As climate-change induced floods, wildfires, and droughts devastate the environment, almost every major corporation has pledged to reduce emissions, become more sustainable, or reach net zero. Green is the new black.
This trend has shone a spotlight on “greenwashing” — the practice of exaggerating green credentials through advertising and marketing spin. It’s now so widespread that even sponsors of the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference were at it.
Scientists agree that, in order to prevent the worst effects of climate change, global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide need to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero around 2050. Net zero is the point at which any remaining emissions of greenhouse gases are balanced with absorption. In an ideal scenario, that means no harmful emissions by 2050 full stop.
“Carbon neutral by 2050.” “Net zero by 2030.” “Carbon-offsetting until the cows come home.” With the corporate sector making so many promises, using lots of “climate jargon” and using different timelines, it’s important to keep companies accountable for their promises and track against the reality of what they’re actually achieving.
Michael Sheldrick, Global Citizen’s Co-Founder and Chief Policy, Impact, and Government Affairs Officer said: “Ultimately a lot of the momentum generated by corporate target setting needs to lead to the development and implementation of strong, ambitious regulatory frameworks. And all companies and businesses should be required to transition to net zero. It shouldn’t be seen any longer as a voluntary, nice to do gesture."
A new report — called the Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor — conducted by the NewClimate Institute and Carbon Market Watch lays bare the facts. And it’s not always pretty. The report examined the climate pledges and promises of the world's 25 biggest companies, and how they were actually tracking towards those pledges. Here’s what it had to say.
3 Things You Need to Know From the Report
- The companies’ climate pledges in reality only commit to reduce their emissions by 40% on average, not 100%.
- Only one company’s net zero pledge was evaluated as having “reasonable integrity” — that of Danish shipping company, Maersk.
- To hit their promises and/or reach net zero, 24 of 25 companies currently rely too heavily on carbon offsetting — a practice climate organizations and activists argue that, unless accompanied by actual and significant emission cuts, gives organizations a license to pollute.
The Companies’ Claims vs. What The Report Says
Below, we’ve taken a look at what the report found about some of the biggest household names, comparing what they’ve said they’ll do and what they’re actually doing.
The claim: Net zero carbon by 2040
What the report says: The target is not substantiated. There is no explicit reduction target for their own emissions, and Amazon intends to rely significantly on carbon offsetting to achieve net zero.
Nestlé is the umbrella company that owns over 2,000 brands including Aero, Perrier, Maggi, Friskies, KitKat, and more.
The claim: Reduce emissions by 50% by 2030 (compared to 2018
What the report says: Nestlé is on track to reduce just 18% of emissions by 2030 compared to 2018. The reduction in the claim appears to be made with a business-as-usual emissions forecast rather than the actual 2018 baseline. The calculation also excludes some sources of emissions.
The claim: Carbon neutral since 2007 and carbon free by 2030
What the report says: Despite Google showing leadership in some aspects of climate action, this carbon-neutrality achievement actually excludes more than half of the tech giant’s emissions in 2020. Google’s emissions have increased over the past three years. The carbon-neutrality claim is largely derived through offset credits and the scope of the “carbon free” target is unclear.
The claim: Climate positive by 2030
What the report says: That target equates to a reduction in IKEA’s emissions of just 15% by 2030 (vs 2016 emissions). The rest is calculated through unclear rules to account for the storage of carbon in IKEA furniture, which is not permanent, as well as for avoided emissions generated, for example, by customers who purchase solar panels.
Carrefour is a French multinational retail corporation, the eighth-largest retailer in the world by revenue and operates in over 30 countries.
The claim: Carbon neutral by 2040
What the report says: The claim covers less than 2% of their emissions — major sources are not covered and the claim only applies in selected locations, and in less than 20% of their stores worldwide.
The claim: Zero emissions by 2050
What the report says: Sony facilitates scrutiny by making their emission information available to download but leaves open a potential unspecified role for offsets.
Unilever is the umbrella company that owns around 400 brands including Hellmann’s, Vaseline, Ben & Jerry’s, Dove, Cif, and more.
The claim: Net zero by 2039
What the report says: Unilever’s 2039 net zero target is “not substantiated with specific emission reduction targets for its major emission sources”. The company also over-reports on some aspects which the report suggests could be a way to “distract from action [or lack thereof] to reduce the company’s upstream emissions.
What Are the Companies Saying?
Nestlé published a lengthy post on their website that speaks directly to the report: “We welcome scrutiny of our actions and commitments on climate change. However, the New Climate Institute’s Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor (CCRM) report lacks understanding of our approach and contains significant inaccuracies.”
An IKEA spokesperson said they welcomed dialogue and scrutiny and the report was a “constructive addition to this”.
Several other companies analyzed including Unilever and Amazon said they disagreed with the report’s characterization of their climate targets.
Why Does the Report Matter?
You might be wondering why governments aren't keeping these companies accountable themselves. The truth is, governmental policy globally just isn’t there yet.
Reports like this play an important role but there needs to be greater accountability for companies not complying.
That’s where the Race to Zero campaign comes in — a United Nations-led campaign, backed by Global Citizen, that is working with businesses, cities, regions, investors, and financial and educational institutions to commit to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest.
Yesterday, in response to the report, Race to Zero announced it was launching an accountability mechanism which will "impact non-compliant members.”
It’s also why organizations like Global Citizen exist — to apply the right kind of pressure. As part of our campaign to Defend the Planet, Global Citizens call on corporations to step up their efforts to tackle climate change, while our Impact team works behind-the-scenes to follow up on commitments and keep leaders accountable. You can read more about how our campaigns put pressure on world and business leaders to step up, and how we hold leaders to account for their promises, here; and you can start taking action with us now to defend the planet here.