Climate Change

Published on April 30th, 2014 | by Tina Casey


Sustainability Progress Report: Long Road Ahead For US Companies

April 30th, 2014 by  

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 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.

Follow me on Twitter and Google+.

Keep up with all the latest clean tech news from CleanTechnica: subscribe to our newsletter

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

Tags: , , ,

About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • JamesWimberley

    Ceres are blurring the message by multiplying metrics, Some of these are of dubious relevance, like human rights in supply chains. (I’m all for pressure to see that workers in Bangladesh sweatshops have minimum wages, safe workplaces and rest breaks. But it’s nothing to do with sustainability.) The governance stuff is easy to check, but only instrumental.

    For most companies, there are really only two comparable metrics of results:
    – One, are you reducing greenhouse gas emissions directly attributable to your operations (heating, cooling and lighting buildings, transport fleets, industrial processes)? Example: Google improves power efficiency in server farms.
    – Two, are you reducing indirect greenhouse gas emissions from the operations of your suppliers (everything else)? example: Google switches to renewable suppliers of electricity for server farms.

    There are other metrics of importance that only apply in certain sectors: food (sustainable fisheries and farming), furniture and building (sustainable forestry), mineral extraction and chemicals (pollution). Companies should be held to account for these too. But they can only be compared within the sector, not globally.

Back to Top ↑