Sunday 18 May 2014

Why Corporate Emissions Matter?

Despite the much talked about corporate sustainability reporting becoming a popular reporting mechanism to reduce environmental footprint across leading companies, a recent study finds that 51 of the top 100 companies surveyed emit unsustainable levels of carbon emissions.

This shows that What the company reports as  leading to 'sustainability performance' does not lead to sustainability in real terms! In other words, the quantum of carbon emissions reduced by the company are not commensurate with the overall carbon footprint of its entire business operations. And why this matters most is because 40% of the largest economic entities in the world are corporations!

The top 11 big names that scored poorly on sustainability parameters are News Corp, Toyota, Deutsche Bank, Nestle, Samsung, Panasonic, Nippon Steel, Kraft Foods, Hennes & Mauritz, Sabmiller and Pfizer (View Report).

Interestingly, it has been observed that such companies have fairly impeccable sustainability credentials. In light of such findings, it can be inferred that there is many a slip between the cup and the lip! Loopholes exist which add to the advantage of these big corporations that even reporting practices can be tweaked to misrepresent the efforts put towards improving sustainability performance. Such instances do invoke the need to make reporting mandatory for big corporations.

The EU has taken a bold step in this direction as it seeks to force large companies with 500 or more employees to disclose relevant but concise information pertaining to environmental and social performance. This move brings about 6000 EU companies under lens. But this may not be making 'real sense' unless the efforts put in by the corporate are based on scientific logic.

Two areas of concern emerge that need attention of policy makers. 

First, it is time for governments to move beyond disclosure and transparency and encourage businesses to extend their sustainability initiatives to incorporate Scope III emissions. Many companies are responsible for significant levels of Scope III carbon emissions which occur outside their premises. The carbon emissions usually reported take into account only the Scope I and Scope II carbon emissions, which are mostly very low or insignificant when compared to carbon footprint due to Scope III emissions. Such emissions are rarely measured and reported mainly due to lack of scientific measures and difficulties in gathering and analyzing data. This also leads to incremental steps taken by corporate which contribute very little to the climate change mitigation strategies.

Second, policy makers also need to assess the sustainability initiatives more rigorously. Businesses must be encouraged to declare time bound action plans to cut down carbon emissions. Also 'sustainability performance' of corporate needs to be assessed more scientifically rather than through populist proclamations or year-on-year comparisons of targets achieved. Policy makers need to take the initiative to bridge the gap between climate-science determined and business determined measures.

If such actions are not taken, most of the corporate effort is likely to miss out on the real action needed to make meaningful contribution towards corporate sustainability. A policy shift from 'report or explain' to 'report or perish' is becoming a necessity. Otherwise, it is going to hurt business eventually.

G V P Rajan is Vice President (Sustainable Strategies) at and can be reached at

Saturday 5 April 2014

Adapting to Climate Change - Key to Survival?

Climate Change Impacts: DroughtsForget about building consensus on the phenomena of global warming or the wrangling negotiations between the developing and developed worlds over carbon reduction targets, climate change has already started taking shape in almost every part of the world right from the equator to the poles, and from the wealthiest to the poorest of nations.
Besides the uncertain nature and the surprising magnitude of extreme weather events, whose impacts are felt almost instantaneously, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) from Working Group II released on 31st March 2014 finds that definite changes of lesser magnitude, which are showing persistent trends over past few decades, can emerge as a sure-shot recipe for bigger disasters. Read the full post ...

Tuesday 31 December 2013

Major Climate Change Impacts of 2013 – A Roundup

As the year draws to a close, it opens up many issues and challenges. Year 2013 was a witness to many unforeseen and puzzling climate change events.

Unexpected heavy rains in Asia, Central Europe and North America triggered by locking up of pressure systems that quickly dumped excess moisture within a short span of time took people and government authorities by surprise.

In June, Uttarakhand, a state in the Northern part of India, faced the wrath of a massive cloudburst that quickly transformed into a heavy flow of fast moving debris that gained momentum along steep mountainous terrains.  Kedarnath – the epicenter of catastrophe – a well-known abode of Lord Shiva, attracts millions of worshipers every year. The premature onset of monsoon rains by almost a month was  unexpected and the presence of millions of visitors in the region made matters worse. The event took a heavy toll of over 6000 lives, according to official sources. Read the full post...

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