I am no environmental expert, but I shudder every time I read CR reports by businesses that they are bending over backwards to reduce carbon emissions and extolling the praises of every single carbon-emission-reducing project, and in the next breath we read that their absolute carbon emissions have increased. Am I just naïve or is there something wrong with this system? Do all these businesses who are growing and increasing their carbon footprint year on year think they are positively contributing to climate change just because their emission levels per store, per truck, per refrigerator, per hamburger, per trip, per cup of coffee, per banana, per printed CR report or per pair of underpants is less than it was a year ago ? I mean, who do they think I am? Dumbo? (ok, they're not sooo far off). Who are we kidding here?
Take a quick look at Tesco in the UK. 2009 CR report. This sentence: Over the past year our net sales area grew by 16.4% while our carbon footprint increased by 3.7%. This means we cut our carbon intensity by 10.9% year-on-year. I did a little research. In the last two years their sales area has grew by 16.2% % and carbon emissions increased by 14.7% . This is almost no carbon intensity reduction. Who cares about carbon intensity anyway? We should care about absolute emission levels.
OK, so who else?
IKEA provide a comprehensive breakdown of total carbon emissions in their latest CR report for 2008 and show that carbon emissions have INCREASED YEAR ON YEAR EVERY YEAR for the past 4 years. But here is how IKEA present this: "The total amount of carbon dioxide emissions directly related to IKEA operations increased in FY08. However, in relative terms, the development is positive. When one examines carbon dioxide emissions per total products sold, we see an overall positive improvement compared to FY05. " Positive ? Is "relative" going to save the planet?
DANSKE BANK. Carbon emissions increased from 54.1 to 65.2 ktons 2008 vs 2007.An increase of 20% and from 2.9 to 3.5 tonnes per FTE. In a section entitled "Continuing to improve our impact" and full of green jargon such as "towards a low-carbon future" , "carbon neutrality" and "1 tonne less" campaign" , the actual results of all these words and efforts is exactly opposite.
CR reports are very valuable for assessing carbon management performance. I applaud all the above and thousands others who report, and who are making efforts to support climate change. But the focus has to shift from words to clear decisive actions which result in absolute lower carbon emission levels. Sadly, we are still caught up in the intensity of it all and cowering behind the relativity of ghg statements. Maybe we should be relatively more intense and focus on relatively more results?
elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm . Visit our website at: www.b-yond.biz/en