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April 30, 2012; Source: Greenbiz.com

Ceres is a nonprofit focused on promoting environmentally and economically sustainable practices in the corporate world. It does so in part by signing up and mobilizing like-minded corporate leaders and investors. How successful has Ceres been in recruiting companies to sign up to fight climate change and work toward creating a sustainable global economy? A new report from Ceres, “The Road to 2020,” called out the still insufficient and sporadic levels of corporate support for addressing climate change, but provides useful analysis and guideposts about where the corporate sector is and what it might take to motivate corporate leaders and investors to move to the environmentally sustainable side of the global economy.

The “Road to 2020” report assesses where 600 publicly traded U.S. companies fall out on some 20 variables within four major areas: governance (how companies “embed sustainability into…management and board structures, goal-setting, and strategic decision-making”); stakeholder engagement (“proactively engag(ing) in robust dialogue with stakeholders across the whole value chain”); disclosure (“regularly report(ing) on sustainability strategies and performance”); and performance (the application and improvement of “environmental and social metrics across their operations”). The findings suggest that corporations still have a long way to go:

  • Only 26 percent of the corporations have sustainability concerns and priorities embedded in their governance;
  • Only 13 percent of the corporations ranked in the top two tiers (of four) regarding human rights policies;
  • Only 24 percent evidence “some degree of meaningful stakeholder engagement;”
  • More than half of the corporations do not issue any kind of sustainability report; and
  • Only 29 percent issue sustainability reports using the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines.

How to get the corporate sector more engaged? Ceres has laid out multiple strategies corporations can follow in Ceres’ “Roadmap to Sustainability,” which is sort of a menu from which corporations should be able to pick and choose what fits their institutional agendas and cultures.

It’s not surprising that the Ceres board is heavy on the public-spirited investment managers that look for sustainability as a factor in their investment choices, such as leaders and officers of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), the United Methodist Church General Board of Pension and Health Benefits, the New York State Comptroller, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), the State Treasurer of Connecticut, and the Presbyterian Church’s Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI). Other members are from major nonprofits such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club, along with the AFL-CIO. Ceres also does advocacy, serving as the coordinator of Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP), which works with leading consumer brand corporations such as Nike, Starbucks, and Avon. GreenBiz Group VP John Davies called the nonprofit’s latest analysis “sobering” in its assessment that “sustainability leadership is the exception and that below average performance with limited pockets of action is still the norm.”–Rick Cohen