The Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor, a collaboration between sustainability research institute New Climate Institute and climate policy advocate Carbon Market Watch that evaluates the transparency and integrity of companies’ climate pledges, released an analysis today that suggests the climate pledges of Amazon, Google, and others lack integrity, in reality only committing them to reducing their emissions by 40% on average, not 100% as suggested by their “net zero” and “carbon neutral” claims.
The analysis evaluated 25 major companies operating across different sectors and geographies to determine the transparency and integrity of their climate pledges. Only one company’s net zero pledge was evaluated as having “reasonable integrity”; three with “moderate”, ten with “low” and the remaining 12 were rated as having “very low” integrity.
While no company was found to have a high degree of integrity, a minority of their pledges served as a useful long-term vision, being substantiated by specific short term emissions reduction targets. Maersk came out on top, with reasonable integrity, followed by Apple, Sony and Vodafone with moderate integrity.
The rest of the companies’ pledges were undermined by dubious plans to reduce emissions elsewhere via carbon offsetting, accounting tricks, hidden information, and the exclusion of indirect emissions sources — which typically account for 90% of a company’s carbon footprint. Overall, the analysis finds the headline pledges of Amazon, Deutsche Telekom, Enel, GlaxoSmithKline, Google, Hitachi, IKEA, Vale, Volkswagen and Walmart have low integrity and those of Accenture, BMW Group, Carrefour, CVS Health, Deutsche Post DHL, E.ON SE, JBS, Nestlé, Novartis, Saint-Gobain and Unilever have very low integrity.
Thirteen companies with net-zero pledges have in reality committed to an average emissions reduction (compared to 2019) of only 40%. The remaining twelve companies have no specific emissions reduction commitments for their net zero target year.
The analysis theorizes that as pressure from investors and the public mounts for climate action, companies exaggerate their proactivity, misleading consumers and regulators. Given this, authors recommend increased scrutiny on corporate climate pledges. Gilles Dufrasne from Carbon Market Watch warned:
“Misleading advertisements by companies have real impacts on consumers and policymakers. We’re fooled into believing that these companies are taking sufficient action, when the reality is far from it. Without more regulation, this will continue. We need governments and regulatory bodies to step up and put an end to this greenwashing trend.” He added:
“Companies must face the reality of a changing planet. What seemed acceptable a decade ago is no longer enough,” said Dufrasne. “Setting vague targets will get us nowhere without real action, and can be worse than doing nothing if it misleads the public. Countries have shown that we need a fresh start when adopting the Paris Agreement, and companies need to reflect this in their own actions.”
The issue of companies failing to follow through on their climate commitments is well-known, reflecting reluctant attitudes among business leaders. Last November, sustainable operations innovator Samsara found that 94% of a group of 300 executives reportedly could “only achieve sustainability goals if it benefits their organization’s bottom line.” That same month, global technology provider Ricoh found that most European businesses feel there is no incentive to become more sustainable.