NEW YORK -- More top corporations are paying attention to their greenhouse gas emissions and are assigning top managers to curb them, according to a new survey.
The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), a U.K.-based nonprofit that presses businesses to calculate and make public their carbon footprints, says 332 of the Standard & Poor's 500 companies responded to this year's study, a 66 percent return, up from 64 percent last year.
Companies "are becoming increasingly aware of the value of carbon management," said Bob Moritz, U.S. chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers, which produced the report. For the first time this year, the project is ranking companies by their willingness to publicize their emissions and to what extent top management is working to combat climate change.
Comerica Inc. scored the highest in the survey's ranking criteria, followed by Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Chevron Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. Best Buy Co. Inc. and News Corp. also ranked among the top climate-conscious firms.
Reporting of "scope one" emissions, those generated directly from energy consumption, stayed flat from the year before. But more companies did report estimates of emission levels from scope two and three sources, mostly emanating from their full product -- or service -- supply chains.
Almost twice as many corporations said they have established targets for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, the report says. Fifty-two percent of the S&P 500 firms responding to the study disclosed specific emission reduction targets, up from 32 percent in 2008.
Eighty-six percent of respondents said climate change presented business opportunities, with 82 percent saying both risks and opportunities were factors that they were considering.
"More companies are reporting actually greenhouse gas emissions and establishing emissions targets," Moritz told investors and executives at the launch of the report today at Bank of America's new skyscraper here. "Oversight of global climate change is becoming more and more a senior management issue."
Though companies said they see risks associated with climate change, most of them said those risks are regulatory, rather than in terms of damage from rising sea levels or more adverse weather. Ninety-six percent of utilities fear future compliance costs levied by governments, and 84 percent of energy firms said legislative action posed one of the greatest risks.
Climate accounting and reporting is becoming more of an issue among investors as government concern over climate intensifies and a global market in carbon allowances and offset credits comes closer to reality.
Experts say the value of trading in a future world carbon market could grow to as much as $3 trillion by 2020, and financial companies, in particular -- many still struggling with the fallout of last year's economic crash -- are keenly eyeing the business opportunities that they say action on climate change will bring.
"CDP continues to generate a whole wealth of insight that is very valuable to investors," said Abyd Karmali, global head of carbon markets at Merrill Lynch. "I think [the report] highlights where the real money is going."
Companies see little public enthusiasm
Despite the growing corporate enthusiasm for tackling climate change, participants at this morning's report launch openly acknowledged that the majority of the U.S. public is not on board.
Many recent surveys show climate change ranking last among the issues people consider most important, with the public still overwhelmingly concerned about the lengthy economic recession and job security, and panelists briefly brainstormed on how to correct this.
Richard Edelman, CEO of the Edelman public relations firm, warned that a recent study taken by his firm shows that public trust in corporations is at an all-time low, leaving the business community ill-placed to preach to consumers on the importance of tackling climate change, especially if it comes at a price.
"We're losing the battle of communication," Edelman said. "It's seen as shared sacrifice, and shared sacrifice doesn't work in a world where people are scared."
One financial firm executive suggested that a good way to get the average American worker more concerned about climate change would be to highlight the actions and commitments by Chinese firms, hopefully spurring worries over competitiveness. But Edelman insisted that this would backfire, as Chinese firms rank among the least trusted in the world in the eyes of the U.S. public.
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