Reports ignore ecological limits

5th May 2016

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Andrew Johnson

Sustainability reports rarely refer to ecological limits and few firms set targets based on concepts such as planetary boundaries, climate tipping points or regenerative capacity, according to a study in the Journal of Cleaner Production.

Researchers in Denmark analysed 40,000 corporate responsibility reports published between 2000 and 2014. Despite companies being increasingly encouraged to frame their sustainability activities and communication around ecological limits, they found that just 5% of the reports did so.

The most commonly invoked limits related to climate change and references to the 2°C ceiling set by scientists for a rise in global temperature. Most companies referring in reports to ecological limits did so without specific references to ongoing or planned changes in their activities as a consequence of recognising these boundaries, said the researchers.

Just 31 firms explicitly used ecological limits to define targets for resource consumption, emissions reductions or as a stated reason for adjusting their product portfolio. ‘We were not surprised by the low share of companies referring to ecological limits,’ said Anders Bjørn, from the Technical University of Denmark, who led the study. ‘What surprised us was that, out of that 5% share, only 31 companies reported to have taken a concrete responsibility for preventing the exceeding of ecological limits.’

Bjørn said more companies should set sustainability targets based on ecological limits, so stakeholders, such as consumer organisations and NGOs, may more easily identify ambitious companies and hold them accountable. He said such an approach would improve the state of corporate responsibility reporting where differences in target setting, indicators and terminology make it difficult to tell who is making a genuine effort to be sustainable.


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