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Business study: Corporate acceptance of climate change at a ‘tipping point’

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The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), a British environmental advocacy group that focuses on business sustainability, said Wednesday that 343 companies listed on the S&P 500 participated in its carbon survey this year, adding that their results show a “tipping point” has been reached when it comes to corporate acceptance of climate change.

The group’s annual S&P 500 Climate Change Report (PDF) found that 92 percent of the participating companies conducted “board or executive-level oversight” on climate change strategies, and that 83 percent incorporated climate strategies into risk management portfolios. Both of those numbers are up over 2011’s report.

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In all, 81 percent of the companies identified physical risks due to climate change, and 74 percent “identified climate change opportunities” that simultaneously boost efficiency and profits. In one of the biggest shifts the CDP noticed, 52 percent of the survey’s respondents actually reported making emissions reductions, up by 23 percent over last year’s survey.

Some of the largest companies CDP cites for not responding include Apple, Amazon.com, Tyco International, Caterpillar, Metro PCS, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Priceline.com, General Dynamics, Tyson Foods, Sysco, Marathon Petroleum and Berkshire Hathaway.

The CDP’s 2012 report also gave special recognition to companies that disclosed the most information about their emissions and took the largest steps toward better environmental stewardship. Their list of “disclosure and performance leaders” includes Microsoft, Google, Sprint, AT&T, Home Depot, News Corp., Best Buy, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, ConAgra Foods, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, Johnson & Johnson, UPS and Lockheed Martin, among others.

“The best interests of investors are catalyzing US companies to improve the management of environmental risk, which is vital if we are to forge a more sustainable economy,” CDP chairman Paul Dickinson said in a media advisory. “This report shows us that the powerful American corporation is responding to a growing market demand and increasingly understands that transparency and action on climate change is a business imperative. Failure to act could result in a competitive disadvantage.”

The CDP’s 2012 results seem to largely reflect attitudes among nearly half of the world’s business investors, if a recent Bloomberg poll is to be believed. That survey found about 49 percent of investors agreed that moving to limit the pollution that drives climate change will have “not much impact” on profits. A full 78 percent also said they believe climate change is a moderate or severe threat. Just 19 percent said they didn’t think climate change posed a threat at all.

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Among the general public, concern about the threats posed by climate change has been waning even though almost 70 percent of Americans accept that climate change happening — a number that’s risen dramatically of late due to recent increased awareness of extreme weather events like hurricanes and droughts.
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