Green reports from companies continue to lack credibility

Less than 25 percent of FTSE 350 companies publish Green assurance

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Energy reporting laws have had little impact on the number of companies publishing carbon and sustainability reports, a study has found.

Despite the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) Energy Efficiency Scheme, which came into force in April 2010, and the government's mandatory carbon reporting regulations, which are expected by April 2012, environmental consultancy Carbon Smart has found that just 23% (79 companies) of the FTSE 350 published some form of verification statement of their sustainability reporting.

This is just four more companies than last year (21% or 75 companies), the first year of this study, which was initiated in response to investor demand for a way to compare the credibility of sustainability reports.

Only 66 of the 79 companies produced reports that were conducted independently and based on a recognised assurance standard, either the AA1000AS or the ISAE3000. Again, this is only four more than 2009 (62 companies).

"It [carbon reporting] is an option people are still coming to grips with," said Karen Mecz, senior consultant at Carbon Smart, who added that the CRC scheme does not cover a large number of companies.

"We suspect that people are beginning to measure [their energy usage] but not publicly report."

Carbon Smart's report, 'Stuck on the starting blocks - the state of sustainability assurance in 2010', also found that the number of reports with independently-verified carbon emissions had only increased from 38 in 2009 to 39 last year.

Ben Murray, managing director of Carbon Smart, said: "These results are extremely worrying. Verified data is the only real way to assess whether companies are actually lowering their emissions. Currently we don't have the data to make that assessment.

"It is surprising that companies think they can carry on like this. Investors would not accept a financial report which had not been audited, why would they accept carbon data at face value?"

The study found that many companies saw assurance as expensive, or an additional reporting 'hoop' through which they did not want to jump through, while others felt that their data was robust enough to avoid assurance.

On a sector basis, telecommunications companies, which provided 33% of the assurance reports, rated most highly against best-practice assurance criteria, with an average rating of 78% (up from 73% last year).

Technology companies remained at the bottom of the list, providing just six percent of the statements. However, there was a significant improvement in the average rating of these six percent, from five percent in 2009 to 22% in 2010.

In addition, Carbon Smart published a league table reflecting how companies in the FTSE 350 ranked individually against best practice sustainability assurance criteria.

Those that achieved a top rating of 72 to 100% included mobile phone company Vodafone, mining, oil and gas company BHP Billiton, Associated British Foods, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and British American Tobacco (BAT). Vodafone, RBS and BAT were also in the top five in last year's report.

In contrast, the worst-performing assurance statements, rated between zero and 31%, included betting firm Ladbrokes, retailer WH Smith, savings and investment company Standard Life, drinks company Diageo, Home Retail Group and Lloyds Banking Group.

This story, "Green reports from companies continue to lack credibility" was originally published by Computerworld UK.

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