More Companies Get on Board with Disclosing their Forest Footprints

Some of the companies that topped off their sectors are among those with the largest exposure to forest risk -- and the largest impact on deforestation. Major retailers like Marks and Spencer (General Retailers) and J Sainsbury (Food & Drug Retailers), for example, hope to both win points with their customers and make their supply chains more resilient.

Other retailers with massive impact on forests and a penchant for preaching sustainability -- such as Walmart -- chose not to participate this year (although Walmart did participate in previous years).

Perhaps the most underreported sector is Oil & Gas, where Greenenergy International took the top spot. The company supplies one fifth of all the road fuel sold in Britain, but it pales in comparison to global oil producers who chose not to participate: BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Petrobas, Royal Dutch Shell, Total and Valero Energy.

Forest Risk: an Evolving Science

Scientists are only now beginning to understand the impact that land use has on forests -- not to mention the impact that forests have on surrounding land use. Rainfall from the Amazon on down, for example, may be driven in part by complex chemicals in the forest itself, and there is growing evidence that deforestation reduces that rainfall by inhibiting the biotic pump that pulls in moisture from the sea. Even without climate change, a reduction in the biotic pump would mean a plunge in soybean production across Brazil and Argentina, at a cost of trillions to the global economy.

Other risks are easier to see -- such as those for timber and other raw materials.

"Wood is the most important raw material for Stora Enso, and responsible forestry is the cornerstone for our operations," said Antti Marjokorpi, Senior Vice President of Sustainability for Finnish materials groupo Stora Enso Oyj, which earned top marks in the materials sector. "The way we see it, only sustainably-managed forests and plantations can bring real value to all our stakeholders, including our customers."

How The Information is Used

The results will be shared with the companies, and with those 70 investors, who will use the information to navigate their portfolios through some fairly dangerous times ahead.

"Investors get to see company reports and our SWAT (Strengths, Weakness, Advantages & Threats) analysis, and companies get to see their own reports," says Hulse. "The results are currently not available to the general public, because companies that participate in good faith but don't yet have policies in place will come in at the bottom, and we didn't think that was an incentive for those companies to participate."

That may change over time, as more companies come clean and more governments demand transparency.

"Voluntary disclosure exists to fill a gap between what regulators ask companies to provide and the information that wider society thinks is relevant," says FFD Technical Adviser Liz Crosbie. "The free subsidy to businesses from using up more natural capital than can be replenished naturally may have been overlooked in the past, when there were fewer people on the planet, but it does not work in our new resource-constrained world."