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Because the 'environment' is a very broad area, when we look at company activities we split up the criticisms into five different categories:

  • environmental reporting
  • climate change
  • pollution & toxics
  • habitats & resources
  • palm oil

Environment categories

Since we started rating companies on their carbon reporting specifically, several things we used to look for under environmental reporting are now covered in more detail there, such as carbon disclosure and impact reduction targets. We now use our environmental reporting category to draw out those companies taking action on reducing environmental impacts other than carbon emissions.

For companies making physical products, we are looking for them to address the environmental impacts of some of the key materials, resources or activities in their products’ supply chain, use or end of life.

For finance companies we are looking for action on the environmental impacts (other than carbon emissions) of their financed activities.

Environmental Reporting sub-categories

  • Best Ethical Consumer rating for Environmental Reporting
  • Middle Ethical Consumer rating for Environmental Reporting
  • Worst Ethical Consumer rating for Environmental Reporting

Climate change is no longer theoretical. It's with us now. We caused it and it's up to us to do something about it. We all need to do our bit for the environment. Some sectors contribute particularly heavily to climate change, such as new fossil fuel development, in particular coal.

From September 2020, we have been rating all companies on their carbon management and reporting. We are looking for companies to have a credible, detailed discussion of how they have made emissions cuts in the past and how they will make them in the future, full annual public reporting of their emissions, and adequate future reduction targets.

We also check if they are involved in developing new fossil fuel projects, doing anything with coal, engaging in highly misleading public messaging on climate change, or subject to credible secondary criticism on what they are doing on the climate.

Climate change sub-categories

  • Best / Middle / Worst Ethical Consumer rating for carbon management and reporting
  • Banking, investment or other financial services relationship with a company criticised in this category
  • Building, financing or lobbying for new roads
  • Company self-disclosure of an incident in this category
  • Climate change secondary criticism
  • Climate change secondary criticism - aggravated
  • Misleading environmental claims - Climate Change
  • climate change - aggravated
  • climate change high impact sector - aviation
  • climate change high impact sector - Cars/Automobiles
  • climate change high impact sector - Cement
  • climate change high impact sector - Fossil Fuels
  • Other climate change criticism
  • Supplier of electricity where >5% comes from coal
  • Positive policy addressing a climate change issue

Pollution isn't just about big oil spills or chemical disasters like the 1984 chemical disaster in Bhopal in India which claimed the lives of over 10,000 people. There are tens of thousands of synthetic chemicals in regular use in a wide range of products from shampoo to computers. Many of these chemicals can pollute both the environment and our bodies.

Some chemicals are known as bio-accumulative, which means that they can stay stored in our body fat, for years. Some chemicals - like PVC - have a heavy toll on the environment, not just when they're being produced, but during their lifetime and then later on, when they're disposed of. Many of these chemicals have been singled out by campaigners like WWF and Greenpeace as particularly worrying.

Some companies are phasing out the use of chemicals but we need to keep the pressure up on those that are lagging behind. Pesticides and herbicides also come under this category. Our best buys will always, where possible, be free of harmful chemicals and so will be the healthier alternative, for our bodies, our children and for the environment.

Pollution & Toxics sub-categories

  • Banking, investment or other financial services relationship with a company criticised in this category
  • Health & safety
  • Breach of discharge consent - land
  • Breach of discharge consent - air
  • Breach of discharge consent - water
  • Manufacture or sale of products found to contain bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals
  • Manufacturer of bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals (e.g. bromine, chlorine, PVC, endocrine disruptors)
  • Building and/or operating non-clinical incinerators
  • Company self-disclosure of an incident in this category
  • Misleading environmental claims - Pollution & Toxics
  • Other pollution & toxics criticism
  • Ozone depleting chemicals use/purchase aggravated
  • ozone depleting chemicals use/purchase
  • conviction air
  • conviction air and fine >UK£100,000
  • conviction air and fine >UK£5,000
  • conviction land
  • conviction land and fine >UK£100,000
  • conviction land and fine >UK£5,000
  • conviction water
  • conviction water and fine >UK£5,000
  • conviction water and fine >UK£100,000
  • pesticides and/or herbicides
  • pesticides and/or herbicides aggravated
  • Pollution & toxics secondary criticism
  • Pollution & toxics secondary criticism aggravated
  • toxics release any
  • toxics release aggravated
  • Positive policy addressing a pollution & toxics issue
  • criticism related to unsustainable packaging
  • unspecified pollution conviction
  • enforcement notice imposed
  • waste disposal conviction 

This category looks to specific environmental destruction or exploitation of habitats and resources - whether it's palm oil plantations which threaten the Orang Utan with extinction, pollution incidents which kill off marine environments or the wood which hasn't come from sustainable sources.

It's more important than ever to conserve existing environments and prevent the further extinction of plants and animals. If you want to make sure your shopping doesn't threaten environments, look out for FSC certified wood and paper, buy recycled paper, and avoid products with palm oil in where you can.

Habitats and Resources sub-categories

  • Banking, investment or other financial services relationship with a company criticised in this category
  • Land use issues (eg greenbelt)
  • Land use issues - aggravated
  • Company self-disclosure of an incident in this category
  • Criticism for impact on endangered species
  • Misleading environmental claims - Habitats & Resources
  • Dam design, construction or finance
  • Other habitats & resources criticism
  • ECRA timber sourcing policy (2011): Best rating ECRA timber sourcing policy (2011): Middle rating ECRA timber sourcing policy (2011): Worst rating
  • retails non-FSC wood products - aggravated (eg sale of illegally logged timber)
  • retails wood products not labelled as coming from FSC certified sources
  • habitat destruction
  • habitat destruction - aggravated
  • unsustainable Fishing
  • Unsustainable fishing - aggravated
  • Habitats & resources secondary criticism
  • Habitats & resources secondary criticism aggravated
  • unsustainable forestry
  • unsustainable forestry - aggravated
  • unsustainable resource extraction and mining
  • Positive policy addressing a habitats & resources issue

Palm oil is an ingredient used in thousands of products from chocolate to shampoo. However, the mass production of palm oil is devastating the world's rainforests as well as being linked to human rights abuses.

We have been ranking company performance on palm oil for over 15 years now. Until January 2017 companies picked up marks in three categories for this issue (Habitats, Climate Change and Human Rights).

In 2017 we created a dedicated palm oil category, and used a new rating for companies operating in the following sectors: cosmetics, household cleaning products and food.

In 2021 we made the rating stricter, meaning that for large companies, as well as having a fully certified supply chain, at least half had to be certified as segregated, and they also had to list grievances, mills and producers (and not use the most problematic producers) to get a best rating.

Companies that are palm oil free - using neither palm oil (CPO), palm kernel oil (PKO) nor palm derivatives - will also receive a best rating.

Palm Oil sub-categories

  • Best Ethical Consumer ranking for palm oil sourcing
  • Middle Ethical Consumer ranking for palm oil sourcing
  • Worst Ethical Consumer ranking for palm oil sourcing