WASHINGTON Seventy percent of firms with revenue of $1 billion or more say they plan to increase spending on climate change initiatives in the next two years, a global survey reported on Tuesday.
Nearly half of the 300 corporate executives who responded to a survey conducted for the accounting and consulting giant Ernst & Young said their climate change investments will range from 0.5 percent to more than 5 percent of revenues by 2012.
More than four out of five respondents, or 82 percent, said they plan to invest in energy efficiency in the next 12 months, with 92 percent saying energy costs will be an important driver over that period.
Corporate executives were committed to taking action even though they said complying with regulations that vary from state to state or country to country would make that a challenge.
The fact that 70 percent of executives said they planned to spend more on climate change programs was "one of the more stunning findings" of the survey, according to Melanie Steiner of Ernst & Young.
Despite regulatory uncertainty on climate change, "companies are really taking action anyway, because they're seeing that this is a business issue and an opportunity to generate new revenue," Steiner said in a telephone interview.
While action to deal with the effects of climate change used to be a matter of public relations, it has now become an opportunity to make money through new services and products, save money through enhanced efficiency and limit risk, she said.
One sign of this change is that more than 90 percent of those surveyed said climate change governance rests with top executives or board members, with 36 percent saying that the CEO is the most senior person responsible on this issue.
High-level responsibility does not guarantee corporate-wide comprehension of the importance of climate change policies, one survey respondent said.
"I believe the main problem is that organizations do not necessarily recognize or understand the link between climate change-related issues and the future fitness of the organization," the anonymous respondent said. "At a very senior level it is given importance. However, at lower levels there is (a lack of knowledge) of the issue."
The survey, conducted by the independent analyst research firm Verdantix, followed an anonymous methodology, so no respondents were quoted by name.
Respondents were drawn from 16 countries: Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, India, Japan, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.
They included executives across 18 industry sectors from airlines to media to consumer products to real estate.
(Editing by Eric Beech)