SEC Proposes Important Amendments to Corporate Disclosure & Reporting – Changes Are in the Wind — But Corporate ESG Disclosure Is Not Addressed in the SEC Proposals …

October 12 2017 – by Hank Boerner – Chair, G&A Institute

On October 11, 2017 important news was coming from the Securities Exchange Commission (in Washington DC) for corporate leaders and investment professionals: a comprehensive package of proposed changes (amendments) to existing rules for corporate disclosure and reporting was released for public examination and comment.

There are more than 250 pages of proposed changes and adjustments released for your reading (the document will be published now in the Federal Register for broad communication to stakeholders).

You’ll remember the April 2016 activities as SEC released a 200-plus page Concept Release that addressed a range of issues that could result in revamping the overarching parts of Regulation S-K and parts of Regulation Fair Disclosure (“Reg FD“) and other corporate disclosures required by Federal statutes.

We told you about this in our post of May 13, 2016.
Link: http://ga-institute.com/Sustainability-Update/tag/sec-concept-release/

We said then: Maybe…U.S. Companies will be required…or strongly advised…to disclose ESG Data and related business information…

There were great hopes raised when the Commission in circulating the Concept Release document devoted more than a dozen pages to discussion about ESG, sustainable investing, the possibility of “guidance” or perhaps amending rules to meet investors’ expectations that public companies would begin, expand, improve on, ESG disclosure.

Numerous investor interests provided comments to the SEC in support of the possibilities raised by SEC in the dozen pages of the Concept Release devoted to ESG et al.

The US SIF — the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investing, a very influential trade association of asset owners and managers — provided important input, as did the CFA Institute (the U.S.-based, global certification organization for financial analysts and portfolio managers worldwide).

Disclosure of material ESG issues was a key concern of the numerous responders in the public comment period.

This week’s development: The SEC Commission proposed amendments to existing regulations that are part of the “Modernization and Simplification of Regulation S-K,” citing a different package of legislation. (The FAST Act Modernization, which in part will the sponsors said will attempt to “prune the regulatory orchard” — this is part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act or “FAST”.)

The Commission referred to the proposals as an important step “…to modernize and simplify disclosure requirements for public companies, investment advisors and mutual fund (investment) companies under the FAST Act…”

This, said recently-appointed SEC Chair Jay Clayton, “…is the most effective way to update SEC rules, simplify forms and utilize technology to make disclosure more accessible…”

The proposed amendments were characterized as part of the overall, long-term review of the SEC’s disclosure system. Thus, the SEC said the proposed amendments reflect “perspectives developed during the staff’s broader review…including public input on the prior Concept Release.

The details are available for you in a new 253-page document, at: https://www.sec.gov/rules/proposed/2017/33-10425.pdf

You have 60 days of open comment period ahead during which to express your views on the proposals.

The proposed amendments mostly address corporate governance (G”) issues that if adopted would:

• Change such items as Description of Property**; the MD&A; Directors, Executive Officers, Promoters and Control Persons; Compliance with Section 16(a) of the Exchange Act; Outside Cover Page of the Prospectus.

• Revise rules and forms to update, streamline and improve the SEC disclosure framework by eliminating risk factor examples listed in the disclosure requirement and revising the description of “the property requirement” to emphasize the materiality threshold**”.

Note that while “property” is usually a facility, this does not always apply to the service sectors.

• Update rules as needed to reflect changes since the rules were first adopted or last amended. (Including, “corporate governance” items, such as for Board Auditing, Compensation Committee operations.)

• Simplify the overall disclosure process, including treatment of confidential information; also, changes would be made to the MD&A to allow for “flexibility in discussing historical periods”. (The discussion on confidential info runs for pages – important to read for corporate managers involved in disclosure.)

• Treatment of subsidiaries.

• Incorporate technology to improve access to information requiring data tagging (XBRL) for items on the cover page and use of hyperlinks (HTML) by reference and in the EDGAR system.

Again – the public now has 60 days to submit comments on the proposed amendments (to such statutory authority as the Securities Act of 1933; Securities Exchange Act of 1934; Investment Company Act of 1940; and, regulations under these landmark securities protection laws of the land).

There are numerous sections within the proposed amendment document where the Commission is inviting public comment. To submit your comments, see: http://www.sec.gov/rules/proposed.shtml — file#S7-08-17

Disappointing News: There is no mention that we could find in the proposal document that addressed the many comments that were directed to the SEC staff in response to the earlier Concept Release by sustainable & responsible investor interests. And, in many investor conversations with SEC staff that acknowledged the growing importance of disclosure regarding corporate sustainability and ESG performance.

No mention of: Climate Change. ESG. Responsible Investment.

This is very troubling — no doubt members of the investment community and corporate leaders well along on their sustainability journey will be providing their perspectives to SEC — and the media, and elected officials — on this important oversight.

SEC guidance for corporate reporters regarding their ESG, sustainability, responsibility, citizenship, etc disclosures and reporting activities would be very helpful – right?  Of course, we are in a new political environment now, and perhaps that is helping to shape the agenda at the Commission as “reforms” are drafted and distributed for public consumption.

There is much more news to come when the response to the announcement begins. Stay Tuned!

P.S. – if you/your organization responds to the draft proposals, please do let G&A know so we can publicize your perspectives.

The National Geographic Can Have A Major Influence On Its Global Audience With Coverage Like This: Climate Change’s Hidden Costs

The National Geographic Society made its debut as a publishing force in 1888, introducing the natural world and faraway places to generation-after-generation, at first through the familiar yellow cover magazine (the “journal”), then on through broadcast and cable television programming, a web site, and movies.  (Remember “March of the Penguins”?)

And always, through the decades, the NG staff and contributors have kept up-to-date with world and domestic “happenings,” including wonderful places to visit and introductions to far-off cultures, explanations of geography and natural science, archeology and history — as well as reportage on serious storms, wars, civil unrest, droughts, famines, and other important touchstones of shared content to expand our personal knowledge.

NG through its communication channels reaches tens of millions of people worldwide.  And today the NG is focused on another hot topic:  climate change, and the costs (which run into the hundreds of billions of US dollars, according a report by the Universal Ecological Fund — “The Economic Case for Climate Action in the United States.”

Key assertion of the study:  Extreme weather has cost the U.S. economy at least US$240 billion a year over the past 10 years!

The study authors point out that big storms lower the long-run growth rate of the U.S. economy and that economic and human impacts ripple through the country for us for decades. (New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 is an example they shared.)  Crop yields are down US$56 billion since 2012 due to climate-related losses (drought).

NG shares a compelling chart showing numerous “billion dollar” weather disasters that have been increasing in recent years (due to drought, heat wave, wildfire, flood, hurricane, tornado, blizzard, etc).  There’s an accompanying video featuring Bill Nye, “The Science Guy”.  NG provides links to other articles, photos of Hurricane Harvey’s destruction, and a video, “Climate 101 – Renewable Energy.”

A number of experts contributed to the NG presentation, including report co-authors Sir Robert Watson, director of the UK’s Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research, and Ryan Wiser, senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Amir Jina, University of Chicago; John Tomanio and Riley D. Champine, NG staff members; Adam Smith, National Climatic Data Center and colleague Jeff Masters, Weather Underground, at the Center.  The article author is Stephen Leahy.

Our Top Story makes a compelling case for action now! on climate change challenges and will be an oft-quoted source (we believe) for pushing back on climate change deniers.

Top Stories This Week…

Hidden Costs of Climate Change Running Hundreds of Billions a Year
(Friday – September 29, 2017)
Source: National Geographic – A new report warns of a high price tag on the impacts of global warming, from storm damage to health costs. But solutions can provide better value, the authors say.

Sustainability Pays, Says Wal-Mart & Some Of Its Suppliers in PBS NewsHour Interviews

As part of the PBS series, “Peril and Promise: The Challenge of Climate Change,” the network’s NewsHour reported on how a few large U.S. companies are doing their part to meet climate change challenges…and prospering…even as the Trump White House continues to move toward withdrawal from the historic Paris Agreement (COP 21).

The efforts of the giant retailer Wal-Mart Stores are highlighted in the broadcast.  Wal-Mart stresses that it is striving to be recognized as a corporate leader in the “fight against climate change.”  Kathleen McLaughlin, the company’s chief sustainability officer, is interviewed in the program by PBS correspondent Stephanie Sy.

Says the Wal-Mart CSO:  “…sustainability is core to our mission.  It’s critical for business.  It’s important for customers and communities…”
The company’s sustainability journey was launched in 2005 by then-CEO Lee Scott.  He pledged to curb the company’s GhG emissions by the use of clean power sources, aiming for 100% renewables over time. As part of the effort, Wal-Mart saves energy — and money! — in store operations by demanding more efficient equipment from vendors (for HVAC, lighting, refrigeration).  There are solar installations on 364 Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores now — this makes the company the second largest commercial solar power generator.

Wal-Mart plans to reduce its carbon emissions by 2025 by 18% from its 2015 levels, even as it ambitiously expands its retail footprint.  With 99% of the company’s GHG impact coming from its supply chain, Wal-Mart points out that at its encouragement, dozens of its major suppliers have signed on to Project Gigaton (the effort to cut emissions).

One of the company’s key suppliers — candy maker Mars, makers of M&Ms — itself set an aggressive target of “zero carbon” in its operations by 2040, working to achieve zero GHG emissions by that date.  The company’s “vast solar farm” in rural New Jersey is featured in the PBS broadcast.  Barry Parkin, chief sustainability officer of Mars, Inc. is interviewed about the company’s efforts.

Key to the sustainability efforts:  Wal-Mart’s model, the way stores are managed, the work done with the massive supply chain partners…all of this “optimizes and lowers the footprint to deliver the same amount of product to people,” explains company CSO Kathleen McLaughlin.  And, she adds, “if you look at the scale and ambition of the efforts and what we’ve actually achieved, I’m actually quite excited about it.”

The company has partnered with the Environmental Defense Fund (“EDF”) for guidance in achieving its climate change goals.  Responding to the question about is “Wal-Mart doing enough?,” Fred Krupp, President of the Environmental Defense Fund in the interview said:  “The scale of Wal-Mart is hard to wrap your head around.  They can always do more.  What they have shown so far is a serious commitment, and the journey is an ongoing one of improvement.”

Making this story come alive for you:  There is a videotape of the program and the various interviews posted in the print version of the program script in our Top Story that you can view.  You’ll also want to read the various viewer/reader responses to see the perspectives shared by viewers…many opinions were shared, both positive and negative.

“Peril and Promise” is an ongoing PBS series on the human impact of, and solutions for, Climate Change.”  FYI, PBS is the largest non-commercial television network in the U.S.A., with more than 350 local stations broadcasting PBS and their own programming; combined, these reach more than 100 million households. Major stations are located in New York City, Chicago, Boston, Washington DC, San Francisco, Atlanta, Miami, Denver, Detroit, and many more cities in the 50 states.

Top Stories This Week…

Large companies see payoffs in sustainability
(Monday – September 18, 2017)
Source: PBS NewsHour – This summer, when President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 Paris climate accord — a voluntary pact to cut emissions of gases that cause global warming — some opposition came from what is perhaps a surprising place: big…

Sustainable Business Practices Can Impact The Bottom Line, Say This Quartet of Researchers — Lessons Here For Busy Execs

You can read our Top Story this week first and then you can forward this important commentary to your C-Suite if the execs there have been wondering how corporate sustainability may be impacting a company’s bottom linein positive ways.

A quartet of experts writing in the Harvard Business Review has responded to the short-term, bottom-line pressures that we hear so much about throughout much of Corporate America.

To develop their case, the authors (three academics and a consultant) looked at Brazil’s giant beef industry, a challenge for studying considering the size and complexity of the industry and its long-term impact on the planet.  (Brazil is the world’s largest beef exporter and second largest consumer market for beef products.)

Key finding:  “sustainable” and “deforestation-free” industry practices created significant financial benefits for all players in the industry value chain. Quantifying this, the authors found net benefits to ranchers ranging from 12% to 23% of revenues.  Sustainable agricultural practices provided the most financial benefits, while the uptake of deforestation-free commitments over time reduced risk to the industry and company components.

Their approach demonstrated (they write) that measuring the value chain of sustainable business can be done and the sustainable business itself can be cost-effective.  Brazil’s beef industry impact on the plant has been intense (with de-forestation and GHG emissions) and there have been significant steps taken to address the issues involved.

One industry participant explained that while there is no price premium for sustainability alone, there is for quality, and the company’s quality immediately increased with the adoption of sustainable practices.  Today, 70% of their beef products are sold with a quality premium, from “zero” two years ago. That resulted in increased revenues and greater customer satisfaction.

While the focus is on the Brazil beef industry (and the value chain from grower through the processor to retail) we think there’s some good material here to help executives understand “the possible” bottom line impacts through sustainable business practices.

The authors are Tensie Whelan of NYU Stern School of Business, Center for Sustainable Business; Bruno Zappa, A. Kearney strategy consultant; Rodrigo Zeidan, of NYU-Shanghai and Fundacao Dom Cabril/Brazil; and Greg  Fishbein at The Nature Conservancy / Collaboration for Forests & Agriculture.

The academic authors worked with AT Kearney to develop the methodology for their case.  The work included research, data analysis and interviews with key players.  Organizations examined included McDonald’s; Carrefour; JBS, Mafrig, Antea Group (all in Brazil); Infalora; Instituto Centro de Vida (ICV); and, The Nature Conservancy.
And, they provided a link to the Excel spreadsheets on which they calculated the numbers for the article (it’s embedded in the post).

Top Stories This Week…

How Do We Measure Sustainability?
(Friday – September 08, 2017)
Source: EWN – Globally, there has been an increase in demand for higher transparency on environmental, social and governance issues.

DJSI Results Announced — Are You In / Out? Attend Our Workshop in Collaboration with RobecoSAM in New York City on October 24th

Many corporations that endeavor to be sustainable become a bit nervous as we pass Labor Day in the USA.  The rebalancing of the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes is traditionally announced at that time.  Is my company in?  Out?  Increasingly, CEOs and other C-suite execs and board members (as well as numerous managers) are holding “membership” in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices in very high regard.

On September 7, 2017, the results were announced in Switzerland by RobecoSAM (the creators and managers of the DJSI) and S&P Dow Jones Indices (owners of the intellectual property and one of the world’s leading index providers).

Among the many new companies added to the Indices, three were announced in the official press release, Samsung Electronics, Ltd; BAT (British American Tobacco plc); and, ASML Holding NV.  And among the many unfortunate companies dropped from the index, the three mentioned in the release included Enbridge Inc; Reckitt Benckiser Group plc; and, Rio Tinto plc.

The DJSI were launched in 1999, and over time became the “gold standard” for corporate sustainability indexes.

Every year select corporations are invited to respond the company’s Corporate Sustainability Assessment (“CSA”) — a rigorous, rules-based online process for company managements’ response efforts. There are about 600 data points per company that is organized into one overall score. Certain criterion (topic sub-sections of the CSA) are added for specific sectors based on materiality, and each sector has different scoring weights applied to the various criterion based on how material they are to the sector.  (Note that the G&A Institute team assists client organizations in their response efforts each year.)

This year, the CSA assessed “Policy Influence” for the first time — assessing public companies’ lobbying activities.  And the Impact Measurement & Valuation Criteria were expanded to just about all industries. RobecoSAM sees Policy influence as a material issue for investors, especially in such countries as those where the revenues of public companies may exceed the GDP of that country.

RobecoSAM acknowledges that companies are aware of the need to “understand environmental and social profits and losses, but less than 10% have a viable valuation approach in place to provide detailed insights into potential E and S financial impacts.”

Top Stories This Week…

How Do We Measure Sustainability?
(Friday – September 08, 2017)
Source: EWN – Globally, there has been an increase in demand for higher transparency on environmental, social and governance issues.


A special all-day workshop is being offered to corporate managers, presented by G&A Institute in collaboration with RobecoSAM in New York City on Tuesday, October 24th at Baruch College/CUNY:

Demystifying The Corporate Sustainability Assessment (CSA) & The Dow Jones Sustainability Indices (DJSI)
Focused on Assessment Questions for
Human Rights, Human Capital & Supply Chain

Click here for more information and to register.

Highlights of the Workshop:  The aim of this workshop is to increase the participants’ knowledge and obtain advice on the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices (DJSI) and the RobecoSAM Corporate Sustainability Assessment (CSA) — in this session, specifically on selected criteria including Human Rights, Supply Chain, and Human Capital.

Representatives from high-scoring CSA-responding companies including 3M and Citi will share their perspectives and experience in crafting responses to the CSA.

Participants will also learn how institutional investors are utilizing data from the CSA and ESG data into their investment decision-making with a special guest from Bloomberg LLC.

Participants can expect to take away a deeper understanding of:

  • The DJSI 2017 – results, lessons, outlook.
  • Effective approaches to assessing established and emerging sustainability topics in the CSA.
  • Rationale, the business case, performance, and results from last year’s assessment, and learn more about major challenges for companies, especially in the CSA Criteria of Human Rights, Human Capital, and Supply Chain.
  • How institutional investors/fiduciaries are utilizing ESG data.

Early bird pricing is open through September 30th.
Get more details and register at: http://bit.ly/CSAtrain

 

This Is Hurricane Season in the Americas — And Climate Change Discussions Will Accompany News Reports About the Super-Storms Coming Ashore

All news/all the time — that was the American television viewer’s diet of content during the week long siege, with Hurricane Harvey sweeping ashore along the Gulf of Mexico areas of the State of Texas.  And the plight of the people of the Houston region, in particular, was on everyone’s mind as we watched the struggles of the residents there to stay safe and help their neighbors.

As we watched, many of us from afar, this was the American Spirit at its very best, in such terrible times for Texans to remind us all of the traditions of neighbor-helping-neighbor.

The public debate about the issues surrounding climate change (is it happening/what is the cause/what can be done) goes on, folks on both sides of the issue were cautious and sensitive about bringing the subject up in the midst of the suffering in Texas.  But gradually, the debate centered on Harvey’s effects came around to the point.

And Florida, another U.S. state, was brought into focus by writers at The Guardian as writer Richard Luscombe (a free lancer based in Miami) reminded readers of perhaps one of the early canaries-in-the-coal-mine — Hurricane Andrew almost 25 years ago to the day that the giant storm tore through Miami-Dade County — and causing US$15 billion in insured losses.

Professor Hugh Gladwin in the piece wondered:  Will people base their real estate decisions on climate change futures? He sees higher-standing areas of booming Miami becoming gentrified as a result of sea level rise…and coastal areas threatened by flooding and storm surge will decrease in value.

Writer Luscombe tells us that residents of South Florida are already buying houses in North Carolina and Tennessee — to have a safe place to go as the seas rise in the Sunshine State!

Climate Corporation (San Francisco) says that it will only take a few climatic events in a row for a collapse in regional/local real property values to fall.  That could make the housing crisis of 2008 “look small.”

Luscombe writes that properties in Norfolk, Virginia; Annapolis, Maryland; Atlantic City, New Jersey; Savannah and Charleston, Georgia; and Miami Beach, Florida — all have areas now where fish swim in driveways and people drive through salt water streets.

As we’ve reported for you recently, the nation’s urban leaders (the mayors of cities large and small) are already addressing the challenges of climate change and making their cities more resilient.  As the TV coverage of Hurricane Harvey slows and we move on to the next news cycle, no doubt climate change discussions will increase in tempo.  This is hurricane season, after all, and there is already a Category Five storm approaching the American coastlines.

We can debate “when” it is appropriate to raise the issues surrounding climate change, and what to do about it.  But we think it is a conversation that is necessary — so in the end we should do our best to protect all of the U.S.A.’s coastal areas, where 2/3 of the American population reside.

Our thoughts and prayers are with our friends and colleagues in Houston and the Texas and Louisiana coastal region.  We should all pitch in to help — neighbor-to-neighbor — in any way that we can.

What are your thoughts on all of this?

Top Stories This Week…

How climate change could turn US real estate prices upside down
(Wednesday – August 30, 2017)
Source: The Guardian – Floridians have long recognized climate’s threat to their homes. Amid the disaster wrought by Harvey, home buyers may look to higher ground

Millennials and Sustainable / Responsible / Impact Investing — A New Force To Be Reckoned With!

We Americans are fond of putting specific age cohorts in neatly assembled descriptors — the Silent Generation; the Greatest Generation; the Baby Boom Generation; Gen X and Gen Y.

Now in focus:  The Millennial Generation, fast approaching the vaunted celebrity status of the post-WW II Baby Boom Generation.  You’ll recall The Boomers were born in years 1946 to 1964 and were some 77 million American women and men in total.  For many years this population cohort dominated trends in education, business, popular culture, entertainment, politics, investing, and other societal activities.

Now we have a new dominant force coming to leadership in those categories. The Millennials are considered to be the last generation of the 20th Century, those born between 1982 and 2004 — estimated at 76 million people, according to demographic experts Howe and Strauss.  (Time magazine puts the dates as 1980-2000; The New York Times, 1976-1990. Whatever the exact years, this is the generation that will dominate at least the first half of the 21st Century.)

Even now, the Millennials are said to be outnumbering the number of Boomers in the workforce of 2017 — they are wielding tremendous influence on “work in America.”

What about their investing and wealth building activities?  The Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing has some guidance for us in the findings of their recent look at 1,000 individual active investors — the Institute’s MS Sustainable Signals survey.

Highlights:  75% of all those surveyed and 86% of the Millennial investors surveyed think of themselves as interested in sustainable investing.  The first MS Institute survey was in 2015; the findings were similar to the 2017 attitudes.  But, the 2017 survey found a significant increase in those Millennials responding as  “Very Interested”, which rose from a level of 28% two years ago to 38% in the recent survey round.

This, the Morgan Stanley Institute surmises is at least partly responsible for the spike in U.S. sustainable, responsible & impact investing between 2014 (established by US SIF survey at US$6.57 trillion in AUM) to $8.27 trillion in 2016 — a dramatic, 33% growth rate.

Audrey Choi, Chief Sustainability Officer and Chief Marketing Officer at Morgan Stanley says:  “As widespread attention to sustainability continues to increase, consumers and investors alike are now more than ever factoring sustainability issues into their investment decisions.”

Note that Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing  “…works to drive scalable investment solutions that seek to deliver positive social or environmental impact alongside the market-rate returns clients expect…”
There’s a link in our Top Story to the 93-page report.

To think about:  In a commentary on TechTarget “WhatIs.com”, the author said:  “Millennials are concerned about social justice and will not support institutions that they see in conflict with social and economic equality.  As such, Millennials are exerting their influence on the world around them…”

Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing is helping to chart that effect in the capital markets.

Top Stories This Week…

Millennials Are Driving Global Sustainable Investment
(Friday – August 18, 2017)
Source: Clean Technica – A new investor survey conducted by leading global financial services company Morgan Stanley has revealed that three-quarters of investors and 86% of Millennial investors are interested in sustainable investing.

Corporate Competitiveness — An Important Consideration for Board & C-Suite, Including the CFO — Here’s Important News From Accenture

In brief:  Profits and growth are only two legs of a three-legged stool, with sustainability just as important, says a new study.

Is corporate growth and profitability “hard wired” to sustainability and trust?  Important question!  The answer (a declarative “yes”) was advanced by Mark Pearson and Bill Theofilou, of the Accenture consulting firm, in a recent white paper.

Now the pair have a new analysis to share — news about their “Competitive Agility Index” — the “CAI”, based on analysis of 5,200 data points on 350 companies across 9 industries.

Leading companies, they say, are quantifying how sustainability generates tangible value and are taking action to reduce waste, improve labor conditions, and invest in causes the customers care about…and that their corporate brands stand for.

The authors leveraged publicly-available data for the dimensions of “growth and profitability,” and for sustainability and trust they developed an algorithm based on trust indices and industry-specific features.

Companies held up as example of leadership in their sectors include Apple, BMW, Inditex (brand: Zara), and Colgate-Palmolive.  The Index shows that the interdependent strategy can yield greater revenue and EBITDA improvement than one focused on just one or two of the dimensions.

This is all explained on the CFO web site, with commentary by David McCann:  “Sustainability is a Key to Future Competitiveness.”  Read this and share it with your favorite Chief Financial Officer — there’s a lot to consider here for the internal discussions about corporate sustainability.

Top Stories This Week…

Sustainability Is a Key to Future Competitiveness
(Thursday – August 10, 2017)
Source: CFO  – Traditional measurements of company value like total shareholder return (TSR) and market capitalization may help identify what companies are presently the healthiest. But, according to a new study by Accenture, they don’t have…

Of Prime Concern to Many Companies: Water! Will Corporate Advertising Claims “Around” The Water Issue Click With Customers?

California….Water:  The place name and the liquid substance are interconnected in the minds of sustaianbility professionals thinking about climate change and the effects that we are already seeing in the American landscape.

The chronic drought in the Golden State has brought the water shortage issue in sharp relief, especially since California is for many crops the “breadbasket” of America, and sufficient water for irrigation and food processing is a critical need.

Water crises in the American West in general are now being seen as possible marketing opportunities by companies in the beverage, clothing and water-dependent products, at least in the claims being made about “sustainable products” to offer to consumers.  Matt Weiser, Contributing Editor, Water Deeply — brings us news about this in a commentary that is our Top Story.

The growing scarcity of water in the west and especially in California is prompting companies to broadcast water use reduction (such as in beverage manufacturing), or using recycled waste water in their apparel manufacturing.

Matt interviewed Kellen Klein, a senior manager at Fortune 500, a Portland, Oregon-based non-profit that “works to find common ground between corporations and environmental groups to help solve global problems.”

A number of companies see water as critical to their brand, says Kellen Klein; this is in many ways the social license to operate, at least in certain geographies.  Coca Cola Company is an example that he advances (he has worked on KO projects); the company has adopted a goal of replenishing water that goes into their products (which are sold in every country but a handful of nations around the world).

Levi’s (California-based for more than a century) sells cotton jeans, which requires water to grow (the crop) and more water for washing.  The company started an education program — “Water-Less” to encourage consumers to use cold water settings and wash their Levi products less often (to conserve energy for hot water production and to conserve water).

Have you heard of Bonnesville Environmental Foundation?  Coca Cola and other companies partner with this NGO in the “Change the Course” program, which has the aim of encouraging consumers to use less water. Consumers sign a pledge; money is then invested in projects to restore 1,000 gallons to critical watersheds.

‘ In the Top Story there is also news along these lines about Cerveza Imperial, the Costa Rican beer company; Fiji Water; Stone Brewing and an Arizona project.

Water, water, water – it’s like location, location, location to Realtors for many companies. The challenge for many companies that depend on water as the basic resource for their products and services.There’s interesting details for you in the Top Story about water and the corporate sector meeting the challenges.

Top Stories This Week…

How Water Became the New Focus of Corporate Sustainability
(Friday – August 04, 2017)
Source: News Deeply – Water crises in the West have pushed some companies to apply sustainability labels to their beverages, clothes and other water-dependent products. Kellen Klein, a senior manager at Future 500, helps sort through the claims.

Broadening Activism Among Institutional Investor Classes on ESG Issues – Here to Stay, Says Proxy Advisor CEO

“Operating under the radar” — that is, various categories of institutional investors getting active in the “investor activist” game?  Bruce Goldfarb, CEO of Okapi Partners, describes a sea change that he sees that is underway, the trend in how large institutions are approaching in the [investor] push for corporate change.  The lens is the annual corporate proxy season and the many campaigns therein, including the 2017 campaign.  Okapi is one of the influential proxy advisors for both investor and companies, working on some 48 campaigns during 2017.

What did the firm’s leader see as patterns?  Well, for starters, large mutual fund advisories and ETF complexes (like Vanguard, Fidelity, BlackRock, State Street) — these organizations with many trillions’ of dollars in corporate holdings in their portfolios, “…have become increasingly intent on holding public company boards and management teams accountable in higher ESG standards,” CEO Goldfarb notes in our Top Story (published on the digital Forbes Investing platform).

As many of us well know, the first iteration of ESG was about the “G” — for several decades, the focus was on corporate governance issues.  (Such as: investors pushing for separation of Chair and CEO, the often described example of a popular campaign in the G space).  Over time, the emphasis on environmental and social issues (“E” and “S”) broadened the approach to the familiar ESG measurements because the E and S issues are tied to share performance and confidence (or lack of) in management.

The CEO in the interview points out that a climate change proposal at ExxonMobil recently was passed by a wide margin (investors supported the demand that the company publish an annual assessment of the impact of global warming policies) while a decade ago a push by investors in proxy campaigning to separate chair and CEO positions and a few environmental proposals failed by a very large margin.  Things are a-changin’ in the proxy arena.

In 2017, there have been (so far) 430 resolutions filed that address “S” and “E” issues, compared to 370 a year earlier.  Investors, says CEO Goldfarb, see the connection between ESG policies and stock performance more clearly now.

In our conversations with corporate managers (at all size enterprises) it is clear that the managers want to press the Investing Case upward to their bosses in the C-suite and board room.  Why should we make the investment in a sustainability effort, the question often goes, and the answer is that among other things, corporate performance and a scorecard of sorts on top management has a proxy, too — that is, the ESG performance of the enterprise!

You’ll find more from perspectives shared by the Okapi Partners CEO in the Forbes interview by staffer Antoine Gara in our Top Story this week.

Top Stories This Week…

An Insider Explains Why Wall Street’s Big Money Focus On Sustainability Is Here To Stay
(Friday – July 28, 2017)
Source: Forbes – When a hedge fund launches a major activist campaign calling for changes at companies here and in overseas markets it’s real news.