General Electric Co. and Staples Inc. are among companies cited by an environment group for acting to cut emissions tied to global warming after Congress failed to pass climate-change legislation.

The World Wildlife Fund issued a report today, written in part by McKinsey & Co., that named GE and Staples as companies that improved financial performance by tackling climate change. Investing in low-carbon energy sources, curbs on energy use and installation of modern heating or cooling technologies can help both the Earth and corporate balance sheets, according to the report.

“Traditionally we’ve been addressing the general public or policy makers, but the target audience for this report is chief financial officers,” Carter Roberts, the Washington-based fund’s president, said in an interview. “You either pay now, or you pay later.”

The accumulation of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, is causing an increase in global temperatures, a rise in sea levels and more frequent instances of extreme storms, droughts and floods, according to the U.S. Global Change Research Program. Average U.S. temperatures may jump 4 degrees Fahrenheit (2.2 degrees Celsius) in the coming decades, and efforts to combat the effects are insufficient, the government advisory panel said in January.

Businesses Encouraged

Congress failed to pass, after two decades of warnings, cap-and-trade legislation to combat climate change in 2010, and environmental groups are pessimistic about action in the future. In its place, they are urging the administration of President Barack Obama to use regulatory powers to control emissions and encourging businesses to act on their own.

Roberts said he is betting that once some of the biggest, richest companies act, they will prod legislators to take up the challenge.

“The profound frustration we feel is that government is not taking the kind of decisions necessary to address one of the greatest risks of our time, and so all eyes turn to the private sector,” Roberts said.

The report, titled “The 3% Solution,” is aimed at getting the U.S. to meet cuts in carbon emissions seen as necessary on a global scale to prevent temperatures from rising on average more than 2 degrees Celsius. Meeting that goal would require U.S. companies to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 3 percent a year through 2020, it said.

Solar, Wind

Some companies are moving to accomplish this, with GE, Staples, Coca-Cola Co. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. taking some of the actions recommended. Wal-Mart has set a goal to rely solely on renewable energy, including using solar installations on store roofs and buying electricity from wind farms, the report said. GE sets employees loose on a ‘‘treasure hunt” for wasted power. Staples adjusts internal accounting mechanisms to encourage more profitable energy investments, it said.

Taken together, making a profit by targeting green initiatives was a surprise for the World Wildlife Fund, said Lou Leonard, who heads the group’s climate effort.

“It turns the issue on its head,” Leonard said. “It’s not about burden, it’s about where the profit potential is.”