Businesses are taking some good steps, but it’s not enough, according to a report from Greenbiz and Trucost. They studied the 500 largest companies in the U.S. and the 1600 largest companies around the globe assessing environmental commitments. Using an array of academic research and governmental sources, they quantified the costs of natural capital, looking at hundreds of different inputs consumed (like water, energy, metals, and minerals), and outputs (like waste, greenhouse gas emissions, and other pollution). They estimated that the unpaid environmental and social costs of unsustainable practices is over $1 trillion over the last 5 years. Since the economic recession in the U.S., these natural capital impacts have gone up by 15%.
Some of the biggest impacts came from the supply chain. Out of the 19 companies they looked at, over half of their environmental impacts of 17 of them can be traced back to their supply chain.
Greenhouse gas emissions, solid waste generation, and water use have all gone up in 2013 from 2009 levels. Water use has also gone up by 2% since 2009 in the U.S. and 7% globally. There have been generally higher levels of efficiency, but that is not enough to offset the speed of growth in overall resource consumption.
There were some promising signs:
- The U.S. is generating less waste per dollar earned in 2013 compared to 2009.
- The U.S. has been especially strong in addressing solid waste to reap the direct financial benefits of reduced tipping and hauling fees.
- Renewables have a strong future, with capacity increasing by 8% in 2013.
Filling out the renewables good news, a recent Global PV Pricing Outlook 2015 report by GTM Research notes that globally, the industry average price for Polysilicon, a raw material used in solar PV, is going down, with a good balance of supply and demand for PV. The projections are that the price will continue to decrease up until 2018.
The Greenbiz-Trucost report shows that while more companies are disclosing data on their natural capital impacts, it’s often incomplete or does not address some of the most vital issues. The number of companies trying to address their impacts did increase by 85%, from 200 last year to 350 this year. There’s also more movement on engaging in sustainability practices, but again, the report reminds us that things must move faster.
Read the full report here.