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Sustainability Progress Report: Long Road Ahead For US Companies

In 2010 the sustainable business organization Ceres launched the Roadmap for Sustainability to help US companies identify guideposts for facing 21st century challenges — you know, like climate change, water risks, population pressures, human rights abuses, social disruption, and that sort of thing. Today Ceres is out with a followup study on the sustainability progress of 613 US companies, which indicates that our US business community has still found a few hundred holes in which to bury its collective head.

The new report, Gaining Ground: Corporate Progress on the Ceres Roadmap for Sustainability (here’s an alternate link) identifies a few bright spots but the general scale of action amounts to baby steps.

Ceres sustainable business report

Ostrich by Ignacio García.

The New Ceres Sustainability Progress Report

In the new report, Ceres sorted through the 613 companies looking for evidence of the kind of collaborative, innovative, and transformative actions that can assist the transition to a successful business model in the 21st century.

Ceres isn’t looking for mere hanging-on-by-your-fingertips sustainability progress, it is looking for leadership, and for recognition that sustainability creates new opportunities for growing shareholder value.

Unfortunately, the pickings were slim. Here’s the money quote:

We found that many companies are gaining ground with modest overall improvement. But given the acceleration of environmental and social challenges globally – floods, droughts and workplace tragedies, among them – corporate actions and solutions are not keeping pace with the required level of change.

In addition to a discussion of goal-setting (or lack thereof) for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving water risk management, the new report outlines several obstacles to sustainability progress including Boards of Directors that don’t take responsibility for overseeing sustainability performance, a lack of executive compensation for sustainability performance, and general inconsistency in efforts to include stakeholders in sustainability planning.

The Ceres Crystal Ball

As if on cue, just yesterday we came across a report at NYTimes.com about one major US company that didn’t get the memo.

The largest electricity generator in Texas, energy giant TXU Corporation (aka Energy Future Holdings), crashed and burned into bankruptcy yesterday.

That’s not just any old bankruptcy. According to the report by Julie Creswell and Michael J. de la Merced, it’s the 11th largest bankruptcy in history and one of the largest among private-equity companies.

TXU was the subject of a massive $45 billion buyout in 2007, which according to the reporters basically amounted to “a giant bet that natural gas prices would continue to climb.”

Well, they didn’t. The natural gas bubble quickly subsided to a simmer and looks ready to pop on the heels of the fracking “boom,” unless the Obama Administration rides to the rescue by easing restrictions on exports.

 

As for Ceres, the organization was on the case early, issuing a warning to investors about TXU’s plans for expansion way back in, you guessed it, 2007.

Ceres also just issued a natural gas fracking warning to investors earlier this year, focusing on the risk involved in water resource competition.

Ceres, btw, is also the force behind the “Clean Trillion” campaign to encourage more investment in clean energy companies.

Also for the record, ostriches do not actually bury their heads to hide from danger.

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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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