It’s ESG Survey & Query Time — Public Companies Are In Response Mode

by Hank Boerner & Louis Coppola

Barrage… Avalanche… Tidal wave… Tsunami“Survey Fatigue…
These are terms we hear all year ‘round but especially in the spring of the year as corporate managers describe for us what they often feel as the inevitable flow of third party ESG / Sustainability surveys, forms and various types of questionnaires come pouring their offices. It’s spring – survey time!  Some large-cap companies may receive 200 or more such queries during a year.  What to do!

Effective Response and Engagements Will Be Key to Success
in Communicating Corporate Sustainability Strategies and
Demonstrating Leadership for Investors

The challenges posed to company managers are:

  1. First to decide which queries will matter most to the company and to investors and select those out of the large flow for response;
  2. decide what to do with the rest of the third party queries;
  3. decide what information to be disclosed is material, of relevance and of importance to the third party and beyond to that organization’s user base;
  4. internally source and organize the data and narrative needed in responding to put the best story forward to maximize the positive perceptions of the stakeholders using the data in some way;
  5. and as we hear, [typically] debate internally what can and should be disclosed and why — beyond the mandated financial and related disclosures.

These challenges grow in importance each year as many more asset owners and managers either directly pose the questions to companies — or do so through an army of third-party ESG analytics firms.

The stakes are high and getting higher; the most efficient and effective of the corporate responders could enjoy inclusion in the sustainable investing indexes and benchmarks, and investor products; win high rankings, scores, ratings and other honors bestowed by the third party organizations; and in turn, be recognized by still more third-party organizations for their high scores and rankings.

Questions Often Heard in the Corporate Office: 
How come we are not in the DJSI?
How come “competitor X” is ranked higher than we are?
What should we be doing to improve our scores?
Who are the most important providers to engage with and respond to?

THE MORE TRANSPARENT COMPANY – THE PUBLIC COMPANY ESG PROFILE
Beyond the challenges to responding to the many third party organizations that crank the response and other information into their models and into investor-facing products, there is an ever-widening transparency of the company profile that may be of importance say, to major customers or business partners: for example, the Bloomberg professional services ESG dashboard will put the company’s ESG data and profile in front of more than 300,000 subscribers.   Similarly, the Thomson Reuters’ Eikon dashboards reach 200,000 and more subscribers with the same kinds of information.

We can hear the call from the corporate offices this month — Help!  The spring round of queries is at hand. For example, RobecoSAM’s “Corporate Sustainability Assessment” (the CSA) opened for company response last week; companies have only until the end of May to respond.  (We recently conducted a workshop in NYC for first time reporters in collaboration with RobecoSAM’s Robert Dornau and Gretchen Norwood.)

The information provided by companies in responding to the CSA will be an important determinant in RobecoSAM deciding which companies will be in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes and featured in the prized Yearbook roster. The information is used in S&P Dow Jones Company’s various products as well.

HOW TO ADDRESS THE CHALLENGES IN RESPONDING
 The good news is that there are efficient, thorough, comprehensive and organized ways to meet the challenges described above that are faced by many managers at publicly-traded and even privately-owned enterprises.

Here at G&A Institute, we call this our matrix approach that results in a more comprehensive “mosaic” (multi-dimensional) corporate ESG profile with significant benefits for the issuer.

It is important to keep in mind: the public company already has a sustainability profile shaped by its own publicly-disclosed information, by the dissemination of information by third parties distributing ESG analysis and data sets and by such stakeholders as government agencies, media, NGOs, activists, competitors, and others.

This mosaic corporate profile may be incomplete, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise have information that is detrimental to the company and its stakeholders that can be corrected with more timely and/or accurate information. The “wrong information” can lead to negative perceptions that can affect corporate reputation and valuation, and perhaps even societal freedom to operate.

THE G&A INSTITUTE APPROACH TO ESG DATA REVIEW
We usually start with an examination of the existing public ESG profile of the corporation.  This is the information typically provided to investors and key stakeholders by a ever-expanding universe of the ESG rankers and raters.  This phase of the work this helps us and the internal team in developing an understanding of how investors and stakeholders may be viewing the company, what issues are most material in their view — and from this analysis we can provide strategic guidance for how the company can work to better position itself to take advantage of any advances in corporate sustainability over the months and years ahead.

The comprehensive sweep of first-round examinations can be for a key set of the most important data providers (around 4-to-6) or more comprehensive and up to 15 or more of the ESG data providers, index managers, asset managers and public information platforms (such as the data on the Bloomberg and on Eikon).

The specific third party service providers to be examined may depend on peer group, geography of operations, the company’s sector and industry classifications (and keep in mind there are variations of these), the nature of products and services, and other factors.

IMPORTANCE OF THE GAP ANALYSIS
Once the key third party organizations are selected for close examination, an internal gap analysis against the information being made available to investors by the third party provider can be determined – and addressed by the internal team.

Key areas of strength, weakness and the peers’ standings will emerge for internal managers to address. Low hanging fruit such as correcting inaccurate data, or improving reporting by better organizing important ESG disclosure data, may make it easy for short-term improvement.  Longer term the results of this type of analysis and engagement will inform strategy setting, and resource allocations to most efficiently and effectively improve the ROI of the Sustainability program.

G&A’s Co-Founder Louis Coppola was recently interviewed at Skytop Strategies ESG4 Summit on the “Value Companies Can Obtain by Engaging with ESG Investor Data Providers.”  You can watch the interview here and email Lou at lcoppola@ga-institute.com if you have questions or would like to discuss the ESG review process.

KEEP IN MIND:
Improving the ratings, rankings, scores etc is a journey, not a sprint.

It’s important here to stress that whether or not a company chooses to answer queries, respond to data provider inquiries or attempts to correct some public information that service providers are sharing with investors, there is a public sustainability profile out there and it is making an impression on investors.

As the flow of this year’s queries reaches corporate managers, it is important to understand who some of the key third party ESG players are — and what their work is about – and how they can impact the corporation.  We provide some recent news updates about leading players below for your information.

FOR YOUR FURTHER INFORMATION: NEWS ABOUT KEY ESG / SUSTAINABILITY DATA PROVIDERS

The Universe of ESG Rankers Serving Institutional Investor Clients Expands…
Source:G&A Institute’s To the Point! Management Briefs (January 2018)
ISS’ Traditional Corporate Governance Focus Expanding to Encompass Environmental & Social QualityScores for Roughly 1,500 Public Companies Coming in January…And Expanding to 5,000 Issuers in Q2…

ISS Unveils New Corporate “E” and “S” QualityScores for 1,500 Companies
Source:G&A Institute’s To the Point! (February 2018)

Oekom Research to Join Institutional Shareholder Services
Source: oekom research news (March 2018)
oekom research, a leader in the provision of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) ratings and data, as well as sustainable investment research, today announced it will join Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (“ISS”). Reflecting the strength of both brands, oekom research will be renamed ISS-oekom…

Sustainalytics’ New Research Report Offers Insight into ESG Risks Facing 10 Sectors
Source: Sustainalytics (February 15, 2018)
Sustainalytics, a leading global provider of ESG and corporate governance research, ratings and analytics, today released a new thematic research report – “10 for 2018: ESG Risks on the Horizon”.  The report examines critical ESG risks facing 10 sectors, which are classified under four broad themes, including: Water Management / Stakeholder Governance / Consumer Protection / Climate Change..

Morningstar & Sustainalytics Expand Sustainability Collaboration
Source: Sustainalytics (July 2017)
In a continuing and growing commitment to helping investors integrate sustainability considerations into portfolio decisions, Morningstar, Inc. (NASDAQ: MORN), a leading provider of independent investment research, and Sustainalytics, a leading global provider of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) research and ratings, today announced that Morningstar has acquired a 40 percent ownership stake in Sustainalytics. The direct investment represents an important milestone in Morningstar’s long-term sustainability strategy and intends to support Sustainalytics’ ability to deliver high-quality, innovative ESG products and services to the global investment community…

Bloomberg ESG Function for Sustainability Investors Adds RobecoSAM Data
Source: Bloomberg (September 2016)
Bloomberg recently expanded its offering of ESG (environmental, social, governance) data by incorporating information from RobecoSAM’s percentile rankings on the Bloomberg Professional service at ESG<GO> —  a Bloomberg Terminal function that provides sustainability investors with data about a company’s environmental, social and governance metrics…

RobecoSAM Publishes “The Sustainability Yearbook 2018”
Source: RobecoSAM (February 2018)
RobecoSAM, the investment specialist that has focused exclusively on Sustainability Investing (SI) for over 22 years, today announced the publication of “The Sustainability Yearbook 2018”.    The Yearbook showcases the sustainability performance of the world’s largest companies and includes the top 15% per industry, which are awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze Class medals. RobecoSAM has analyzed the corporate sustainability performance of the world’s largest listed companies every year since 1999…

Results Announced for 2017 DJSI Review
Source: RobecoSAM (September 7, 2017)
S&P Dow Jones Indices (S&P DJI), one of the world’s leading index providers, and RobecoSAM, an investment specialist focused exclusively on Sustainability Investing (SI), today announced the results of the annual Dow Jones Sustainability Indices (DJSI) review. The three largest additions and deletions…

MSCI:  2018 ESG Trends to Watch
Source: Commentary by Linda Eling-Lee, Global Head of ESG Research, MSCI  (January 2018)
Bigger, faster, more.  Whether due to policy, technological or climatic changes, companies face an onslaught of challenges that are happening sooner and more dramatically than many could have anticipated.  Investors, in turn, are looking for ways to position their portfolios to best navigate the uncertainty. In 2018, these are the major trends that we think will shape how investors approach the risks and opportunities on the horizon. In 2018, investors will…

Has ESG Affected Stock Performance?
Source: Commentary by Guido Giese – ED, Applied Equity Research, MSCI
Are ESG characteristics tied to stock performance? Many researchers have studied the relationship between companies with strong environmental, social and governance (ESG) characteristics and corporate financial performance. A major challenge has been to show that positive correlations — when produced — explain the behavior. As the classic phrase used by statisticians says, “correlation does not imply causation.”Instead of conducting a pure correlation-based analysis, we focused on understanding how ESG characteristics have led to financially significant effects…

CDP:  The Disruptors:  Paul Simpson, the Atypical Activist Who Awoke C-Suites to Climate Risk
Source: Ethical Corporation (November 2017)
The founder of CDP tells Oliver Balch how the organization he started 17 years ago has helped transform corporate and investor attitudes to climate change  The phrase “task force” is hardly one to get the heart racing. Expand it to the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, and you’re into catatonic territory. So it’s little wonder that when the TCFD (as insiders call it) issued a suite of recommendations over the summer, it didn’t trouble the headline writers much. Not so Paul Simpson, who met the news with huge excitement…

Our Governments Have Committed to Keeping Global Temperature Rises to Well Below 2-Degrees – What Can Companies and Cities Do…
Source: CDP Campaigns
The Paris Agreement sends a clear signal that the shift to a low-carbon economy is inevitable, and everyone must play their part. To facilitate this transition, CDP and its partners have developed campaigns that seek to highlight and spur meaningful action on tackling climate change from the private sector and sub-national governments…campaign information…. committed to keeping global temperature rises to well…

Dispatch From London and The Economist Sustainability Summit 2018

Guest Post By Juliet Russell – Sustainability Reporting Analyst, G&A Institute

The Economist’s third annual Sustainability Summit was convened in London on March 22nd, 2018. I attended as a representative of G&A Institute.

The discussions focused on how to shift from “responsibility to leadership”: how to lead and encourage co-operation on the path to progress.

I was impressed that significant players from a diverse range of sectors attended the conference, including representatives of Government, NGOs, Business and Academia. Panelists ranged from the CEO of Sainsbury’s, to Google’s Lead for Sustainability, to the Chair of the Board of Directors for Greenpeace and to a Deputy Mayor of London.

Each provided their own views and experiences of sustainability leadership and how to really see actions, instead of ‘just talk and promises’.

The key themes from the day centered around the need for collaboration, communication, shared responsibility, disruptive innovation, combatting short-termism and internalizing sustainability into core strategy and business models.

 

One of the most poignant messages for me was the need for understanding the urgency of the issues we are facing today, particularly in relation to climate change – “we are behaving as though the delta is zero and the delta is clearly not zero” (Jay Koh, The Lightsmith Group).

An attendee told a story of new LEED Platinum Certified buildings in Seattle that everyone is of course proud of — but in 30 years these super energy-efficient buildings will be underwater because we’re too busy focusing on small wins and continual growth, failing to act fast enough or understand the urgency when it comes to climate change and sea-level rise.

As quoted from Baroness Bryony Worthington of the Environmental Defense Fund – “…winning slowly with climate change is the same as losing!”

The conference was incredibly insightful, with such a breadth of timely and interesting topics, which highlighted different areas of debate and offered up potential solutions. Four of the panel discussions I feel are particularly worth highlighting:

1)    ‘A TALE OF THREE CITIES’
Discussion led by Mark Watts, Director of C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group
and featuring three city government representatives: Shirley Rodrigues, Deputy Mayor of London (Environment and Energy); Solly Tshepiso, Mayor of Tshwane, South Africa; and,  Karsten Biering Nielsen, Deputy Director of Technical and Environmental Administration for the City of Copenhagen.

The lack of adequate and strategic government action is failing so far in preventing climate change and also in reaching the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs).

Mayor Solly discussed as example how slow progress on Paris Agreement targets were partly due to the lack of communication from top Government-level down to the city-level in South Africa. City-to-city communication and partnerships were touted as solutions to these kind of problems, as well as being vital in reaching the SDGs.

The C40 Cities Group facilitates this kind of partnership and network through the sharing of best-practice and successful innovation among their 92 affiliated cities around the world.

2)    ‘PIECES OF THE PUZZLE’
Discussion led by Christopher Davis, International Director of Corporate Responsibility and Campaigns from The Body Shop International.

This panel discussion focused around how to “do good and do well,”; Chris suggested that we need to be gearing business to be truly sustainable based on what the planet needs – not the economy or the shareholders – and creating benchmarks against planetary and societal needs.

Essential consideration for creating a sustainable business:  when sustainability is not an add-on function but embedded in the strategy and business model and thus integral to all activities. The Body Shop International management will know that they have been successful in their sustainability mission when sustainability is ingrained in everything the company is doing and they no longer have a need for a separate sustainability team.

3)    ‘CHANGING MINDS’
Discussion led Dr. Simone Schnall from the University of Cambridge and Prerana Issar from the UN World Food Programme.

This discussion revolved around the relevance of ‘nudging’ in changing behaviour (a behavioral economics approach) to push progress in sustainability. Dr. Simone discussed the concept of ‘nudging’ – creating a choice architecture, which is set up so that people are more inclined to go for the ‘beneficial’ option, gently pushing people to do the right thing.

An example of this might be in putting the recycled paper products at eye-level, with the products made from less sustainable materials at a more awkward height to see and reach.

Essentially, using nudging, we bypass the attempt at changing minds but still change the behaviour.

This can help to reduce problems such as ‘moral licensing’, where people feel licensed to do something ‘bad’ if they have just done something morally good (and vice versa). For example, when using energy efficient products, some people then feel they are able to use them more often because they are doing a ‘good’, which actually negates the positive efficiency benefit.

Nudging may be more and more necessary as actions towards sustainability become more urgent, as we can’t generally rely on society to make the best and informed decisions all the time. Though as nudging still relies on choice, is this enough to make us change? In reality, society may need more guidance and regulation and here, there’s a role for stricter governance and policy.

4)    ‘PIECES OF THE PUZZLE’
Discussion led by Marie-Claire Daveu, Chief Sustainability Officer for Kering.

Touching on the themes of innovation, partnerships and collaboration, Marie-Claire discussed a tool that Kering developed and are using: their Environmental Profit and Loss (“E P&L”).

Many people around the world and across sectors acknowledge that over-exploitation and degradation of the environment and our resources are partially due to the fact that these resources, our ‘natural capital’, have not been accounted for in economic decision-making and cost-benefit analyses.

Because of this, we are failing to internalize the negative externalities, which is crucial if we are to properly be accountable and responsible for our actions in society today, thus failing to understand the true environmental consequences of our actions.

Many businesses would fail to acknowledge the environment as a stakeholder unless it explicitly showed up on their profit and loss accounting.

Kering, a first-mover in their field, created and proposed an E P&L accounting tool as a way to do this and it can be applied throughout the entire value chain. This tool allows identification of impact areas and thus increases ability to reduce it.

Kering also provide their E P&L methodology open-source, to encourage other companies to follow and increase their accountability. This hones in on the knowledge-sharing and sharing of best-practice theme.

During the final session of the day, editors from The Economist newspaper came up with their main takeaways, the “four Ps”:

  • Pragmatic – that is, moving from debating who is responsible and asking, ‘is it really happening?’ to understanding that the situation “is what it is” — and we need to just get on with it. For this, collaborations at all levels will be key.
  • Persistent – sustainability needs to be talked about and implemented persistently, in order to become deeply embedded – not something that has the ‘fickleness of fashion’ – being ‘in’ the one day and passé the next. Persistence can help to bring a necessary sense of depth to the issues and challenges we are facing, in order to trigger action.
  • Problem – understanding reality and assessing our achievements: if we add up all of our efforts today, is it anywhere near enough? I’m sure you’ll all agree that the answer is most definitely not. How do we scale up these efforts effectively? We need to be mindful of the scale of the threats the planet and society face – increasing measurement and transparency can help to uncover this.
  • Prioritization – at present, we can’t robustly value different externalities, which is necessary for internalizing them and dealing in the most efficient and effective way. We must remember to be aware that each trade-off has consequences and consider alternative actions.

Coming away from this wonderful conference, it was clear to me that the main takeaway was of the potential of collaboration – within companies, within industries, between industries, and across sectors. This was picked up on in nearly every talk.

We need a whole ‘ecosystem’ featuring collaboration (involving business, NGOs, government, academia and citizens) in order to win with the current challenges we’re facing; to really progress in sustainability and work towards meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The conference was undoubtedly a timely and powerful call for action.

G&A Institute Research Results: 85% of the S&P 500® Index Companies Published Sustainability / Responsibility / CR / Citizenship Reports in 2017

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

One of the world’s most important benchmarks for equity investors is the S&P 500 Index®, a proprietary market-value weighted “basket” of the top stocks that represent about 80% of the U.S. equity markets according to the index owner, S&P Dow Jones Indices/McGraw Hill Financial.

Market Clout:  There are about US$8 trillion in Assets Under Management benchmarked to the index  – companies included in the index have a market-cap of US$6 billion or more (ticker:SPX).

More than six years ago the G&A Institute team decided to focus on the companies in the index to determine their level of (or lack of) ESG / Sustainability / CR / Citizenship disclosure and reporting.

Our first look-see was for year 2011 corporate reporting activities and after scouring the known sources  — each of the corporate websites, IR reports, printed reports, search engines results, connecting with companies and more —  we found just about 20% or about 100 of the large-cap index 500 companies were doing “something” along the lines of what we can describe today as structured reporting.  There were numerous brochure-type publications that did not qualify as a structured report of value to investors and stakeholders.

The GRI Was a Favored Framework – Then and Now
A good number of the early reporting companies were following the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) framework for reporting guidance (that was for G3 and G3.1 at the time), and some perhaps had some other form of reporting (such as publishing key ESG performance indicators on their website or in print format for stakeholders); GRI’s G4 was later embraced by the 500.  And now we move on to the GRI Standards, which we are tracking for 2018 reporting by the 500.

This initial research effort was a good bit of work for our analyst team because many of the companies simply did not announce or publicize the availability of their sustainability et al report. (Some still do not announce, even in 2017 and 2018!)

The response to our first survey (we announced the results in spring 2012) was very encouraging and other organizations began to refer to and to help publicize the results for stakeholders.

We were pleased that among the organizations recognizing the importance of the work was the GRI; we were invited to be the data partner for the United States, and then the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.  That comprehensive work continues and is complementary to the examination of the 500.

The 2011 Research Effort – Looking Back, The Tipping Point for Sustainability Reporting

Looking back, we can see that the research results were early indications of what was going on in the corporate and investment communities, as more asset owners and managers were adopting ESG / sustainability approaches, investment policies, engagement programs — and urging more public company managements to get going on expanded disclosure beyond the usual mandated financials (the “tangibles” of that day).

Turns out that we were at an important tipping point in corporate disclosure.

Investor expectations were important considerations for C-suite and board, and there was peer pressure as well within industries and sectors, as the big bold names in Corporate America looked left and right and saw other firms moving ahead with their enhanced disclosure practices.

And there was pressure from the purchasing side – key customers were asking their corporate supply chain partners for information about their ESG policies and practices, and for reports on same.  There was an exponential effect; companies within the 500 were, in fact, asking each other for such reports on their progress!

We created a number of unique resources and tools to help guide the annual research effort.  Seeing the characteristics and best practices of sustainability reporting by America’s largest and for the most part best-known companies we constantly expanded our “Sustainability Big Data” resources and made the decision to closely track S&P 500 companies’ public reporting — and feed the rich resulting data yield into our databases and widely share top-line results (our “Flash Report”).

The following year (2013) we tracked the 500 companies’ year 2012 reporting activities – and found a very encouraging trend that rang a bell with our sustainable investing colleagues:  a bit more than half of the 500 were now publishing sustainability et al reports.  Then in 2013, the numbers increased again to 72%…then 75%…then 81%…and now for 2017, we reached the 85% level.  The dramatic rise is clearly evident in this chart:

Note that there are minor annual adjustments in the composition of the S&P 500 Index by the owners, and we account for this in our research, moving companies in and out of the research effort as needed.

Louis Coppola, EVP of G&A Institute who designs and manages the analysis, notes:  “Entering 2018, just 15% of the S&P 500 declined to publish sustainability reports. The practice of sustainability reporting by the super-majority of the 500 companies is holding steady with minor increases year after year. One of the most powerful driving forces behind the rise in reporting is an increasing demand from all categories of investors for material, relevant, comparable, accurate and actionable ESG disclosure from companies they invest in, or might consider for their portfolio.

“Mainstream investors are constantly searching for larger returns and have come to the conclusion that a company that considers their material Environmental, Social, and Governance opportunities and risks in their long-term strategies will outperform and outcompete those firms that do not. It’s just a matter now of following the money.”

Does embracing corporate sustainability in any way impact negatively on the market performance of these large companies?  Well, we should point out that the annual return for the SPX was 22% through 12-13-18.   You can read more in our Flash Report here.

Thank you to our wonderful analyst team members who over the years have participated in this exhaustive search and databasing effort.   We begin our thank you’s to Dr. Michelle Thompson, D.Env, now a postdoc fellow supporting the U.S. Department of Energy in the Office of Energy Policy Systems Analysis; and her colleague, Natalia Valencia, who is now Senior Research Analyst at LAVCA (Latin American Venture Capital Association).  Their early work was a foundational firming up of the years of research to follow.

Kudos to our G&A Research Team for their significant contributions to this year’s research report:  Team Leader Elizabeth Peterson; analyst-interns Amanda Hoster, Matthew Novak, Yangshengling “UB” Qui, Sara Rossner, Shraddha Sawant, Alan Stautz, Laura Malo Yague, and Qier “Cher” Zue.

We include here a hearty shout out to the outstanding analyst-interns who have made great contributions to these research efforts in each year since the start of the first project back in 2011-2012.  It’s wonderful working with all of these future leaders!

The reports from prior years are posted on the G&A Institute website: https://www.ga-institute.com/research-reports/research-reports-list.html

Check out our Honor Roll there for the full roster of all of the talented analysts who have worked on these reports and numerous other G&A Institute research that we broadly share with you when the results are in.  Their profiles (which we work with our valued colleagues to keep up to date as they move on to great success in their careers) are on the G&A website: https://www.ga-institute.com/about-the-institute/the-honor-roll.html

Footnote:  As we examine 1,500 corporate and institutional reports each year we see a variety of titles applied:  Corporate Sustainability; Corporate Social Responsibility; Corporate Responsibility; Corporate Citizenship (one of the older titles still used by GE and other firms); Corporate Stewardship; Environmental Sustainability…and more!

If you would like to have information about G&A Institute research efforts, please connect with us via our website.

The Media – And Sustainability & CR Thought Leadership, For Both Topic-Focused and Mainstream Media Coverage

by Hank Boerner – Chair, G&A Institute

The “media” that we choose to get our news, commentary, research results, even crossword puzzles, movie reviews, the latest scientific papers and maybe information about what our friends are up to (such as “social media”) are usually self-selected.  

We tune in to what we want to read or watch or listen to…for information / education / entertainment…and it also helps to define us in many ways.

So here at G&A Institute as we broadly monitor for content related to both our day-to-day and long-term focus areas (the list of topics and issues is long), when we see these things pop up in “not-the-usual places,” we are cheered.

This weekend, for example, we picked up on the following, which were encouraging in that senior management publications are read beyond the folks involved in sustainable investing and corporate sustainability or ESG issues and topics.

In Focus:   MIT Sloan Management Review

This is the publication of the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s MIT Sloan School of Management.  “Share Your Long-Term Thinking” was one feature article. Companies need to be more forthcoming about their strategies for long-term value creation when they communicate with investors — especially about ESG issues, write authors Tim Youmans and Brian Tomlinson.

Their observation is that over the past five years, CEOs have faced mounting pressure to produce short-term profits. CEOs do think about the long-term, have long-term plans (detailed and extensive) and these typically are closely held.  Result: corporate strategy and practice are not captured in investor communications.

They then offer six reasons why long-term plans should be disclose and how to do that.  One of these is to help investors understand ESG issues through the eyes of management — because a majority of investors see ESG factors as financially material and expect sound management of material ESG factors to deliver better performance over the long-term. 

Tim Youmans is engagement director for Hermes Equity Ownership Services and Brian Tomlinson is research director for the Strategic Investor Initiative at CECP.

They conclude for the magazine’s audience (aimed at corporate executives and senior managements in the main): “The long-term plan is a new tool in the regular sequence of periodic corporate-shareholder communications and represents an unprecedented opportunity for leading companies and investor together to drive sustainable value creation and help to clarify the role of the corporation in a sustainable society.”

That is not all for the MIT Sloan Management Review audience in the Spring 2008 issue.

“Why Companies Should Report Financial Risks From Climate Change” is another feature — this from Robert Eccles and Michael Krzus.  They  focused on the Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate-related Disclosures [recommendations].

“Investors and the rest of the world is watching to see how companies will respond to the TFCD recommendations” — the ask here is that company managements will expand their disclosure to report on the risks and opportunities inherent in climate change in such documents as the 10-k.

Boston Common Asset Management LLC and ShareAction organized a campaign with institutions representing US$1.5 trillion in AUM participating to pressure financial institutions (especially banks) to implement the recommendations.

Companies should follow the recommendations, authors Eccles and Krzus argue, because this could lead to evolving better strategies to adapt to climate change — and be able to explain these strategic moves to the their investors.

They focus on the oil and gas industry, looking at disclosures in 2016 by 15 of the largest industry firms listed on the NYSE.  A few have made good progress in adhering to the TCFD recommendations (so there is not a “blank slate”); there is work to be done by all of the companies in enhancing their disclosures to meet the four top recommendations (in governance, strategy, risk management and metrics and targets areas).

Their article is an excellent summation of the challenges and opportunities presented for such companies as BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Sinopec, Statoil, Total, and others in oil & gas.

Bob Eccles is a well-known expert in corporate sustainability and sustainable investing and is visiting professor at Said Business School at the University of Oxford. Mike Krzus is an independent consultant and researcher and was a Fellow of G&A Institute.

Wait, there’s more!

The magazine’s columnists had important things to say as well.

Kimberly Whitler and Deborah Henretta penned “Why the Influence of Women on Boards Still Lags,” applauding the rise of the number of women on boards and offering two important criticisms — the growth rate is slowing and boards do that do have female members often limit their influence.

Although there are measurable positive results of female board inclusion — they cite Return on Equity averaging 53% higher in the top quartile than in the bottom — women still are not making more rapid inroads with fewer reaching the most influential board leadership positions, even with more women on boards than 10 years ago.

The authors set out ways for making more progress in board rooms.  And they advise: “For real, lasting change that wins companies the full benefits of gender-diverse decision-making, boards need to look beyond inclusion — and toward influence.”

Kimberly Whitler is assistant professor of business adminstration at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business; Deborah Henretta is an independent board director on the boards of Dow Corning, Meritage Homes Corp, NiScource Inc and Staples (she was a Proctor & Gamble executive).

There is much more for executives and board members in the issue, which has the overall theme of: “In Search of Strategic Agility – discover a better way to turn strategy into results.”

The content we outlined here is powerful stuff (our own technical term) to crank into corporate strategy-setting, and savvy execs are doing just that, as we see here at G&A as we pour through the more than 1,500 corporate reports we analyze each year with titles such as Corporate Sustainability, Corporate Responsibility, Corporate Citizenship, Corporate Environmental Sustainability, and more.

And so it is very encouraging when we wander beyond the beaten path of reading the reliable staple of sustainability-oriented and CSR-oriented media to see what the senior management thought leadership media are doing!

We recommend that you read through the Spring 2018 Strategy magazine from MIT Sloan.  Link: https://sloanreview.mit.edu/

They Are Beginning Now – the Long-Awaited Corporate Disclosures on Ratio of CEO Ratio – CEO Pay-to-Median-of-Workforce Pay

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

The big-deal and long-waited corporate announcements / disclosures are beginning in 1Q 2018. 

Way back when…after the 2008 financial crisis when the Dodd-Frank capital markets reform legislation was passed (in 2010)…one of the requirements was that public companies must develop a ratio and disclose this publicly: how much does the CEO earn, and what that is that compared to the median compensation of the employee workforce? (Half below/half above is the median level to be arrived in an analysis for public filing.)

This is the Ratio, CEO Pay-to-Median-Worker-Pay disclosures.

The Securities & Exchange Commission finally issued its guidance on all of this in September 2017 (companies and their trade associations had steadily pushed back on the 2010 disclosure mandate and the SEC struggled with the “how-to” rulemaking / or more “gentle” guidance, causing delays in applying the law).

So – today the CEO-Employee Pay Ratio is upon us – and the first important disclosures are coming out now – including the first filing for a S&P 100 firm.

Bloomberg Markets News reports that Honeywell International Inc’s filing shows that CEO Pay is 333 Times More Than Median Workers. CEO Darius Adamczyk’s pay package was $16.5 million in 2017; the median employee pay (for the company’s 130,000 workers) is $50,296.

The Honeywell CEO package for 2017 is 60% more than for the prior year (when he moved into the job).

Earlier this month Teva Pharmaceutical Industries disclosed a pay ratio of 302-to-1 ($19.4 million for the CEO, median worker $64,081).

The AFL-CIO projected a 347-to-1 ratio (CEO: $13.1 MM; workers, $37,000).

When the SEC guidance was firmed up in 2017, some market observers said this was a “local newspaper headline” and not something that serious investors would pay attention to.

The Los Angeles Times – both a regional newspaper and one with national reach and influence – now features this headline: “The First Official Report on CEO-Worker Pay Ratios Shows and Enormous 333-1 Gap at Honeywell”

LAT’s Pulitzer Prize-winning financial commentator Michael Hiltzik used words like “…obscene…raw figures…economic inequality…the 1%…telling…massively embarrassing..”

Sam Pizzigati, the prominent author and social commentator at the Washington DC think tank Economic Policy Institute, was quoted in the LA Times article:

“This is a confirmation of research done up to now,” Sam Pizzigati, a fellow at EPI, says of the Honeywell data. He expects some corporations to show much larger discrepancies. That could show up especially in the retail sector, where median earnings are likely to be well below the $50,000 level of Honeywell’s heavily professional workforce.

Walmart, for instance, says its average hourly pay for full-time workers was to reach $13.38, following a company-wide wage increase in 2016. That’s about $27,800. Its CEO, C. Douglas McMillon, was paid $22.4 million last year. That would create a ratio of about 805-to-1 based on hourly wages alone.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek writer Anders Melin published a piece in January – “Why Companies Fear Disclosing CEO-to-Workers Pay” — noting:

“U.S. companies must soon begin disclosing what many would rather keep secret: The ratio between the CEO’s compensation and the paycheck of the company’s median worker. The mandate was included in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act to shed light on the growing income gap between executives and workers. Opponents say it’s only meant to embarrass executives and won’t be useful to investors. One critic called it an example of bigotry against the successful.”

And: The disclosures will provide a first-ever glimpse into how thousands of U.S. companies compensate their workers, plus a more accurate sense than ever before of the CEO-to-worker pay gap.

A year ago, Alex Edmans writing in The Harvard Business Review said “…the numbers are striking…the idea is that a high pay ratio is unfair…I strongly believe that executive pay should be reformed…[but] the pay ratio is a misleading statistic because CEOs and workers operate in very different markets…”

His commentary is at:

https://hbr.org/2017/02/why-we-need-to-stop-obsessing-over-ceo-pay-ratios
(He is a professor of finance at London Business School.)

Our new “G&A Institute’s To the Point!” management brief platform has background on the CEO-Worker Pay Ratio, published for guidance in September 2017 as the SEC published its guidance:

IT’S H-E-R-E NOW: SEC Guidance on CEO-Employee Pay Rule Clarified in Interpretive Guidance. Your Company Should Be Prepared for First Quarter 2018 Disclosures and Beyond!

The information is at:
https://ga-institute.com/to-the-point/its-h-e-r-e-now-sec-guidance-on-ceo-employee-pay-rule-clarified-in-interpretive-guidance-your-company-should-be-prepared-for-first-quarter-2018-disclosures-and-beyond/

I have a chapter in my book (“Trends Converging!) about the pay rule (Chapter 9) – the entire book is available for you with my compliments at:
https://www.ga-institute.com/research-reports/trends-converging-a-2016-look-ahead-of-the-curve.html

We’ll continue to bring you news of the CEO-Worker Pay Ratio corporate disclosures in 1Q 2018– company announcements and the public response to same.

Proof of Concept for Sustainable Investing: The Influential Barron’s Names the Inaugural “The Top 100 Sustainable Companies — Big Corporations With The Best ESG Policies Have Been Beating the Stock Market.”

By Hank Boerner – Chairman and Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

Barron’s 100 Most Sustainable Companies

Barron’s is one of the most influential of investor-focused publications (in print and digital format) and a few months ago (in October), the editors published the first of an ongoing series of articles that will focus on ESG performance and sustainable investing, initially making these points:

  • Barron’s plans to cover this burgeoning style of investing on a more regular basis. A lot of possible content that was developed was left on the cutting room floor, the editors note.
  • Says Barron’s: “We are only in Version 1.0 of sustainable investing. 2.0 is where ESG is not a separate category but a natural part of active management.”
  • And:  “Given the corporate scandals of recent days (Wells Fargo, Equifax, Chipotle, Volkswagen, Valeant Pharmaceuticals), it is clear that focus on companies with good ESG policies is the pathway to greater returns for investors!”

The current issue of Barron’s (Feb 5, 2018) has a feature article and comprehensive charting with this cover description:

The Top 100 Sustainable Companies – Big Corporations With the Best ESG Policies Have Been Beating the Market.”

Think of this as proof of concept: The S&P 500® Index Companies returned 22% for the year 2017 and the Barron’s Top 100 Sustainable Companies average return was 29%.

The 100 U.S. companies were ranked in five categories considering 300 performance indicators.  Barron’s asked Calvert Research and Management, a unit of Eaton Vance, to develop the list of the Top 100 from the universe of 1,000 largest publicly-held companies by market value, all headquartered in the United States.

Calvert looked at the 300 performance indicators that were provided by three key data and analytic providers that serve a broad base of institutional investors:

  • Sustainalytics,
  • Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS)
  • and Thomson Reuters ASSET4 unit.

Five umbrella categories were considered:

  • Shareholders
  • Employees
  • Customers
  • Planet
  • Community

There were items considered in the “shareholders” category, like accounting policies and board structure; employee workplace diversity and labor relations; customer, business ethics and product safety; planet; community; GHG emissions; human rights and supply chain.

We can say here that “good governance” (the “G” in ESG) is now much more broadly defined by shareholders and includes the “S” and “E” performance indicators (and management thereof), not the formerly-narrow definitions of governance. Senior managers and board, take notice.

Every company was ranked from 1-to-100, including even those firms manufacturing weapons (these firms are usually excluded from other indexes and best-of lists, and a number of third party recognitions).

Materiality is key: the analysts adjusted the weighting of each category for how material it was for each industry. (Example: “planet” is more material for chip makers using water in manufacturing, vs. water for banking institutions – each company is weighted this way.)

The Top 100 list has each company’s weighted score and other information and is organized by sector and categories; the complete list and information about the methodology is found at Barron’s.com.

The Top 5 Companies overall were:

  • Cisco Systems (CSCO)
  • salesforce.com (CRM)
  • Best Buy (BBY)
  • Intuit (INTU)
  • HP (HPQ)

The 100 roster is organized in categories:

  • The Most Sustainable Consumer Discretionary Companies (Best Buy is at #1)
  • The Most Sustainable Financials (Northern Trust is #1) – Barron’s notes that there are few banks in the Top 100. Exceptions: PNC Financial Services Group and State Street.
  • The Most Sustainable Industrials (Oshkosh is ranked #1)
  • The Most Sustainable Tech Outfits (Cisco is at the top)

Familiar companies names in the roster include Adobe Systems, Colgate-Palmolive, PepsiCo, Deer, UPS, Target, Kellogg, Apple, and Henry Schein.

Singled out for their perspectives to be shared in the Barron’s feature commenting on the ESG trends: John Wilson, Cornerstone Capital; John Streur, Calvert; Calvet Analyst Chris Madden; Paul Smith, CEO of CFA Institute; Jon Hale, Head of Sustainability Research at Morningstar.

Calvert CEO John Streur noted: “This list gives people insight into companies addressing future risks and into the quality of management.”

Top-ranked Cisco is an example of quality of management and management of risk: The company reduced Scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions by 41% since 2007 and gets 80% of its electricity from renewable sources.

This is a feature article by Leslie P. Norton, along with a chart of the Top 100 Companies.

She writes: “…Barron’s offers our first ranking of the most sustainable companies in the U.S. We have always aimed to provide information about what keenly interests investors – and what affects investment risk and performance…” And…”what began as an expression of values (“SRI”) is finding wider currency as good corporate practices…”

The complete list of the top companies is at Barron’s com. (The issue is dated February 5th, 2018)  You will need a password (for subscribers) to access the text and accompanying chart.

For in-depth information: We prepared a comprehensive management brief in October 2017 on Barron’s sustainable coverage for our “G&A Institute’s To the Point!” web platform: https://ga-institute.com/to-the-point/proof-of-concept-for-sustainable-investing-barrons-weighs-in-with-inaugural-list-of-top-100-sustainable-companies/

The Words From Davos In 2018: Sustainability, Responsibility…And More In This, The Fourth Industrial Revolution

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

The World Economic Forum (WEF) annually convenes business leaders, government officials, celebrities and other luminaries in the Swiss village of Davos-Klosters to explore societal issues and develop or work to advance solutions to same.

This year’s convocation was staged over four days n late-January. Some of the highlights for you:

UN Sustainable Development Goals in Focus
The Government of Denmark and the WEF signed a memorandum of understanding to move ahead with a partnership to improve the state of the world through a public-private cooperation. The agreement provides a model framework that could lead to improvement over the long-term.

And, adoption of the approach by other nations. Consider what this European nation and the WEF have in mind:

  • They will pursue public-private partnership to promote green growth.
  • Develop a technology and innovation partnership.
  • Work together to encourage greater adoption of the SDGs.
  • Support the mobilization of private capital for infrastructure through the WEF-led initiative, the Sustainable Development Investment Partnership.
  • Support trade and investment through the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation (a multi-stakeholder initiative).
  • Work to implement the WEF’s System Initiative on Education, Gender and Work.
  • Denmark will assign a Ministry of Foreign Affairs senior advisor to the WEF New York City office (a second such WEF appointment for Denmark).

Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said: “Denmark has an ambitious agenda to promote public-private partnerships…in terms of sustainable growth, social cohesion and technological skills. We are delighted to team with WEF to create concrete progress on these agendas…to create better lives for more people and sole the urgent climate crisis. We must build bridges across sectors, borders and old divisions…”

Addressing Modern Slavery
Influentials addressed the need for coordinated global action to end modern slavery – that was championed by US Senator Bob Corker (R-Tennessee); Monique Villa, CEO of Thomson Reuters Foundation; and, Gary Haugen, CEO of the International Justice Mission.

Senator Corker drew attention to the new Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (“GFEMS”), a public-private partnership to fund programs in countries where such practices are prevalent.

The initial funding is from the United States and United Kingdom; the goal is to raise US$1.5 billion-plus and develop a global strategy to address modern slavery. (It’s estimated that as many as 40 million people now live in modern slavery conditions. This is said to be a $150 billion global business.)

There are three pillars adopted by GFEMS: (1) leverage the rule of law; (2) “energized” engagement with business sector (3) work to sustain freedom.

Jean Baderschneider is CEO of the new Global Fund. The fund’s work will be modeled on the global effort to fight AIDS, TB and malarial infections, bringing together governments, the private sector and NGOs.

Tech-Reskilling Drive Announced
The Information Technology industry is going to work to target 1 million people to offer resources (such as on-line tools) and training opportunities to “re-skill” adults to help them meet the requirements of the tech industry for employment, as well as continue their education and learn more about today’s technology.

Big names in tech are signed on: Accenture, CA Technologies, Cisco, Cognizant, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Infosys, Pegasystems, PwC, Salesforce, SAP, and Tata Consultancy Services. The coalition is seeking more members to help develop tools and processes to address the “barriers preventing adults from re-skilling or successfully completing training, initially in the United States. There are plans to scale to other geographies.

The coalition’s “SkillSET” is hosted on the EdCas AI-powered Knowledge Cloud Platform, accessible to all.

ISO 20121:2012 Certification for Davos
The conference was awarded the ISO certification for “sustainable event planning and operation” by DNVGL (a certifying body). ISO 20121 is a framework for identifying and managing key social, economic and environmental impacts of an event.

Sustainability measures implement by the Forum included carbon compensation for all air travel by the staff, media and participants; promotion of “sustainable transport” in Davos (walk don’t ride); energy efficiency; water management; sourcing of renewable energy; reduction of waste and recycling.

Ending With A Call to Action
The 2018 Forum closed with a call to action to “globalize compassion” and “leave no one behind.” This, the 48th WEF Annual Meeting, closed on a creative note with four artists sharing visions of how painting, photography, film and dance can inspire empathy with other people’s stories.

Across all of the 400 sessions, the Davos organizers said, “…one key theme kept emerging, the need to embrace our common humanity in the face of rapid technological changes ushered in by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

And so the call for a spirit of inclusion, diversity and respect for human rights…this characterized the 2018 gathering, said Sharon Burrow, one of the seven female co-chairs of the meeting (she is General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation).

Important outcomes of the meeting included these developments, on the theme of “mending our fractured world”:

  • Preparing workers for the future.
  • Safeguarding our oceans.
  • Closing the gender gap.
  • Tackling waste and pollution.
  • Unlocking nature’s value.
  • Making meat sustainable.
  • Bridging the digital divide.
  • Fighting financial crime and modern slavery.
  • Taking on fake news.
  • Securing air travel.

And…advancing the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which includes Forum centers at work with social, public and private sector partners in numerous countries.

As Oliver Baitch writing in Ethical Corp observed, having spent four days at the conference:

“First, and foremost, sustainability is here to stay. Long gone are the denials or debates as to whether “non-financial” or “soft” issues are the preserve of global business. Themes such as citizenship-centred science, a post-oil energy matrix and tax transparency have shifted from side-room workshops to the main stage.

“Second, companies are beginning to put their money where their mouths are. Davos 2018 saw a litany of firm, measureable corporate commitments – professional services firm PwC promising to cut its carbon emissions by 40% by 2022 (having cut them by 29% since 2007) through to Coca-Cola pledging to collect and recycle the equivalent of every bottle or can it sells globally by 2030.”

You can read his summary of the 2018 confab at: http://www.ethicalcorp.com/will-sustainability-be-ceos-trays-after-davos

And, of course, there is a significant amount of related information at the WEF web site:  https://www.weforum.org/

We Are Far Now From Milton Friedman’s Prevailing View on CSR in 1970 – Companies Are Showing The Way – Here Are 5 Examples

The stage was set in 1970 by Professor Milton Friedman, who wrote in a New York Times Magazine essay: The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits. He famously said in conclusion: “here is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use it resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.”

Over the ensuing decades, advocates for greater corporate accountability, responsibility and sustainability pushed back – with great vigor.  Over time, more companies adopted well thought out strategies and tactics to become more socially / societally responsible… leading to today’s fulsome embrace by the corporate sector of CR or CSR.

Forbes magazine commentator Marissa Peretz (writing from California) brings us examples of “environmentally-friendly business endeavors” that demonstrate profit can exist alongside sustainability and the successful corporate business model. Her examples are Fair Harbor (apparel); Nest Bedding; Paladino and Company (consulting); Under the Canopy; and B Corp Natura Brasil.

Highlights: 

(1) Fair Harbor makes sustainable boardshorts and men’s swimwear from 11 recycled plastic bottles (including recycled ocean plastic harvested in Haiti).

(2) Nest Bedding, a family-owned business, creates “sustainable bedding and mattresses for more healthy living.

(3) Paladino and Company’s buildings have a positive environmental impact by helping other companies reduce their carbon footprint (the firm works with architects and developers to design buildings “that make a difference).

(4) Natura Basil is a Brazilian company now operating in the United States; it works with its supplier communities back in the Amazon (not the shopping giant!) to promote preservation of endangered forests.

(5) Under the Canopy uses six (6) types of third party certifications whose metrics include use of harmful substances and other critical practices in its apparel and bedding.

All of these firms, the author tells us, have lessons learned and share that environmentally-friendly business endeavors can still be profitable.  So take that, you remaining Friedman advocates – the corporate world is moving on without you.

Here at G&A Institute, we monitor more than 1,500 corporate responsibility, sustainability, citizenship and similarly-titled reports.  A sizable number are identified as “CR” reports and tell the stories of a wide (and encouraging) range of strategies and tactics of USA, UK and Republic of Ireland corporate entities. The data sets and narratives make clear that senior executives understand well the importance of corporate responsibility in their disclosures.  They make the business case, the supply chain case, the investor case…and more!

The five firms profiled in the Forbes piece below are to be congratulated for their contributions to society – and the dual quest for greater CR and profitability.

Author Peretz is founder of Silicon Beach Talent in LA; she was “recruiting leader” at Tesla Motors.

Our Top Story For You…

5 Companies Who Succeed By Prioritizing Sustainability Over Profits
(Wednesday – December 13, 2017) Source: Forbes – A lot of companies still believe that they should prioritize short term profits above sustainability. However, some of the most successful current executives and employees think differently

The 21st Century Company: How It Creates Values – And for Whom

Highlights from the strategic “21st Century Company” conference presented annually by Skytop Strategies in November 2017 at the Time Warner Center in New York City.

By  Elizabeth Peterson and Cher Xue, Sustainability Reporting Analysts, G&A Institute

In November, executives in governance, risk, innovation, corporate responsibility, and information technology, and representatives of other functions & disciplines gathered to discuss future trends and share thoughts on the theme of “how to prepare for the risks and opportunities that companies will face in the 21st Century”.

Two prevalent topics of discussion among the executives present were (1) data security and (2) approaching CSR as an opportunity for ROI rather than as an expense.

Hank Boerner, Chairman & CEO at G&A, started the morning off with opening remarks to set the stage for the day’s discussion. He suggested that regardless of the top-notch strategic planning, the 21st Century Company is likely to put forward, disruptions” will always arise.

Using retro props and the evolution of the cell-phone from the early “brick” phone and the revolutionary concept of making a call from anywhere to today’s smartphone (now holding a great deal of our personal information), Hank reminded the audience of the disruptions from the past few decades.

Integration, Innovation, and Progress are what the thriving 21st Century Company will practice to be successful and to thrive, he said. (See his comments here: http://ga-institute.com/Sustainability-Update/2017/12/21/you-and-the-21st-century-company-all-about-iteration-innovation-and-disruption/)

The event was held during the first anniversary of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, which sparked rigorous conversations about what sustainability will look like for the United States over the next three years.

The past year has involved the start of dismantling of some of the country’s most monumental environmental plans and agreements. While this has led to a dim outlook for sustainable’s future for some, others noted that the corporate world is remaining firm in their sustainability strategic plans and targets, due to stakeholders and investors’ increasingly persistent calls for climate change disclosures, even for the non-renewables industry.

This reassurance has allowed many corporate sustainability advocates “to rest easy”. However, as Bennett Freeman, Senior Advisor, Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), mentioned during his panel, governance without government doesn’t work. Corporate social responsibility without government responsibility is insufficient — and sustainable development should not be left to solely corporations.

Another trend creeping into CSR/ESG performance indicators is data security, presenting both opportunities and risks for companies.

Louis Coppola, Co-Founder and Executive VP at G&A, moderated the panel The Internet of Things: One Example of How Technology Shapes—and Threatens—Value Delivery with panelists Gene Fredriksen, Chief Information Security Officer, PSCU & Appointee, Global Forum to Advance Cyber Resilience and Jonathan Hill, Dean of the Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems at Pace University.

Key takeaway:  Data is being hailed as the “oil of the 21st century”. The amount of data being collected during your day-to-day activities can be a little unsettling for some.

The information obtained by third parties can support significant business decisions and product/service development. Data can hold unmeasurable value for a company’s future to make informed decisions.

However, the question for debate is how responsible do we expect companies to be with our data?

Elizabeth Peterson, GRI Reports Analyst at G&A Institute, Masters Candidate in Sustainability at Hofstra University focusing on ESG Reporting

A spike in recent data breaches has left consumers feeling a little less secure, but it’s also left corporations feelingn uneasy about their brand reputation and the future of their data security plans.

In 2017 alone, we have learned of significant data breaches at Yahoo, Equifax, Uber, Gmail, and many more companies.

Currently, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) provides a voluntary reporting indicator (G4-PR8) asking companies to disclose the number of breaches of customer privacy had occurred during that reporting year.

However, with the risk of significant cybersecurity breaches increasing, it’ll become more prevalent for the 21st Century Company to become much more proactive in protecting customer privacy; and, simultaneously, provide more detailed disclosure on a company’s data security efforts – this will be expected by shareholders.

For more information on whether you’ve been affected by the recent Equifax breach, click here.

As consumers, we expect the companies we interact with to take our personal information and data security seriously. However, we cannot place all the responsibility on businesses. With holiday shopping well underway there are plenty of individual tactics to put in place to make sure data is safe while online shopping.. (Link for bullet point source).  These include:

  • Before surfing the Internet, secure your personal computers by updating your security software. Everyone’s computer should have anti-virus, anti-spyware and anti-spam software, as well as a good firewall installed.
  • Keep your personal information private and your password secure. Do not respond to requests to “verify” your password or credit card information unless you initiated the contact. Legitimate businesses will not contact you in this manner.
  • Choose a password by combining different numbers, letters, and symbols. The longer the password, the better.
  • Beware of “bargains” from companies with whom you are unfamiliar — if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
  • Use secure websites for purchases. Look for the icon of a locked padlock at the bottom of the screen or “https” in the URL address.
  • Shop with companies you know and trust. Check for background information if you plan to buy from a new or unfamiliar company.
  • Act immediately if you suspect identity theft. Contact your credit card company, your bank, all three credit reporting agencies.

About Corporate Responsibility in the 21st Century

Cher Xue, GRI Reports Analyst at G&A Institute, Master in Environmental Management from Duke University, Nicholas School of the Environment.

One very interesting presentation was entitled: The Arrow Electronics Story: How Innovation Can Drive Profits While Addressing Social ChallengesThe presenter was Joe Verrengia, Global Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Arrow Electronics, Inc.

Arrow Electronics is a global provider of products, services, and solutions to industrial and commercial users of electronic components and enterprise computing solutions. And humanitarian technology projects serve as a metaphor for what Arrow does every day in business.

The presentation addressed some bias that has been expressed —  such as there is no real ROI on CSR.

As examples, some critics have said these things:  Personal values don’t always translate to work values. People within the organization have no idea what it is and where to start to work. The CSR budget is the first one to cut because, for some business, CSR is not an investment, but an expense.

Joe Verrengia addressed these negative projections and explained how Arrow Electronics sees ROI on CSR – starting with the Company’s brand itself — and to think about who we are as a foundation.

His company’s lessons were a valuable sharing for the conference participants:

  • Besides have ROI clearly demonstrated by direct numbers of additional revenue, for Arrow, ROI is generated through employee recruitment and retention, in that CSR can lead to greater employee pride.
  • Today, for example, 80% of millennial choose work for a purpose-driven company. And 99% of Arrow’s interns decide to come back to work. ROI also comes from customers’ loyalty — 223 of Arrow’s customers now expect Arrow to be a good corporate citizen and demand annual proof of CSR through questionnaires.
  • Because of Arrow’s work on humanitarian technology solutions, the firm also has attracted new customers who have seen the Company’s work on these projects and recognized that Arrow not only has the solutions expertise they need, but also shares the same values as well.
  • Then there is ROI from “Brand”, which is reputational ROI. Arrow’s CSR technology projects have generated nearly two billion media impressions and more than 600 news stories in just a few years. The earned media value and the calculated brand value of these projects far exceeded what they cost.
  • Arrow’s CSR program has a focus on guiding innovation that improves lives and provides opportunity. The CSR program is demonstrated through humanitarian projects, community investment, employee engagement and corporate reporting.

For the purpose of measuring CSR program and score progress, Arrow has developed an engagement rating system by which the Company evaluates CSR partners and projects. The 10 categories of engagement include Innovation; CSR category alignment; Brand elevation; Social impact; Business development potential; Executive support; Arrow locations; Stature; Arrow V alignment; and, Employee Engagement.

Arrow believes “Five Years Out” is the tangible future, and the Company’s innovations can make the world a better place for us all – now and five years out, which is exactly a 21st Century Corporation approach.

Note:  this commentary featured just two of the event’s panels.  An agenda for the day can be found here.  Follow Skytop Strategies meetings calendar for the 2018 conference with the 21st Company thematic: https://skytopstrategies.com/

Harvard Business Review – Increased Focus on Corporate Sustainability, Convening CEOs for Critical Conversations on the Theme

Harvard Business Review is one of the most powerful of external influences for the corporate C-suite.  Ideas, concepts and themes appearing in the pages (digital and print) of HBR create important initiatives in American companies. HBR editors are focusing these days on corporate sustainability in various dimensions.

Remember the debut of the “Shared Value” by Professor Michael Porter? Many first saw that concept introduced in the HBR pages.  A current project of HBR is the “Future Economy Project,” looking at business sustainability agendas and engaging CEOs for discussion on the theme.

A “virtual” roundtable with CEO’s was conducted to identify major themes of interest or concern to the business leaders.  Participants in the dialogue included Andrew Liveris, Dow Chemical Company; Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever; Doug McMillon, CEO, Wal-Mart; Henry Paulson, former Secretary of the Treasury and Chair, Paulson Institute; Marne Levine, COO, Instagram/Facebook; Dominic Barton, Global Managing Partner, McKinsey & Co.

The discussion was led by three leading academics and an industry expert; highlights are presented for you in the Top Story in this issue.  Here are a few top lines for you:

Paul Polman/Unilever saw the challenge of corporate sustainability as more clearly defining the “tactical” and “systemic” issues. And defining the terminology.  On tactics: labeling claims need to be clear about what standards to develop, and disclosure and materiality.  Systemic: system change, moving from short-term focus in politics and finance, and changing consumer preferences & habits.  These need to change at the systems level; the first step is identifying the problem.

Several of the CEOs said that companies are “becoming gradually more sustainable,” not at the speed needed, or the scale needed in the view of the session conveners.

Climate change is seen by CEOs in the context of minimizing risk; when more CEOs see this as an opportunity to drive innovations that are both financially and socially beneficial, “that will be interesting”.  CEO Andrew Liveris of Dow talked about his firm’s design of new and more sustainable product lines.

A shared observation:  Looking through the risk lens, if more companies did that, more product innovation and investment in more-resilient operations and supply chains would result. This can happen in different ways, such as value added by mitigation of 10% of carbon footprint.

An interesting part of the discussion was around the “ah-hah” moment that often occurs.  The transformation begins when there is a “spark” and things are seen in different ways.  The former CEO of Rainforest Alliance described that when corporate managers went into the field to see sustainability forestry, or sustainable farming, they are no longer “far removed” from it.  They see sustainability can be life-changing.

The Millennial generation has a different view of business in society; more senior managers have to take their views into consideration.  Along these lines, getting “others’” point of view is important. There has been a “sea change” in company-NGO engagement.  Company and NGO goals, expectations and parameters can be better aligned. A common language can evolve.

And investors’ points-of-view are important to the CEOs.  Unilever’s Polman and McKinsey CEO Dominic Barton talked about shifting their investor base to attract more investors who really care about long-term value creation.  But, the current emphasis on short-term in the investor universe is a challenge to address.

On long-term value:  One-in-five dollars in the USA is in ESG investments. Investors are interested in sustainability.  This creates an opportunity for companies. One of the focal points for companies could be the Sustainable Development Goals as roadmap for companies – leveraging the SDGs could help to create more systemic change.

A theme of the HBR: “We believe in climate change and we’re taking action.”  This was in part stimulated by the U.S. government’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.  “The upside of the sustainability agenda is clear,” the project managers say. The pursuit of sustainable processes up and down the supply chain can translate into immediate savings (one example).  So, too, reducing energy use and embracing renewable energy.  There’s more information for you at:https://hbr.org/2017/08/future-economy

The academics convening the discussion above were:  Michael Toffel and Rebecca Henderson at Harvard Business School; Tensie Whelan, NYU Stern School of Business; and, Andrew Winston of Winston Eco-Strategies.

 

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FUTURE THINKING
(Wednesday – December 06, 2017)
Source: Harvard Business Review – Harvard Business Review interviewed the CEOs and other business leaders who signed up to the Future Economy Project, our initiative spotlighting businesses’ sustainability agendas. We then virtually convened the project’s….