Measuring the hot air

US corporate leaders rose up in dissent against President Trump's withdrawal from the climate change agreement. David Bowen thought it would be interesting to see how well their companies reported their own greenhouse gas emissions. 

Many US corporate bosses were swift to dissociate themselves from President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement on climate change, tweeting their discontent. 

But what are they doing about greenhouse gases and - most interesting to me - are they bothering to tell us? Measuring and reporting environmental data has become a big thing in the last 20 years. They are the same 20 years that the web has become a big thing, and they match each other perfectly: the data tends to be complex, and the web is good at handling complexity. 

But non-financial reporting has been much bigger in Europe than the US. As far as I can see (from staring at websites), it is only now having any significant impact in America.

Until very recently US sustainability reporting tended to be anecdotal rather than data-driven. You are still more likely to find stories about the good things employees have been doing than hard numbers on CO2 emissions. That is changing. In our current Bowen Craggs Index, two of the top performers in this area are Ford and Dell EMC. Ford’s sustainability report has as much detailed analysis as we have seen anywhere - here is its CO2 emissions page

But I thought it would be interesting to see how much self-analysis the companies that came out against the president in Paris were publishing about themselves. 

The results are mixed, and tend to say as much about the somewhat haphazard nature of US corporate sites as about the reporting itself. 

The first company I looked at was Tesla - Elon Musk resigned from the President's Council in protest. The ultimate green company does not publish any CO2 figures I could find. Someone queried this on a forum and got this reply from a sort of fansite, ‘Tesla is so busy creating sustainable transportation, they likely haven't had time for expensive reports that few bother reading. Not trying to be smug, but it seems more of a corporate PR game for huge corporations, more than actually doing something useful.’ An interesting argument, but a weak one. It is fine being good, but if you can't prove it, why, someone might not believe you.

Then to General Electric, whose chairman Jeff Immelt tweeted that 'industry must now lead and not depend on government'. There is data, but it's frustratingly hard to find. GE is getting ever better at hiding information on its corporate site – maybe this is one of its KPIs? There is no sustainability link on the home page, not even an ‘about’ link any more – just a search box and a scrolling list of pages 'popular right now'. After much clicking I did find greenhouse gas emissions for the past three years, with a 2011 ‘baseline’ number. The bare minimum we should expect from an industrial giant; and incomprehensibly buried.

The other high-profile corporate protesters run companies that are less in the environmental frontline but should still be reporting. And on the whole they are doing a better job at it. 

Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs sent his first ever tweet in protest against the withdrawal. He should be proud if he checks out his company's reporting effort. The Environmental, Social and Governance Report, found from the Citizenship link, has very detailed greenhouse gas data, with little arrows showing the trend in the past year. 

Like Mr Musk, Disney's Robert Iger resigned from the President's Council. The Disney site has plenty on its intentions to go carbon neutral but, as fas a I can see, no hard data - there's a brochure, but it's all about targets not results. Pretty site though

Apple (whose CEO Tim Cook said the decision was 'wrong for our planet') has very good reporting, though only in PDF form - you can get it from the environment reports page. Similar for Google (Sundar Pichai said he was 'disappointed'). 

Brad Smith of Microsoft was also disappointed with President Trump's decision. Microsoft is proud of having been carbon neutral since 2012, as it says on its environment site. I found a fact sheet with some good numbers on greenhouse gas emissions. But as with GE, it was pretty well hidden - Microsoft's network of sites is a big muddle, and Google only got me to a carbon emission page with a few facts, prettily presented, and little else. I'm not quite sure how I came across the fact sheet. As with GE, the problem here is not one of publishing good data, it's of letting people find it. 

Mark Zuckerberg posted on Facebook (unsurprisingly), saying the Paris withdrawal 'puts our children's future at risk'. Its sustainability site has a good deal of detailed information well illustrated, though all on a long scrolly page. Nice to look at, but sometimes pretty gets in the way of useful. With serious reporting like this, that would seem to be a mistake.