The Demise of the EPA's Climate Leaders: Implications for CSR

This week, the EPA announced its plans to “transition” its Climate Leaders program, through which “participating companies commit to reduce their impact on the global environment by completing a corporate-wide inventory of their greenhouse gas emissions based on a quality management system, setting aggressive reduction goals, and annually reporting their progress to EPA.” Apparently, the EPA feels that there are now a sufficient number of alternatives for companies interested in achieving the goals that Climate Leaders had previously helped them achieve.   At least, that is how the agency describes its reasoning for the decision.

So who will be affected by the program cuts?  I looked through the Climate Leaders list to see who was on it, what types of commitments participants had published through the program, and how participating companies had fared in the various CSR rankings I have explored in this blog.  The program seemed to either target or favor manufacturing, with 13% of participants listed as members of the materials manufacturing or commercial and machinery manufacturing industries.

More interestingly, Climate Leaders fared with mixed results in the U.S.-focused CSR rankings.  To illustrate, of the 186 Climate Leaders, only 41% and 42% of companies included in the CRO’s 2010 list and Newsweek’s 2009 Green Rankings respectively were Climate Leaders.  In fact, 59% of companies explored in any one CSR ranking analyzed in this blog are not Climate Leaders.  Clearly, being a Climate Leader is no prerequisite for admission into CSR rankings.

From my perspective, it would be interesting to know how the companies who were recognized in CSR rankings without participating in Climate Leaders thought about the EPA’s program.  Were these companies nowhere close to meeting the standards for the program or did they simply not see a lot of benefit associated with the process of becoming Climate Leaders?  Your interpretation will dictate whether you think that the program added value and the corresponding damage associated with cutting the program.

In the interest of space, I will leave any further interpretation up to you, but will close with one possible way of viewing the data.  Perhaps the mixed results in CSR rankings discussed in this blog indicate that Climate Leaders established achievable goals for companies striving to stay out in front of possible climate-related regulation without investing heavily in publicizing their CSR efforts.  If that is the case, then the EPA Climate Leaders program may very well have done its job.

Note: To access the data from the analysis, visit http://manyeyes.alphaworks.ibm.com/manyeyes/datasets/analysis-of-us-epa-climate-leaders/versions/1.