Multinationals are becoming more transparent but fail to address major environmental and social impacts

Source: Sustainability/UNEP, 16 November 2000

Report spotlights the top fifty corporate sustainability reports worldwide.

The Global Reporters, SustainAbility’s latest research, benchmarks the top 50 corporate sustainability reports from around the world. Given recent anti-globalization protests and the increasing spotlight on corporate responsibility, such reporting will be crucial to public acceptance and corporate profitability.
Companies have begun to embrace economic, social and environmental accountability, but important gaps remain. Most reports actually overlook the proverbial ‘elephants in the bedroom’, the central sustainability issues that are affected by the companies’ activities. Furthermore, none of the companies systematically discussed their impact on developing countries – the core concern of corporate critics. Financial institutions, from analysts to bankers and insurers appear to be indifferent to such ‘triple bottom line’ accounting (economic, environmental and social) and are slowing the development of corporate efforts in this area.

The Global Reporters is the fourth in a series of publications about disclosure and reporting carried out by SustainAbility, the sustainable development think-tank and strategy consultants, in association with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the first to address the subject of sustainability reporting. The survey attempts to assess how well companies’ communications about sustainability issues allow readers to make judgments about their commitments, management quality and performance towards sustainable development.

The top scorers of the 50 companies covered by the survey UK airport operator BAA and Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk achieve 62% of the maximum score, while the average score is just 43%.

According to SustainAbility Chairman John Elkington, this research confirms growing evidence that companies are reacting to critics of globalization and perceived unchecked corporate influence and power. "The results of The Global Reporters provide further evidence that companies recognize society’s growing interest in their ethical performance and are beginning to take it seriously. Their biggest challenges now are to address the missing pieces: how sustainable development activities are integrated into and justified as part of their regular business activities; how they are accounting for their activities in and impacts on developing countries; and how they account for impacts right across the supply chain."

Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel, Director of UNEP’s Division of Technology, Industry and Economics says, "This report, like our previous joint work with SustainAbility, has the goal to encourage corporate reporting on economic, social and environmental issues. It is clear now that many more companies can and must begin to report about their performance in all their locations in all parts of the world reporting is the best tool that companies have to communicate how they achieve continuous performance on sustainability issues."

Download the executive summary (pdf)