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…

Environmental Threats to Us and Mother Earth – Seven Trends to Consider…and Develop Solutions From the Forum for the Future

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

This week we are celebrating Earth Day.  The first (in 1970) observance became a catalyst for action – soon after the first of a series of environmental-focused Federal legislation began to change dirty air to cleaner and then clean, and more laws to address a very unhealthy state of affairs in the U.S.A. (The Environmental Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, RCRA, etc.). 

But…the challenges for society have not gone away. The list of “hot ESG issues” grows by the week. 

Once an ESG issue emerges and people begin to dive into the details, a range of sub-issues arises.  In this corporate proxy season we are seeing top-line issues in focus and the underlying questions that investors have as they bring their resolutions to the companies for inclusion in the broader shareholder-base voting.

Example: Where “political spending” began as a broad issue the investors moved on to ask from where the company money was being spent directly(corporate donations to political party or candidate or PAC) to now, indirectly (is the company’s money going to business industry groups that lobby against shareholder interest – which ones, addressing what issues, how much money?) 

Some environmental challenges of the 1970s are still with us (consider the continuing impact of coal-burning, the state of global plastics disposal, and questions about water treatment such as in animal husbandry and fracking). And more issues are in focus under the huge bundle we refer to as “climate change”.

The evolvement of ESG as an integrated approach for investor evaluation of companies has complicated life for many corporate managers. 

In the recent past, a large-cap would assemble the “top 10” issues list for the management team and their direct reports to address.  For 3M, as example, “highway safety” and related issues under the heading would be high on the list (the company’s important product offerings would be directly impacted by changes). 

Today, that Top 10 list is all about the materiality of the issue(s) for many investors and companies — and how those issues are being measured, managed, how risk is being addressed and opportunities seized — and then reported to stakeholders.

In many large-cap companies a broader-based team will be busily shaping ESG strategy, policy, sustainability team practices and addressing issues-associated risk management on a much wider range of topics and subtopics. 

Timothy McClimon, head of the American Express Foundation, brings us his views on seven global trends – and their relevant issues – that are impacting the sustainability movement today. (You can think about how the seven impact your organization through the 2020s, the focus of the research and perspectives shared.)

He reviews the Forum for the Future’s report in a Forbes commentary.  The report is “Driving Systems Change in Turbulent Times” – with major implications for “how” or even “if” we will be able to address current global “E” challenges.  (Are patterns of behavior, structures or mindsets shifting toward or away from sustainability?)  Consider:

First – the plastics kickback; we continue to produce and then dispose of eight million tons each year with no real change in sight. (We are adding tons of material that will go “somewhere” and have an impact on society.)

Second – Climate change and the impact on mass migration; large parts of the world are becoming less hospitable and more people will try to move to safer places. Mass migrations are ahead. Perhaps as many as 2 billion persons will be affected by climate change and migrating away from their homes.

Third – around the world, Nationalism Marches Again; this is leading to fragmentation, intolerance, competition for fewer resources… complicated by growing inequality and a range of old and new “S” issues.

Fourth – We Live in the “On-Life” – by the end of this year, half of the world’s 7-billion-plus will be online, with issues arising (mental health, social cohesion, personal interaction, privacy and security, and more).

Fifth – The Rise of Participatory Democracy; cities and states lead the way in combating rising levels of protectionism and nationalism, which may usher in a new era of more local decision-making and civic participation.

Sixth – Asia’s Changing Consumerism; China leads the way with India, Japan, South Korea and Thailand close behind in moving more people into middle class status.  But, we are losing our global capacity to sustain them as the pursue the good life.  Millennials may slow the trend in Asia (they’re more conscious consumers).

Seventh – Biodiversity is Now in Freefall; scientists see mass extinction of some plant and animal species and one-fifth of the valuable Amazon rainforest has disappeared. (Something has to give to make room for growing food to meet the needs of the growing Earth population.) Little is being done about this, say the report authors.

How can we meet these global environmental challenges – what principles can be adopted to preserve the good life so many of the citizens of Earth enjoy today?  Some are spelled out in the Top Story for you.

Author Timothy J. McClimon is president of the American Express Foundation and serves on not-for-profit boards. He also teaches at New York University and at Johns Hopkins University.

Click here for more on the Forum for the Future (not for profit).

Each of the 7 trends has a chapter devoted to the issues. 
Click here for the full report.


This Week’s Top Stories

7 Global Trends Impacting The Sustainability Movement   
(Tuesday – April 16, 2019) Source: Forbes – the Forum for the Future advances seven trends that have major implications for how (or if) we will be able to address current global environmental challenges…

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… 

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…

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

Have You Tuned in to The Green New Deal? The “GND”? — You’d Better!

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

Here we are at the start of year 2019 and the nation’s 116th U.S. Congress. Radical and exciting ideas with something for everyone from Wall Street to Main Street to the Corporate Suite and Board Room are now on the table for discussion as this new Congress gets settled in.  We are tuning in to this emerging movement…

Question for you: Have you tuned in to the “Green New Deal”? The “GND” is a concept advanced first by The Green Party in the 2016 election cycle; the concepts gained traction bit-by-bit over time and have been embraced by a fiery new member of the 116th Congress as a platform for re-doing our economic system, our political system, public policies of many kinds.  As well re-structuring our nation’s monetary policy (with creative new stimuli suggested for financing important infrastructure in place to meet climate change challenges) …and more. Much more.

The new champion advancing the GND today is Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a first-term democratic socialist from New York City.

The proposals are dramatic, bold, sweeping — with something that some people can love and champion and other condemn and do battle against.

We should recall here for perspective that the original New Deal was ushered in by newly-elected President Franklin Delano Roosevelt upon taking office in March 1933…in the midst of the Great Depression.

Sweeping, radical ideas were then needed to literally save the U.S. economy and avoid slipping into some form of communism, fascism, or worse. The stakes were high.

At the time, the country’s economy – and people! – were being crushed by the negative forces of the Great Depression, which followed the disastrous crash of the stock market in October 1929.

Manufacturers’ lots were filled with unsold merchandise, or in many cases factories were being shuttered and workers laid off. There was a global trade war looming (with passage of the Smoot Hawley protective trade legislation). Fascism was on the rise in Europe. European countries were in an expensive arms race. Many countries were not able to pay their debts. U.S. banks were closing by the scores and then in the thousands in this country. There were few safety nets.

Said President FDR: “I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people. The country needs, and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

Scientists and experts tell us today that climate change challenges represent the kind of threat that the Great Depression did for our nation, and that time is running short for bold action. 

“Try Something” – and so today in part inspired by the historic (and sweeping, long-lasting) New Deal accomplishments, key elements of our population – Millennials, civic leaders, business leaders, elected members of the House and Senate, NGOs – have been advancing some bold ideas for our consideration. Meet the concept of the “Green New Deal”.

Origins: As explained, elements of the Green New Deal originally were developed by The Green Party of the United States as its 2016 election platform — there were four pillars with pages-upon-pages of detail to explain each:

  • The Economic Bill of Rights
  • A Green Transition
  • Real Financial Reform
  • A Functioning Democracy

You can read the details of the Party’s GND here: https://gpus.org/organizing-tools/the-green-new-deal/

Will There Be Action in the 116th Congress?

Newly-installed member of the House of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has introduced an 11-page draft text resolution to form a new select committee in the House to rapidly develop a plan of action to finance and implement the GND.

Her draft bill calls for creation of a Green New Deal (“GND”) Select Committee to be composed of 15 House members appointed by the Speaker of the House with authority to develop a detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan, for the transition of the economy to GHG-neutral (drawing down GHGs from the atmosphere and oceans), and to promote economic and environmental justice and equality.

The committee would draw on the expertise of leaders in business, labor, state and local governments, tribal nations, academia, and broadly-represented civil society groups and communities.

The actions taken would be driven by the Federal government in collaboration and co-creation and partnerships with these and other stakeholders:  business, labor, state and local governments, tribal nations, research institutions, and civil society groups and communities, the plan to be executed (for the U.S. to become GHG-neutral) in not longer than 10 years from the start.

  • The final Plan would be ready by January 1, 2020. Draft legislation to enact the Plan would be completed by March 1, 2020.

The Plan for a Green New Deal would have the objective(s) of reaching these “bold” and we can say, “radical” outcomes:

  • Dramatic expansion of existing renewable energy power sources and new production capacity to meet 100 percent of national power demand through renewable sources.
  • Build a national, energy-efficient, smart grid.
  • Upgrade every residential and industrial building for state-of-the-art energy efficiency, comfort and safety.
  • Eliminate GHGs from manufacturing, agriculture and other industries (including investment in local-scale ag in communities across the U.S.).
  • Eliminate GHG emissions from transportation and other infrastructure; upgrade water infrastructure to ensure universal access to clean water (UN Sustainable Development Goal #6).
  • Fund massive investments in the drawdown of Greenhouse Gasses.
  • Make “green” technology, industry, expertise, products, services, a major export of the United States, to become the undisputed international leader in helping other countries transition to completely GHG-neutral economies, to bring about a global Green New Deal.

The draft envisions the Plan to be an historic opportunity to virtually eliminate poverty in the U.S., to make prosperity, wealth and economic security available to everyone participating in the transformation. This could be done through job guarantees to assure living wages to every person.

Among the benefits seen:

  • Diversify local and regional economies.
  • Require strong enforcement of labor, workplace safety and wage standards, including the right to organize.
  • Ensure a “just transition” for all workers.
  • End harm faced by “front line” communities posed by climate change, pollution and environmental harm.
  • Protect and enforce sovereign rights and land rights of tribal nations (there are more than 300 in the U.S.A.).
  • Mitigate deeply-entrenched racial, regional and gender-biased inequities income and wealth.
  • Assure basic income programs and universal healthcare.
  • Involve labor unions in leadership roles for job training / re-training and worker deployment.

How to finance all of this? The draft text calls for financing by the Federal government, using a combination of the resources and abilities of the  Federal Reserve System, a [possible] new public bank, or a system of regional and specialized public banks, public venture funds, and other vehicles or structures.

Interest and returns would then return to the U.S. Treasury to reduce the burden on taxpayers and allow for more investments.

Paying For the GND

In the bill’s draft, a Q&A section notes: Many will say, how can we pay for this?

To which the Representative and supporters say:  Let’s look at some of the ways that we paid for the 2008 bank bailout, aid to the auto industry, extended quantitative easing programs, the same ways we paid for World War II and many other wars. New public banks can be created to ensure credit and combination of various taxation tools, including taxes on carbon and other emissions, and progressive wealth taxes) can be employed.  (The immediate news media frenzy was not over the many elements of the proposed actions but on taxing the rich.)

You can read the entire draft text at: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1jxUzp9SZ6-VB-4wSm8sselVMsqWZrSrYpYC9slHKLzo/edit#

More than 40 members of the new Congress endorsed the move, including Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Corey Booker, Senator Elizabeth Warren — and a few dozen fellow House members with more sure to join the movement.

Emergent: A Movement?

This is now being described by supporters as a movement that aims to enact no less than dramatic, sweeping economic and climate change policies in the 116th Congress — and to in the process “change politics in America.”

The Controversial Conversation about GND

On the CBS “60 Minutes” program segment that will air this coming Sunday (January 6th), the congresswoman argues that the Green New Deal agenda can be financed by imposing a 70 percent income tax on the wealthiest Americans. That would be “a fair share” in taxes to fund an extensive clean energy infrastructure.

Representative Oscasio-Cortez has described herself as a democrat socialist – in the models set by President Abraham Lincoln (citing the Emancipation Proclamation in the midst of a great civil war) and President Franklin Roosevelt (whose New Deal programs re-shaped the American economy and political system).

She has focused on economic, social and racial justice as key issues to be addressed by the Federal government in her campaigning (she upset a long-standing Democrat House member (4th ranking Dem and Caucus Chair Joseph Crowley) in New York State in the November 2018 election. The Green New Deal would help in those efforts, while stimulating economic growth.

Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign platform included tuition-free education, universal health care and the Green New Deal developed by the Green Party as its platform.

During the 2018 campaign, she spent less than $200,000, compared to her opponent’s purse of more than $3 million.

Media Reactions

The right wing publication Washington Examiner warned that the Green New Deal would add trillions of dollars in debt and would represent “the most radical policy shift in modern U.S. history”. (We would ask: what about success of the New Deal of the 1930s  – was it worth the money invested by government?)

Fox News tells viewers that the GND legislation “would eliminate much of the U.S. fossil fuel consumption, dramatically increase America’s already skyrocketing debt, and transform the U.S. into a European-style socialist nation.”

Unfortunately, mainstream media such as CNN and daily newspapers (like the New York News full page headline) have been focusing on the drama of the proposed “tax on the rich” aspects of the concept and not the meat of the sweeping proposals, which American voters and business leaders might see as immediate and long-term opportunities for creating new wealth and a greatly-enhanced economy with many beneficiaries.

Important addition to the above:  On January 9, 2019, influential author and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman weighed in.  He called to readers’ attention “A Green New Deal Revisited!” – his column today about the ideas he floated back in 2007 (that prescient commentary was about a Green New Deal), and expanded on in his best-seller, “Hot, Flat and Crowded”.

In that book (published in 2008 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux) has numerous comments on GHGs, energy, energy efficiency, environmental technology, environmentalism, green collar jobs, green hawks, the green revolution, and the Civil Rights movement and WW II analogies to the emerging green revolution.

Friedman today likes the urgency and energy [the representative] and groups like the Sunrise Movement are bringing to this task. He says:  So for now I say:  Let a hundred Green New Deal ideas bloom!  Let’s see what sticks and what falls by the wayside. 

He wrote today in the column:  Who believes that America can remain a great country and not lead the next great global industry?  Not me.  A New Green New Deal, in other words, is a strategy for American national security, national resilience, national security and economic leadership in the 21st Century.  Surely some conservatives can support that. 

Money, Money, Money!

The projected additions to national debt are of course especially in focus for those in opposition to the plan.

In the discussions we should keep in mind that the “tax reform” package passed by the 115th Congress added almost $2 trillion in national debt, with benefits for a narrower band of constituents; the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected additional debt (from 2018 to 2028) with not too much criticism occurred short-term. (The commentary about the country’s staggering debt has been increasing lately.) The Republicans in Congress have talked about a second round of tax cuts (“tax reform 2.0”), which would add another $3 trillion to the Federal deficit (to be financed by still more debt).

The Social Media Universe Lights Up

In a Twitter post in December, as the social media universe lit up with mentions of the GND, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had tweeted: “…and we have #GreenNewDeal lift-off! Never underestimate the power of public imagination.”

While the first action taken by the new member of Congress called for establishing a committee, she writes on Twitter: “Our ultimate end goal is not a Select Committee. Our goal is to treat Climate Change like the serious, existential threat it is by drafting an ambitious solution on the sale necessary – a/k/a Green New Deal – to get it done.”

Note that the Congresswoman has about 2 million Twitter followers.

There’s a very well done commentary on the Green New Deal concepts for you on Vox: https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2018/12/21/18144138/green-new-deal-alexandria-ocasio-cortez

And the Sunrise Movement has information focused on the political side as the public policy debate continues in the new House: https://www.sunrisemovement.org/gnd/

Putting Things in Perspective

We do live in the age of greater prosperity, compared as to the time when President Franklin D. Roosevelt took the reins of the nation at a very dark moment in our history.

Climate change challenges pose threats to the future of this nation, many experts posit, including many elements of the United States government itself.

Then, in the 1930s, one-in-four-households was unemployed. States and many cities were running out of relief money. Farmers were being foreclosed because of crop failures, lack of foreign markets, the failure of the bigger banks they borrowed from, and poor land management (recall the “dust bowl” crisis in the west). In America, fear was rampant – with men and women wondering where was the next meal or dollar coming from.

The New Deal title was inspired in part by a book of the same name by prominent liberal author / economist Stuart Chase, published in August 1932 (the presidential election was that November). At the conclusion of his screed he observed (about the radical recommendations he put on the table for discussion): “We do not have to suppose; we know that these speculations will be met with a superior smile of incredulity. The funny thing about it is that the groups are actually beginning to form. As yet they are scattered and amorphous; here a body of engineers, there a body of economic planners. Watch them. They will bear watching. If an occasion arises, join them. They are part of what [author] H.G. Wells has called the Open Conspiracy.”

The groups he referred to some eight decades ago were the American voters, small business owners, Big Business leaders, investment bankers, trade associations, chambers of commerce, government leaders, labor unions, farmers, and academics.

These are the stakeholders clearly identified and explained in the 2019 House draft text that may or may not gain traction in the House of Representatives and for sure not in the U.S. Senate, even among rank & file Democrats who should be in favor of many of the elements of the proposal as stated so far.

Some of the 1930s ideas of Stuart Chase (far left wing and radical they were at the time!) very quickly ended up as necessary public policy adopted to bring the nation out of the scary depths of the Great Depression by a new head of state (FDR) and his assembled Brains Trust.

The Green New Deal is a blossoming idea – yes, radical, of course! – that will be both loved and hated, criticized and championed by various segments of society.

Something For Everyone!

But there is something for everyone in the package and the Plan that could emerge if the Select Committee is formed and elements of the plan get implemented, as promised with the key elements of the American Society  participating.  The actions of the public and private sectors could be as breathtaking in the sweep of what is to be accomplished as were the achievements of the 1930s New Deal.

Those actions helped to create the most powerful economy and democratic political structure the world has ever experienced.  The laws, regulations, rules, policies and actions shaped the modern U.S. and global economies that have delivered benefits to many of us.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) cautioned us just a few weeks back that we had about 10 years to reverse course and accelerate measures to address the challenges of climate change. The supporters of the GND movement cite this clear warning as part of the rationale for radical and dramatic thinking, commitment and action over the next decade.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment was released by the Federal government shortly after that, and echoed the rising threats to our economy, businesses, the public sector, and the American nation’s well-being due to the dramatically rising threats inherent in climate change.

For more details on this, see our comments in our November 30 To the Point management brief at: https://ga-institute.com/to-the-point/tune-in-to-this-important-report-the-fourth-official-climate-science-special-report-issued-by-the-u-s-governments-global-change-research-program/

Possible GND Impact on Politics

Some presidential hopefuls have recently been saying that climate change will be among the top — if not the top — issues in 2020 races.

Billionaire Congressman Tom Steyer (California) said that climate change could help Democrats sweep into office in 2020. He told USA Today in December: “When we talk about what’s at stake here, we’re talking about unimaginable suffering by the American people unless we solve the problem over the next 12 years. And I think we are very far from doing that. And it is unclear to me that we can summon that will without having substantial political victories across the board.”

Re-elected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that climate change will become a front-and-center issue if the Democrats take back the house. She told The New York Times in October days before the elections that she would resurrect the defunct Select Committee on Climate Change if the party wins back the House. (The Republican leaders killed the committee in 2011 when they took mid-term power.)

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has taken Speaker Pelosi at her word and put the meat on the table with her draft bill.  (During the orientation of the new members, Ocasio-Cortez led a protest outside the Speaker’s office to draw attention to climate change.)

Ocasio-Cortez in the youngest member of the House, from New York’s 14th District in New York City, upsetting a leading Democratic member in the primary. She is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America and was an educator and community organizer in the [NYC] boro/county of The Bronx before running for office.

Background:  She was a winner of an Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in high school; was graduated from Boston University (cum laude); served as an intern in the office of Senator Edward Kennedy; was an organizer in Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign; was endorsed by Move On, Black Lives Matter, Democracy for America, and others. Including NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and NYC Mayor Bill deBlasio.

And so against this background — we’ll see where the GND movement goes from here!

Do tune in and learn more about the critical elements of the plan being championed now in the Halls of Congress as the tempo of the conversation increases.  The “60 Minutes” program on the CBS network tomorrow night is sure to create a national buzz, pro and con, and ensure Representative Alexandria Oscasio-Cortez greater notoriety (and both support and condemnation) in the days ahead.

Created January 5, 2019 – updated January 9, 2019

The UN Sustainable Development Goals -– “What Matters” For 40 Sectors? G&A Institute’s Research Project Yields Key Data

by Hank BoernerG&A Institute Chair & Chief Strategist

  • An examination of materiality decisions made by 1,387 corporations in their sustainability / ESG reports on all 91 GRI G4 Specific Standard Disclosures, linked SDG Targets, and GRI Standards Disclosures 
  • Forty individual sector reports including the “Top GRI Indicators / Disclosures” and “Top SDG Targets” rankings for each sector are available for download at https://www.ga-institute.com/SDGsWhatMatters2018

Nearing the end of the 20th Century, the United Nations assembled experts to develop the eight Millennium Goals (the MDGs), to serve as blueprints and guides for public, private and social sector actions during the period 2000-2015 (the “new millennium”).

For “post-2015”, the more ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (the now familiar SDGs) were launched with 17 goals and 169 targets.

These are calls to action for rich and poor and middle-income nations from 2015 out to the year 2030.  These ambitious efforts are focused on such societal issues as improving education and health; social protection; providing job opportunities; and encouraging greater environmental protection (global climate change clearly in focus!).

The 17 SDGs are numbered for themes – “No Poverty” is Goal #1; “Clean Water and Sanitation” is Goal #6; Gender Equality is Goal #5.

As the goals were announced after an exhaustive development process (ending in 2015), sovereign nations, regions, communities, corporations, academic institutions, and other societal stakeholders began “adopting” and embracing the goals, and developing action plans and programs related to the goals.

Numerous companies found (and are finding today) that the goals aligned with the long-term corporate strategies (and vice versa).

SDG strategies were and are being amended to align the goals with critical corporate strategies; actions and programs were formulated; partnerships were sought (corporate with government and/or social sector partners and so on).  And the disclosures about all of this began to appear in corporate and institutional GRI sustainability reports.

In the months following official launch, a wave of corporations began a more public discussion of the SDGs and their adoption of specific goals – those that were material in some way to the company’s strategies, operations, culture, stakeholders, geography…and other factors and characteristics.

As the SDGs were “adopted” and embraced, companies began quickly to examine the materiality of the SDGs relative to their businesses and the first disclosures were appearing in corporate sustainability reports.

To rank the materiality of the SDGs for 40 different sectors, the G&A Institute analyst team gathered 1,387 corporate GRI G4 Sustainability / ESG reports and examined the disclosure level of each on 91 Topic Specific Standard Disclosures.  The database of the reporters materiality decisions around GRI Indicators were then linked to the 169 SDG targets using the SDG Compass Business Indicators table.

The sectors include Electricity, Beverages, Banks, Life Insurance, Media, and many more classifications (the list is available on the G&A web platform with selections to examine highlights of the research for each sector).

The results:  we now have available for you 40 separate sector report highlights containing rankings of the SDG Targets’ and the GRI G4 Indicators & GRI Standards Disclosures for each sector which can be downloaded here:  https://www.ga-institute.com/SDGsWhatMatters2018

The research results are an excellent starting point for discussion and planning, a foundation for determining sector-specific materiality of the SDGs and the GRI KPIs and disclosures as seen through the lens of these 1,387 corporate reporters across 40 sectors.

This is all part of the G&A Institute’s “Sustainability Big Data” approach to understanding and capturing the value-added corporate data sets for disclosure and reporting.  The complete database of results is maintained by G&A Institute and is used for assisting corporate clients and other stakeholders in understanding relevant materiality trends.
We welcome your questions and feedback on the year-long research effort.

Thanks to our outstanding research team who conducted the intensive research: Team Research Leaders Elizabeth Peterson, Juliet Russell, Alan Stautz and Alvis Yuen.  Researchers Amanda Hoster, Laura Malo, Matthew Novak, Yangshengjing “UB” Qiu, Sara Rosner, Shraddha Sawant, and Qier “Cher” Xue. The project was architected and conducted under the direction of Louis Coppola, Co-Founder of G&A Institute.

There’s more information for you at: https://www.ga-institute.com/SDGsWhatMatters2018

More information on the SDGs is at: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/

Contact G&A Institute EVP Louis Coppola for information about how G&A can help your company with SDGs alignment at:  lcoppola@ga-institute.com

Corporate America & Climate Change: McDonald’s Sets Pace for Strategies & Action in Global Fast-Food Industry

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

Game changer – early adopter – first mover – tipping point – striving for excellence:  These are some of the familiar themes of their work offered by best-selling business authors. These phrases help to frame our understanding of established or emerging trends.

Peter Economy, the “leadership guy” at Inc. magazine, offers us his take on the McDonald’s food chain announcement that “will change the future of the fast-food industry”.

Leadership:  The company says that 84 percent of its trademark “McCafe Coffee” for the U.S. outlets (and 54% globally) is verified as sustainably sourced.

That means the company is on track to meet its goal of 100% sustainably sourced coffee everywhere by year 2020.

Keep in mind that the familiar golden arches food outlets sell more than 500 million cups of coffee annually.  (The company has 37,000 restaurants in 120 markets, serving 69 million people daily.)

Why take this course of action?  The company says rising temperatures may dramatically affect coffee production and so McD will work with “thousands of franchisees, suppliers and producers” on the future of coffee production — and other societal issues related to climate change.

The “size and scale” of the McD brand operations will help to make a difference in this and other climate change matters, the company thinks.

For example, on beef production – the company sells more than 1 billion pounds of beef annually – McD ranks among the highest of all fast food companies in the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare…demonstrating concern about animal welfare.

McDonald’s in 2018 works through its “Scale for Good” initiative — which includes addressing such challenges as packaging and waste, restaurant energy usage and sourcing, and beef production.

The company will work to reduce GhG emissions — to prevent 150 million metric tons of GhG emissions from release to the atmosphere by 2030. That plan aims to reduce GhG emissions related to restaurants and offices by 2030 from the 2015 base year by 36%.  There is also the commitment to reduce emissions intensity across the supply chain against 2015 levels.

Note that franchisee operations (stores), suppliers and products account for 64% of McDonald’s global emissions – the company’s effort will be among the most sweeping in its industry to address the entire footprint of operations.

If you are a McDonald’s supplier or business partner – take note!  If you are a competitor – take note!

As part of its sustainability journey, McDonald’s has adopted SDG Goal #7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), Goal 13 (Climate Action) and Goal 17 (Partnerships for the Goals).

Click here for more information.

This Week’s Top Stories

McDonald’s Stunning New Coffee Sustainability Announcement Will Completely Change the Future of Fast Food
(Friday – November 30, 2018) Source: Inc. – Today, fast-food giant McDonald’s made a stunning announcement that will change the future of the fast-food industry. According to this announcement, 84 percent of McDonald’s McCafé coffee for U.S. restaurants (and 54 percent…

SCARY STUFF: The Fourth Official “Climate Science Special Report” by the U.S. Government’s “Global Change Research Program”

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

Whether you are an investor, company executive or board member, or an issue advocate, or civic leader, these “high probability” outcomes should keep you up at night:  more superstorms; more drought; increased risk of forest fires; more floods; rising sea levels; melting glaciers; ocean acidification; increasing atmospheric water vapor (thus, more powerful rainstorms)…and more.

How about a potential drop of 10% in the U.S.A. Gross Domestic Product by end of this century?

These are some of the subjects explored in depth in the fourth “Climate Science Special Report” of the U.S. Global Change Research Program.  That is a collaborative effort of more than a dozen Federal departments, such as NOAA, NASA, US EPA, and executive branch cabinet offices of Commerce, Agriculture, Energy, State, Transportation, and Defense; plus the OMB (Office of the President).

The experts gathered from these departments of the U.S. government plus a passel of university-based experts, reported last week (in over 1600 pages of related content) on the “state of science relating to climate change and its physical impacts.”

The CSSR (the Climate Science Special Report) serves as a foundation for efforts to assess climate-related risks and inform decision-makers…it does not include policy recommendations.  The results are not encouraging – at least not in November 2018.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is the lead agency working with NASA and other governmental bodies to develop the report – which analyzes current trends in climate change and project major trends out to the end of this 21st Century.  The focus of the work is on human welfare, societal, economic, and environmental elements of climate change.

Each chapter of the report focuses on key findings and assigns a “confidence statement” for scientific uncertainties. There are 10 regional analyses of recent climate change (such as the Northeast, and Southern Great Plains).

Some highlights:

(1) This period is now the warmest in the history of modern civilization.

2) Thousands of studies have documented changes in surface, atmospheric and oceanic temps;

(3) glaciers are rapidly melting;

4) we have rising sea levels;

5) the incidence of daily tidal flooding is accelerating in more than 25 Atlantic and Gulf coast cities.

The various findings, the authors point out, are based on a large body of scientific, peer-reviewed research, evaluated observations and modeling data sets. In this report, we should note, experts and not politicians speak to us in clear terms.

Global climate is projected to change over this century (and beyond) – the report is replete with “likelihoods” of events) and the experts state that with major effort, temps could be limited to 3.6°F / 2°C or less – or else.  Without action, average global temperatures could increase 9°F / 5°C relative to pre-industrial times – spelling disaster at the end of the 2100s.

The Financial Stability Board’s  (FSB) Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (the “TCFD”) strongly recommendations that the financial sector companies and (initial) four business sectors begin to test scenarios against (to begin with) 2-degrees Centigrade (3.5°F) temp rise and increase from there.

The four industry groups in the Financial Sector are:  Banks, Insurance Companies, Asset Owners, Asset Managers.

The four non-financial business sectors are:  Agriculture. Food & Forest Products; Buildings & Materials; Transportation; Energy (Oil & Gas).

This new national assessment from the Federal government should be a valuable resource for investors, bankers, insurance carriers and a wide range of companies in their scenario planning (content related to alternative scenarios is in the report).

Click the links below for:

TCFD information is here: https://www.fsb-tcfd.org/

Our Top Story in Sustainability Highlights this week is The Washington Post’s take on the report and its issuance by the Federal government on what some officials considered to be a slow Thanksgiving Friday news period.  The news coverage that followed was anything but “slow”!

Washington Post – Climate story by Brady Dennis and Christ Mooney
Major Trump administration climate report says damage is ‘intensifying across the country’

(Friday November 23, 2018) Source: The Washington Post – Scientists are more certain than ever that climate change is already affecting the United States — and that it is going to be very expensive. The federal government on Friday released a long-awaited report with an unmistakable message: The effects of climate change, including deadly wildfires, increasingly debilitating hurricanes and heat waves, are already battering the United States, and the danger of more such catastrophes is worsening.

Breaking News: $12 Trillion in Professionally Managed Sustainable Investment Assets — $1-in-$4 of Total U.S. Assets

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

Call it “sustainable and responsible investing” or “SRI” or “ESG investing” or “impact investing” – whatever your preferred nomenclature, “sustainable investing” in the U.S.A. is making great strides as demonstrated in a new report from US SIF.

The benchmark report issued today – “The Report on US Sustainable, Responsible and Impact Investing Trends 2018” – by the U.S. Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment (US SIF) puts things in perspective for investors and corporate managers:

  • At the beginning of 2018, the institutional owners and asset management firms surveyed reported total sustainable investment at US$12 trillion AUM – that is 26% of the total assets under professional management in the U.S.A. — $1-in-$4 of all investable assets!
  • That’s an increase of 38% since the last US SIF report at the start of 2016. The AUM of sustainable investments then was $8.72 trillion. That was $1-in-$5.
  • And that was an increase of 33% since the survey of owners and managers at the start of 2014.
  • Sustainable investing jumped following the 2008 financial crisis, with growth of 240% from 2012 to 2014.

The US SIF bi-annual survey of investors began in 1995, when the total of sustainable investments professionally managed was pegged at $639 billion. There has been an 18-fold increase in sustainable investing assets since then – at a compound rate of 13.6% over the years since that pioneering research was done.

The researchers queried these institutions in 2018:

  • 496 institutional owners (fiduciaries such as public employee pension funds and labor funds – these represented the component of the survey results at $5.6 trillion in ESG assets**).
  • 365 asset/money managers working for institutional and retail owners;
    private equity firms, hedge fund managers, VC funds, REITS, property funds;
    alternative investment or uncategorized money manager assets);
  • 1,145 community investing institutions (such as CDFIs).

What is “sustainable investing”?  There are these approaches adopted by sustainable investors:

  • Negative/exclusionary screening (out) certain assets (tobacco, weapons, gaming);
  • Positive/selection of best-in-class considering ESG performance (peer groups, industry, sector, activities);
  • ESG integration, considering risks and opportunities, ESG assets and liabilities);
    Impact investing (having explicit intention to generate positive social and environmental impact along with financial return);
  • Sustainability-themed products.

The top ESG issues for institutional investors in 2018 included:

  • Conflict Risk (terror attacks, repressive regimes) – $2.97 trillion impact;
  • Tobacco related restrictions – $2.56 trillion
  • Climate Change / Carbon-related issues – $2.24 trillion
  • Board Room issues – $1.73 trillion
  • Executive Pay – $1.69 trillion

Asset managers identified these issues as among the most important of rising concerns:

  • Climate change and Carbon
  • Conflict risk

Prominent concerns for asset owners included:

  • Transparency and Corruption
  • Civilian firearms / weapons
  • a range of diversity and equal employment opportunity issues.

The Proxy Voting Arena

The shareowners and asset managers surveyed regularly engage with corporate executives to express their concerns and advocate for change in corporate strategies, practices and behaviors through presentation of resolutions for the entire shareholder base to vote on in the annual corporate elections.

From 2016 to 2018 proxy seasons these resolutions were focused on:

  • Proxy access for shareowners (business associations have been lobbying to restrict such access by qualified shareowners).
  • Corporate Political Activity (political contributions, lobbying direct expenses and expenses for indirect lobbying by business groups with allocated corporate contributions).
  • A range of environmental and climate change issues.
  • Labor issues / equal employment opportunity.
  • Executive compensation.
  • Human Rights.
  • Call for independent board chair.
  • Board Diversity.
  • Call for sustainability reporting by the company.

Public employee pension systems/funds led the campaigns with 71% of the resolutions filed in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Labor funds accounted for 13% of filings.

Asset/money management firms accounted for 11.5%.

A total of 165 institutional owners and 54 asset managers filed or co-filed resolutions on ESG issues at the beginning of the 2018 proxy voting season.

The ESG Checklist

The institutions and asset managers queried could answer queries that addressed these ESG, community, product factors in describing their investment analysis, decision-making and portfolio construction activities. This is a good checklist for you when discussing ESG issues and topics with colleagues:

The “E” – Environmental:

  • Clean technology
  • Climate change / carbon (including GhG emissions)
  • Fossil fuel company divestment from portfolio, or exclusion
  • Green building / smart growth solutions
  • Pollution / toxics
  • Sustainable Natural Resources / Agriculture
  • Other E issues

The “S” – Social (or “societal”):

  • Conflict risk (repressive regimes, state sponsors of terrorism)
  • Equal employment opportunity (EEO) / diversity
  • Gender lens (women’s socio-economic progress)
  • Human rights
  • Labor issues
  • Prison-related issues (for-profit prison operators)
  • Other S issues

The “G” – Corporate Governance:

  • Board-related issues (independence, pay, diversity, response to shareowners)
  • Executive pay
  • Political contributions (lobbying, corporate political spending)
  • Transparency and anti-corruption policies

Product / Industry Criteria:

  • Alcohol
  • Animal testing and welfare
  • Faith-based criteria
  • Military / weapons
  • Gambling
  • Nuclear
  • Pornography
  • Product safety
  • Tobacco

Community Criteria:

  • Affordable housing
  • Community relations / philanthropy
  • Community services
  • Fair consumer lending
  • Microenterprise credit
  • Place-based investing
  • Small and medium business credit

The report was funded by the US SIF Foundation to advance the mission of US SIF.

The mission: rapidly shift investment practices towards sustainability, focusing on long-term investment and the generation of positive social and environmental impacts. Both the foundation and US SIF seek to ensure that E, S and G impacts are meaningfully assessed in all investment decisions to result in a more sustainable and equitable society.

The bold name asset owners and asset managers and related firms that are members of US SIF include Bank of America, AFL-CIO Office of Investment, MSCI, Morgan Stanley, TIAA-CREF, BlackRock, UBS Global Asset Management, Rockefeller & Co, Bloomberg, ISS, and Morningstar.

Prominent ESG / sustainable investment players include Walden Asset Management, Boston Common Asset Management, Clearbridge, Cornerstone Capital, Neuberger Berman, As You Sow, Trillium Asset Management, Calvert Investments (a unit of Eaton Vance), Domini Impact Investments, Just Money Advisors, and many others.

The complete list is here: https://www.ussif.org/institutions

Information about the 2018 report is here: https://www.ussif.org/blog_home.asp?display=118

About the US SIF Report:  The report project was coordinated by Meg Voorhees, Director of Research, and Joshua Humphreys, Croatan Institute.  Lisa Woll is CEO of US SIF.  The report was released at Bloomberg LP HQs in New York City; the host was Curtis Ravenel, Global Head of Sustainable Business & Finance at Bloomberg. q1

Governance & Accountability Institute is a long-time member. EVP Louis D. Coppola is the Chair of the US SIF Company Calls Committee (CCC) which serves as a resource to companies by providing a point of contact into the sustainable investment analyst community

** Institutional owners include public employee retirement funds, labor funds, insurance companies, educational institutions, foundations, healthcare organizations, faith-based institutions, not-for-profits, and family offices.