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Steve Graham

Steve Graham photo courtesy of Steve GrahamSteve Graham is an award-winning freelance Web and magazine writer living in a Fort Collins, Colorado, neighborhood that will soon produce all of its own energy. He is a former newspaper reporter, editor and designer. He has worked for an alternative weekly and community newspapers in Colorado, and a large daily newspaper in California. Find links to some of his other writing at his Grahamophone blog.

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Don’t be Greenwashed by Company Annual Reports
Friday, 18 January 2013 00:00  |  Written by Steve Graham | Blog Entry

Annual Report photo by Dominic AlvesIt’s time for companies to release another round of annual reports, which for some becomes a major greenwashing opportunity. Many businesses also generate separate corporate social-responsibility reports that largely focus on environmental and labor practices. These days most firms want to jump on the sustainability bandwagon—or at least appear to be on board. To be sure, many are reducing their carbon and water footprints, and taking important strides toward protecting the environment. But some only say they are.

It’s important to seek out companies with sustainable practices that go beyond using recycled paper and offering vague promises about going green. As I keep preaching within this blog, businesses can profit from true sustainability, particularly as more consumers make their investing and purchasing decisions based on environmental principles. Companies should also learn they can lose money by skimping on sustainability. Here are some ways to separate the green leaders from the greenwashers.

Watch the Watchdogs
The motto of Corpwatch is “holding corporations accountable.” It creates “alternative annual reports” that review the official corporate documents and add what they believe is missing. For example, the group worked with other activists to create “The True Cost of Chevron (pdf).” This report quantifies Chevron’s minuscule investment in renewables, and the very limited extent to which Chevron can honestly say it is part of the solution. The report also lists the negative environmental impacts of many other Chevron investments. In addition, Corpwatch provides regular news updates on poor corporate practices regarding the environment, human rights and more.

Follow the Money
Use opensecrets.org or the Federal Elections Commission database to find out about a company’s political contributions. I’ll keep picking on Chevron. The oil company’s top Congressional campaign recipient this year was Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, who denies global climate change and opposes vehicle fuel-efficiency standards. Bennett is demonstrably not part of the solution.

Also look for contributions to eco-unfriendly industry groups and lobbying associations.

Go to the Source
If an annual report references environmental impact statements, monitoring data or other environmental information, don’t rely on its writers to accurately summarize the data. Search the website for the original document. If it doesn’t show up, contact the company directly to ask for a copy. It’s not a good sign if a company refuses and says the information is proprietary or confidential.

Read Carefully
A commitment doesn’t necessarily translate to quantifiable action. Look for specific numbers and results, rather than promises or goals, in annual reports. Also follow up to make sure the business follows through in funding its stated environmental initiatives. For example, to pick on another oil company, BP continues to promote its alternative-energy efforts even as it dismantles them. To be sure, the firm used to be a leader in moving “beyond petroleum,” but since it has quietly abandoned most of its environmental efforts.

Hold companies accountable. Make sure they live up to the pretty pictures and environmental promises in their annual reports. Companies need to invest more than words in helping protect the environment.

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Comments (1)add
Written by tjp , December 24, 2009
Excellent advice, Steve.
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