NGO calls for mandatory corporate environmental reporting

Friends of the Earth is demanding that Government introduce immediate mandatory environmental reporting requirements after a parliamentary question at the end of the year revealed that many companies have failed Prime Minister Tony Blair’s challenge to produce corporate environmental reports by the end of 2001.

In December, Baroness Miller asked the Government how many of the major companies listed on the Stock Exchange had responded to the Prime Minister’s challenge to report on environmental performance by the end of 2001.

The response from Lord Whitty was that Government currently estimates that 56 of the top 100 companies are now producing substantive reports on their environmental performance and 12 more have indicated they will report in future.

The reply adds that 23 of the next 250 currently report and a further 12 have indicated they will do so in future. Around 10% of other companies in the FTSE 350 mention environmental issues but do not report substantively on environmental performance.

A recent report from corporate image consultancy SalterBaxter backs up this view – it looked at the environmental reporting undertaken by the FTSE top 200 companies, and found that just 54 had published a standalone environmental report. A further 103 companies mentioned the environment in their annual report, though often not at any great length. Another 97 companies in the FTSE 200 disclose no substantive environmental or social information in their annual reports or other stand-alone reports, and just 16 of these have stated their intention to do so.

Prime Minister Blair singled out the top 350 companies in his address to the CBI in October 2000 as candidates to meet his challenge. But Friends of the Earth is now calling on the Government to end its ‘cosy-voluntary relationship’ with business and immediately instigate a mandatory reporting regime, as found in Scandinavia and The Netherlands.

The pressure group has highlighted for particular criticism a number of companies whose chief executives wrote in support of the current Government prior to the general election. The group pointed out that United Business Media, Excel, Granada Media, Marconi, and Lattice Group, whose chief executives were signatories to the letter to The Times, were said in the SalterBaxter assessment not to be producing full environmental reports.

Craig Bennett, Corporate Accountability campaigner at Friends of the Earth said: “The failure of big business to meet Downing Street’s deadline on reporting is a snub to Blair and two fingers to the environment. If the Prime Minister can’t even persuade his supporters in business to do as he says, who else is going to listen? It is time he ended his cosy relationship with big business, and started doing what governments should do: regulating to protect people and the environment.”

“This was the only challenge Blair has made to businesses on green issues – environmental reporting is the foundation of companies taking action on the environment,” Bennett told edie. “Everyone realised at the time that it would be very significant to see what happened.”

He pointed out that of the 79 of the top 350 producing environmental reports, 60 had been doing so prior to Blair’s CBI challenge, so just 19 have begun reporting as a direct result of the prime minister’s intervention. “This clearly indicates the failure of voluntary reporting,” Bennett added.

The Government’s response so far to the criticism is that it is adding to its existing guidelines on reporting on greenhouse gases, waste and water use to help more companies meet the challenge. In March, FTSE 350 companies were consulted on new general guidelines describing the reporting process and the contents of an environmental report. The final version was launched in November and is now being sent to all FTSE 350 companies and other CBI members with a joint letter from DEFRA and DTI ministers and the CBI.

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