Rise in environmental reporting by-passes retail and finance sectors

The number of Financial Times 'Top 100' firms discussing environmental issues in their annual reports has risen over the past four years from 66 in 1993 to 78 this year, according to a new survey.1 But only 30 companies published a separate environmental report. And in some sectors - notably retail, media and finance - up to half the companies have yet to report on the environment at all.

The survey, produced annually by consultants KPMG, reveals gradual but limited progress. Last year, only five industry sectors were able to boast that all firms in the FT Top 100 dealt with environmental issues in their annual reports or in a separate environmental report. This year has seen a doubling of sectors scoring a 100% reporting rate, which now include diversified industrials, electrical and electronics, transport and packaging and paper.

However, only 50-60% of companies surveyed in the retail, financial, media and consumer goods sectors discussed the environment in their annual reports. And only three-quarters of leisure and tourism firms did so.

Although 78 of the FT top 100 firms discuss the environment in their annual reports, publication of a stand-alone environmental report remains a rarity. Only 30 firms published such a report this year, up from 20 in 1993. KPMG found that some companies, particularly in the service sector, feel that a section of their annual report covering the management of environmental risk is sufficient. Others argued that publishing a separate report is a necessary step in recognising the environment as a business issue.

The survey also offers some insight into the quality of environmental reports. Fewer than 15% of companies reported quantifiable targets against which to measure performance. Only 16% provided previous years' performance data, and 12% reported back on progress against previous targets. Only 19 companies disclosed details of accidents, prosecutions or fines.

Information on environmental costs and liabilities was provided by only ten firms - five utility businesses, three in the oil and gas sector, and one apiece in chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

The survey also reveals growing interest in external verification as a means of adding credibility to environmental reports. However, only ten of the FT Top 100 have so far adopted the practice.

  • Novo Nordisk, the Danish biotechnology company, has come first in the new European Environmental Reporting Award. Organised jointly by professional accountancy associations from the UK, the Netherlands and Denmark, the award was presented by Domingo Jimenez Beltran, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency.

    Novo Nordisk's report was commended for being well designed, externally verified, and providing an "open and honest" account of environmental shortcomings. Three organisations received commendations, including retailer J Sainsbury, commended as best first-time reporter, and British Airways for the scope and depth of its reporting.

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