Dramatic Change of Direction For The Business Roundtable With Issuance Of “Purpose Statement” Signed By The CEOs Of America’s Largest Companies

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

The Business Roundtable (BRT) is an organization of CEOs of the largest companies in the U.S.A. — firms that generate a combined US$7 trillion in revenues, employ 15 million people, invest $ 147 billion annually in R&D, and provide healthcare and retirements benefits for tens of millions of Americans.

Member companies operate in every one of the 50 states and through the organization the nation’s top business leaders work to influence major societal issues — tax policy, infrastructure needs, trade and other issues..

This universe of large companies is where many institutional and retail investors place their bets on the economic future and enjoy some of the fruits of the efforts of the enterprises they invest in. 

Investors provide much of the capital that make the wheels go ‘round for the BRT companies.  Consider: investors in the BRT member companies received almost $300 billion in dividends.

And so investors have been a priority concern for the CEO members for the almost half-century existence of the Business Roundtable. 

The BRT’s long-term guiding philosophy seemed to many to have been rooted in the period four decades ago when influential economists such as Dr. Milton Friedman of the University of Chicago advised the CEOs that their primary duty was to look out for the shareholders first…and all else would fall in place.

Professor Friedman famously set out the agenda for major company CEOs and boards in his essay in The New York Times magazine in September 1970: A Friednzan Doctrine.

“When I hear businessmen speak eloquently about the ‘social responsibilities of business in a free-enterprise system’…the businessmen believe that they are defending free enterprise when the declaim that business is not concerned merely with profit but also promoting desirable social ends, that business has a ‘social conscience’ …” he began.

In doing this, he explained, those running companies believe they “have responsibilities for providing employment, eliminating discrimination, avoiding pollution and whatever else may be the catchwords of the contemporary crop of reformers…”

Only people can have responsibilities, the professor said. A corporation or business as a whole cannot be said to have responsibilities, even in this vague sense.

He concluded his 3,000 word anti-CSR screed with this: “…the doctrine of social responsibility taken seriously would extend the scope of political mechanism to every human activity. It does not differ from the most explicitly collectivist doctrine…” (Read: Communism; this was written in the days of the Cold War.)

Dr. Friedman saw corporate social responsibility as a “fundamentally subversive doctrine and that business had one and only one social responsibility: to increase profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game…”

In fact, the business managers / owners are, or would be if anyone else took them seriously, “preaching pure and unadulterated socialism.”

We Are In a New Era

We are almost 50 years away from the 1970 essay by the good professor.

The game has changed. The world has changed. The nature of the former Russia-USA standoff of the Cold War era has changed. Attitudes in the business (corporate) community have changed (witness the BRT “purpose statement”). Institutional investor attitudes have changed (see: sustainable investing). A vast array of stakeholders have entered this discussion since the 1970s.

So What Is The Purpose of The Corporation in the 21st Century – in 2019?

In 1997, the Business Roundtable issued its statement of the purpose of the corporation:  “The paramount duty of management and of boards of directors is to the corporation’s stockholders.”

No more.  This week, the Business Roundtable moved beyond the long-term “shareholder primacy” operating principle, releasing its revised “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation” — representing a dramatic course change in the principle operating philosophy of this powerful, CEO-led organization.

The almost 200 CEO signatories pledged to: 

–invest in employees;

–deliver value to customers;

–deal fairly and ethically with suppliers;

–support communities in which they work; and, –generate long-term value for shareholders.

Each of stakeholders is essential, the Purpose Statement reads.  We commit to deliver value to all of them, for the future success of our companies, our communities, and our country.

Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase is the current head of the BRT and played an important role in the dramatic shift of attitude in the official stance of the organization.  He sees this as “an acknowledgement that business can do more to help the average American.”

Adding color to this critical public re-positioning:  “Society gives each of us a license to operate. It’s a question of whether society trusts you or not,” Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM told Fortune.

On its web site, BRT states “as leaders of America’s largest corporations, BRT CEOs believe we have a responsibility to help build a strong and sustainable economic future in the United States.”

We can say here that it appears that ESG and Sustainability basic principles are now “officially recognized” by the members of the CEO association — and have been enshrined in the declaration of the purpose of the U.S. large corporation.

The Purpose Statement does touch on numerous concerns of the sustainable investor – a good step forward for this powerhouse organization.

Perspective: This new BRT direction is about ESG / Corporate Sustainability / Corporate Responsibility / Corporate Citizenship — the issues and topic areas we deal with every day here at G&A Institute!

The BRT was created two years after the Milton Friedman essay appeared in The New York Times magazine (October 1972). Institutional investors were flooding into the equities market with relaxation of “prudent man/prudent investor” rules or guidelines of that the day. Large publicly-traded companies were the crown jewels of cities and towns (think: IBM, Hudson Valley, NY; GE, Connecticut; GM, Detroit).

The CEOs of that day — the predecessors to today’s BRT leadership — were operating in very different societal environments than in the 21st Century.

Congratulations to the CEOs who signed on to the new Purpose — no doubt the conversations with institutional investors will be centered in some ways on the new “official” BRT perspectives in the days ahead.

For the record, note that the BRT released its first sustainability report — “SEEing Change” — in April 2008 with 32 companies contributing to the report. The tally was 155 companies involved by 2017, with goals being set for E and S improvements.

We are following the discussion kick-started by the Purpose Statement and will have more to perspectives to share in the weeks ahead.

Our Top Story is the excellent Fortune feature on all of this by veteran business writer Alan Murray. It’s a great summary of the dramatic move by the CEO signatories this week.Click here to read the Business Roundtable’s “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation” and see the list of corporate CEO signatories. 

The Top Story

America’s CEOs Seek a New Purpose for the Corporation
Source: Fortune – For more than two decades, the influential Business Roundtable has explicitly put shareholders first. In an atmosphere of widening economic inequality and deepening distrust of business, the powerful group has redefined its mission…

How To Build a Better – More Sustainable! – Brand … Advice From an Adweek Commentator

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

We seem to love our “top 10” [etc.] lists; these are typically eye-catching headlines for published news and commentaries about certain subjects. (As in: the 10 things you need to know about…). 

In Adweek, the authoritative news and insights publication for brand marketers over the past four decades, we learn about “the five truths needed to create a sustainable brand”. 

This is from a commentary by columnist Bruce Mau (he’s a prominent designer, co-founder of Massive Change Network and Visiting Professor at Pratt Institute).

The “mad scramble to make brands more sustainable is in full swing,” he advised his corporate marketing and advertising agency executives audience.  And many companies are still getting it wrong.  So what are the correct steps?  He suggests five – and explains the nature of each.

The first misconception to address (and change) is that a new, splashy product is not true sustainability, which comes about through a series of incremental improvements. 

Think of a product that is recyclable and (then) what that may take to create, produce and market successfully (in the end, that benefits the society by addressing the challenge of too much waste still going to landfill).

Then, (another step) in the lesson learned is usually that “you can’t do it alone” – society is facing an ecosystem of problems, and we all need help in addressing these.  

No firm can address an industry’s issues all alone.  Collaboration is key; imagine when a client on the scale of a McDonald’s says it will be sustainable, what happens if every of its vendor follows suit.  (Wal-Mart has been the prime corporate / retailer example of this over recent years.)

As we here at G&A tell our corporate clients and the many corporate managers we speak to each week, sustainability is not a destination; it is a journey! And the journey involves many people beyond those few taking the first steps in the company…the crowd will grow as the journey ensues. The excitement builds with more people involved.

“Strategy” is of course a very familiar (and over-used) word in the corporate world. This comes down to us from Ancient Greece, deriving its meaning from the concept that this is the work of generalship – being a leader.

Successful strategy comes from the top and begins with “clarity,” and understanding, author Bruce Mau tells us. Pursuit of sustainability should be a key strategy of the corporate enterprise.

Finally, today there is capacity to track the world’s energy and material flow and create metrics to enable those who manage brands to make better decisions and build “reasonable, actionable sustainability strategies”. 

Simple lesson is (for corporate leaders) — the impact that brands and brand marketers make can be better measured and managed. For better or worse.

Giving all of us – brand marketers and consumers and a widening range of stakeholders – a better way to track our progress (or lack thereof) and to determine the impacts we are making on our planet and society.

There’s a small treasure of insights for you in author Mau’s Adweek commentary – our Top Story for you this week.

Click here for more about Bruce Mau and his “Massive Change Network.

Please let us know how we’re doing with our selection of news, research and commentary that we present in our Highlights! 

This Week’s Top Story

The 5 Truths Needed to Create a Sustainable Brand
Source: Adweek – The mad scramble to make brands more sustainable is in full swing. And while companies are right to tackle this issue, the truth is that quite a few of them are still getting it wrong. That’s because there are still a few glaring… 

Do Consumer Favor Sustainable Brands for Their Products and Services Needs? NYU Stern School Research Dives Deep into the Data For Answers

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

Many people in consumer marketing are wondering about consumer preferences for “sustainable” products! In our weekly newsletter the G&A Institute team offers media and experts’ shared perspectives on various issues and matters related to corporate sustainability, responsibility; and, sustainable, responsible and impact investing.

In recent months the content shared frequently has focused on trends in the consumer market — to help answer the question of whether or not consumers reacting to brand-facing companies positioning themselves as sustainability leaders.

Is this type of brand marketing a successful strategy?  Worth the effort? 

So the important question in all of this “wondering” is: Are consumers now favoring sustainable or green (or pick your term of definition) for their products & services at retail? 

In our ongoing monitoring of news, feature and research results — such as for the fashion and footwear industries, the auto industry, food & beverages, and certain other categories — the results tell us brand leaders are now often introducing sustainable products alongside their usual cash cows. We included several items for you in this week’s newsletter along these lines. This was our top story:

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Tensie Whelan, professor at New York University Stern School of Business, and leader of the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business, and Randi Kronthal-Sacco, director of Corporate Outreach for the Center (and formerly with Johnson & Johnson) describe the results of their recent in-depth research project. 

This research centered on trying to answer the question — do U.S. consumers actually purchase sustainably marketed products?  (Spoiler alert: yes – you must read the HBR article to find out more.) 

Whelan and Kronthal-Sacco used volumes of data sets from bar scan codes at retail for food, drug, dollar, and mass merchandisers, looking at 36 categories and 71,000+ SKUs, accounting for 40% of consumer products goods (CPG) sales over a 5-year period.

So, what did they find to be the largest share of sustainability-marketed products? 

Almost $1-in-$5 purchases at retail are for toilet tissue, facial tissue (think: forest products); milk, yogurt (the yield of countless dairy farmers); coffee (lots of attention on the global coffee-growing belt circling the Earth, and worker conditions therein); salty snacks (really?); and bottled juices (you’ll notice that Coke and Pepsi and other beverage marketers are advertising their shift away from sugary drinks). 

At the bottom of market share:  laundry care, floor cleaners and chocolate candy (accounting for a 5% share).

Say Tensie and Randi:  Pay attention, marketers and those all along the retail value chain, from grower field and factory floor to shelf space.  Consumers are voting with their dollars, for sustainable and against un-sustainable brands. 

Winners in the corporate sector include PepsiCo and Unilever; laggards include Kraft Heinz. (For the leader, Unilever:  think of the company’s sustainable labels like Seventh Generation, Sundial Brands and Pukka Herbs.)

And we are seeing in the many stories we bring you each week about consumers and sustainability, the future for sustainable CPG at retail is looking bright – look at the apparel industry.for examples  The agora is alive and well with many more sustainably-branded products on the shelves.  That’s the good news for sustainability professionals.

The NYU researchers used data from IRi (the research house for CGP, retail and health and beauty – information at: https://www.iriworldwide.com/en-US/Insights)

Congratulations to our colleagues Tensie Whelan and Randi Kronthal-Sacco at NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business for sharing their insights and perspectives.

This Week’s Top Story

Research: Actually, Consumers Do Buy Sustainable Products
(Thursday – June 20, 2019) Source: Harvard Business Review – NYU Stern’s Center for Sustainable Business just completed extensive research into U.S. consumers’ actual purchasing of consumer packaged goods (CPG), using data contributed by IRI, and found that 50% of CPG growth from 2013 to… 

In the Skies Overhead – Global Airline Passenger Volume Set to Double Over Next Two Decades. What Could the Environmental Impact of More Air Travel Be?

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

Once upon a time in the early days of jet travel, business travelers accounted for three-quarters or more of the total passenger business of the major U.S. airlines (known as “trunk” carriers back in the day).  Fares were long set by Federal regulation and family-friendly, tourista-friendly fare packages were scarce or non-existent.  Airlines relied on the “have-to-travel-for-business” crowd. At full fare (regulated until the late-1970s).

As the U.S. transport regulations were significantly relaxed (scheduled carriers through Federal “de-regulation” in 1979), the number of U.S. airlines soared from 75 or so to 400 companies…and then began to steadily shrink as carriers merged or went out of business. But passenger travel continued to grow.

Consider:  The Federal Aviation Administration reports 2.7 million passengers move across 29 million miles of controlled airspace on 44,000 flights within the U.S. each day! (See Air Traffic by the Numbers for full details): https://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/by_the_numbers/media/Air_Traffic_by_the_Numbers_2019.pdf

IATA reports four billion annual passengers traveled on a global basis between 20,000 “city pairs”, doubling the global 1995 city pairs available to fliers (the airport centers) in 2017. Passenger traffic was heaviest in Asia-Pacific (more than one-third of the total); Europe and North America each had a quarter of the total number of passengers.  More information for you at: https://www.iata.org/pressroom/pr/Pages/2018-09-06-01.aspx

In response to this steady growth in passenger demand, as set fares were de-regulated airlines and seat price points steadily fell, airlines developed a bewildering array of fare offerings (“stay overnight on Saturday” etc).  And those reduced fares helped to bring many more non-business fliers to the American skies.  

Outside of the U.S., what were once “national flag carriers” (like British Airways, Air France, KLM, Al Italia (up for sale to private sector) and many others owned by governments) are now private sector companies — and these long-established carriers and their newer competitors are similarly filling their planes through offer of attractive fares and generous “packages” for retail customers, and connecting business and tourism fliers with many more cities.

And so – as author Stephan Rice points out in his Forbes commentary – IATA, the industry’s International Air Transport Association — sees the global commercial airline passenger business doubling over the next 20 years. 

More flying customers means more passenger airliners will be needed (with much more fuel consumed), more airports needed to accommodate the “to and from” of air travelers (or airports will have to be expanded and upgraded) …and all this means more pollution

Passengers are now becoming more aware of the impact of air transport on the environment and demanding more sustainable practices.  And they are willing to pay for it, some surveys show.

As air travel volume builds, what can be done to reduce the impact of air travel on the global environment? 

Dr. Rice suggests airports can be re-designed to be more sustainable (he cites enhancements at SFO International and Boston Logan as U.S. examples). Indira Ghandi International in Delhi has the first Leadership LEED Gold certificate.

Airlines could use biofuels; KLM had a biofuels test flight from Amsterdam to Paris; Honeywell arranged a flight over the Atlantic using petro-based fuel and camelina (a derivative of a flowering Mediterranean plant!); Singapore is using biofuels over the Pacific.

A 2017 survey of 700+ consumers showed that passengers were willing to pay an additional fee (up to 13% more) for a flight using biofuels — “…a portion of consumers value green initiatives and appear willing to contribute financially to support it…”

The U.S. carriers’ trade organization is “Airlines for America”; it promotes the “A4A’s Climate Change Commitment” for member airlines and is part of a worldwide aviation coalition committed to a global framework on aviation and climate change with emissions target goals. (The “Aspirational goal” is 50% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2050 relative to 2005 levels.)
Information at: http://airlines.org/a4as-climate-change-commitment/

IATA – the airline industry’s global trade association – has set three targets and four pillars to mitigate CO2 emissions from air transport. Information and fact sheets are available at: https://www.iata.org/policy/environment/Pages/climate-change.aspx

Author Rice describes the results of additional consumer surveys on the topic in his Forbes commentary.  He concludes:  “It is clear that the public wants sustainable aviation…and are willing to pay at least some costs for this. Some airlines and manufacturers are taking the lead, but the rest of aviation need to follow very quickly or get left behind.”  Read the details in his commentary, which is this week’s Top Story for you.

Stephen Rice is a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois.

Hank Boerner personal note: I spent most of the first two decades of my career in the air transport industry. After my time as an aviation business journalist I was the first “corporate citizenship” manager of American Airlines and later, senior advisor to Royal Jordanian Airlines, then the fastest-growing airline in the world (for two years). In the 1970s, I served as organizer and executive director of the two “MECACON” conferences (Middle East Civil Aviation). On September 11, 2001 I was on duty again, with our team, serving my client, American Airlines in the New York City region in crisis management; and again, for the Flight 587 tragedy in November 2001. It’s a great industry creating opportunities for so many individuals and nations!

This Week’s Top Stories

The Public Supports Sustainable Aviation and They’re Willing Pay for It
(Friday – June 07, 2019) Source: Forbes – The International Air Transport Association has predicted that the number of commercial airline travelers will double in the next 20 years. This means that there will be more airplanes, more airports, and more pollution. The…

And – adding to the discussion – the Simple Flying web platform has an interesting story by Joanna Bailey on “sustainable jet fuel” – can it save the planet?  This is an ideal companion piece to the Top Story this week: 

What On Earth Is Sustainable Jet Fuel? Can It Save Our Planet?
(Friday – June 18, 2019) Source: Simple Flying – The use of sustainable aviation fuel is on the increase around the world. But what is this newfangled propulsion juice exactly, and is it the magic bullet to make aviation kinder to the environment?

For the Board Room and C-Suite –Questions and Advice From the Harvard Business Review About Corporate ESG and Sustainability

Corporate managers & executives: is your board “sustainability/ESG fluent”? And if not – why not?

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

Attorney Silda Wall Spitzer and John Mandyck, CEO of Urban Green Council, writing in Harvard Business Review explain that while “some” board members have become increasingly “sustainability/ESG fluent” many companies [still] don’t expect their directors to understand sustainability or ESG and don’t provide board room education on the subject matter.

Those enterprises are at a competitive disadvantage, the authors believe. 

An important game-changer for the board room and C-suite to understand is the profound influence of ESG as investment professionals (institutional asset owners and their management firms) increasingly use ESG data, ratings, rankings, and scores to analyze their portfolio holdings (and screening prospective investments).

These ratings, rankings, scores and comprehensive ESG profiles provide a foundation of corporate ESG data and information from the independent ratings agencies that the asset owners and managers use to refine their models and apply to portfolio management policies and practices.

The HBR authors explain the basics of this for the publication’s broad management audience – those men and women at the top of the corporate pyramid who should be aware of, understand and be focused on their company’s ESG strategies, actions and outcomes (or current lack thereof!).

The company’s sustainability scores provided by third party organizations are based on corporate disclosure and performance in three main categories (environmental, social, governance).

Here at G&A Institute we see the leaders in large-cap space embracing sustainability / ESG as evident by the results of our annual survey of the S&P 500 Index® companies’ sustainability & responsibility reporting. 

From the rate of about 20 percent eight years ago, we now find 86% of the 500 large-cap firms are now publishing such reports — many using very innovative and robust approaches.

We’re seeing that the mid-cap and small-cap companies are catching on to the trend and beginning their own sustainability journey that will result in still broader disclosure and reporting.  But not all mid- and small-caps are on board yet. 

This is an area of tremendous opportunity for leadership by companies who make the first move in their sectors and differentiate themselves from their industry and investment peers.

In our conversations with managers at companies just starting out on their sustainability journey (or contemplating same), we explain that there is already a “public ESG profile” of the company “out there” and being studied by investors.

Perhaps, being studied by a good portion of the company’s current shareowner base, depending on the size of the company (the market cap), geography, sector or industry classification, or other factors.

The often- scattered and diverse elements of the existing ESG public profile come from the company’s financial filings, regulatory filings (such as for environmental data), financial and other analyst reports, the company’s web site postings, ESG “brochure-type” reports — and a host of ratings and scores created by the ESG ratings providers and used by investors.

There are more than 200 such ESG / sustainability ratings organizations of varying size and type.  The major influencers for institutional investors include ESG raters such as MSCI, Sustainalytics, and Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), and ESG data providers such as Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters.

What directors and executives of all public companies need to understand is that important decisions about their companies are being made in large measure now by the foundational work of these organizations and their many peers around the world.

And if the company does not tell the story of its sustainability journey, others will (and are).

Potential Impacts:

The work of the ESG ratings firms also can affect company-customer relationships; employee recruitment and retention; business partnerships and collaborations; relations with civic leaders and the communities the company operates in; for global players, the countries they operate in; the stock exchanges their issues trade on; their insurers and re-insurers views of the enterprise…and other aspects of corporate finance.

While “ESG” and “sustainability” may be seen as touchy-feely and “non-financial” concepts in some board rooms and C-suites, the material ESG issues are really about the company’s risk management profile, the quality of leadership at the top, competitive advantage, sustainability in the traditional investment view (the company has lasting power and is a long-term value proposition), and more.

As for being “non-financial”, the HBR authors point to a Harvard B-School study that found that $1 invested in a company focused on ESG resulted in $28 return vs. $14 for those companies not yet focused on ESG.  What director would not want to brag about this kind of achievement that is real and financial? It’s time to stop thinking of ESG as being touchy feely and squishy!

The HBR commentary is good basic overview for directors to help them understand the role of the board in overseeing and helping to shape the strategies and actions that will comprise their company’s sustainability journey. 

Author Silda Wall Spitzer is the former First Lady of New York State and co-founder and CEO of New York Makers, which curates NYS-made gifts and events that “define New York State”.  She is a former private equity director. Information at: https://newyorkmakers.com/

Co-author John Mandyck is CEO of Urban Green Council; its mission is to transform buildings in New York City and around the world through research, convening, advocacy and education. More information at: https://www.urbangreencouncil.org/aboutus

This Week’s Top Stories

What Boards Need to Know About Sustainability Ratings
(Friday – May 31, 2019) Source: Harvard Business Review – Corporate boards of directors must tackle questions about sustainability in a new and urgent manner. If they don’t, they will hear from investors about their lack of action. In just the latest indication of the investor… 

S&P 500® Index Companies’ ESG/Sustainability, Responsibility Reporting Hits 86% For Year 2018 – Latest G&A Institute Research Results…

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

The G&A Institute’s S&P 500 Index(r) analysis for the constituent companies’ 2018 reporting is complete.

For the eighth year, the G&A Institute research team has examined the ESG, Sustainability, Responsibility & Citizenship disclosure and reporting practices of the S&P 500® Index companies — and determined for year 2018 that 86 percent of the almost 500 public companies were publishing reports in various formats for public viewing.

This is a 1% increase over the 85% reporting trend determined by G&A researchers for year 2017. When the research effort began eight years ago (for 2010 reporting, in the 2011 examination) the number of companies among the 500 was just below 20%.

In the beginning of January each year, the current team of G&A analysts begin their examination of the prior year’s reporting trends. 

The S&P 500 companies (not always an exact number) are closely examined to determine public disclosure and reporting practices for activities that may be branded “corporate sustainability, or responsibility or citizenship, or even environmental” that appear in print, web or hybrid versions.

The initial results are double checked by other analysts and by EVP Louis Coppola, the architect of G&A’s research efforts since 2011.  G&A Institute Senior ESG Analyst Elizabeth Peterson assists as team leader in the coordination of the analysts’ research (she has been involved in the effort for several years now).

G&A’s team report analysts who contributed to the research this year are: Minalee Busi, Jessica Caron, Emilie Ho, Jess Peete.

The S&P 500 Index research results are widely cited by investors, analysts, company managers and other stakeholders in their own work and have become a standard reference for those citing the dramatic increase in corporate sustainability reporting. 

Institutional investors cite the results in urging non-reporting companies to begin reporting to shareholders on their sustainability journey.

You can see the full report in the news release that is linked as the Top Story this week.

FLASH REPORT: 86% of S&P 500 Index® Companies Publish Sustainability / Responsibility Reports in 2018
(Thursday – May 16, 2019) Source: Governance & Accountability Institute, Inc. – Highlights from Governance & Accountability Institute, Inc. Research: “Sustainability reporting” rose dramatically from 2011, when roughly 20% of companies published reports, to 72% just three years later in 2013. From 2013 to…

Today, We Have Corporate ESG Comparisons Galore – The Institutional Investor Has Access to Volumes of ESG Data Sets & Information – Where Can Others Find Scores, Rankings and Ratings of Public Companies?

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

These days the comparisons of companies ESG strategies and performance in sectors and industries and among investment peers (those companies chasing similar sources of capital) are continuing to gain momentum. 

There is a sizable universe of third party players — ESG raters, rankers, scorers — busily analyzing, measuring and charting company ESG performance.

These organizations assign proprietary scores, rankings, ratings and various kinds of comparisons (company-to-company, company to industry etc) for their investor-clients. (The institutional asset owners and their asset management firms.)

Companies typically get to see how they are doing when they inspect their ESG service provider profiles…but those data and information sets are not always publicly available. They are the secret sauce provided to investors — institutions holding equity or bonds or researching candidates for investment.

So how should the person without access to the major ESG service providers’ confidential output understand where the public company sits in the views of the analysts (at least the highlights, such as scores assigned)? 

Slowly but steadily some of the volumes of information provided to investor clients by the major ESG ratings agencies are making their way into public view. 

For example, you can see a public company’s Sustainalytics highlights on Yahoo Finance. For Apple Inc. / NASDAQ: AAPL “ESG Total Score” information, click here.

Our colleagues at CSR Hub® share a number of Ratings & Rankings and other CSR and ESG highlights on their web site and their “ESG Hub” information (which is available on the Bloomberg Terminal®)  CSR Hub is at: https://www.csrhub.com/

Now a neat presentation comes our way from Visual Capital, authored by Jenna Ross.  This is a mapping of “The Countries with the Most Sustainable Corporate Giants”. 

Remember BlackRock CEO Larry Fink’s letter to corporate CEOs urging them to serve a social purpose to deliver not only financial performance but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society? 

Following on that theme, Corporate Knights “2019 Global 100 Report” data and ranking of the “most sustainable corporations in the world” is presented in visualization format.

Corporate Knights scores companies on a mix of metrics after screening for those with at least US$1 billion in revenues and sufficient sustainability reporting:  resource management; employee (or human capital) management; financial management; “clean” revenue; supplier performance. 

The United States comes out at the top of the charting with 22 of the 100 companies on the list, followed by France (11), Japan (8), Finland and United Kingdom 7), and Canada (6).  No company in China or India made the list.

Of the “Top 10-star players” only one is from the USA – the REIT Prologis Inc.  Denmark has two companies; the rest are one-off listings from other countries.

Author Jenna Ross sums up: “It’s clear that sustainability is a strong differentiator in the business community.  The world’s largest – and smartest – companies are leading the charge towards a greener, more equitable future.” 

We think you’ll find the charting of this Global 100 fascinating and very useful – and there are many other clever and useful visual presentations on the web site.  Check out our Top Story for this week.

This Week’s Top Stories

Mapped: The Countries With the Most Sustainable Corporate Giants   
(Wednesday – May 08, 2019) Source: Visual Capitalist – Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose. To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society. 

Trump Administration Continues Attempts to Unravel U.S. Environmental Protections Put in Place Over Many Years – Now, Shareholder Proxy Resolution Actions on Climate Issues Also In Focus For Investors…

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

We should not have been surprised: in 2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump promised that among his first steps when in the Oval Office would be the tearing up of his predecessor’s commitment to join the family of nations in addressing climate change challenges. 

In late-December 2015 in Paris, with almost 200 nations coming to agreement on tackling climate change issues, the United States of America with President Barack Obama presiding signed on to the “Paris Agreement” (or Accord) for sovereign nations and private, public and social sector organizations come together to work to prevent further damage to the planet.

The goal is to limit damage and stop global temperatures from rising about 2-degrees Centigrade, the issues agreed to. 

As the largest economy, of course the United States of America has a key role to play in addressing climate change.  Needed: the political will, close collaboration among private, public and social sectors — and funding for the transition to a low-carbon economy (which many US cities and companies are already addressing).

So where is the USA? 

On June 1st 2017 now-President Trump followed through on the promise made and said that the U.S.A. would begin the process to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, joining the 13 nations that have not formally ratified the agreement by the end of 2018 (such as Russia, North Korea, Turkey and Iran).  

Entering 2019, 197 nations have ratified the Agreement.

A series of actions followed President Trump’s Paris Agreement announcement – many changes in policy at US EPA and other agencies — most of which served to attempt to weaken long-existing environmental protections, critics charged.

The latest move to put on your radar:  In April, President Trump signed an Executive Order that addresses “Promoting Energy Infrastructure and Economic Growth”.

[Energy] Infrastructure needs – a bipartisan issue – are very much in focus in the president’s recent EO.  But not the right kind to suit climate change action advocates. 

Important: The EO addressed continued administration promotion and encouraging of coal, oil and natural gas production; developing infrastructure for transport of these resources; cutting “regulatory uncertainties”; review of Clean Water Act requirements; and updating of the DOT safety regulations for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facilities.

Critics and supporters of these actions will of course line up on both sides of the issues.

There are things to like and to dislike for both sides in the president’s continuing actions related to environmental protections that are already in place.

And then there is the big issue in the EO:  a possible attempt to limit shareholder advocacy to encourage, persuade, pressure companies to address ESG issues.

Section 5 of the EO“Environment, Social and Governance Issues; Proxy Firms; and Financing of Energy Projects Through the U.S. Capital Markets.” 

The EO language addresses the issue of Materiality as the US Supreme Court advises.  Is ESG strategy, performance and outcome material for fiduciaries? Many in the mainstream investment community believe the answer is YES!

Within 180 days of the order signing, the Secretary of the Department of Labor will complete a review existing DOL guidance on fiduciary responsibilities for investor proxy voting to determine whether such guidance should be rescinded, replaced, or modified to “ensure consistency with current law and policies that promote long-term growth and maximize return on ERISA plan assets”. 

(Think of the impact on fiduciaries of the recommendations to be made by the DOL, such as public employee pension plans.) 

The Obama Administration in 2016 issued a DOL Interpretive Bulletin many see as a “green light” for fiduciaries to consider when incorporating ESG analysis and portfolio decision-making.  The Trump EO seems to pose a direct threat to that guidance.

We can expect to see sustainable & responsible investors marshal forces to aggressively push back against any changes that the Trump/DOL forces might advance to weaken the ability of shareholders – fiduciaries, the owners of the companies! – to influence corporate strategies and actions (or lack of action) on climate change risks and opportunities.  Especially through their actions in the annual corporate proxy ballot process and in engagements. 

You’ll want to stay tuned to this and the other issues addressed in the Executive Order.  We’ll have more to report to you in future issues of the newsletter.

Click here to President Trump’s April 10, 2019 Executive Order.

Facts or not?  Click here if you would like to fact check the president’s comments on withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

We are still in!  For the reaction of top US companies to the Trump announcement on pulling out of the Paris Accord, check The Guardiancoverage of the day.

At year end 2018, this was the roundup of countries in/and not.

For commentaries published by G&A Institute on the Sustainability Update blog related to the above matters, check out it here.

Check out our Top Story for details on President Trump’s recent EO.

This Week’s Top Stories

Trump Order Takes Aim at Shareholders Pushing Companies to Address Climate Change
(Wednesday – April 77, 2019) Source: Climate Liability News – President Trump has ordered a review of the influence of proxy advisory firms on investments in the fossil fuel industry, a mot that…

When Will Sustainable Investing Be Considered to be in the Mainstream?

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

“Movements” – what comes to mind when we describe the characteristics of this term are some 20th Century examples.

The late-20th Century “environmental movement” was a segue from the older 19th and early 20th Century “conservation movement” that was jump started by President Theodore Roosevelt (#26), who in his 8 years in the Oval Office preserved some 100,000 acres of American land every work day (this before the creation of the National Parks System a decade later).

The catalysts for the comparatively rapid uptake of the environmental movement?  American rivers literally burned in the 1960’s and 1970’s (look it up – Cuyahoga River in Ohio was one).

And that was just one reason the alarm bells were going off.  New York’s Hudson River was becoming an open, moving sewer, with its once-abundant fish dying and with junk moving toward the Atlantic Ocean.  Many East Coast beaches were becoming fouled swamp lands.

One clarion call – loud & clear — for change came from the pen.  The inspired naturalist / author Rachel Carson wielded her mighty pen in writing the 1962 best-seller, “Silent Spring”. 

That book helped to catalyze the rising concerns of American citizens. 

She quickly attracted great industry criticism for sounding the alarm…but her words mobilized thousands of early activists. And they turned into the millions of the new movement.

She explained the title:  There was a strange stillness.  Where had the little birds gone? The few birds seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly.”  (Hint:  the book had the poisonous aspects of the DDT pesticide at its center as the major villain.)

Americans in the 1960s were becoming more and more alarmed not only of dumping of chemical wastes into rivers and streams and drifting off to the distant oceans —

—but also of tall factory smokestacks belching forth black clouds and coal soot particles;

–of large cities frequently buried beneath great clouds of yellow smog a mile high on what were cone clear days;

–of dangerous substances making their way into foods from the yields of land and sea;

–of yes, birds dropping out of the sky, poisoned;

–of tops of evergreen and other trees on hilltops and mountains in the Northeast burned clean off by acid rain wafting in from tall utility smokestacks hundreds of miles away in the Midwest…and more. 

Scary days. For public health professionals, dangerous days.

We will soon again be celebrating Earth Day; give thanks, we are long way from that first celebration back in spring 1970. (Thank you, US Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin for creating that first Earth Day!)

Most of our days now are (as the pilots cheer) CAVU – ceiling (or clear) and visibility unlimited. 

We can breathe deep and as we exhale thank many activists for persevering and driving dramatic change and creating the modern environmental movement… and on to the sustainability movement. 

And now – is it time (or, isn’t time!) for another movement along these lines…the sustainable investing movement going mainstream? 

Experts pose the question and provide some perspectives in this week’s Top Story.

In Forbes magazine, they ask:  “Why Hasn’t Sustainable Investing Gone Viral Yet?”

Decio Fascimento, a member of Forbes Council (and chief investment officer of the Richmond Global Compass Fund) and the Forbes Finance Council address the question in their essay.

In reading this, we’re reminded that such mainstream powerhouse asset managers as BlackRock, State Street/SSgA, Vanguard Funds, TIAA-CREF, and asset owners New York State Common Fund, New York City pension funds (NYCPERS), CalPERS, CalSTRS and other capital market players have embraced sustainable investing approaches. 

But – as the authors ask:  what will it take for many more capital market players to join the movement?  There’s interesting reading for you in the Top Story – if you have thoughts on this, send them along to share with other readers in the G&A Institute universe.

Or send comments our way to supplement this blog post.


This Week’s Top Stories

Why Hasn’t Sustainable Investing Gone Viral Yet?
(Wednesday – April 10, 2019) Source: Forbes – Let’s first look at what sustainability looks like in financial terms. In sustainable investing, the ideal scenario is when you find opportunities that produce the highest returns and have the highest positive impact. 

And of further reading for those interested:

Pope Francis Issues Call for Action on Sustainable Development at Rome Conference of Experts & Activists

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

Global faith leaders can directly and indirectly affect significant changes in our global society. 

One leader with high visibility and strong opinions on important societal issues is the Holy Father in Rome, Pope FrancisThe Roman Catholic Church as a collective institution is one of the largest owners and holders of assets in the world, including pension systems of various orders, Catholic charities, healthcare systems, and more.

The Roman Catholic Church’s policy is guided by important encyclicals issued by the Pope in the Vatican City. 

For example, the contents of the historic 1891 encyclical issued by Pope Leo XIII on capital and labor and the rights of both (and concerns about the Industrial Age working class) continues to reverberate even today in discussions about corporate-labor and public sector-labor issues (this was “Rerum Novarum”).

Amidst the rising discussion worldwide about climate change and the need for action, Pope Francis issued “Laudato Si” (Our Home) in May 2015.  This is a powerful work addressing environmental and ecology issues, especially including the need for action on climate change. This work called on the world society – and especially the institutions of the R.C. church – to address the urgent threats posed by climate change.  (The subtitle was “On care for our common home”.)

As part of the public dialogue, Pope Francis addressed the joint houses of the U.S. Congress in May 2015 and received 37 standing ovations as he addressed climate change, common needs, risk to our common home (the Earth), the responsibility of richer nations, and other societal challenges.

The discussion continues:  the Roman Catholic Church convened a three-day conference earlier this month in Rome to bring together experts and activists in human development, the environment and healthcare.

To – as Pope Francis explained – explore new paths of constructive development … development having been “…almost entirely limited to economic growth… [which] is leading the world down a dangerous path where progress is assessed only in terms of economic growth.”

The title of the conference:  “Religions and the Sustainable Development Goals:  Listening to the Cry of the Earth and of the Poor”. The theme:  “Without a change of attitude that focuses on the well-being of the planet and its inhabitants, efforts to achieve the SDGs will not be sufficient for a fair and reasonable world order.”

Said the Holy Father, leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics:  “No branch of science or form of wisdom should be overlooked, and this includes religions and the languages particular to them.” 

Our Top Story is the news report of the Catholic News Service out of Rome with background on the conference and related information.

Background on the historic significance of Laudato Si (Our Home), Pope Francis’s encyclical is in the “Trends Converging! – A Look Ahead of the Curve” book of essays by G&A Chair Hank Boerner, available (chapter 44) online

There is also a management brief on this on G&A Institute’s “To the Point!” management briefing platform:
https://ga-institute.com/to-the-point/


This Week’s Top Story

Pope: World in need of ‘ecological conversion’ to advance sustainability   
 (Tuesday – March 12, 2019) Source: Cux Now – ROME – Sustainable development cannot be achieved without the voices of those affected by the exploitation of the earth’s resources, especially the poor, migrants, indigenous people and young men and women, Pope Francis told…