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600 Companies, More Senior Executives Commit to Sustainability Policies

By Brian Collett

Record numbers of the largest and most influential companies in the US have been found in new research to be committing themselves to ambitious sustainability policies.

The optimistic report, tagged Turning Point, has been released by the Boston-based non-profit sustainability consultancy Ceres, which seeks responsible solutions with prominent investors and companies.

The findings, following up on an original 2014 assessment, Gaining Ground: Corporate Progress on the Ceres Roadmap for Sustainability, show that nearly two thirds of the more than 600 companies covered intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, more than half of the companies are said now to have formal water management policies, and nearly half are committed to workers’ rights.

Ceres says sustainability is now supervised by senior executives in more companies. Today top-level people are responsible for sustainability performance in 65 per cent of the companies, up from 42 per cent in 2014, and high-level officers handle greenhouse gas emissions reductions in 98 per cent of the companies and water management in 97 per cent.

However, flaws are highlighted by Ceres too. Although 69 per cent of the companies asked suppliers to minimize environmental and social impacts, only 34 per cent provided the means to take action.

A commendable 64 per cent of companies were committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, but only 36 per cent set clear goals – and only a quarter of the targets were for a 25 per cent cut by 2020.

Although 32 per cent conduct materiality assessments, far more than the 7 per cent listed four years ago, only 6 per cent say how the results guide planning and decision-making. On water control, 55 per cent were committed but only 15 per cent set priority targets in the areas of highest risk.

The researchers’ key recommendation is for all companies to intensify sustainability action.

On a positive note, the report, using data from Vigeo Eiris, a London-based global provider of environmental, social and governance research, says many of Ceres’ expectations are met by Citi, Coca-Cola, CVS Health, Gap, General Mills, Intel, Kellogg, Nike and PepsiCo.

Jerry Lynch, chief sustainability officer at General Mills, the US multinational consumer foods group based in Minneapolis, said: “We know that feeding a growing population depends on a healthy planet, so we’ve taken bold actions to advance sustainability.

“Transforming our global food system and our business model requires collaboration and transparency across our supply chain, along with strong commitment from our executives and board of directors.

“While transformation brings many challenges, we see immense opportunities for leadership, innovation and growth as we move toward the sustainable future envisioned in Turning Point.”

At the international bank Citi, headquartered in New York City, Val Smith, the managing director and global head of corporate sustainability, said: “We look forward to using Turning Point to help us identify areas where we can prioritize action and strive further toward sustainability leadership.”

Photo: Ceres