Focus on Green Finance – The European Union Action Plan – Mandates Being Put In Place for Fiduciaries

The European Union adopted a Sustainable Finance Action Plan in May 2018; the package of measures included a proposal for a regulation to establish a framework to facilitate sustainable investment.  The aim is to create a unified classification system or taxonomy on what could be considered to be “an environmentally-sustainable economic opportunity”.

Also in the plan:  a proposal for a regulation on disclosures related to sustainable investment and sustainable risks to require financial sector players to integrate ESG in their risk processes and decision-making as part of their fiduciary duties.

The action plan also calls for a regulation to amend the benchmark regulation by creating a new category of benchmarks for low-carbon and positive-carbon impacts (this would provide investors with better information on the carbon footprint of their investments).

The latest move in the action plan is the mandating of disclosure by money managers, insurance companies, pension funds and investment advisors in how these financial sector players are integrating ESG factor in their portfolios and disclosing the details to their beneficiaries, savers, investors, and advisors.

The financial sector fiduciary organizations will have to disclose how certain investments of theirs might cause damage to the planet, such as polluting water (think: mining companies, oil & gas companies, chemical companies, and others) and how an investment might damage biodiversity.

Implementation of the European Commission plan requires amending the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID II) and the Insurance Distribution Directive, and other directives or by adopting new “delegating acts” under the directives.

Also to be expected:  establishing an EU label for “green” financial products, those that comply with green or low-carbon criteria.

Two years ago the EU adopted ESG disclosure policies for public companies (the EU Directive for Non-Financial Disclosures and an Accounting Directive that was adopted by all 28 states); this corporate reporting directive could be strengthened as part of the action plan to assure that companies are providing the right information to investors.

All of this is to further ensure that the financial sector players invest more responsibly, said Valdis Dombrovskis, the EU vice president responsible for financial stability, financial services and the Capital Markets Union (CMU) in talking with Editor Paulina Pielichata of Pensions & Investments.  The CMU is a plan of the European Commission to mobilize capital in Europe and channel it to companies and infrastructure projects to expand and create jobs, part of the vision of creating a single market for capital in the EU.

She had written back in June 2018 after the announcement of the action plan that disclosure of sustainability and low-carbon attributes of investment strategies will soon be standardized as the European Commission worked on creating better transparency for those strategies for moving toward a lower-carbon economy.

There’s more information for you at the EU Sustainable Finance web site: https://ec.europa.eu/info/business-economy-euro/banking-and-finance/sustainable-finance_en

This Week’s Top Story has the current Pension & Investments report by Paulina Pielichata on the latest moves by the EU on the action plan:


This Week’s Top Story

EU agrees to sustainable investment disclosure framework   
(Friday – March 08, 2019) Source: Pension& Investments – The European Parliament and European Union countries agreed Thursday on sustainable investment disclosure rules for institutional investors. Under the agreed rules, money managers, insurance companies, pension funds and…

Looking at Green Finance in the United States of America
Citi announced issuance of its first green bond in January, as part of the Citi Group commitment to environmental and climate finance.  The bond will fund renewable energy, sustainable transportation, water quality and conservation, energy efficiency, and green building projects (all part of the organization’s US$100 billion Environmental Finance Goals (announced in 2015).  In January, Citi issue EU1 billion, 3-year fixed rate notes. Citi is a co-founder of the Green Bonds Principles (2014). Citi VP Michael Eckhart is the key player (he is head of environmental finance and was a principal player in creation of the Principles). 

On April 11th in New York City the Fixed Income Analyst Society (FIASI) will hold an event at the University Club in midtown — “ESG Integration in Fixed income:  How Credit Analysis of Risks and Opportunities is Evolving”.  The event will explore the drivers and current status of ESG integration in fixed income; focus on developments at the largest credit rating agencies regarding ESG integration in creditworthiness, and how investment management firms are considering ESG risks & opportunities in fixed-income investing.

Global sustainable investment assets reached US$23 billion in January 2016, FIASI points out, and one of the fastest-growing segments is ESG integration.  There’s a broad spectrum of methods involved, and for fixed-income instruments, there are higher levels of complexity in evaluating “green” issues than for equity, FIASI explains. Speakers from Moody’s, Fitch, S&P, TD Asset Management, Loomis-Sayles, JP Morgan Asset Management, APG Asset Management, and others will be speakers, moderators and panelists.  For information: https://www.fiasi.org/esg-conference

Information about FIASI is at: https://www.fiasi.org/

Five/in/Five – IBM Predicts Five Innovations To Change Our Lives in the Next Five Years at 2019 Think Conference

At the recent IBM Think 2019 Conference, fascinating artificial intelligence (“AI”) innovations were showcased; these are approaches in development to help meet the needs of global stressed food and water ecosystems.

Forbes’ contributor Lee Bell outlined the work of scientists and developers at IBM’s research unit, telling the story from the conference with a “crop-to-trash” theme.  These innovations are:

The Digital Twin – AI helping to accurately forecast crop yields (helping farmers to establish critical data points for arranging farm credit).

Blockchain – this is about using AI to help keep more food out of the waste system, and address numerous “unknowns” in the food supply chain; this is a Blockchain approach to help the value chain players (from planting to ordering to shipping) reduce food loss (food loss is a major factor in the herculean effort of addressing pressing hunger issues around the world).

Microbe Mapping – the use of millions of microbes to protect food with DNA and RNA sequencing using Big Data resources.

Food Detection AI Sensors – this is in the works now using advanced technology to help farmers, food processors, grocers, home cooks, to detect dangerous contaminants in food.  Simple:  using a cell phone or countertop AI sensor to spot e.Coli or Salmonella.

“VolCat – a welcoming note here as the IBM researchers look to eliminate existing plastics (such as those used in grocery bags) and develop new products that can be used again and again.  VolCat is a catalytic chemical process designed to turn polyesters into a new substance to make new products.

Years back we attended an IBM briefing with a research head who explained that many products in the lab would be at market in five years or less if they worked out as planned.  Today IBM continues on that path with its explanations of what the company’s research team members are looking at what could be possible five years from now…when the eight billionth person joins humanity and enters a world more connected and inter-dependent than ever (said Arvind Krishna, SVP of IBM Cloud & Cognitive Software).

Historians tell us that wandering tribes and clans of hunter-gatherers settled down  somewhere in the Fertile Crescent to “farm” and raise food animals some 10,000-to-12,000 years ago and the practices they established changed ever-so-slowly over the millennia.  Rapid change came in the modern times of agriculture” (some 200-to-500 years ago) with advances in mechanization, seed development, irrigation, crop rotation, selective breeding, preservation, plant nutrients, fertilizers, and recently, digitization of many tasks.

It will be fascinating to see what just the next five or ten years may bring in terms of technological developments for agriculture, ranching, food manufacturing and distribution, and related activities.  Stay tuned to the IBM AI research efforts!

The IBM February gathering with the theme of “five in five” (5 innovations within 5 years) had a number of fascinating tech discussions, including “Human-Robot Interaction”, “How AI and Blockchain Will Change the Game”, “Trust and Ethics in Tech”, and IBM Chairwoman/CEO Ginni Rometty’s address – “Building Cognitive Enterprises”.

Click here to learn more about the IBM Think 2019 Conference.


This Week’s Top Story

Sustainability Tech: The Top 5 Innovations Set To Transform Our Lives Over The Next Five Years   
(Tuesday – February 26, 2019) Source: Forbes – Researchers unveiled a raft of innovations earlier this month that they claim will “change our lives the most over the next five years”, and they’re all related to the very things keeping us alive: food and water. 

Morgan Stanley Research Important Takeaway: Sustainable Investing Approaches Now Clearly Mainstream For Institutional and Retail Asset Owners

A 2018 survey by Morgan Stanley took the pulse of U.S. asset managers (with in-depth telephone interviews) to determine the level of adoption of sustainable investing approaches by asset managers in the United States.

Results:  in the report “Sustainable Signals: Growth and Opportunity in Asset Management” a majority of managers said they now see sustainable investing strategies as a strategic imperative, explains Matthew Slovik, head of Global Sustainable Finance at Morgan Stanley.

Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing and Bloomberg had 300 asset management firms with at least US$50 million in Assets Under Management polled and the results built on a prior Morgan Stanley and Bloomberg survey in 2016 (“Sustainable Signals: The Asset Manager Perspective”). In that year’s pulse-taking, 65% of survey respondents said their firms adopted sustainable investing; the 2018 response was that 75% of asset management firms surveyed had done so.

Reasons cited:  increased investment stability; high client satisfaction; product popularity; possible high finance returns.

Explains Bloomberg Global Head of Sustainable Business & Finance, Curtis Ravenel:  “As investors increasingly consider sustainability factors across asset classes and investment products, we expect to see a shift toward better data tracking and reporting mechanisms…this will increase credibility and improve measurements of impact across portfolios.”

Survey Highlights:  Three-in-four U.S. asset managers now offer sustainable investing strategies. Nine-in-ten say sustainable investing is not a fad, it’s here to stay. Eight-in-ten say strong ESG practices can lead to higher profitability and companies [with ESG practices] may be better long-term investments. Two-out-of-three asset managers believe that it is possible to maximize financial return while investing sustainability.

Consider that according to the most recent survey of U.S. asset owners and managers by the U.S. Forum for Sustainable & Responsible Investing (US SIF), $13 trillion (or one-in-four dollars) of professionally-managed assets now consider sustainability principles, a clear signal that ESG factors are now widely incorporated into investment processes.

The new Morgan Stanley / Bloomberg survey results make the financial case for sustainable investing with both institutional and retail investors demanding an increasingly sophisticated range of investment approaches and impact outcomes.

The Initiative for Responsible Investment at the Hauser Institute for Civil Society at the Harvard Kennedy School and Edelman Intelligence contributed to the work.

The Top Story this week has highlights of the survey; click here to access the 16-page report.

The US SIF’s comprehensive “Report on U.S. Sustainable, Responsible and Impact Investing Trends 2018” is also available.

This Week’s Top Story

Sustainable Investing Goes Mainstream: Morgan Stanley and Bloomberg Survey Finds Sustainable Investing a Business Imperative Among U.S. Asset Managers
(Friday – February 22, 2019) Source: BusinessWire – A majority of U.S. asset managers are now practicing sustainable investing, viewing it as a strategic business imperative. In a new survey entitled Sustainable Signals: Growth and Opportunity in Asset Management, from..

Millennials Really Do Want To Work for Environmentally-Sustainable Companies, According to a New Survey of Large Company Employees

by Hank Boerner – Chair and Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

Here we are in the new millennium, since 2000 or 2001 (the clear delineation of the century-break has been debated) and the generation that straddles the 20th and 21st centuries has characteristics that may be quite different for employers (and as customers, investors, voters).

The Millennial Generation has been defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as those men and women born between 1981 and 1996, who are 23-to-38 years of age in 2019. (For sure, the exact definitions of recent generations are not always in general agreement.)

This cohort succeeded the smaller-sized “Generation Xers” and the larger Baby Boom generation (born 1946-1964, originally 77 million strong and two-thirds larger than the “Silents” before them).  The long-dominant Boomer population has been decreasing in total size since 2012…so what comes next for the business sector and the financial sector?

Answer:  Millennials! – and then over time the Post-Millennials, those born 1997-to-the-present day. But today’s focus is on the many impacts, strong and subtle, of the Millennials.

The Pew Research Center sees some of the defining trends for the Millennials as including experiencing the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the aftermath (shes off at the airport screening); the 2008 financial crisis and the impacts of the Great Recession that followed; steadily escalating costs for higher education and healthcare and housing…and other factors that created “slow starts” for their careers and “that will be a factor for American society for decades to come.”

This is also the generation that grew up surrounded with technology and for some, the experience of transition from land-line phones to early cell phones and then on to sophisticated iPhones; and for most, the internet, the World Wide Web, and social media became the center of life, observes the Pew researchers.

So what should business leaders expect as this maturing generation – in terms of attractive to potential job applicants and for retention of Millennials already under the roof?

Fast Company, the go-to magazine for many in the generation, says corporate sustainability is a priority and most Millennials would actually take a pay cut to work at an environmentally-responsible company; 40 percent have already done so because “company sustainability”. That is higher than the answers of respondents of prior generations (below 25% for Gen Xers and 17% for parents and grandparents in the post-WW II Boomer crowd).

Millennial survey respondents (40%) said they have chosen a job because the company performed better on sustainability than other choices…something only 17% of Boomers said they had done.  As for employee retention, consider that 70% of Millennials said they would stay with a company if it had a strong sustainability plan.

Are these survey results a “blip”?  Fast Company [magazine] tells us that in 2016 a similar survey reported that 64% of Millennials said they would not take a job at a company that was not “socially responsible” — and 75% said they would take a smaller salary to work at a company more in line with their “values”.

The 2019 survey was based on conversations with 1,000 employees at large U.S. companies.  More than 70% of respondents said they would choose to work at a company with a strong environmental agenda, and a sizable number said they would take a pay cut to do so.

Today’s business leaders need to keep these attitudes in mind as this significant demographic shift is taking place.  As the huge generation of Baby Boomers continue to age out of the workplace (the oldest are 73 years of age, the youngest are now 55),

Transition:  Millennials will make up three-out-of-every-four workers in the next six years, staff writer Adele Peters tells readers.(And the Census Bureau says they are one-out-of-four of the total US population today.)

The survey was commissioned by the blockchain-based clean energy platform Swytch – another sign of the times; this is a new platform organized to track and verify the impact of sustainability efforts and action on the global level of C02 emissions using blockchain technology.

The company says that consumers reducing their energy use can win tokens.  Is this 21st Century approach to currency exchange a “blip”? Perhaps not – JPMorgan Chase recently announced its own crypto-currency and as we write this, Bitcoin values are at $4,000.

Says Swytch co-founder Evan Caron of the survey:  “From my perspective, it’s a competitive advantage for large enterprises to really align themselves with employees’ ideas about creating more environmentally-sustainable choices.”

This Week’s Top Story

Most millennials would take a pay cut to work at a environmentally responsible company
(Friday – February 15, 2019) Source: Fast Company – Nearly 40% of millennials have chosen a job because of company sustainability. Less than a quarter of gen X respondents said the same, and 17% of baby boomers.

Question for Corporate Leaders: Is Your Company’s Sustainability Journey Based on Key Strategies? Is There Clear Alignment of Foundational Strategies with Sustainability?

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

HBR Authors Share Some Research Findings Of Importance to Corporate Leaders and Asset Managers…

Strategy – the familiar word comes down to us over the eons from the language of ancient Greece. The roots of the original word (translated to the more modern “stratagem”) mean “the work of the generals, or generalship” which is to clearly say:  to lead from the front..or the top!

In 2019, “strategy” and “sustainability” should be clearly linked, right?  In the corporate sector, setting strategies is at the heart of the work of the men and women at the top, in the board room and in the C-suite.  So what does that mean to us in terms of the intensive focus today on corporate sustainability and ESG performance? (And, the impacts positive and negative in the capital markets?)

The corporate enterprise that is seeking to excel among its peers, and clearly demonstrates leadership in sustainability matters (that encompasses a broadening range of ESG issues today) surely has the leaders at the top crafting, innovating and sharpening the leadership strategy…and driving the foundational elements down into the depth and breadth of the enterprise.  Typically, universal understanding helps to drive competitive advantage and creates a moat more difficult for peers to cross.

And so in this context, what about the “corporate sustainability laggards”?  Often in our ongoing conversations with a wide range of corporate managers – and with investment managers evaluating corporate ESG performance – the companies not yet well along in the journey or perhaps not even started on the journey, lack of sustainability strategy sends a signal of “silence” from the top ranks.

What this says to stakeholders:  ESG and strategy = not connected yet, there is a lack of quality in our management and board.  Don’t look to our firm for signals of sustainability leadership.

We find that most large-caps “get it” and it is the resource-challenged small-cap and mid-cap firms that are not yet started or not far into the sustainability journey.

The topic of corporate sustainability strategy gets a good overview in the pages of the Harvard Business Review by the outstanding ESG / sustainability experts, George Serafeim and Ioannis Ioannou.  Their post is based on their new 45-page paper (“Corporate Sustainability: A Strategy?”) and their co-authored HBR management brief is the topic of our Top Story for you.

They recently published the paper using data from MSCI ESG Ratings for 2012-to-2017 (looking at 3,802 companies); among the approaches was to separate “common practices” (across many companies) and “strategic” (those not so common to most companies).

Your key takeaway from their work:  “Our exploratory results confirm that the adoption of strategic sustainability practices is significantly and positively associated with both return on capital and market valuation multiples, even after accounting for the focal firm’s past financial performance.”

And…”the adoption of common sustainability practices is not associated with return-on-capital, but is positively associated with market valuation multiples.” There’s more for your reading in the Top Story below.

You could share these findings upward in your organization if your firm’s executives are not quite tuned in yet to the importance of having a clear strategy that factors ESG factors and sustainability into account.

Notes:  George Serafeim is Professor of Business Administration at Harvard B-School and Ioannis Ioannou is Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at London Business School.  They frequently collaborate and both write extensively on topics related to corporate sustainability and sustainable investment. And both are frequent speakers and panelists at trade and industry conferences and workshops.

This Week’s Top Story

Yes, Sustainability Can Be a Strategy
(February 11, 2019) Source: Harvard Business Review – In recent years, a growing number of companies around the world have voluntarily adopted and implemented a broad range of sustainability practices. The accelerating rate of adoption of these practices has also provoked a debate about the nature of sustainability and its long-term implications for organizations. Is the adoption of sustainability practices a form of strategic differentiation that can lead to superior financial performance?

Or, is it a strategic necessity that can ensure corporate survival but not necessarily outperformance?

The Ethical and Sustainable Supply Chain – Some Thoughts on This For You From Forbes

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

Ethical sourcing” — we see that term used a lot by companies that are systematically addressing issues in their sourcing and supply chain management to better understand and address (and better manage!) the various issues that their investors, customers, employees, business partners, and other stakeholders care about.

What is “ethical” behavior, to be found in the layers-upon-layers of suppliers in the usual  corporate globalized sourcing effort?  How do we define this?

As we sometimes hear in the poetic notion, little things can have substantial impact; think of the the butterfly wings’ flapping and fluttering in Brazil that can have effects all the way north as expressed through the hurricane winds hitting Mexico and in the tornado whirlings on the American Gulf coast.

This “butterfly effect” (part of the chaos theory portfolio) has counterparts in the supply chains of companies sourcing from near and far lands.

An example shared:  Poor working conditions in the Bangladesh factories have been brought to consumer attention by United Kingdom news reports; the Asian-produced goods (such as T-shirts) end up on retailer shelves with “Spice Girl” branding.  Irony:  the shirts were part of the Comic Relief Event campaign staged to raise money for “gender justice” – and the Bangladesh female workers made 30 cents an hour under hostile working conditions (details are in our Top Story).

Writing for Forbes (brands), contributor Richard Howell’s shares his thoughts in our Top Story.  “Social, economic and environmental sustainability should be at the heart of every supply chain…” he writes.

He posits that consumers are looking to buy from companies that have a preferable design, sourcing, manufacturing, delivery of goods & services…and that operate assets and equipment in an energy-efficient, safe environment (for team members and the environment).  Howell spells these out in his commentary.

So – what is ethical?  Among other things, fair wages, better working conditions and gender equality in the global supply chain that is sustainable as well.

This week’s Forbes commentary is by contributor Richard Howells, a 25-year veteran of supply chain management and manufacturing who describes himself as “responsible for driving market direction and positioning of SAP’s Supply Chain Management and IOT solutions.”  He’s worked on systems for such brand-facing companies as Nestle, Gillette, and others.

This Week’s Top Story

Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want: A Sustainable Supply Chain
(Thursday – January 31, 2019) Source: Forbes – Social, economic, and environmental sustainability should be at the heart of every supply chain

Davos 2019: The Conversation in Switzerland Ripples Out to The Rest of the World – News, Commentaries, Reports, Initiatives, For Your Consideration

by Hank Boerner – Chair &  Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

Davos, Switzerland –  January 2019: The Conversation in Switzerland Ripples Out to The Rest of the World – News, Commentaries, Reports, Initiatives, For Your Consideration

by Hank Boerner – Chair and Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

The world leadership gathering in Switzerland in winter every year – we see this in the “Davos meetings” in the news report datelines – are part of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) broad thought leadership activities.  This gathering is the WEF’s annual meeting (there are regional meetings as well).

Heads of state, CEOs, invited societal thought leaders, leading academics and journalists, politicians of all persuasions, NGOs, heads of multilateral heads (Christina Lagarde, International Monetary Fund)…they were all gathered there again this year.

WEF bills itself as “the international organization for public-private cooperation”; it was created in 1971 as a not-for-profit, to operate in a non-partisan, independent forum for leaders of society.  The annual meeting provides the opportunity for sharing ideas on a wide range of issues and topics. And then the broadcast of these out to the world.
This year, the broad themes of discussion included “4th Industrial Revolution”, “Geostrategy”, “Environment”, and “Economics”.

“Shaping” (taking actions as private-public partnerships) was the theme of numerous initiatives such as “Shaping The Future of Environment and Natural Resource Security”.

A slew of reports are typically issued each year; in 2019 one was “Seeking a Return on ESG: Advancing the Reporting Ecosystem to Unlock Impact for Business and Society”.

These reports and other information are available for you on-line at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda

Naturally, with the wise men and women of our global society gathered in the snowy reaches of Davos and presenting their views over several days, there was the usual flow of headlines and news stories out to the rest of the world.

Our team, led by Editor-in-Chief Ken Cynar closely monitors the Davos and other WEF meetings (the annual and regionals) to bring you relevant highlights. This week after the conference wrapped up, Ken Cynar selected this week’s Top Story pick.

That selection presents the comments of Hans Vestburg, CEO, Verizon Communications, on the theme of The Fourth Industrial Revolution and a Sustainable Earth.  CEO Vestburg (he’s originally from “high latitudes” Sweden and became CEO in August 2018) is strategically positioning his giant telecomm enterprise to balance market leadership, promising advances in technology (such as 5G networks) and challenges presented by climate change, population growth — and helping society achieve a sustainable and equitable future.

Hans Vestburg said at Davos: “Perhaps it because of my roots in a land so beautiful (Sweden) and yet so vulnerable…I’ve long had an interest in the potential link between technological advancement and environmental sustainability.”  CEO Vestberg helped to lead the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network, as example.

He sees the coming generation of high speed, highly-interactive technologies as a possible resource to help society buy time against catastrophic worldwide climate change (think of 3D printing, 5G networks, the Internet of Things, 4IR networks, autonomous devices).

Consider this, said the CEO of Verizon to the Davos leadership gathering:  “If we and our partners throughout industry, government and academia can collaborate imaginatively on way to maximize the sustainability benefits of these emergent technologies from the very start, the next few crucial decades could see cascading gains in momentum against both materials wastage and emissions.”

We think you’ll find his comments intriguing – and most welcome from the CEO of a prominent U.S. corporation with commitment to address critical issues related to climate change, and willing to speak up!

This Week’s Top Story

Want a Sustainable Earth? Bring on the Fourth Industrial Revolution
(Wednesday – January 23, 2019) Source: World Economic Forum – When I became CEO of Verizon back in August, one of my commitments was to accelerate our company’s progress in Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies, drawing upon our longstanding role as a world leading…

4th in Series: The Food Industry – GRI & SASB Standards In Focus – Perspectives on Alignments & Differences

By Jessica Caron –  G&A Institute Sustainability Report Analyst Intern

A comparison of the SASB Meat, Poultry & Dairy Standard — which is designed for use by companies involved in the raising, slaughtering, processing and packaging of animal food product — to the GRI Standards must start with the observation that the GRI Standards are general and not industry-specific, asking about topics that apply to most business organizations (such as employee benefits).

The SASB industry standards focus on industry-specific ESG information — such as animal welfare.

The GRI Standards also, in being of value in generating a general portrait of any type of organization, suggest disclosure of a wide range of basic information — such as legal form and markets served as well as significant amounts of content with information directly related to corporate ESG strategies and performance.

The only basic information SASB Standards suggest in the category is information about the number of processing and manufacturing facilities, amount of animal protein produced by category, and percentage of animal protein production that is outsourced.

We should keep in mind SASB is investor-focused, and GRI is stakeholder focused (of course, including investors). And so the information suggested for disclosure by the reporter (the company disclosing) has different end users in mind when using either or both of the standards for corporate reporting.

The GRI Sector Disclosure:

The SASB suggested industry standards are more similar to the Sector Disclosures from the GRI G4, the predecessor of the GRI Standards. Each Sector Disclosure consists of additional disclosures and guidance for answering general GRI disclosures tailored to a certain industry, and thus attains the level of industry focus that the SASB standards have.

The GRI Sector Disclosure most similar to the SASB Meat, Poultry, and Dairy Standard is the Food Processing Sector Disclosure, which is designed for food processing companies rather than farmers, but including questions about a company’s supply chain, which does include farmers. The G4 Food Processing Sector Disclosure is discussed in more detail at the end of this commentary.

Being Prepared for Reporting:

In general, my advice is that corporate reporters should be prepared for using the GRI Standards to disclose much more information than the SASB Standards suggest.

For example, the GRI Standards by design suggest that a company should expect to report on every material ESG issue that affects the company, and the reporting in accordance with “Comprehensive” level reporting option prescribes a management approach (DMA) for every risk, opportunity, and topic mentioned in the issuer’s report. In comparison, SASB suggest a well-defined and narrower set of [material] data and suggests management approaches for just a few topics, such as water management risk.

Other Differences to Note:

The GRI Standards Disclosures have an entire section on economic issues; the SASB Standard does not. These issues are focused on the economic value generated, financial assistance received from the government, and benefit plan contributions. The GRI Standards also ask about anti-corruption practices and anti-competitive behavior (in the “Society” subcategory), which the SASB Standard does not.

The GRI Standards suggest more detailed information in general than the SASB Standard on environmental topics, but the SASB Standard’s suggested disclosures are at times more specific and are on the whole more industry-specific. The main environmental topics both standards deal with are energy, water, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, waste, and biodiversity.

The GRI Standards suggest information on an organization’s energy consumption, energy intensity, and reduction in energy consumption and requirements — in addition to the suggestion that at least one or all, depending on individual company’s materiality assessments, of the ESG issues — be discussed and a management plan provided for it. including energy issues.

In contrast, the only energy information the SASB standard asks for is how much total energy is consumed, and suggests a breakdown of that energy by grid electricity and renewable energy (where the GRI Standards do not).

Overlaps and Differences – E/Environmental:

The water disclosures for GRI and SASB do overlap a great deal – SASB even suggests discussion of water-related risks and management approaches; notably, use of the SASB Standards suggests companies to report water specific non-compliance incidents where GRI Standards has a disclosure which asks for the companies approach for environmental compliance overall.

In terms of the other three topics, SASB only suggests disclosure of Scope 1 GHG emissions, of the amount of animal waste generated, and of the percentage of pasture and grazing land managed to Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservation plan criteria in the biodiversity section.

GRI suggests much more information for all three of these topics (because the GRI Standards are general, they ask about waste only in general terms, but they do suggest disclosure of types of waste generated).

However, SASB suggests disclosure of management approaches for GHG emissions and waste management, whereas GRI suggests disclosure of management approach for each GRI topic considered to be material to the company. The NRCS conservation plan can also be considered as part of a management approach.

Using the GRI Standards For Reporting – More Detailed

GRI is more detailed – by far – than SASB in its suggested disclosures related to employees and their human rights; GRI Standards ask about benefits, labor-management relations, training and education, gender pay equality, diversity and equal opportunity, non-discrimination, forced or compulsory labor, human rights training for security personnel, and grievance mechanisms in addition to employee health and safety — which is the only employee-related topic mentioned in SASB Standards.

SASB Standards, do, however, suggest a description of how respiratory health conditions (a problem in animal feedlots) are managed and prevented, an issue which is much more industry-specific and not specifically mentioned even in the GRI G4 Food Processing Sector Disclosures.

GRI also asks many questions about a company’s product responsibility and impact on society, whereas SASB does not.

Addressing “S” — Social Issues

The social issues GRI Standards ask about are indigenous rights (in the “Human Rights” subcategory); contributions to and effects on local communities; anti-corruption, anti-competitive behavior; consumer privacy and health and safety; compliance; marketing, labeling; and, grievance mechanisms for effects on society. SASB Standards focus on food safety. (Note that the GRI Standards suggests a discussion of markets that ban imports of the company’s products, which is often a food safety issue for the meat, poultry, and dairy industry. SASB Standards address this under the “Food Safety” section; other food safety topics are covered in the G4 Sector Disclosures.)

About Supply Chain Content

Both GRI and SASB Standards address disclosures on supply chain information — the information suggested by SASB Standards specifically address biodiversity, animal welfare, water stress, and climate change resilience in the meat, poultry and dairy supply chain (including discussion of plans to manage climate change risks and opportunities in the supply chain). These are of course all very important issues in the meat, poultry and dairy sector.

GRI in comparison suggests more general information about screening for environmental and social issues and local suppliers. (The Sector Disclosures address in general terms, supplier compliance with sourcing policies and international standards.)

The G4 Food Processing Sector Disclosures — which are the closest equivalent to the SASB Meat, Poultry & Dairy standards — suggest additional information in many sub-categories, such as product safety, and additional guidance for many aspects. (For example, it is noted that financial assistance from government may marginalize small-scale producers and have negative impacts on public health.)

The GRI Sector Disclosures also add information on sourcing practices to the procurement practices section (as discussed in the previous paragraph) and two new sections in the “Society” subcategory, on healthy and affordable food (which SASB does not mention) and animal welfare.

The GRI Sector Disclosures’ food safety questions relate to markets that ban the company’s products and the percentage of food manufactured in facilities accredited by a third party for food safety. SASB has more questions, including about recalls, and does ask about one third-party certification system, the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI).

Focus on Food Issues

The GRI Sector Disclosures also have sections on nutrition — specifically, on fortified foods and food reduced in saturated and trans fats, sodium, and added sugars – and marketing and labeling, especially marketing to vulnerable groups like children and pregnant women.

The SASB Standard does not address these issues. However, other than dairy products, most animal-based foods are not fortified with nutrients or reduced in fat, sodium, or sugar, perhaps making the GRI Sector Disclosures in this area of little relevance to the meat, poultry and dairy industry specifically.

In conclusion, I see the SASB Standard and the GRI Standards + G4 Food Processing Sector Disclosure each covering most of the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) topics relevant to the livestock industry, and together, the GRI and SASB standards fill in each other’s gaps to create a more complete ESG profile for any given company in the industry/sector.

Because some pieces of information are in differently-named categories across the standards, responding in the corporate reporting process to both standards does take a little extra work — but is very much possible and I think beneficial to do if the company seeks to be a sustainability leader in the industry (or industries) in which it operates.

Note:  This commentary is part of a series sharing the perspectives of G&A Institute’s Analyst-Interns as they examine literally thousands of corporate sustainability / responsibility reports.  Click the links below to read the first post in the series which includes explanations and the series introduction as well as the other posts in the series:

1st in Series: The Software / IT Services Industry – GRI & SASB Standards In Focus – Perspectives on Alignments & Differences

2nd in Series: The Agriculture Products Industry — GRI & SASB Standards In Focus – Perspectives on Alignments & Differences

3rd in Series: The Electric Utilities & Power Generators Industry – GRI & SASB Standards In Focus – Perspectives on Alignments & Differences

3rd in Series: The Electric Utilities & Power Generators Industry – GRI & SASB Standards In Focus – Perspectives on Alignments & Differences

By Jess Peete – G&A Institute Sustainability Report Analyst Intern

It is often the case that many us may not give our monthly energy utility company a second thought — unless there is an issue with the power going out or the bill is too high.

However, for those of us working in the sustainability field, the Energy Utilities Industry is one of the most important industries to consider, regardless of where we live or do business.

This industry’s companies power our homes, power our businesses, and in so many ways power our modern lives.

Traditionally, the energy utilities & power generators industry relied on oil and coal to generate supply for the power grid. This historic reliance on fossil fuels has more recently become a major issue in focus for investors, and society, as the effects of climate change continue to grow and the impact of burning fossil fuels for energy become more apparent.

Because of these effects on the environment and atmosphere, the Energy Utilities and Power Generators sector is today considered “high impact”.

Key sustainability reporting frameworks – including the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) — have sector-specific reporting standards (GRI has supplemental guidance that goes beyond their regular reporting requirements in order to more accurately measure the societal impact of the industry.)

Similarities and Differences in Standards

I’ve found that there is a great deal of similarity in the GRI Sector Supplements and SASB Industry standards for the Energy Utilities and Power Generation industry — but there are distinct differences as well.

The sector supplements only exist for GRI-G4, however, it is still advised for reporting organizations to now use the GRI Standards and incorporate the sector-specific disclosures from the GRI-G4 energy sector supplement to establish a more thorough industry-specific review of the total impact of the energy utilities sector.

The SASB Standards

SASB defines the materiality for the Energy Utilities sector reporting to include the following topics:

ENVIRONMENT

  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions & Energy Resource Planning
  • Air Quality
  • Water Management
  • Coal Ash Management

SOCIAL CAPITAL

  • Community Impacts of Project Siting

HUMAN CAPITAL

  • Workforce Health & Safety

BUSINESS MODEL AND INNOVATION

  • End-Use Efficiency & Demand

LEADERSHIP AND GOVERNANCE

  • Nuclear Safety & Emergency Management
  • Grid Resiliency
  • Management of the Legal & Regulatory Environment

Overall, the SASB standards appear to me to be quite comprehensive for a company to follow for their reporting — and would require reporting for many aspects of the electric power grid, including overall energy supply chain impacts.

For instance, SASB requires a calculation of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) emitted related to operations — but also requires a qualitative reporting of management-level planning to reduce the GHG emissions (emitted both from the company and its customers).

SASB addresses this in terms of recommending corporate reporting on negative environmental impacts — such things as coal ash and potential hazards such as posed by nuclear plants.

The GRI Standards

There appears to be little to no mention of coal ash storage in the GRI Standards — unless a company chooses to include coal ash as effluence.

This type of reporting could also be included in a company’s disclosure of their management approach (DMA) in the GRI Standards Report.

One area where the GRI standards seems to have a stronger “urging” for corporate reporting is the Sector impact on water, which is incredibly important because the energy utilities sector is one of the biggest users of water (usually required for cooling).

GRI Standards, in this case, appear to take a more holistic approach to water consumption (measuring total stress) while SASB only requires reporting the water impact from high stress areas.

Conclusion:

Because of the high impact that energy production and distribution have on climate, local communities, and the economy, companies in the Sector using both the GRI Standards and GRI G4 Energy Supplement alongside the SASB Energy Utilities Sector Supplement will be able to create a sustainability report that measures the true impact and costs of operations.

Measuring and managing these material E&S issues can help to provide both companies and investors in the sector a better understanding of their businesses, and a clear pathway to keeping consumer costs low while shifting to an energy portfolio that is one more based on sustainable energy.

Note:  This commentary is part of a series sharing the perspectives of G&A Institute’s Analyst-Interns as they examine literally thousands of corporate sustainability / responsibility reports.  Click the links below to read the first post in the series which includes explanations and the series introduction as well as the other posts in the series:

1st in Series: The Software / IT Services Industry – GRI & SASB Standards In Focus – Perspectives on Alignments & Differences

2nd in Series: The Agriculture Products Industry — GRI & SASB Standards In Focus – Perspectives on Alignments & Differences

4th in Series: The Food Industry – GRI & SASB Standards In Focus – Perspectives on Alignments & Differences

From Sustainable Brands: A Prominent IT Professional’s Outlook on 2019 -– “Year of Sustainability” Empowered by Technology & Innovation

Is 2019 going to be “The Year of Sustainability”?  Greatly empowered by technology?  With exciting innovation on the business front?  One European-based writer (Carmen Ene, CEO of 3 STEP IT in Helsinki, Finland) thinks so. Writing for Sustainable Brands® SB/The Bridge to Better Brands, she outlines what she sees as the top sustainability issues for corporate leaders in 2019 — and offers advice on how to address them.

Consider her view: Companies can take better control of their sustainability strategies and publicly acknowledge the top issues they could be facing in this year.  Data-driven metrics can help here (“Big Data” analytics help in planning and strategy-setting at the top, for example).  The rate of adoption of sustainable practices has been picking up in recent years but in 2019, we can expect to see significant change in business leaders’ behavior toward sustainability efforts.

As the universe of third party ESG data and analytics providers continue to expand their efforts to tell a story about the ESG activities of public companies, without active control of the narration, corporate executives may see various independent narratives (presented by the third parties) that are not favorable portrayals of the company and its ESG activities.
Innovation in technology is empowering businesses to utilize tech solutions to keep up with society’s changing demand (think about the Internet of Things and Blockchain examples).

Artificial intelligence and blockchain are some approaches to be explored, says the writer. Naturally, as a seasoned IT professional, Carmen Ene sees innovation in tech as important means for leaders to keep up with meeting investor, customer and stakeholder needs.

Consumer behavior is something smart businesses always deal with.  And so, dealing with the prevalent “throwaway culture” for producers of IT hardware — think about the waste and need for recycling of electronic goods — will certainly present growing challenges. (China recently curtailed treatment of E waste from other nations, presenting real challenges for civil government leaders in the USA at the community level.)

As the “digital world” continues to expand (think: ever-increasing access to information via newly-acquired hardware), the cast-off waste and E-detritus continues to build worldwide.

That requires smart approaches by electronics manufacturers and others to develop more effective waste and recycling efforts — which for industry players means (the author advises) better management of hardware, improved purchasing decisions and focus on reduction.

More effective IT lifecycle management is one approach being adopted by companies, says Carmen Ene — and that is the focus of her company’s efforts.

Changing regulations will pose challenges for businesses — worldwide, more regulations are being put in place to address environmental issues such as those posed by plastic waste and increasing GHG emissions. Local and national governments are putting sustainability goals in place (the UN SDGs are a driver) with both voluntary and mandatory guidelines. The almost 200 nations signing on to the Paris Agreement are busily coming up with “solutions” to environmental issues at home.

A key takeaway from her commentary:  business has a real need to act responsibly as a key aspect of corporate strategy.  Technology does help to drive change (sometimes very rapidly and causing disruption in many instances), and technology properly deployed can help to drive sustainability practices — creating still more innovation in sustainability strategy and efforts.  Business offerings can be made more sustainable and ethical for the future – with the help of technology.

We’re presenting interesting reading for you from this author in our Top Story this week.  Carmen Ene joined 3 STEP IT as CEO in 2015; the company’s mission is “to enable the most advanced IT life cycle management while striving to make the circular economy a reality.”  She previously held senior management positions at IBM.

The publication is from Sustainable Brands (SB), the premier global community of brand innovators “shaping the future of commerce worldwide.”  SB positions itself as a bridge between brand innovators across all circles, acting as a catalyst for intelligent discourse.  G&A Institute collaborates with SB in sharing information of value to our connections and promoting visibility for the fabulous Sustainable Brands conferences.

Top Story

3 Top Sustainability Issues in 2019 and How to Address Them
(Monday – January 14, 2019)  Source: Sustainable Brands – Once seen as a ‘nice to have’ for businesses, sustainability has become a vital component of many global organisations’ social and economic strategies.