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Corporate Sustainability Strategies: An Analysis of Fortune 500 Climate Action Plans

By: Carla Chinski

Twitter: @thelatestbyte

Post Date: 2023-03-11


With climate change continuing to cast a long shadow over our future, a significant paradigm shift is occurring in the corporate world. The crisis has set a precedent, compelling Fortune 500 companies to integrate corporate sustainability strategies into their business models. A staggering 90% have developed comprehensive climate action plans, as reported by CDP Global. But beneath the glossy veneer of these strategies, doubts linger. Are these plans just lofty promises, or can they deliver tangible change?

Climate action plans from these corporate giants typically promise to achieve net-zero carbon emissions, invest heavily in renewable energy, and make significant strides in waste reduction. Google, for instance, has pledged to run on completely carbon-free energy by 2030. Amazon, on the other hand, has committed to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.

However, such pledges raise a critical question: how will these companies translate these commitments into action? As we sift through the details of these plans, we find varying degrees of specificity. While some offer detailed timelines and methodologies, others remain ambiguous, leading to concerns over their feasibility and authenticity.

The Importance of Accountability and Transparency

The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) has been instrumental in setting recommendations for accountable sustainability reporting. But even against these guidelines, many corporate action plans fall short.

In their recent board statement, the SASB stated: “A concerning 85% of Fortune 500 companies' sustainability reports do not meet all our recommendations for clear, specific, and accountable sustainability reporting. Many plans lack essential details like third-party audits, specific strategies for reaching targets, and contingency plans for missed goals.”

This statement hits at the core issue: many of these climate action plans are built on quicksand. Without the fundamentals of accountability and transparency, these plans fail to offer a viable blueprint for action. BP, for example, has made bold statements about reducing oil and gas production by 40% within a decade. Yet, no tangible roadmap exists to track this ambitious goal, leaving stakeholders with more questions than answers.

A statement analysis of Fortune 500 communications: Business sustainability

The case of BP in particular might be a synechdoche for the rest of the companies’ modus operandi. The two reports that’ve been published in 2022 by BP verse on the “non-economic” effects of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). Are metrics an effective actionable business sustainability plan? The resounding answer is “no”. Perhaps the nearest call to action is a marketing stance toward “reinventing an old business model.”

Why are we saying there’s no viable blueprint? Well, the statement sounds at first glance somewhat generic if we don’t analyze CDP Global’s measurement and metrics methodology: “​​CDP disclosure and scores play a key role in keeping companies on a journey of continuous environmental improvement. In 2022, a record-breaking 18,700+ companies representing half of global market capitalization disclosed through CDP (...)” This statement uses the term “improvement” while it doesn’t mention more than financial accountability. While definitely an important metric, could other factors be better tracked?

Today, CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and adjacent discourses are seen as largely an economic benefit. But, perhaps, not by the Fortune 500 corporations themselves; but by their advisors. Presenting financial benefit to be gained from sustainability is an important term for shared agreement; however, it does not guarantee action for actions’ sake. When sustainability in areas like environment and social marginalization are presented as an economic benefit, our argument is: business sustainability is at stake.

Stu Dalheim, from CDP, said in a 2022 data report: “Many of the largest companies in the U.S. are achieving significant cost savings through clean energy programs and mitigating longer-term risks associated with energy price volatility.” Business risk might, then and admittedly, be at the core of sustainability in business for Fortune 500 companies–and large companies, as well.

Risk mitigation: An issue of sustainability?

Why is this so? The article “Majority of Fortune 500 Companies in 2018 Did Not Recognize Risk of Epidemics Such as COVID-19” By Mac Donald, Shorey et. al., states a good example of how risk mitigation from the COVID-19 epidemic’s effects on risk were not taken into account. And that did take a toll on business economics. The article suggests how Fortune 500 companies “may be more aware of how, in our globally intertwined economy and supply chains, local and global health emergencies can pose significant direct and indirect risk for US business continuity.”

The issue of continuity in Fortune 500 companies may seem counterintuitive. If they are the biggest companies in the game, then why are they lacking in recognition of business sustainability and CDR metrics–by their own standards that their power in their respective industry imply?

But it’s not all bad. Let’s look at an example of effective regulatory compliance. In a public statement, Salesforce's Chief Sustainability Officer, Patrick Flynn, stated: “We've laid out our entire journey towards 100% renewable energy by 2022. We've commissioned third-party audits and published all our reports. Accountability and transparency are our watchwords. They should be for every company.”

Salesforce's commitment to meeting the SASB's recommendations provides a glimmer of hope and offers a blueprint for other corporations to follow.


As climate action becomes increasingly vital, the corporate world must keep up the pace. Fortune 500 companies need to ensure that their climate action plans are not just glossy documents filled with empty promises but rather viable, accountable, and specific roadmaps towards sustainable change.

The corporate sustainability strategies of these major companies should be subject to rigorous scrutiny and criticism. As consumers, investors, and global citizens, we must hold these companies accountable for their pledges and commitments. Our shared future is at stake, and we can afford nothing less than full transparency, accountability, and action from the corporate world.


CDP Global. (2023). Climate Action Plans of Fortune 500 Companies. CDP Global Reports.

Sustainability Accounting Standards Board. (2023). Evaluation of Fortune 500 Sustainability Reports. SASB Statements and Recommendations.

BP Energy Outlook. (2020). Future Predictions and Goals. BP Energy Reports.

The Changing Markets Foundation. (2023). An Analysis of Coca-Cola's Environmental Initiatives. Changing Markets Foundation Investigations.

Salesforce Public Statement. (2023). Our Journey Towards 100% Renewable Energy. Salesforce Sustainability Reports.

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