Australia lags behind on environmental reporting

Australian companies are lagging behind international standards on environmental reporting, with few companies reporting publicly and plenty of room for improvement among those that do, according to a recent benchmarking report, by Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC).

While Australian industry is lagging behind world standards in public environmental reporting the general performance is relatively good given its late start on reporting publicly, says Terence Jeyaretnam, principal author of the report, ‘Public Environmental Reporting: Where Does Australia Stand?’.
Corporate environmental reporting to stakeholders is on the rise in Australia. It has gained particular significance as a result of the amendment to the Corporations Law on 1 July 1998 seeking some level of mandatory disclosure of environmental performance in company Annual Financial Reports.
However, the report concludes that only a relatively small proportion of Australian companies report publicly and that there is significant room for improvement. The leading organisations in public environmental reporting were WMC, Rio Tinto, Sydney Water and BHP. The Utility and Mining sectors performed better than other Australian industry.
The average score for the 100 global reports assessed by SustainAbility Ltd in their Engaging Stakeholder Programme is 72.3. Only four of the Australian reports, those produced by WMC, Rio Tinto, Sydney Water and BHP, scored higher than this global average.
When the performance of the top 10 Australian reports were compared against the top 10 reports in the global scene, it was found that Australian reports scored an average of approximately 25 points lower than their global counterparts. However, it is noteworthy that all ten reports would have made the global Top 100 list given their relative scores.
Another minor survey by SMEC carried out as part of the study found that of the fifty top profit-earning companies in Australia only five produced stand-alone public environmental reports.
Mr. Jeyaretnam said that nearly half of the forty companies that responded to the survey had some public environmental reporting mechanism in place, but only a fifth have produced reports that effectively disclose environmental performance data. Of the forty companies only 13 reported on the environment via the Company Internet page.
John Elkington, chairman of SustainAbility Ltd commented that ‘Jeyaretnam and Tunney have used the 50 criteria that we developed for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – and used them fairly and accurately as far as we can tell. This significantly expands the coverage of companies that have now been benchmarked in this way, and we hope that the process will be repeated in future’.
The report can be ordered from SMEC, contact Terence Jeyaretnam

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