclosure Project. Also worth noting is that while it’s surely appropriate to applaud companies for their efforts to reduce climate change, it will take much more to move the needle on a global scale.

New studies analyzing and forecasting energy demand in the developing world, particularly Southeast Asia, suggest that reducing global emissions enough to avert climate change may prove extremely difficult, if not impossible. Climate Counts researchers seem aware of this footnote to their rankings and wrote about it the study.

“In the seven years since Climate Counts’ inception, we’ve seen continuous improvement of scores at the micro level, while at the macro level, climate change marches on unabated, according to empirical evidence,” researchers wrote.

“Mother Earth doesn’t seem to give a hoot about board-level climate committees and executive compensation linked to sustainability initiatives. What matters more is the thermodynamic reality of an atmosphere overloaded with globe-warming carbon.”

Rather than a definitive ranking of the world’s most sustainable companies, Climate Counts hopes the study will add another layer to sustainability measurement, “linking micro-level shifts to the necessary macro-level transformations” to “truly move the needle forward,” researchers wrote.

While there’s no one true ranking when it comes to corporate sustainability, customers respond well to companies that do good for both people and planet, and top earners are taking notice. According to recent research by Andrew Winston as part of the PivotGoals project, more than a quarter of the Fortune Global 200 – including Nokia, Vodafone and Coca-Cola – have set goals (purposefully or coincidentally) on par with science-based emissions reduction targets of roughly 3 percent per year until 2050 – which can only mean good things for mitigating the effects of climate change.

For more information on the methodology behind the study, check out this story on Triple Pundit detailing Climate Counts’ new approach to measuring sustainability performance, called “context-based sustainability.”

Image credit: Climate Counts

Based in Philadelphia, Mary Mazzoni is a freelance journalist who frequently writes about sustainability, corporate social responsibility and clean tech. Mary also contributes to Earth911; her work has appeared on the Huffington PostSustainable Brands and The Daily Meal. You can follow her on Twitter @mary_mazzoni.


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  1. December 20, 2013 at 3:23 am PDT | patrioticus writes:

    The left is not stupid in its ambitions-global warming is proven to be a scam- so change the name and change the argument.
    This is a proven formula for anything found to be less than honest, change the mental visual thru the words used, if the current words become distasteful.

    Greedy men, scrambllng for power and control over the masses. Agenda-21.

    The same old story, take private propery and freedom from those you consider to be worthless eaters.

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    • December 20, 2013 at 7:35 am PDT | jenboynton writes:

      It’s true, those are all words.

      Reply Or REGISTER HERE if you are new.

      • December 20, 2013 at 7:59 am PDT | patrioticus writes:

        Gosh Skippy, your cleverness is astounding! HURRAH! HURRAH! Yay! Huzza! Yip Yip Yahoooo!
        Sounded like you needed some attention, glad to be of assistance lil glow-pop! Go get a hug from Mommy, thats a good punkin. :)

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  2. December 20, 2013 at 15:57 pm PDT | mememine69 writes:

    Remaining Climate Blame Believers;

    When you look your child in the eyes and tell them science agrees a crisis will happen for them you become no better than a fear mongering neocon for science has NEVER agreed it will happen. It’s just you and news editors and politicians agreeing it WILL be a crisis. Prove us wrong and find us one single IPCC warning that agrees beyond “could be” a crisis.

    Believe all you like but do as science does and NEVER say a crisis WILL happen, only could.

    Get up to date:

    *Occupywallstreet now does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded and corporate run carbon trading stock markets ruled by politicians.

    *Canada killed Y2Kyoto with a freely elected climate change denying prime minister and nobody cared, especially the millions of scientists warning us of unstoppable warming (a comet hit).

    *Julian Assange is of course a climate change denier.

    *Obama had not mentioned the crisis in two State of the Unions addresses.

    Deny that.

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    • December 22, 2013 at 3:41 am PDT | Dominik writes:

      What does ‘Climate Blame Believer’ even mean? are you trying to refer to people who believe in anthroprogenic caused climate change?

      Also when you say that scientists only warn that the crisis could happen and not definitively saying that it will, that is the nature of science. The IPCC, just like any future looking report, is based in models and projections. No report will ever definitively say that what a model predicts will certainly happen future, rather these projections tell us what scientists think will happen. In the same vein you make it seem like there is massive disagreements among scientists about climate change, actually 97-98% of scientists agree on anthroprogenic caused climate change as it is presented in IPCC report.

      Finally, what in anyway is the relevance of your ‘Get up to date’ points??

      Occupy WallStreet was not an environmental protest, it was about income equality and wealth distribution. It is not a benchmark or something for assessing whether people care about CO2 emissions because it wasn’t in their demands?

      Also saying that no one care about Canada’s failing to meet Kyoto Protocol is incorrect, and your statement seems to imply that canda’s PM was elected because he denies climate change. I am not well versed in Canadian Politics, but perhaps people voted for him for other issues as well aside from his environmental stance?

      What does Julian Assange have to do with any of this? He leaked diplomatic documents and cables, that doesn’t mean he is omniscient or his opinion is more valid than others? Also just curious where does it say is a ‘denier’? i did a quick google search out of interest and the only reference to this I found was this same comment being posted by you on various different blogs over the past year.

      And of course Obama is not going to refer to climate change as a ‘crisis’. No politician is going to refer to anything a crisis if they do not have too. Same reason politicians avoided the term crisis for the ‘financial crisis’. Obama does mention Climate Change in the State of the Union however.

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      • December 23, 2013 at 5:13 am PDT | jlmur writes:

        Thanks a bunch.
        The truth shall set you free.

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  3. December 20, 2013 at 17:11 pm PDT | Nick Aster writes:

    Well this post certainly brought on the genius commenters! Sorry, Mary :-)

    Reply Or REGISTER HERE if you are new.

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