Despite enviro record, Enbridge and Teck get sustainability recognition

Companies currently under fire for polluting North American ecosystems recognized by independent investment research organization

Enbridge and Teck Resources, two Canadian resource extraction companies who have made headlines recently for their poor environmental records, were recognized this week as Global 100 most sustainable companies by the Corporate Knights.

Corporate Knights, an independent media and investment research company focused on identifying and evaluating measures of sustainable business practices, compiles the yearly list based on several different criteria.

Canada is tied with the US for most companies in the top 100—10 each—and Teck Resources comes in at number 21. In Trail, BC, the company operates one of the world’s largest smelting and refining plants. The United States Supreme Court recently found Teck liable for the pollution in lakes and rivers in Washington caused by decades of discharging waste into the Columbia River, which flows south through BC and into the US. The decision, released early in January, means the Environmental Protection Agency can take Teck to court and to force the company to pay for cleanup and damages.

Sixth on Canada’s top 10 list is Enbridge, coming in at 79 overall. Others on the list include Nexen, Suncor and Canadian National Railway Co.

To come up with the list, companies whose value exceeded $US 2 billion as of October are screened based on sustainability disclosure practices, financial health, product category and financial sanctions. The remaining companies are then evaluated based on 12 Key Performance Indicators that measure revenue against such factors as waste output, and energy use and green house gas emissions.

Doug Morrow, vice president of research at Corporate Knights, said the methodology for the ranking is an evolving one, and for the first time this year, the process took legal sanctions into account, weighing costs such as fines and lawsuit payouts against revenues.

There were many instances of companies currently involved in court proceedings, but Morrow said the list only counts lawsuits that result in a payout.

“You can imagine how many frivolous lawsuit are brought against companies across all geographies and industries so we have to look at facts.” This means that if Teck is ordered to pay for cleanup of the Columbia River and other bodies of water, the amount paid will be taken into account in next year’s rankings. Morrow acknowledged that many of the companies on the list receive a considerable amount of public criticism for their environmental practices, but said the ranking is based solely on quantifiable information.

“It really is driven by data. What that means is unless and until these sentiments hit the books so to speak it won’t really factor into this ranking,” he said. “We’re unapologetically data-centric in this ranking and that’s with good reason. It really does put companies on that level playing field.”

Morrow said the environmental costs of doing business in the resource extraction industry will eventually catch up to the companies, offsetting revenues with higher waste output.

“It will hit the books in terms of water consumption and energy use.” He added that the ranking is not about making value judgments on various industries.

“We’re agnostic about the tar sands, we’re agnostic about methods of oil extraction it’s about data.”

Though using revenue as the primary metric of sustainability doesn’t measure environmental damage in real terms, Morrow said it’s more realistic than measuring greenhouse gas emissions or energy use per employee in a given company.

“We recognize that in some cases, in some sectors, it’s probably not the most ideal metric to normalize performance on the resource side, but it’s one that holds up particularly well across industry groups.”

Caitlyn Vernon, campaigner with Sierra Club BC, said neglecting to measure the real-world effects of ecosystem pollution undermines the list’s credibility.

“True sustainability implies not sustainable revenue generation but rather a shift in business practices such that economic activity doesn’t undermine the health of the ecosystems we all depend on.” Vernon said Enbridge’s record of hundreds of spills over the last ten years as well as its current attempt to build a new oil pipeline make it a poor example of sustainable industry.

“No sustainable company would put at risk wild salmon rivers and Canada’s global treasure, the Great Bear Rainforest.”

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