Vaccine maker AstraZeneca, consumer goods group Unilever and British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s were among the few companies given top marks in a ranking of environmental leadership.
Although 272 companies received an A grade on tackling climate change, they made up only a fraction of the 12,000 businesses questioned by experts.
Only 14 attained top marks across a suite of three categories, with forests and water security considered as well as climate change.
The scores published by the Carbon Disclosure Project, a charity, are designed to help investors steer their money towards sustainable goals.
Pouring private money into green investments was one of the major promises to emerge from last month’s Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow.
Diverting funds away from fossil fuels is regarded as critical to limiting global warming to 1.5°C, the agreed global goal.
But 17,000 companies worth a combined $21 trillion have not even taken the first step by properly reporting environmental data, said CDP's global director Dexter Galvin.
“These companies are not only putting the planet at risk, but themselves. If they continue with business as usual, they will end up on the wrong side of public opinion, regulation and investor sentiment,” he said.
“Cop26 highlighted the necessary role corporates play in driving the real economy changes to tackle the climate and ecological emergency, and keep us within 1.5°C.”
Businesses were sent questionnaires asking if they had considered climate risks, planned emissions cuts or rewarded staff for reaching environmental targets.
The A-graded businesses in the climate change category included hygiene company Colgate Palmolive, drinks maker PepsiCo and broadband provider BT.
Unilever, computer giant HP and cosmetics brand L’Oreal were among the elite group given top marks in all three categories.
By contrast, energy providers Chevron and Exxon Mobil were among those described as lacking data.
But 509 companies were credited with making progress by moving from merely disclosing their climate impact to trying to address it.
Analysts praised Unilever for setting out plans to reach net zero emissions by 2039, including by expanding its plant-based product range.
“Business can only thrive on a healthy planet,” said the company’s chief executive Alan Jope. “It’s great to see so many other companies on the list, indicating a real step change in ambition.”
AstraZeneca was given top marks for its climate and water policies, but a lower score on forests, despite a promise to plant 50 million trees by 2025.
Sainsbury’s said it had reached its interim emissions targets early and would aim for net zero by 2040.
The rankings will be expanded in future to take companies' impact on waste, oceans and biodiversity into account.