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Oekom Research Publishes 2016 Annual Review of Corporate Environmental and Social Responsibility



In its 2016 Corporate Responsibility Review, independent  sustainability rating agency, oekom research, continues to see only slow progress in the areas of corporate environmental and social responsibility. An opportunity to improve sustainability performance could lie in the UN-endorsed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) if these are grasped as guiding principles  for more sustainability management.

Only the fewest companies fulfil the minimum requirements
Once again, only just over 16 per cent of the companies worldwide fulfil oekom research’s minimum requirements for sustainability management and performance and were thus awarded oekom Prime Status in 2015. While this proportion was just as low as the previous year’s, a gradual, overall trend towards a general improvement in sustainability performance is emerging: at almost 36 per cent, just over one third of the companies have begun adopting an initial commitment to sustainability. Conversely, the proportion of companies rated as “poor” continued to fall slightly – from around 50 per cent in 2014 to just under 48 per cent today.

The sector comparison of the companies reinforced the image establishing itself over the past years: similarly to last year, household-product producers performed best with a score of 47.4 on a scale from 0 (worst) to 100 (best). In second place over the observation period was the automotive sector with a score of 44.4. Those at the bottom of the sector ranking included insurance companies, the construction and real estate industry, oil, gas and retailing, and the logistics industry, with scores of between 20 and 25 points.

In the country comparison of the best companies of each industry, France is the undisputable victor with the most industry leaders. In 2015, sixteen French companies had Top 3 positions. The United Kingdom and Germany followed in second and third places with 13 and 11 placements.

In 2015, controversial business practices and breaches of the UN Global Compact’s principles were primarily found in the raw materials sector. A high concentration of land-usage conflicts, human rights violations and damaging consequences for ecosystems and the environment were noted here. In doing so, oil and gas companies, their suppliers and service companies, and the metals & mining sector were particularly conspicuous.

SDGs point the way towards sustainable development
An analysis of companies’ activities against the background of the Sustainable Development  Goals highlights the long path still ahead in most areas:
  • Although coal plays a central role in the fight against climatic change, oekom research only identified far-reaching emission-reduction plans at 18 per cent of those energy utility companies where coal still currently accounts for more than 30 per cent of the energy mix.
  • This contrasts with the ever-increasing number of institutional investors who are meanwhile orientating themselves towards a new type of climate strategy still missing at the vast majority of companies; this is manifesting itself in the form of a rise in carbon divestment. By the end of 2015, over 3 trillion euros of assets were bundled into divestment strategies.
  • To achieve the 2 Degree Goal endorsed at the Global Climate Summit in Paris, the global energy system needs to be restructured towards an increased use of renewable energies. A positive trend can already be seen here, with the largest share being attributed to the use of hydropower. At over 64 per cent, it accounts for by far the largest share of installed renewable energy capacity worldwide, followed by wind power at 20 per cent, and solar power at 10 per cent.
  • Water is also one of the topics most intensively addressed by the SDGs. It is elementary for reliable food supplies, sustainable economic growth and for health and peace. Companies in the metals & mining sector were found to be the worst-performing in 2015.
  • In addition , a large share of the companies in the palm oil industry is implicated in environmental destruction and human rights conflicts. From an SDG perspective, palm oil is on par with coal as one of the most problematic raw materials.
  • The continued widespread use of problematic chemicals – in the form of agrochemicals in foodstuff production, or endocrine disruptive chemicals in the manufacturing of household products, and in the chemicals, cosmetics and electronics industries – also opposes the SDGs. There is mounting evidence that companies are starting to develop and use alternative substances here.
  • The SDGs pinpoint waste disposal and recycling as important measures for achieving a sustainable consumption and utilisation of goods. In the IT sector alone, oekom research notes a 20 per cent rise in the amount of waste taken back by companies over the past three years.
  • Another of the SDGs is to reduce inequality between nations. With regard to the business sector, oekom research identified tax avoidance and tax evasion, in particular, as decisive problem areas. In the oekom Corporate Rating’s assessment of how transparently companies report their profits and tax payments, the vast majority was found to be lacking such disclosure – with just 1.1 per cent of them being awarded the best rating.
“The results of our annual review show that there is still a long way to go before we can truly talk about sustainability being embraced by the economy,” comments oekom research CEO, Robert Haßler. “Only a small proportion of the companies has recognised the importance and relevance of a comprehensive integration of sustainability criteria into their core businesses. We hope that, as we look forward, more companies will come to comprehend the positive connection between environmental and social responsibility, and commercial success. Institutional investors are already a step further here, and are increasingly putting such demands on companies. If companies wish to meet their environmental and social responsibilities, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals serve as a good orientation aid,” he continues.
2016 oekom Corporate Responsibility Review
Since 2009, the oekom Corporate Responsibility Review has been reporting annually on global corporate responsibility, documenting central trends in the integration of sustainability criteria into corporate governance. The evaluations refer to around 1,600 large, internationally active companies based in industrialised countries, and are a subset of the 3,700-plus companies contained in the entire oekom research Universe.

The study can be downloaded at


Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?



self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo |

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.


Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.


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