pollution - Baz Ratner - August 31 2010
Pollution (illustrative) Photo by Baz Ratner
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Companies worldwide are submiting environmental reports that are either factually inaccurate or mistaken, according to a new European study.

The study, by researchers from Leeds University in the U.K. and EUROMED Management School in Marseille, France, examined some 4,000 corporate social responsibility (CSR ) reports by concerns worldwide, including well-known fuel, car and communications corporations.

Although such reports have become an important tool for companies that want to maintain an environmentally friendly image, the study found that less than 17 percent of the inspected businesses reported their entire emission of greenhouse gases. Many did not make clear what actions they had taken in preparing their reports, and some excluded pollution emitted by subsidiaries operating in other countries.

The study pointed out a series of embarrassing mistakes in reporting. For example, two years ago the Italian energy company Enel took responsibility for the emission of 122 million tons of carbon, which was four times the annual carbon footprint of the whole planet at the time. Ford Motors, meanwhile, reported more mineral waste in North America than that produced by the entire world.

The German car manufacturer Volkswagen and the German energy company E.ON left a coal-fired power station out of their reports - Volkswagen neglected to mention the fact because E.ON owns the company and E.ON left it out because Volkswagen operates it.

Appalling findings

One of the study's authors, Dr. Ralf Barkemeyer, called the findings "appalling," and said that if financial information were left out of these corporations' reports, it would be a scandal, but because the reports deal with sustainability, it is common practice.

Barkemeyer also said that the reports define the point the corporations would like to reach, but no one checks whether they are headed in the right direction.

The U.K. telecommunications giant BT has responded to the preliminary report, noting that its data relates to 2007, and that 99.8 percent of the debris was produced from small operations in Belgium.

BT also published additional data to underscore its image as environmentally responsible.

BT's response, which appeared in The Guardian newspaper, stated: "As the research from Leeds University highlights, this is a new and evolving science, and one that is especially complex when it comes to trying to standardize measurement and reporting across dozens of countries." BT said it would review the points highlighted in the Leeds-EUROMED report, and if necessary update its corporate social responsibility reports in the future.

CSR reports have become very common in Israel. The reports are issued by large economic concerns such as Bank Hapoalim and Israel Chemicals.

In response to a query from Haaretz, Barkemeyer said his research had not included corporations from Israel.