The Green Gauge: Rio Tinto takes a hit

June 7, 2010


Global miner Rio Tinto enters the spotlight this week as one of its uranium mines in Australia leaks toxins into a river leading to the wetlands of the Kakadu National Park, a bi-weekly analysis of companies in the news by ASSET4 data providers shows.

Here is a breakdown of the companies that made headlines May 22 to June 4 for winning or losing credibility based on environment-related activity.

Company selections were made by Christopher Greenwald, director of data content at ASSET4, a Thomson Reuters business that provides investment research on the environmental, social and governance performance of major global corporations. These ratings are not recommendations to buy or sell.

Here are the recent hits and misses:

bot25 Rio Tinto PLC / Rio Tinto Ltd.

Rio Tinto PLC has recently faced controversies concerning the impacts of two of its subsidiaries on their surrounding communities. Reports have emerged that a uranium mine operated by Energy Resources of Australia, which is owned by Rio Tinto, has been leaking high levels of uranium, sulphate and radium into a river flowing into the world-heritage wetlands of the Kakadu National Park in Northern Australia. Rio Tinto-owned Kennecott Minerals has also recently faced protests against a planned nickel and copper mine in Northern Michigan on Lake Superior, which local Indian tribes as well and the National Wildlife Federation have claimed will lead to sulpheric acid pollution as well as the destruction of a site considered sacred by native Americans.

bot25 Areva

Areva recently revealed that it was ending shipments of nuclear waste to Russia. The company had come under increasing pressure as a result of a documentary on the TV station ARTE last October that highlighted the shipments. Greenpeace, which claims to have criticized the shipments since they began 25 years ago, had also recently focused criticism on the company, sending boats to intercept the shipments. Greenpeace argued that the company has failed to prove that all of the nuclear waste sent to Russia for enrichment was eventually returned to France and consequently has been in violation of Russian environmental law and European regulations.

bot25 Syngenta

Citizens Energy Group of Indianapolis is considering joining a class action law suit filed by 16 local water authorities in four mid-Western states filed against Syngenta to pay for the costs associated with cleaning the company’s Atrazine weed killer from local water supplies. The case against the company has gained heightened attention following a study in February by University of Washington researchers that linked exposure to Atrazine in water supplies to an increase in birth defects.

bot25 Coca-Cola

Bowing to increasing pressure from local farmers and the surrounding community, the government of the Guntar district in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh has reversed a decision to allow the Coca Cola’s Indian subsidiary, Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages, to access water from the main water canal of the district. Coca-Cola has come under increasing criticism and protests from local farmers in India for its water use in communities already constrained for adequate clean water resources. The company’s reputation has also been damaged as a result of a March order by state officials in Kerala to pay $47 million to compensate for pollution and groundwater depletion, a charge that the company has denied.

top25 Pepsico

While also under pressure from local communities for its use of local water resources, Pepsico recently announced that it had obtained a positive water balance in India through a variety of conservation initiatives. Pepsico’s CEO Indra Nooyi has indicated that the company would strive to attain a positive water balance in other countries which face water scarcity. NGOs nonetheless have argued that the primary issue remains the water balance in local communities where Pepsico is operating, rather than for the country as a whole.

top25 Sears Holdings

Sears recently announced a program to freely recycle and dispose of old appliances when customers agree to purchase new, energy efficient models. In combining a marketing campaign with the recycling initiative, Sears claims to safely remove dangerous chemicals from old appliances to ensure safe disposal and encourages consumers to purchase energy star certified models offered by the retailed.

top25 Johnson Controls

Johnson Controls, which provides energy efficiency solutions for commercial buildings, recently published the results of its “Energy Efficiency Indicator Survey,” that for the first time included results from managers outside of the United States. The study revealed that among C-level managers globally, energy efficiency was of greatest importance for managers in China and India in making building investment decisions. Underscoring the link between energy efficiency and cost savings, the survey also revealed that managers in India and China expressed the highest levels of belief that energy prices will rise in the future.

A copy of the Study is available here:

top25 PG&E (NYSE PCG), Southern California Edison (NYSE EIX), Public Service Electric & Gas Co (NYSE PEG), Florida Power & Light (NYSE FPL), and San Diego Gas & Electric (NYSE: SRE) made up the top 5 U.S. utilities with the highest levels of annual solar power capacity according to a recent study by the Solar Electric Power Association. Although the rankings revealed that investments in solar power continues to diversify throughout a wider range of utilities across the U.S., California utilities continue to make up 5 of the top 10 utilities with the highest levels of solar installations nationally.

A copy of the survey is available here:

Photo shows the wetlands of the Kakadu National Park in far-north Australia in August, 2001. REUTERS/Ho New

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