Much of the environmental reporting data released by some of the world's biggest companies is either incomplete, inaccurate or deliberately distorted, according to a review of more than 4,000 CSR reports carried out by researchers from Leeds University in the UK and Euromed Management School in France.
According to a report in the Guardian, corporate CSR statements are marked by "irrelevant data, unsubstantiated claims, gaps in data and inaccurate figures", with companies routinely ignoring data from individual countries or failing to mention polluting subsidiaries.
"The quality of environmental data in sustainability reports remains appalling at times, even today," said Dr Ralf Barkemeyer, a lecturer in CSR at Leeds and one of the team leaders. "In financial reporting to leave out an undisclosed part of the company in the calculation of profits would be a scandal. In sustainability reporting it is common practice.
"Put provocatively, companies get points for knowing where they want to go, but nobody seems to check whether this is where they are heading. Aspiration replaces performance."
Among the howling inaccuracies cited by the researchers is a company who stated that its carbon footprint was four times larger than that of the whole world, a power group that over-reported its sulphur emissions by a factor of 1,000 for three years in a row by using kilotonnes instead of tonnes and a large Swedish group that was not aware that it owned a paper and pulp business until the researchers pointed it out that it was the subsidiary of an acquisition.