Green rating agencies fall short, report says

SustainAbility.com issues report card on leading corporate green lists, many criticized for lack of transparency and quality control.

When it comes to grading companies on their sustainability, some leading organizations fall short as far as transparency and methodology. That's according to a white paper released this week by SustainAbility.com, an organization that is both a think tank and a consulting firm for corporations looking to improve green standings and sustainability practices.

SustainAbility.com

SustainAbility.com issued a video Tuesday along with its report discussing how 21 of the leading eco-ratings organizations it investigated based on 13 criteria (see chart) appeared to be insufficiently evaluating the companies they target. Its partners include the United Nations Environment Programme and the Global Reporting Initiative , while its clients include Starbucks, Coca-Cola, and Shell.

This latest paper was phase three of its "Rate the Raters" series, an investigation into corporate sustainability ratings geared at developing best practices. The series was sponsored in part by Ford Motor, Sara Lee, Autodesk, and ExxonMobil, among others.

The Access to Medicine Index, CDP, Climate Counts, and FTSE4Good received kudos from the organization for their "strong public disclosure." But Sustainability said in its report that many of the ratings organizations investigated don't make their evaluation process for companies transparent, and because of this the public is less likely to trust their opinion. But it also made clear that one of the reasons why these ratings agencies fail to be transparent may be their own lack of confidence in what it says are often complicated points systems with a lack of sufficient quality control.

SustainAbility.com

The organization also advised that ratings evaluation focus less on a company's past history, and more on evaluating its current stance as a company. It also advocated company outreach in which ratings organizations give companies with poor ratings specific targeted goals on how they can improve the way their company operates.

Keep in mind that the companies evaluated in phase three willingly participated in Sustainability.com's questionnaire and investigation of their ratings system. The organizations that agreed to the phase three scrutiny include:

  • Access to Medicine Index

  • ASSET4 (Thomson Reuters)

  • Bloomberg ESG Disclosure Scores

  • Carbon Disclosure Project

  • Murky Waters: Corporate Reporting on Water Risk (Ceres)

  • Climate Counts

  • CR Magazine 100 Best Corporate Citizens

  • CSRHub

  • Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes

  • EIRIS

  • Ethisphere's World's Most Ethical Companies

  • FTSE4Good Index Series

  • The Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World (Global 100)

  • GoodGuide

  • GS SUSTAIN

  • Maplecroft Climate Innovation Indexes (CIIs)

  • Newsweek Green Rankings

  • Oekom Corporate Ratings

  • Sustainalytics

  • Trucost Environmental Impact Assessment

  • Vigeo

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About the author

In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.

 

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