The environmental costs of big firms

Overflowing trash bins

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

BILL RADKE: A report out today measures the environmental impact of the world's 3,000 largest companies, and how much that impact costs investors. It was commissioned by a United Nations program for responsible investing. Marketplace's Eve Troeh is here live to tell us about it. Hi Eve.

EVE TROEH: Hi.

RADKE: So when you look at 3,000 large companies I'm guessing you don't see a positive impact on the environment. What's the toll?

TROEH: This study found that environmental damage -- pollution, deforestation, that kind of thing -- cost more than $2 trillion worldwide. Yes, $2 trillion. And for companies that do cause damage, its says more than half of their profits are vulnerable, which means their earnings may look great on paper, but if they're found liable for any environmental damage, they could potentially lose half of that.

RADKE: Is this report just about socially responsible investing, or is there more to it than that?

TROEH: There's more. This report is really a wake-up call for big mutual funds that invest in all kinds of companies. Look at something like the BP oil spill. The company's stock plunged, people lost a lot of money. What this report says is: Hey, investors, here's how much of your money is on the line. And if investors want to gauge this environmental risk, businesses are not always going to be eager to offer up things, like their factory emissions or safety practices. So this report also says: Hey, you guys have to push to get more of this information.

RADKE: But wouldn't it be easier to just not invest in oil or mining if you're trying to avoid environmental risk?

TROEH: Well, when we're talking about big investors, that's just not realistic. These industries do exist, they do make money, and they're not going away. But as the world starts to regulate things like carbon emissions, and they want to assess more environmental risk, this is going to be more important. Peter DeSimone at the company Social Invest put it this way.

PETER DESIMONE: So knowing that companies are going to have to operate in a carbon-constrained world, who's best poised to do so?

This report is a step to get people to start figuring that out.

RADKE: OK. That's Marketplace's Eve Troeh. Eve, thank you.

TROEH: Thanks Bill.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

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