New findings from shareholder advocacy group As You Sow reveal that corporate net zero progress is growing, however there remains room for considerable improvement. The report includes a scorecard which represents the progress made by 100 of the largest U.S. corporations in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to align with the Paris Agreement[i]. Collectively, these corporations represent a market capitalisation of $21 trillion across all 11 sectors of the US economy. Concerningly, just 6 companies received an ‘A’ grade. These were Apple, Oracle Corp, Trane Technologies, Nike, Alphabet, and Colgate-Palmolive[ii]. Those scoring an ‘F’ included Amazon.com, General Electric, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Costco Wholesale, and Tesla.
The research builds upon a similar study conducted by As You Sow last year, which at the time covered 55 companies, and saw only 3 achieve an ‘A’. Last year we analysed As You Sow’s data from the angle of linking executive pay to climate action, you can read this in full here: Study finds that corporations in high-carbon sectors are failing to link executive pay to climate action (zerocarbonacademy.com).
Of the original 55 companies analysed in 2022, 36 of them (65%) saw an improvement in their overall scores from last year’s assessment. However, this year’s study notes that many companies still lag on critical indicators. There does appear to have been strong progress in what As You Sow class as ‘Pillar 1’, the disclosure of greenhouse gas emissions, where the number of companies achieving an A grade has jumped from just 5 last year, to 51 in this edition of the research. This represents an increase from just 9% of companies in 2022, to 51% in 2023, up 42 percentage points year on year.
In terms of overall ratings, whilst 5 companies received an A or B grade in 2022, this increased to 14 for 2023. In terms of percentages, this represents 9% of companies in 2022, and 14% in 2023, an increase of 5 percentage points year on year.
Source: As You Sow
The research found that an increased proportion of companies are setting net zero or carbon neutral goals by 2050 or earlier, with 78% doing so in the 2023 research, compared with 70% of companies last year.
Given this growth, there is a corresponding need for increased clarity and accountability from companies on what emissions these goals cover. It follows similar findings from the ECIU (Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit) and Oxford University’s net zero tracker, released earlier this year. The research finds that the proportion of major companies setting net zero goals has increased considerably over the past two and a half years. In total, the number of companies on the Forbes Global 2000 list that have made climate pledges has more than doubled- growing from 417 in 2020 to 909 in 2023. They note: “Net zero is a corporate norm, with almost two-thirds (65%) of the annual revenue of the world’s largest 2000 companies now covered by a net zero target.”[iii]
However, The ECIU research also revealed that despite progress in the number of net zero targets being set, corporations are failing to make these credible. Issues found included a lack of detail, up-to-date scientific basis for targets, as well as provision for long-term tracking. Further, only 4% of company net zero commitments meet the UN’s revised ‘Starting Line criteria’ which was formed as part of the UN Race to Zero campaign. This included procedural steps for all actors moving to net zero (for example, setting a specific net zero target, coverage of all emission scopes for companies, and clear conditions set for the use of offsets), as well as a requirement for members to phase down and ultimately phase out all unabated fossil fuel usage. ECIU’s data reveals that only a third (37%) of corporate net zero targets fully cover scope 3 emissions, and just 13% specify quality conditions under which any offsets would be used.
This is reflected in As You Sow’s study, where in terms of the companies scoring ‘A’ grades Colgate-Palmolive for example had its net zero targets approved by the SBTi in September last year, making it the first large multinational company in the Consumer Durables, Household and Personal Products sector to do so.[iv] Similarly, Oracle’s net zero target has been approved by the Exponential Roadmap Initiative, an accredited partner of the United Nations Race to Zero[v].
A notable area for improvement, as noted in As You Sow’s recent report, is for companies to be able to demonstrate GHG emissions reduction aligned with limiting global warming to 1.5°C. The research found that just 3% of companies are reducing Scopes 1, 2, and 3 absolute emissions by at least 4.2% averaged year-over-year. This figure of 4.2% is a pace that indicates reduction performance for these companies aligned with 1.5°C. Of the companies included in As You Sow’s report, 62% received an ‘F’ for the GHG Reductions pillar while only 7% of companies earned an ‘A’. However, the researchers note that the majority of companies failing in this area did so due to non-disclosure of all relevant emissions data. It demonstrates, they suggest, an “urgency for companies to not only set bold, ambitious targets but also to implement rigorous measures to achieve tangible emissions reductions across value chains.”[vi]
[vi] Report — As You Sow
Lauren has extensive experience as an analyst and market researcher in the digital technology and travel sectors. She has a background in researching and forecasting emerging technologies, with a particular passion for the Videogames and eSports industries. She joined the Critical Information Group as Head of Reports and Market Research at GRC World Forums, and leads the content and data research team at the Zero Carbon Academy. “What drew me to the academy is the opportunity to add content and commentary around sustainability across a wealth of industries and sectors.”