Assessing Corporate Emissions Performance Through The Lens of Climate Science

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Courtesy of Climate Counts

A Collaborative Study between Climate Counts and the Center for Sustainable Organizations

Green within the Context of Natural Limits

The word “green” has come to mean many things in our world, but perhaps chief among them is how it has become the de facto term for describing a company’s e n v i r o n m e n t a l progress. A company can be considered green for many things, from its products, to its packaging, to its workforce and beyond. But without context, green is just another color.

This study is meant to provide context in a world of seemingly arbitrary corporate environmental targets, specifically those tied to carbon emissions. If a company claims that it plans to reduce its carbon footprint 15% by 2020, is that good? Better yet, is it enough to achieve the carbon reductions necessary to avert runaway climate change?

To set carbon targets without using science to inform those targets can be woefully misleading. As an analogy, a man might claim to his wife that he has reduced his bacon cheeseburger intake 20% from the previous year. On its surface, this sounds like an honorable endeavor to live a healthier lifestyle, but what if the man’s doctor had warned that he would surely die of a heart attack within an year’s time if he chose not to abstain from eating bacon cheeseburgers altogether?

What we have attempted to do with this study is to analyze the operational emissions of 100 global corporations between 2005 and 2012 to determine their performance against a sciencebased targets that seek to limit climate change to 2o Celsius (3.6o Fahrenheit).

Essentially, what we are trying to ascertain is, “Based on what we know about climate science, are companies reducing their emissions enough, and, if not, how much further do they still need to go?”

While we have made several observations and conclusions that address this question, the findings herein are meant to represent the start of a journey, not the end. Collaborators in this effort recognize that there are limitations to the metric we have used to gauge each company’s performance, just as there are limitations to the climate models on which we have based our analysis. Science by definition is imperfect, but that should not preclude us from attempting to glean insight from what we know to be true in this moment.

As with any research project of this nature, there will be detractors and skeptics, but we hope this work will also lead to thoughtful discussion. We encourage companies to work with us to understand our methods as a means of informing their internal sustainability goals and targets.

We also hope that this project will inspire everyday citizens to gain a respect for the reality of the threats ahead, and the steps we need to take collectively to address the issue of climate change.

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