Counting what counts?


Have you ever wanted to see what the green house gas emissions of the top 500 companies in the world  look like? Well here you go:

(This is based on companies that reported to the  Carbon Disclosure Project in 2011, click on the graphic to get a better look at in at IBM’s Many Eyes website).

The area for each company is based on their scope 1 and 2 emissions (in other words, both direct emissions, and those produced for their electricity supply).  This means that the emissions produced by power utilities are also counted  in the footprints of their customers, so the total area isn’t all that meaningful, but the relative sizes of the different sectors and companies are.

Of course it shouldn’t be a surprising picture; the biggest wodges of emissions relate to  oil and gas extraction and refining, electricity and power, mining, metals, cement, chemicals and transport. In fact, the oil and gas sector emissions are greater than shown here, as companies don’t include the emissions given off when the fuel is actually burned in their reporting, which distorts the picture for those industries massively (as both accountants and investors will tell you).

But still it is sobering context for looking at corporate action on carbon emissions. Only 2 out of the top 10 performing companies in this year’s Carbon Disclosure Index are in big emitting sectors, the other 8 are clustered in sectors in the bottom eighth of diagram – healthcare, ICT, consumer products, financial services and so on. Initiatives such as Climate Counts which seek to use consumer purchasing power to put pressure on companies to address climate change are also focused on the household names in the bottom right hand corner;  familiar targets for consumer action such as apparel, food and beverage brands.

Of course energy use and carbon emissions are  material to every company, and it is good that more companies are measuring, managing and reducing their emissions, and standing up for science and progressive climate legislation.

But not every company’s actions are material to our global prospects for avoiding a climatic tipping point. And where they are this may not be because of their direct emission reductions.

For companies in the financial sector, where they put their investments is much more important than whether they have double glazing in their bank branches. The ICT sector too is well aware that smart technologies have a much greater potential to reduce global emissions by transforming other systems (such as transport, energy and supply chains) rather than by simply  improving the direct emissions of the industry itself .

Ultimately it is changes in the high impact stuff: extractive industries, buildings, power, heat and transport that define the transition needed to a low carbon world.

2 Responses to “Counting what counts?”

  1. Hiya Maya — I assume you’ve seen the Climate Counts #CarbonScore report that addresses many of the issues you raise in this great post!

  1. 1 A little tweak to the broken carbon dashboard « Hiya Maya

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