EHS Management

Corporate America Not Embracing Sustainability

Ceres describes itself as an organization that “mobilizes a powerful network of investors, companies and public interest groups to accelerate and expand the adoption of sustainable business practices.”

According to Ceres, the 2010 roadmap defined what a sustainable corporation should look like by outlining the necessary governance structures; the types of engagement companies should be pursuing with stakeholders; and the standards and scope of public disclosure and transparency that are essential to the sustainable corporation.

The roadmap contained 20 specific expectations for sustainable performance and metrics for reducing environmental impacts and improving worker conditions in operations, supply chains, and the rest of the corporate enterprise.

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In its assessment, Ceres placed companies in one of four performance tiers – Tier 1: setting the pace; Tier 2: making progress; Tier 3: getting on track; and Tier 4: starting out.  The following results were reported:

  • Governance and sustainability – 26 percent of the 600 companies (157 companies) including Alcoa, Xcel, and Intel are in Tiers 1 and 2 for their governance strategies on sustainability.  More than half are in Tier 4.
  • Stakeholder engagement – Almost 24 percent of companies have some degree of meaningful stakeholder engagement, including Baxter and Ford, which demonstrate ongoing and long-term engagement with a diversity of stakeholders and disclose how they consider stakeholder feedback in business decision-making and strategy.  However, nearly half of the companies assessed disclose no efforts on stakeholder engagement.
  • Disclosure – 40 percent (293 companies) are publishing sustainability reports, with 29 percent (176 companies) using the Global Reporting Initiative guidelines.  This still leaves almost half of the companies without a sustainability report.

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Ceres also reports that 47 percent of the 600 companies are making “some progress” in reducing GHG emissions by lowering electricity demand, procuring renewable energy, and ramping up energy efficiency.

A third of the companies have time-bound targets for reducing GHG emissions for direct operations.  Regarding water management, 25 percent of the companies in water-intensive sectors have undertaken assessments to identify specific water-related risks such as geographic-specific exposure.

“While there are encouraging pockets of sustainability leadership in the U.S. business community, far too many companies are only taking small, incremental steps,” said Ceres president Mindy Lubber.  “Sustainability has yet to gain traction at anywhere near the scale and speed required given the global threats we face.”

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