A report released Monday claims companies that made ambitious public pledges to fight climate change are exaggerating their goals and lacking transparency.

Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor

The report, called Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor, looks at 25 high-revenue global companies who have made climate change mitigation pledges across a range of sectors and countries. It scores each company with a measure of their transparency and integrity levels, based on a five-point scale for each (high, reasonable, medium, low, very low).

Among the consumer-facing companies that scored low for transparency and integrity were Amazon and Google, while companies like Walmart and Apple displayed reasonable levels of transparency, according to the report.

The report looks at the ways companies tackle scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. Scope 1 covers direct emissions from owned or controlled sources. Scope 2 covers indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, steam, heating and cooling consumed by the reporting company. Scope 3 includes all other indirect emissions that occur in a company’s value chain.

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Many of the companies have met or are on track to eliminate scope 1 and scope 2 emissions but have not created a comprehensive plan to get rid of scope 3 emissions, which accounts for the vast majority of emissions by those companies.

“I must admit that we were quite shocked about the extent of creativity that some companies apply to claim a credible path to net-zero emissions, and the amount of effort that it takes to reveal that,” says Sybrig Smit,  a climate policy analyst and co-author of the report. “Net-zero pledges and similar targets are not what they may seem. They require detailed evaluation; in the majority of cases, they cannot be taken at face value.”

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The researchers recommended a better approach for companies to reveal whether or not they are meeting climate change targets that demand more transparency.

“There is currently no standardized approach for information disclosure on climate targets and actions; it required significant resources from us, the analysts, to understand what companies are really committing to, and to identify key details that sometimes significantly undermined these commitments,” Smit says.

Google scores low for transparency and integrity

Google’s major emission sources come from product manufacturing and use and electricity consumption in data centers.

While the report authors call Google’s decarbonization efforts “comprehensive and innovative,” they criticize Google’s reliance on controversial carbon offsetting programs, which involve offsetting pollution by removing carbon elsewhere via land restoration or tree planting. The report also alleges that Google did not make it clear whether its plans are sufficient to address scope 3 emissions, which represent the majority of Google’s greenhouse gas emission footprint.

Google did not immediately respond to USA TODAY requests for comment.

Apple scores reasonable for transparency, moderate for integrity

Apple, in contrast, scored reasonable in transparency and moderate in integrity. It’s set a goal to achieve carbon neutrality across its entire business by 2030, and average yearly emissions reductions have shown that Apple is on target to meet this goal, the report says.

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Apple’s 2020 claim that it is carbon-neutral only applies to its scope 1 and scope 2 emissions, which only account for 1.5% of the company’s greenhouse gas footprint, the report says. The other 98.5% that Apple has yet to eliminate comes from goods and services for product manufacturing, AKA its scope 3 emissions.

Apple did not immediately respond to USA TODAY requests for comment.

Walmart scores reasonable for transparency, low for integrity

Walmart has set reasonable goals to reduce its operational emissions to zero by 2040, with interim goals in 2025 and 2030.

However, most of its emissions come from scope 3 emissions, and Walmart has not set any emissions reduction target, relying on engagement from suppliers to voluntarily reduce emissions themselves, the report alleges.

Walmart responded to USA TODAY saying it is indeed addressing scope 3 emissions.

“This report does not accurately characterize Walmart’s climate goals and actions, and the authors did not provide an opportunity to provide corrections. Walmart is on track to meet science-based goals for scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions reductions set in 2016,” says Jane Ewing, senior vice president of sustainability at Walmart.

Ewing also mentioned that Walmart’s employees are working with suppliers on avoiding a gigaton (1 billion metric tons) of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and pointed to public disclosure records that indicate how Walmart is planning to reduce scope 3 emissions. 

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Amazon scores low for transparency, integrity

Amazon’s ecological footprint comes from a variety of sources, given its involvement with both logistics within e-commerce and data centers for its cloud computing technology.

The company made a net-zero carbon pledge for 2040, but the report alleges that this is unsubstantiated and doesn’t have enough clarity.

Amazon disputes the report, telling USA TODAY, “Amazon regularly reports our carbon footprint. Our own carbon footprint reporting is publicly available.”

Amazon also points out that it plans on powering its operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025 and deploying 100,000 electric delivery vehicles by 2030.

The report raises questions such as whether their pledge refers to just carbon dioxide emissions or all greenhouse gases and whether Amazon plans to reach their its goal using carbon offsets over nature-based solutions.

An Amazon spokesperson expressed support for nature-based solutions such as conservation, restoration and improved land management actions, pointing to Amazon’s LEAF Coalition, a public-private global initiative to raise at least $1 billion to protect the world’s tropical rainforests.

However, the reason behind its low ratings, according to the report, is its lack of granularity in its data. While Amazon has put forth significant efforts to test decarbonization techniques, reduce emissions from third-parties and invest in renewables, their transparency is limited, making it difficult to assess Amazon’s efficacy on a more detailed level, the report alleges.


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