In an era of climate and ecological emergency declarations, everyone will need to do their part in reducing their climate and environment impact – optics companies included. But the optics industry largely has poor carbon reporting and management, with few companies demonstrating an awareness or understanding of their carbon impact, or how to improve.

What’s the problem?

The following case study is based on independent research by Ethical Consumer (2020). You can read the full report here.

Research conducted by Ethical Consumer (2020) found that out of the 29 optics companies reviewed, 24 were considered to have poor environmental reporting. Fifteen did not have any sustainability reporting, while the other nine did not have quantified environmental reduction targets, and did not demonstrate how they were planning to reduce their carbon emissions impact. To have good environmental reporting, a company needed to demonstrate a reasonable understanding of its environmental impact, have at least two quantified environmental targets, have a report that was dated within the past two years and have been independently verified.

Five companies were considered to have reasonable environmental reporting (as opposed to good). Four of these were Japanese companies that did not have a policy on the management of toxins commonly present in materials they used, like plastics and textiles.

Out of the 29 optics companies reviewed in 2020, 26 were considered to have poor carbon reporting and management. To have good carbon management and reporting, a company needed to show that it had a reasonable understanding of its areas of climate impact and how to ameliorate them, and appear to be taking steps to do so. It should annually report greenhouse gas emissions released by its production process, purchased energy and its first tier suppliers; and have a future decarbonisation target that was in line with international agreements on climate change, like the Paris Agreement.

Four companies (14%) were considered to have good carbon management and reporting- Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon and Ricoh – all of which were Japanese producers of consumer electronics. Japan has had a mandatory greenhouse gas accounting and reporting system for large companies since 2006, and in 2017, Japan’s Ministry of Environment started to support the private sector with funding to help companies set science-based targets together with the Science Based Targets initiative. These efforts have clearly paid off for these four corporate giants.

However, Olympus, another Japanese conglomerate, was considered to have poor carbon reporting and management, since it was involved in several industries with a high climate change impact (aerospace, oil and gas, and cars) and therefore was considered to not take enough steps to ameliorate its climate impact. Three companies were involved in industries with high climate impacts. Leica made tools for companies involved in energy generation and transportation, and Meopta made glass components for airplanes.

Zeiss had environmental and decarbonisation targets, but did not show a reasonable understanding of its climate change impact and how to mitigate it, and its environmental data had not been externally verified.

What can I do?

Buying second hand is always recommended from an environmental point of view. If buying new, different ethical issues need to be weighed up. None of the companies reviewed by Ethical Consumer (2020) had both good environmental reporting and good carbon reporting and management. Find out more here.

You can also campaign for change by contacting companies and asking them to improve their environmental reporting and demonstrate a commitment to tackling climate change by setting company targets and clear ways to achieve these. Find contact details here.