Unilever, UPS, Nike lead efforts to address climate change

Despite an uptick in business activity -- which might be expected to result in higher emissions -- some of the world's top-earning companies are managing to reduce their carbon footprints, according to a new report.

Five of the six highest-ranked companies -- Unilever, UPS, Nike, Levi Strauss and L'Oreal -- showed year-over-year revenue growth from 2010 to 2011 while reducing their total emissions across some or all of their business units, according to the Climate Counts 2012-2013 Annual Company Scorecard report, released Wednesday. It ranks major consumer brands on their efforts to address climate change. (GreenBiz Executive Editor Joel Makower sits on Climate Counts' board of directors).

The Durham, N.H.-based organization analyzed public data from 145 companies for its sixth annual report. AB Electrolux, IBM, Bank of America, Stonyfield Farm, Hewlett-Packard, Coca-Cola Company, Groupe Danone, Sony, Siemens and Reckitt-Benckiser rounded out the top-ranked companies. Alongside the toys, children's products and fast food industries, Amazon, Viacom and Wendy’s were among the worst performers.

"The fact that a lot of major corporations are showing the signs of sustainable growth and cutting overall emissions is of huge significance," Mike Bellamente, Climate Counts director, told GreenBiz. "Companies are getting back on their feet but they’re able to do so with more of what we need to do for climate change." 

Companies were evaluated on 22 criteria, including the extent to which they conducted a greenhouse gas emissions review, whether they developed a plan to reduce their emissions, and whether those reductions were achieved. They were also scored on their stances on climate and energy policy, as well as on public disclosures of their sustainability performance.

Sixty-six percent of the companies had developed public climate and energy strategies, compared to 25 percent in 2007. Bellamente attributed this growth to an increased ability for companies to make the business case for sustainability, especially in light of extreme weather events over the past few years such as Hurricane Sandy, the Midwestern drought and floods in the U.K.

"They say that there’s real risk and that it's disrupting business from a continuity standpoint," Bellamente said, "and want to invest in renewable energy for the sake of mitigating risks. ... They’re having a conversation with their suppliers and are being more forthright as to why it’s important for them [suppliers] to measure their emissions."

Only a handful of brands have developed energy and climate change strategies for moral reasons, Bellamente said, citing Unilever and its Ben & Jerry’s brand, Levi Strauss and Timberland in this category.

Image of ladders provided by Sashkin/Shutterstock

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