Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


companies need help to tackle the challenge of global warming

March 2001

At first sight, the most authoritative annual survey of UK companies’ environmental management and performance makes pretty depressing reading. When it comes to taking action on global warming, the environmental performance of UK companies is described by Business in the Environment, which produces the BiE index, as ‘pitiful’.

One company in three which took part in the fifth Index of Corporate Environmental Engagement does not even measure its global warming emissions – an essential first step towards reductions. Given that the companies surveyed were invited to participate in the index, and so are likely to be environmentally progressive, these figures are not good.

But the 48-page report contains a lot of data and this can be interpreted in a variety of ways. The index is an annual snapshot of work that is done in three distinct stages: first, environmental policies are written and a board member given responsibility for the issue; then impacts are measured and, finally, reduction targets set.

Companies overall have made good progress on the first stage. But on measuring impacts and target setting their overall performance is much weaker. Of the 184 companies that took part, 118 set no reduction targets at all. In other words, companies overall have appointed a board member with specific responsibility and created a policy framework, but they are not moving onto the next phase of work – measuring impacts and, crucially, setting reduction targets.

With climate change negotiations stalled at government level, companies have a key role to play. But they will need much more guidance and concrete support to help make the business case to their finance directors as to why they should back measures to mitigate the long term effects of global warming. As things stand at present, there are simply not enough solid commercial reasons why companies singlehandedly should devote a lot of time and effort to help solve a problem that, as the latest International Panel on Climate Change report shows, will affect the entire world.



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