Meacher challenges firms on E-reporting

Environment Minister Michael Meacher has issued a challenge to Britain's top 350 companies to measure and report comprehensively on one of their key environmental impacts - greenhouse gas emissions, and in particular CO2.

Meacher addressed Britain’s blue chip companies at a national conference, ‘Sustainable Business – the Benefits of Environmental and Social Reporting,’ held at the British Library last month, stating: “I believe that company environmental reporting is a big part of the sustainable development and climate change agenda. I am challenging you to set yourselves demanding targets for cost-effective and profitable improvements in performance and efficiency – and I underline those words; I am not asking you to do anything that is going to damage your bottom line.”

Meacher’s challenge stems from the response to the Government’s consultation paper on Sustainable Business issued earlier this year. The document generated more than 400 detailed responses, from businesses, trade associations and NGOs, highlighting considerable support for positive engagement with a broad group of stakeholders, and for effective reporting on company environmental performance. Eight out of ten respondents to the paper expressed support for a ‘Starter Pack’ for non-reporting companies – which the Government has duly produced – and around seven in ten voted in favour of the Government selecting one or two leading indicators against which companies should report, as a means of measuring business progress. Meacher was keen to point out, however, that such indicators should not be at the expense of flexibility to set a wider range of indicators tailored to specific business sectors. He added: “The narrow balance of those participating was in favour of a voluntary approach to the adoption of leading indicators. Even though a clear majority thought compulsion was needed to get a big increase in the numbers of companies reporting.

“That’s what business said. You will not be surprised to learn that I will today be challenging business to act on what business said. We have stressed that the voluntary approach has to be taken seriously, but business has to prove it works, because the alternative is not that environmental performance goes away as an issue; it isn’t going to. The alternative is that government is forced to rely more on regulation, on taxes, or on methods which make some elements of environmental reporting mandatory.”

The Government’s ‘simple, workable’ indicator is the Corporate Carbon Dioxide Indicator, developed in partnership by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and National Provident Institution (NPI), with input from businesses, governments, accountants and scientists, and which the World Business Council for Sustainable Development is encouraging its business members to adopt. The Government is producing an easy guide and workbook to help companies calculate roughly how much carbon dioxide is being released. In the UK, the indicator has already been applied by Wessex Water.

Many companies may yet feel, however, that “my company isn’t a major polluter.” Meacher had this response: “Sorry, but it does mean you. This is not just about the oil companies, the chemicals companies and the metal bashers. All companies have an environmental impact; all companies purchase fuel and electricity, consume paper and generate waste.

“I repeat what I have said in the past – it doesn’t have to be a glossy, PR report. How to report is up to you – as long as it is clear, honest and informative.”

Interested businesses should contact the DETR, Zone 6/E9, Ashdown House, 123 Victoria Street, London, SW1E 6DE, tel: 0171 890 6568 or fax: 0171 890 6559.

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