Coming to a Bloomberg terminal near you: a ranking of the most innovative U.S. companies on climate change. And some of the contenders may surprise you.
Produced by Maplecroft, a U.K.-based research house, the ranking tracks how 360 companies worth more than $1 billion are "mitigating climate change related risks," managing carbon emissions, and innovating "clean-tech solutions and new products". Maplecroft uses more than 100 criteria to reach its assessment, with the "innovation" piece making up 50% of the scores.
"We see the index as a sign of responsible business managing and mitigating their CO2 emissions and the impact that climate-related events are having on them," says Kevin Franklin, a Maplecroft director.
"But equally it’s about proactive businesses that are looking to generate new opportunities for revenues. The idea is the rating evaluates that, and then the index sits on the Bloomberg terminal, and ultimately helps drive further investment in businesses that are part of the climate solution."
Franklin says the leading 100 companies have outperformed the Standard & Poor’s 100 Index in the last three years, showing that investment in climate change pays.
But while some companies on the list are well-known climate-change adapters, others are more likely to surprise those who care about the issue.
GE, which spends $5 billion a year on its Ecomagination research program, tops the ranking for the third year running. Next up are Alcoa, Johnson Controls, Ford, and Intel. But following those are Hess Corporation (in 6th place), Exxon Mobil (22nd), and Duke Energy (27th)—all companies that have a lot to do with creating climate change.
Exxon, for example, has been accused of funding groups that deny, or obfuscate, climate science, and of failing to support efforts to introduce climate regulation and legislation. Duke produces a large portion of its electricity from coal-fired plants, the least acceptable form of generation for activists.
Talking about Hess, Franklin admits that "at first glance it might seem strange." But he says Hess gets its ranking because of "what they’ve done in adaptation, and in the management and mitigation of emissions."
"In adaptation, they have really robust processes and systems in place to ensure their onshore and offshore operations are protected against freak weather events. And in the management, they’ve got really good policies, procedures, and systems. And they’ve got excellent carbon accounting," he says.
Some might question the idea of major heavy emitters of CO2, which put most of their resources into dirtier forms of energy, as "innovative" on climate change. But Franklin argues you can’t expect such companies to "change overnight."
"Part of the reason for that is that wider environment in which they operate—for example, and to the extent to which the policy environment facilitates alternative technologies," he says.
"If we stopped fossil fuels overnight, we would have no way of getting around because there isn’t really an infrastructure for electric or hydrogen cars. While that’s the case, we’re looking to see that companies that may have been traditionally dirty are doing as much as possible to become cleaner."
Maplecroft points to Hess’s investment in fuel-cell technology. Exxon is commended for its work on algae-based biofuels, lithium-ion batteries, and plastics, as well as for having "clear systems in place to drive innovation within the company, including long-term commitments to invest in new technologies and systems to identify innovation opportunities and energy efficiency improvements."
It’s questionable, though, whether major emitters should be featured as leading "innovators" on climate. The danger is that it sends a wrong message to investors, and the wider public.