Clothing companies including Fast Retailing, Hanesbrands, H&M Hennes & Mauritz and Levi Strauss & Co are among businesses that have made it onto an annual list of environmental leaders.

The CDP 2020 'A List' features 313 companies worth a combined $15 trillion, and also includes Burberry Group, Kering, Lenzing, Zalando and Walmart.

Compiled by environmental non-profit CDP (formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project), the A List showcases efforts on climate change, forests and water security. Thousands of companies disclose through CDP at the request of investors and corporate buyers.

Companies are scored on environmental impacts, risks, opportunities, governance and actions; awareness of environmental risks and how they relate to their business; demonstrating management of these environmental risks and evidence of best practice associated with environmental leadership.

This year has seen a major increase – up 45% on last year – in the number of companies achieving an A score, the non-profit says. Along with the high levels of disclosure, this shows growing environmental awareness among the business world in 2020.

For climate scores this is largely because more companies are choosing to be transparent by disclosing data – in itself an important step, driven by increased market pressure for transparency. The growth in companies scoring an A for tackling deforestation and water security also points to increased action in these areas.

The A List comes just ahead of the five-year anniversary of the Paris Agreement, with world governments expected to deliver updates on their national climate plans to build momentum ahead of COP26. 

In November, the UK government was the first G20 government to announce mandatory disclosure, sending a powerful signal to the market and other governments that they should follow the UK's approach.

"CDP data shows growing environmental awareness among the business world in 2020, which is hugely positive considering the unprecedented challenges business and society have faced this year. We have the wind in our sails," says Dexter Galvin, global director of corporations & supply chains at CDP.

Examples of environmental action from those on the A List include American apparel company Levi Strauss & Co working with designated suppliers to identify and implement renewable energy and water saving interventions across ten countries.

Apparel maker HanesBrands also secured its first 'A List' Score in the CDP 2020 Climate Change Report, and was recognised for its actions to cut emissions, mitigate climate risks and develop the low-carbon economy. In October it announced wide-ranging 2030 global sustainability goals that include a commitment to science-based environmental targets, and addressing the use of plastics and sustainable raw materials in products and packaging.

While there has been a big increase in the A List this year, it still only represents a minority of companies, CDP says. Most (74%) of companies achieved D-C scores, meaning they are only just becoming aware of how environmental issues impact their business. 

Even more concerning, 3,700+ companies failed to disclose any data when requested by investors or customers, and over three times this many received an F for at least one theme. These companies are expected to face increasing pressure to demonstrate they are taking environmental risks seriously.

The market demand for corporate environmental transparency is louder than ever: 515 investors with US$106 trillion in assets, and 150+ large purchasers with US$4 trillion in buying power requested thousands of companies to disclose through CDP in 2020. They use the data, including scores, to inform their investment and procurement strategies.

Leading environmental action is correlated with financial success. The A List companies are combined worth almost US$15 trillion in market cap. Further, data from STOXX has shown that the A List has outperformed its reference index by an average of 5.3% per annum over a 7-year period.