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Major Gaffes and Gaps Plague CSR Reports, Study Finds

Incorrect and irrelevant data, unsubstantiated figures and major gaps abound in company CSR reports, according to a forthcoming study from the U.K.’s University of Leeds and France’s Euromed Management School.

Leeds’ Dr Ralf Barkemeyer told the Guardian that the analysis of more than 4,000 CSR reports, rankings and surveys published by companies over the past ten years shows that the quality of environmental data “remains appalling at times.”

While leaving out an undisclosed part of a company in the calculation of profits would be a scandal in the world of financial reporting, Barkemeyer says, in CSR it is common practice.

The study from Leeds’ Sustainability Research Institute will show that out of 443 European Union companies, fewer than one in six covered all corporate activities in their reporting of greenhouse gas emissions.

Barkemeyer said CSR rankings, ratings and surveys – such as one published by KPMG this month – focus on whether companies report rather than what they report, and on the existence of strategies, policies and management systems above actual impacts on the environment.

In the KPMG International Survey of Corporate Responsibility Reporting 2011, the consultancy said that CR reporting has become the “de facto law” for business. It found that 95 percent of the 250 largest companies in the world (G250 companies) now report on their CR activities, a rise of more than 14 percent over KPMG’s 2008 survey.

Examples of Barkemeyer’s findings include:

  • BT: According to its 2007 sustainability report, 99.8% of the company’s international waste is produced by a few office workers in Belgium; Southeast Asian and Australian operations did not consumer any water; and Irish and Dutch employees did not travel at all. BT has won several reporting awards.
  • Enel: The Italian energy company reported that its 2009 carbon emissions totalled 122,089 million tons – four times the planet’s total emissions.
  • Volkswagen and E.on: The carmaker decided not to include in its report a coal plant emitting 2.5 million tons of CO2 per year, because it is owned by E.on. The power company didn’t include the plant because it is run by Volkswagen.
  • Ford: The company reported that its North American waste generation exceed its global waste output.

Picture credit: Ken Teegardin

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