Questions We Are Thinking About in the Midst of Major Disruption on Sustainable Investing Trends & Corporate Sustainability Journeys

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

As the global coronavirus pandemic continues to uproot our normal business, financial, economic and personal pursuits, questions that we could logically ask are…

(1) what impact does the virus crisis have on the ongoing corporate sustainability / ESG / citizenship efforts; and

(2) what is the investor reaction – does the move into more sustainable / ESG investment vehicles continue?

Some answers come from Sanghamitra Saha, of Zack’s, writing in Yahoo Finance – “Here’s Why ESG ETFs Are Hot Amid Pandemic”.

He begins by explaining that ESG investing has remained “hot” since the pre-outbreak period, and as Wall Street recorded its worst quarter overall since Q 2008, ESG ETFs appeared [somewhat] resilient to acute selloffs in Q1 2020. (Read, he says: “ESG ETFs Appear Unscathed by the Coronavirus Carnage”.)

These investment vehicles had US$8 billion-plus inflow in 2019, four times their total 2018 inflow. In the first three months of 2020 the flow into ESG Exchange Traded Funds was $6.7 billion — pushing total assets in such funds to $19 billion (only a bit less than the total in February 2018).

Several of these ETFs outperformed the S&P 500® and came close to the Nasdaq performance (which has been the hot place for returns in 2020, bouncing close to the 9000 mark as we write this).

What are some of the reasons for such outperformance even during the virus crisis?

The author shares perspectives from Morningstar and Bloomberg, and presents data on performance on some of the ETFs offered by Nuveen, State Street SPDRs, Vanguard, and iShares MSCI.

We’ve been seeing news and commentary about this trend since the start of the virus crisis as investors seek out what they consider to be more resilient, “safer” companies as packaged in the respective ESG ETFs.  What are public company managements doing to be part of this trend?

Mary Mazzoni, Senior Editor of Triple Pundit and Managing Editor of CR Magazine, shares news from the corporate sector in “Sustainability Isn’t Stopping:  Just Ask These Companies.”

The firms and the stories of their continuing sustainability journeys that she profiles include Bayer and Microsoft.

She begins by addressing the comments of business columnist John D. Stoll in The Wall Street Journal…that “several top companies are starting to put the brakes on their ESG programs due to economic strain…”

Pushing back in TriplePundit:  “Right now we’re all understandably consumed with the human suffering and economic strain posed by the pandemic…but we’re not convinced we’ll see a sunsetting of sustainability – and the eight corporate examples are just some of the reasons why…”

The two Top Stories present the two answers to the questions posed up top.  And throughout the collection in this week’s newsletter you’ll see other answers presented in slightly different form.

The good news from the G&A Institute offices is that our corporate clients continue with vigor and strong commitment on their respective sustainability journeys, even as operations are disrupted by the virus crisis.

Managers tell us that questions from their investors about sustainability, ESG and related issues continue to increase, and major customers continue to ask questions related to their own supply chain management.

2020 is a challenging year – and sustainable, resilient companies are stepping up to meet the challenges, setting a welcome pace.

Top Stories

Here’s Why ESG ETFs Are Hot Amid Pandemic
Source: Yahoo Finance – Environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) investing has remained a hot favorite among investors since the pre-outbreak period. Wall Street recorded the worst quarter to start 2020 since the fourth quarter of 2008. But ESG ETFs appeared somewhat resilient to acute selloffs in Q1 (read: ESG ETFs Appear Unscathed by the Coronavirus Carnage).

Sustainability Isn’t Stopping: Just Ask These Companies
Source: Triple Pundit – Over the weekend, a sustainability-focused Wall Street Journal article started making the rounds on social media. In it, business columnist John D. Stoll notes that several top companies are starting to pump the brakes on their…

And here’s some additional perspectives on the two questions to mull over:

Seven Ways To Make Business Truly Sustainable Post-COVID
Source: Forbes – We humans are a spectacularly resilient species. Wars, famines, plagues, economic crashes – we dust ourselves off and press on. So we will get beyond COVID-19. But is it too much to hope that, devastating as the virus’s effects…

Can companies still afford to care about sustainability?
Source: FT – Note — Please use the sharing tools found via the share button at the top or side of articles. Copying articles to share with others is a breach of FT.com T&Cs and Copyright Policy….

Moving The World Forward Toward a More Sustainable Future: The Member Nations of the United Nations, Working Collaboratively For Progress in the 21st Century

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

“The United Nations” began as a World War II-era strategy as President Franklin D. Roosevelt talked about the allies of the United States of America partnering in the fight to save democracy and collectively battling the regimes of fascist dictators in Europe and Asia.

On January 1, 1942, 26 nations “united” in Washington DC to coordinate the battle with the “Axis” powers.  (“Axis” – the axis line, said President Roosevelt, ran from Berlin (Germany) through Rome (Italy) and to Tokyo (Japan) – the clear linkage in his mind of the fascist leadership.)

In February 1942 the president addressed the nation in his 20th “fireside chat” (broadcasting nationwide on “the radio”) to talk about the progress of the war.

The U.S. was coming from far behind in terms of preparedness for a global battle, and so an important part of the progress in this, the start of the first year of U.S. involvement in the global conflict, President Roosevelt explained to the nation of 125 million souls:

“The United Nations constitutes an association of independent peoples of equal dignity and equal importance. The United Nations are dedicated to a common cause. We share equally and with equal zeal the anguish and the awful sacrifices of war. In the partnership of our common enterprise, we must share in a unified plan in which all of us must play our several parts, each of us being equally indispensable and dependent one on the other.

“We have unified command and cooperation and comradeship. We of the United Nations are agreed on certain broad principles in the kind of peace we seek. The Atlantic Charter applies not only to the parts of the world that border the Atlantic [Ocean)] but to the whole world; disarmament of aggressors, self-determination of nations and peoples, and the four freedoms – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.”

The leader of the free world of that era envisioned an global organization that could bring about a new world ordering, to assure greater peace and prosperity to many peoples of the world.  President Franklin Roosevelt passed away in April 1945; soon the global conflict ended; and then what he long envisioned became the possible:

On October 24, 1945, 50 nations gathered in San Francisco to sign on to the “United Nations Conference on International Organizations” – and the UN as we know it today was launched.  (We celebrate UN Day on 24 October in commemoration of that historic event.)

Today the UN has 193 members – sovereign states that have equal representation in the UN General Assembly. The UN is the world’s largest intergovernmental organization – a forum for governments, not a world government.  And within the organization are important initiatives that have been shaping corporate responsibility, corporate citizenship, sustainability, and for capital markets, as well as for sustainable investing.  These are agencies, programs, institutes, global collaborations, and other entities.

You know some of them as the UN Principles for Responsible Investing (PRI); the UN Global Compact (UNGC); the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); the work of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP).

Today we are hearing quite a bit in the corporate sector and in the capital markets about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted 1948); the UN has been the driving force behind 80-plus “human rights laws”.  Consider:  the declaration has been translated into 380 languages to date, says the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights..

We are sharing with you three recent highlights from the UN universe.   First, an update from the UNGC CEO Lisa Kingo, stressing that now is the time for society to invest in the 1.5C future…”there never has been a time”, she points out, “like today for coming together and jumpstarting a worldwide transformation towards a more inclusive and sustainable net-zero economy.”

Also from the UNGC, news of the launch of the Ocean Stewardship 2030 Report – to be a roadmap for how ocean-related industries and policymakers can jointly secure a healthy and productive ocean by 2030.

We are now in the Decade of Action on the Global Goals (the SDGs). The UNGC is an initiative of the UN Secretary General, a call to companies everywhere to align their operations and strategies with 10 universal principles focused on human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption.

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is today an independent global foundation that was birthed by the United Nations, building on the principles advanced for corporate responsibility by the NGO Ceres (based in Boston). An organization known for a philosophy of “constant improvement”, GRI recently organized an Agriculture and Fishing Project Working Group that will lead the work to create a new sustainability standard for ag & fishing.

This is part of the work of GRI’s New Sector Program – a multi-stakeholder group will move forward the initiative to help companies with ag and fishing in their value chains promote transparency and accountability, and better understand their role in sustainable development.

It’s almost 80 years now since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt – one of the most progressive leaders in U.S. history – conceived of the “united nations”, as a necessity to bring together the resources of other nations to fight a war on all of the continents, whose outcome was then uncertain.  And then to assure the peace and work to end wars, or at least settle disputes peacefully.

In November 2010 Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon noted:  “Sadly, FDR never saw the fruits of his efforts.  He died weeks before the founding conference. Yet his vision lives on in the UN Charter’s collective commitment to peace and security, economic and social welfare, tolerance and fundamental human rights.  Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms. This legacy of multilateral cooperation guides us today…”

Well said!

Top Stories

OOPS
In the June 8th issue of our newsletter (Highlights), with headline “Will We Ever See SEC Rules/Guidance for Corporate ESG Disclosure and Reporting?  The Question Hangs in the Wind..”  We incorrectly identified the corporate reporting regulations being reviewed by the Securities & Exchange Commission – should have said “Reg S-K” (not Reg F-D).  Sorry for the any confusion caused.  A more complete commentary on all of this is here on our blog.

Titles Matter to Provide Context and Direction – For Corporate Leaders and the Providers of Capital

May 14 2020

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

Shorthand terms in business and finance do matter – the “titling” of  certain developments can sum up trends we should be tuning in to.  Some examples for today: Sustainable Capitalism  – Stakeholder Primacy – Sustainable Investing – Corporate Sustainability – Corporate ESG Performance Factors – Environmental Sustainability – Corporate Citizenship…and more.

These are very relevant and important terms for our times as world leaders grapple with the impacts of the coronavirus, address climate change challenges, as well as addressing conditions of inequality, have/have not issues, questions about the directions of the capital markets, ensure issuer access to long-term capital…and more.  And, as influential leaders in the private, public and social sectors consider the way forward when the coronavirus crisis begins to wind down.

For investors and corporate sector leaders, the concept of shareholder primacy was more or less unchallenged for decades after World War II with the rise of large publicly-traded corporations – General Electric! — that dominated the business sector in the USA and set the pace other companies in the capital markets.

But as one crisis followed another – the names are familiar — Keating Five S&L scandal, Drexel Burnham Lambert and junk bonds, Tyco, Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia Cable, Arthur Andersen, the Wall Street research analysts’ debacle (Merrill Lynch et al), Lehman Bros and Bear Stearns, Turing Pharmaceutics, on to Wells Fargo, Purdue Pharma and its role in the Opiod crisis – over time, increasing numbers of investors began to seriously adjust they ways that they evaluate public companies they will provide vital capital to in both equities and fixed-income markets.

Investors today in this time of great uncertainty are focused on: which equity issue to put in portfolio that will stand the test of time; whose bonds will be “safe”, especially during times of crisis; which corporate issuer’s reputation and long-term viability is not at risk; where alpha may be presented as portfolio management practices are challenged by macro-events.

This is about where the money will be “safer” overall, and provide future value and opportunity for the providers of capital – because there is great leadership in the board room and executive offices and resilience in crisis is being demonstrated.

As we think about this, the questions posed in context (virus crisis all around) are:  Why has sustainable investing gone mainstream?  What can savvy boards and C-Suite leaders do to exert leadership in corporate sustainability?  Where is sustainable capitalism headed?  How do we identify great leadership in the corporate sector in times of crisis?

Our choice of featured stories up top for you this week provide some interesting perspectives on these questions.

And, we’ve tried to illustrate the embrace of sustainability as a fundamental organizing principle today of great corporate leaders.  As well as explaining the continuing embrace of sustainable investing approaches of key providers of capital as a strategic risk management discipline — and proof of concept of acceptance of stakeholder primacy / sustainable capitalism in the 21st Century.

The other stories we’ve curated for you this issue of our newsletter help to broaden these perspectives that are offered up in these challenging times from thought leaders.

As the ancient blessing/curse goes:  May we live in interesting times.

Featured Stories – The Two Critical Halves of Sustainable Capitalism, Issuers and Providers of Capital…

Concept: A well-structured sustainability committee not only serves a critical coordinating function, but also steers sustainability right to the heart of the company and the company’s strategy. Let’s take a look at how boards at some of the world’s leading companies have tackled this…

How Can Boards Successfully Guide a Transition to Sustainable Business?
Source: Sustainable Brands – The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are set to unlock $12 trillion in new business opportunities by 2030. Yet many companies are still stuck in the past. Over the next decade, businesses can either adapt and thrive or deny and, says the organization…

The evidence suggesting that boardrooms should prioritize sustainability is growing rapidly. On the one hand, there are increased risks associated with not prioritizing sustainability. On the other hand, the figures show the huge opportunities sustainability offers businesses. As a result, more and more, sustainability is positioned at the top of boards’ agendas.

Boards must put sustainability at the top of their agenda to thrive
Source: GreenBiz – Amidst the global COVID-19 crisis, there have also been glimmers of hope. A significant one is its impact on climate change. It’s estimated that global carbon emissions from the fossil fuel industry could fall by 2.5 billion…

During a recent CECP CEO Roundtable, current and former CEOs gathered virtually and shared insights from their perspectives on the business landscape. In these informative discussions, one executive noted that leadership, more so than having the right systems in place, is and will be integral as we navigate uncharted territory:

Pivoting with Moral Leadership
Source: CECP – During a recent CECP CEO Roundtable, current and former CEOs gathered virtually and shared insights from their perspectives on the business landscape. In these informative discussions, one executive noted that leadership, more so…

Bears watching:  On 8 April 2020 the European Commission published a consultation paper on its renewed sustainable finance strategy (the “Sustainability Strategy”). The Sustainability Strategy is a policy framework forming a key part of the European Green Deal, the EU’s roadmap to making the EU’s economy sustainable, including reducing net greenhouse gas emission to zero by 2050. Despite the inevitable recent shift of focus to measures dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, this remains a top EU priority and the outcome of this consultation may significantly affect :

European Commission Consultation on the Renewed Sustainable Finance Strategy
Source: National Law Review – The Sustainability Strategy is a policy framework forming a key part of the European Green Deal, the EU’s roadmap to making the EU’s economy sustainable, including reducing net greenhouse gas emission to zero by 2050. Despite the…

Confluence: Coronavirus Crisis, Climate Change, Global Warming, Sustainable Investing, Corporate Sustainability & Citizenship…Shaping These Times

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

Over the past several weeks we have been witnessing an important confluence of events, a critical convergence of forces — something we might call reaching a critical inflection point for the sustainability and well-being of our planet, people, plants, and yes, profits going forward. Consider:

The COVID-19 infection has now touched just about every sovereign state on Earth, shutting down the largest economy, that of the United States of America, as well as the economies of many European nations…and of course important parts of the world’s second largest economy, China.

As this was happening, the public conversations about the impacts of climate change and global warming on people, flora and fauna, and planet continued, with the worldwide observance of the 50th Earth Day. Attention on climate change has doubled down even in the face of a frightening disease and resulting economic turmoil.

Numerous conversations among science and climate experts, in media channels, among public sector leaders, and other stakeholders, focused on the possible links between the coronavirus (and other serious infections) and climate change.

Questions are raised:  What new diseases might emerge…what new vectors might we see, moving from tropics to temperate climes and carrying unfamiliar diseases.  What fate awaits humanity as in some countries we see systematic destruction of rain forests (the “lungs of the Earth”) and as populated cities continue to push farther into wilderness areas?  Do we know the effects, short- and long-term, on human, as the arctic tundra warms and releases microbes and other organisms stored there in colder climes for millennia?

As the world’s capital markets were being impacted by the virus crisis and shutdowns of entire economies, the focus on sustainable and impact investing has intensified.

(On one conference call this week, a lecturer pointed to ESG investing trends and explained, look at the more resilient and sustainable companies for opportunity in the crisis and as we emerge. The ESG leaders will be more attractive for investors.)

Early results showed that sustainable investments (especially ESG mutual funds and ETFs) were performing with more resilience than more traditional instruments in the slowdown and in the ongoing adjustments of institutional investors’ portfolios in response to the crisis. (The outflow of ESG ETFs and mutual funds were small than for traditional peers.)

The focus on the corporate sector intensified as the three important sectors of 21st Century economies struggled to adjust to the widespread effects of the virus crisis – that is, public sector (governments), private sector (corporate and business) and social sector (institutions, NGOs, foundations, charities, others, as first defined as the social sector by management guru Peter F. Drucker).

There is considerable public discussion now about what the “new normal” might look like as we emerge from the terrible effects of the coronavirus.  The confluence / convergence of recent events as outlined here will help to shape society in the near term — moving into the post-crisis period.

The G&A Institute team has been monitoring and sharing perspectives on the above and more in our usual communications channels. In these newsletters, in our Resource Guides, on our Sustainability Update blog.

You can check out our blog posts here.

We are offering perspectives in the ongoing series, “Excellence in Corporate Citizenship on Display in the Coronavirus Crisis”  — #WeRise2FightCOVID-19.

We offer here several features along the lines of the above themes of confluence / convergence of factors for you:

Featured Stories

Why we cannot lose sight of the Sustainable Development Goals during coronavirus
Source: World Economic Forum – Our world today is dealing with a crisis of monumental proportions. The novel coronavirus is wreaking havoc across the globe, upending lives and livelihoods.

An Earth Day CEO summit shows how dramatically corporate values have changed
Source: Fortune – This week marks the 50th anniversary of those nationwide environmental celebrations and “teach-ins” that came to be called Earth Day. From the largest 1970 gathering, in Fairmont Park in Philadelphia, to smaller marches and…

The Covid-19 crisis creates a chance to reset economies on a sustainable footing
Source: The Guardian – New Zealand climate minister says governments must not just return to the way things were, and instead plot a new course to ease climate change

50 years later, Earth Day’s unsolved problem: How to build a more sustainable world
Source: MSN/Washington Post – We haven’t quit the fossil fuels scientists say are warming the atmosphere and harming the Earth. Humans use more resources than the planet produces. Society has not changed course.

Addressing Supply Chain Challenges in the COVID-19 Era

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

Since the concept of a “new world order” helped to usher in a new era in global trade some 30+ years ago with the end of the Cold War, barriers to trade have continued to tumble. “GATT” (the “General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade” continuing rounds of global trade talks that began in 1947 under United States leadership) gave way to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995.  New rules were applied, and trade continued to become “more liberalized”.  Corporate interests responded with dispersal of many their operations.

Large manufacturing companies spread out their sourcing to many new areas of the world, building a substantial network of suppliers in far-off lands. Mid-sized and smaller firms followed the example and began to source globally.  Manufacturing moved from “home country” to be situated in many other countries over time.

As companies set up their operations in many countries and sourced almost everywhere on the globe; fleets of cargo vessels plied the seas with stacks of containers on their decks.

Result:  today’s diverse, complex, spread out networks of tier one, two and three suppliers, and non-home country factories and facilities — many in China and East Asia and Pacifica nations — have dramatically changed the face and very nature of “home country companies” (such as those based in North America and Western Europe).

Therein, we find the risk!  Today we present two commentaries for you on today’s global supply chains and how to make these more links less risky and more sustainable — and to address the inherent risk in the global supply chain mix.

Writing in SupplyChainBrain, David Cahn suggests “…it is essential for companies and their supply chains to realize that customers prefer to engage with organizations that are focused on environmental sustainability. Significant opportunities exist for leveraging people, processes and technologies to achieve operational efficiencies.”

He suggests five steps in “the Pursuit of Sustainability” that spans the corporate enterprise.  His five areas “ripe for improvement” include: sourcing; manufacturing; recycling; packaging; transportation. There are numerous tips in each of the categories that may be of value to your organization in his commentary.

Author David Cahn is global marketing director for Elemica, a Digital Supply Network for manufacturers that automates and provides visibility into supply chains.

Visibility and understanding the risks inherent in supply chains is important and our second commentary for you comes from our colleague Pam Styles, who poses the question:  “what’s in your supply chain mix”?

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed countless concerns for corporate managers, and for investors and providers of capital — including global supply chain management issues, Pam writes.  And, she suggests, ESG/sustainability practitioners may be able to offer unique vantage to assist the debrief in collaboration with company supply chain experts and management teams.

Her comments are directed at investor relations officers (IROs) who are on point to answer analyst and investor questions about supply chain risks and issues as well as to corporate ESG practitioners.

Pam concludes: When it comes to Sustainability – climate change is important but supply chain is urgent.  Pam is a long-time Fellow of G&A Institute and a valued collaborator on client projects. She is a long-time member of NIRI and the NIRI Senior Roundtable.

Featured Stories

The Pursuit of Sustainability Spans the Enterprise
Source: Supply Chain Brain – These days, it’s essential for companies and their supply chains to realize that customers prefer to engage with organizations that are focused on environmental sustainability. Significant opportunities exist for leveraging…

Corporate ESG Stakeholders – Supply Chain Management – What’s in Your Supply Chain Mix?
Pam Styles commentary in G&A Institute’s Sustainability Update blog:
Does your company regularly review and remediate identifiable aggregate risks across the company’s supply chain and associated third-party relationships?

 

Boston Common Asset Management – Staying the Course, With Adjustments

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

Boston Common Asset Management with offices in Boston and San Francisco has been a sustainable and responsible investor since its founding in 2003.  The clients served are endowments, foundations, religious/faith-based groups, pension funds, family offices, and mission-driven organizations.

Part of its mission is to strive to improve corporate behaviors and responsibilities through engagement with corporate boards and executives and being active in proxy season with filing of resolutions, supporting other institutions doing the filing (often through collective actions) and voting practices.   Of course, like other asset managers, Boston Common is challenged as well by the changes brought about by the spreading coronavirus.

The Earth Day message from Lauren Compere, Managing Director of Boston Common included these points:

  • The firm’s focus is on both local and global issues – such as the health and safety of our community, planet and Boston Common’s impact as an active, engaged investor. Even as the impacts of COVID-19 are addressed, the work must go on in addressing systemic risk, especially the climate crisis.
  • Engagements (with companies) have not changed, but the tenor and lens through which public companies are evaluated and act will change.
  • Boston Common feels it is important in the crisis for portfolio companies to prioritize stakeholder well-being and the firm commends those companies that step up to show leadership.
  • At the same time, some companies are being called out – those firms that are price gouging, firing employees who are concerned about their health, and limiting access to much-needed products on the front lines.

What Boston Common is doing:

  • Having direct dialogue with company managements.
  • Working with investor networks and partners.
  • Looking at its own “responsible business” practices.
  • Planning and re thinking its future work.

Some specifics:

Company Engagements — Issues include human rights, eco-efficiency, climate risk. The changed tone is having more empathy, with more personal tone in these engagements.  Company responses are applauded and accountability is discussed – balancing interests of shareholders and stakeholders.

Working in Partnerships and Coalitions — The ICCR is a key partner of Boston Common, which is a signatory of the “ICCR Coronavirus Investment Statement” on workplace and supplier practices, and engagement of pharma companies to coordinate & collaborate on urgent medical needs. Link: http://ga-institute.com/Sustainability-Update/watching-the-watchers-what-investors-esg-raters-are-doing-in-the-virus-crisis/

PRI:  The firm joined the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), which has awarded Boston Common an A+ rating for our consecutive years.

Boston Common itself, a B-Corporation, is taking these actions:

  • Continuing to pay composting, cleaners, other contract vendors who rely on the income.
  • Supporting local food banks and social agencies addressing urgent community needs in Boston and San Francisco, contributing to date $26,630 in firm and employee-donated funds.
  • Future Focus” includes a “refresh” of engagement priorities and investor and private sector actions.  A range of societal issues that have been in the spotlight during the crisis must be addressed:  how work is valued; the need for a sustainable living wage; public health risks posed by industrial agriculture and food insecurity; unequal healthcare access and outcomes for low-income and communities of color; corporate tax practices, need for investment in healthcare infrastructure, social safety nets…and more.
  • Boston Common is adjusting the lens through which the firm examines its “asks” of companies and actions, and keeping systemic risk in focus (such as for issues like climate change, digital human rights, environmental protections as EPA rolls back the regs, controversial energy projects.)

Much will change with the virus crisis, MD Lauren Compere points out. “We must ensure that as investors we memorialize the lessons learned in this crisis, empowering companies to manage for the long-term, with a focus on joint recovery and prosperity as the world emerges from lockdown.”

Boston Common has long been a proponent for responsible behavior of corporations and investors and regularly joins with other asset managers in initiatives to drive change.

The issues involved include Amazon de-forestation, climate change and the portfolio risk posed by fossil fuel, urging the Detroit Big 3 (GM, Ford, Fiat-Chrysler) to drop opposition to California’s waiver authority on auto emissions standards, encouraging boards to include more diversity in director choices, and bank financing of controversial projects such as the Dakota Access Pipeline.

About the name:  Many people have visited the beautiful Boston Commons in the middle of this New England city.  The firm’s name comes from the concept of standing at the intersection of the economic and social lives of the community; the “universal commons” is the firm’s shared mission and vision.

Information: https://bostoncommonasset.com/Membership/Apps/Boston_HP_Input_App.aspx 

 

Watching the Watchers – What Investors & ESG Raters Are Doing in the Virus Crisis

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

As we have numerous times in this space commented about the dramatic shift from a shareholder primacy focus (for public companies and investors) to today’s stakeholder primacy operating environment, the views of key stakeholders – investors, and their service providers – are critical during the virus crisis.

Today we’re sharing the actions and perspectives of the investor-stakeholders…as the investor coalition in our first item notes…

“…the long-term viability of the companies in which we invest is inextricably tied to the welfare of their stakeholders, including employees, suppliers, customers and communities…”


Investor Coalition Focuses on Corporate Response to the Crisis

The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, a coalition of 300 institutional investors long focused on corporate responsibility and sustainability, joined forces with the Office of New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer and Domini Impact Investments LLC to develop an “Investment Statement on Coronavirus Response” — to urge the business community to take what steps they can and offered five (5) steps for corporate managements to consider.

These include:

  • Providing paid leave – emergency leave for all employees, including temps, part-timers, and subcontracted workers.
  • Prioritizing health and safety – limiting exposure to COVID-19, rotating shifts, enhancing protective measures, closing locations, setting up remote work, additional training where appropriate.
  • Maintaining employment – retain workers as much as possible; a well-trained and committed workforce will help companies resume operations quickly; also, companies should watch for potential discriminatory impact during and after the crisis.
  • Maintaining supplier/customer relationships – As much as is possible, companies should maintain timely or prompt payments to suppliers and work with customers facing financial challenges to help stabilize the economy, protect communities and small businesses, and ensure a stable supply chain will be in place when operations return to normal.
  • Practice financial prudence – the investors state they expect the highest level of ethical financial management and responsibility in the period of (acknowledged) financial stress. As “responsible investors” (the signatories) the expectation is that companies will suspend share buybacks, and limit executive and senior management compensation for the duration of the crisis.

Beyond these, the investors urged companies to consider such measures as childcare assistance, hazard pay, assistance in obtaining government aid for suppliers, paying employee health insurance for laid off/furloughed workers, and deploying resources to meet societal needs related to the pandemic.

Over the past few years, the investor coalition points out, corporations have shown leadership by using their power as a force for tremendous good. This kind of leadership if critically needed now. And, business reputation and social license to operate is at stake.

As we prepare this about 200 long-term institutional investors with AUM of US$5 trillion had signed on to the effort, including: the AFL-CIO funds, American Federation of Teachers, Aviva Investors, Boston Common Asset Management, the Chicago City Treasurer, Communications Workers of America, Connecticut State Treasurer Shawn T. Wooden, Delaware State Treasurer, Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Investor Environmental Health Network, Office of Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Oregon State Treasurer, Robeco, SEIU, UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust, Treasurer of the State of Maryland, Vermont State Treasurer, and a large roster of faith-based institutions and religious denomination funds.

#  #  #

Walking-the-Talk of Corporate Responsibility

Refinitiv provides investors with ESG ratings and perspectives on corporate ESG performance and builds ESG / sustainability considerations into products and services for investor clients. The company announced what it is doing to maintain its forward ESG momentum during the crisis.   And the changes will over time affect the public companies that are rated and ESG news distributed worldwide by Refinitiv. 

On Earth Day 2020, the folks at Refinitiv – this is one of the world’s largest providers of financial information – announced the beefing up of their own operations…walking the talk of what they provide to investor clients in terms of ESG Data and solutions for evaluating public companies’ ESG performance.

Refinitiv is putting in place for itself more stringent, science-based emissions targets, climate change reporting standards to meet the TCFD’s recommendations, and is joining the RE100 initiative to source 100% of its electricity from renewables.

Refinitiv had made three core pledges on the environment, social impact and sustainable solutions to support the UN SDGs. Part of this was a goal of achieving carbon neutrality before the end of 2020. The company is joining the Business Ambition For 1.5C commitment; aligning its own corporate reporting with the Task Force for Climate-Related Disclosures (the TCFD); and by this coming summer should be 100% in terms of how they source energy from renewables.

Refinitiv recently launched “The Future of Sustainable Data Alliance” to accelerate the mobilization of capital into sustainable finance, and will work to sustainability “at the core of product offerings”. Refinitiv serves more than 40,000 institutions in 190 countries, providing ESG data for 15+ years.

We can expect that these moves will result in the intensifying of the evaluation of corporate sustainability efforts by this major financial information provider. As the Refinitiv CEO David Craig comments:

The pandemic is clearly providing humanity with a re-set moment: a stark reminder about our fragility as a species and a sharp lesson about what happens when we mess with nature. It is also a moment when the old rules about the role of the state no longer apply. We can therefore attack the twin challenges of COVID-19 and climate change simultaneously, not sequentially. After all, when again will we be at a moment when governments are injecting such unprecedented sums into the economy just as the world needs up to $7 trillion a year of renewable investments to hit 2030 development and climate targets.”

Luke Manning, Global Head of Sustainability and Risk Enterprise at Refinitiv, adds:

Our commitment is going further than before and aiming for more ambitious emissions reductions that – if repeated by businesses across the world – should limit atmospheric warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. If we want to truly progress the climate agenda we need to help everyone understand that tackling it is in all our personal and financial self-interest. It’s not just about the impact we are having on the environment, but the impact the environment is having on us.

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Morningstar Acquires Full Ownership in Sustainalytics

Morningstar, a leading firm in providing investment research to individual and institutional investors in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia-Pacific region, began measuring the performance of ESG-focused mutual funds and ETFs three years ago. As part of the initiative, Morningstar acquired a 40% interest in the ESG ratings organization, Sustainalytics.

Now, that interest will be 100% as Morningstar solidifies its competitive advantage in measuring the performance of ESG investable products. Says CEO Kamal Kapoor:

“Modern investors in public and private markets are demanding ESG data, research, ratings, and solutions in order to make informed, meaningful investing decisions. From climate change to supply-chain practices, the nature of the investment process is evolving and shining a spotlight on demand for stakeholder capitalism. Whether assessing the durability of a company’s economic moat or the stability of its credit rating, this is the future of long-term investing.

“By coming together, Morningstar and Sustainalytics will fast track our ability to put independent, sustainable investing analytics at every level – from a single security through to a portfolio view – in the hands of all investors. Morningstar helped democratize investing, and we will do even more to extend Sustainalytics’ mission of contributing to a more just and sustainable global economy.”

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As companies large and small, public and private, step up to help society during the virus crisis, they burnish their reputation and social license to operate.And help society cope with the impact of the crisis on individuals, families, communities and institutions. 

We’re bringing you the news of those corporate actions.  And, we’re watching the investment community for their reactions, and their intention to encourage public companies to stay the course of their sustainability journey during the virus crisis.  Stay Tuned to this blog. 

It’s Earth Day Again – Let’s Celebrate – and Pledge Again to Defend Mother Earth!

For Earth Day – Plus 50 – April 22, 2020

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

The first Earth Day was the idea of and championed by a United States Senator, Democrat Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin on April 22, 1970. Fifty years ago!

Let’s also celebrate his life (1916-2005) and the environmental movement he helped to launch as we observe Earth Day 2020.

For those of us who were not around back in the day, I will also offer up some background for you as we celebrate the 50th Earth Day.

Why Earth Day?
In 1970, there were too many assaults on the nation’s environment. On Our Good Earth with air, water, soil polluted – in many parts of the nation, we were really heavily polluted!  (There are still SuperFund sites being cleaned in many states.)

The American landscape was rich with manufacturing facilities and processing plants, located in every state. Our manufacturing and processing exports in the post-WW II period comprised fully one-quarter and more of all world trade.

The generosity of the U.S. in creating the Marshall Plan to help our former wartime enemies build up their economies and our WW II allies’ economies fueled the exports of American-made goods. 

Even today, U.S. manufacturing (really cleaner!) accounts for half of U.S. exports. U.S. manufacturing today by itself makes up the world’s 10th largest economy (ahead of China, Japan, Germany and many other manufacturing centers). But back in the day…

The Importance of U.S. Manufacturing in the Post War
After World War II, the U.S. was the dominant manufacturing center of the world. Germany and Japan factories were coming back on line, having suffered tremendous damage [to each country’s industry].

Early in the post-WW II period many European companies began setting up factories in the U.S. (chemicals, pharma) — and many of those companies were serious polluters here, as they were in Europe. (One reason why European investors were early adopters of ESG approaches – not often discussed.)

In 1951, “re-armament” was in full gear and the Cold War was on. Military production was greater than for consumer goods – and that meant many more plants would be turning out goods without necessarily protecting the environment around the plant. (“In the national interest…”)

Solvents used for manufacturing would go into the ground. Emissions from toxic fumes, into the air. Solid and liquid waste – into ground, or waters (streams, bays, rivers, oceans). As consumer goods manufacturing rose, a “Guns & Butter” economy emerged in the U.S., with the factories running in two or three shifts. Out put steadily rose. So, too, nasty byproducts.

The steady assault on Mother Earth by industry and governments steadily rose.

Among the catalysts for action after two decades:

The Cayuhoga River, flowing through Cleveland, Ohio, the industrial city on the Great Lakes, caught fired and the junk on top burned. (Noontime, June 22, 1969 – a five story fire flashed out of the river in the downtown!) Info at: https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/63

A huge oil spill just offshore fouled the beaches of Santa Barbara, California. January 28, 1969 – 3 million gallons of crude spilled off the shoreline of the beautiful city by Union Oil (now Unocal), leaving an oil slick of 35 miles in length along the California shores…killing bird, fish, mammals (and tourism!). 1,000 gallons of oil per hour flowed for a month.

The federal government had relaxed the regulations on casing around the drilling hole and an explosion ripped the sea floor. (Sound too familiar in 2020?)

The federal government did stop offshore drilling for a few years (in the state’s waters) but then that restriction was relaxed and The Los Angeles Times (which has covered the story for five decades) says today there are 23 oil and gas leases in state waters.

The California spill is considered a catalyst for the modern environmental movement. Richard Nixon was a California native — then sitting in the Oval Office — and was moved to action shortly after the spill.

The LA Times coverage is at: https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-santa-barbara-oil-spill-1969-20150520-htmlstory.html

In the eastern U.S., the trees on mountaintops were constantly seared and leaves gone, branches standing naked of greenery. The “acid rain” coming from parts of the nation to the west wafted high up and denuded New York and New England mountaintop greenery (that was SOX, NOX, etc from smokestacks carried far to the east on the higher winds).

Those with light color cars would be scrubbing the dark stains running vertically on the vehicle. Acid rain streaks. We saw those on our homes (the white paint, the rain gutters, these would be streaked with black stain).
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/09/980928072644.htm

Personal Remembrances
As a boy, heading in the car to Manhattan or Brooklyn with family, I remember being curious about the large black, brown, yellow clouds hovering above the Empire State Building or Chrysler Building in midtown. Wafting along, at leisurely pace. You could “smell” the city as you approached. There was often a coating of soot on my shirt or coat when I returned home.

“Smog” enveloped many American and European cities. (Fog and smoke.) I have written a few times about my flying through or over city smog. Looking down below from the cockpit, thick yellow clouds often blanketed Manhattan on hot summer days. Flying through (at lower levels) I would be on instruments until I was safely over New Jersey’s rural parts heading west. And clean air again filled the cockpit!

You could always see the bellowing smoke coming out of New York City’s electric generating plants, furnaces fired by coal in those days.

For a time, to build flight hours, I flew around the city and suburbs on weekends broadcasting as “Captain Hank, Your Eye-in-the-Sky” for radio stations WGBB and WGSM. Checking on traffic to the beach, open spaces Jones Beach parking fields, fishing offshore, surfing at Gilgo Beach, and the like. Quite often I would be dodging in and out of smog banks that drifted eastward.

Up in Connecticut, driving one day along a river road, I was startled to see “rubber rocks” along the river bank. A large rubber tire company’s outflow of waste from the factory to the river had coated the rocks before heading downstream into Long Island Sound and then to the Atlantic Ocean. Everything would just disappear into the seas, right? (Prevalent thinking of certain business leaders at the time – externalize the crap and let someone else pay for results.)

Up in The Bronx (boro of New York City) and the northern parts of Manhattan, trucks would idle for hours as they picked up or dropped off food at the terminals…the children of minority populations living there had high rates of asthma. Part of the payment for the necessary local industry that employed their parents.

New York City – the Manufacturing Center!
It is hard to believe here in 2020, but New York City was once a mighty manufacturing city for goods now produced in Asia — apparel, footwear, jewelry and accessories. Also, for food and beverages (local beer manufacturers, sugar processing factories, colas). The Brooklyn Navy Yard produced mighty battleships and repaired aircraft carriers damaged in battle (the USS Enterprise).

Manufacturing is still big in Gotham City – but it is far cleaner, safer, more responsible in operations — by many magnitudes. https://nycfuture.org/data/manufacturing-in-nyc-a-snapshot

City of Transportation
New York has a magnificent harbor. The shorelines of Manhattan and Brooklyn boasted of many ocean shipping terminals for both passengers and cargo. Railroads ran along the shoreline (one abandoned line is now the High Line, an important Manhattan tourist attraction). The line brought carloads of meat to the west side, and then on to giant cruise ships of yesteryear.

Trucks ran uptown and downtown (my father owned a local trucking company and I would ride along on school breaks). The driver would back a truck up to the dock, load it, run around the city to deliver and pick up, bringing freight to the waiting rail cars along the docks, which would go on large barges over to New Jersey and out to the nation.

All of this activity pouring engine emissions into the air of New York, and with drip-drip-drip from transport machines (oil, gas, fluids) tricking down into the sewers and out to the rivers and out to the ocean.

This was at the height of 20th Century industrial America, the Arsenal of Democracy of World War Two. From east to west coasts and all through the heartland, factories poured out war materiel, and then shifted to peak production of peacetime goods for 1950s and 1960s consumer purchase. Along with Cold War materiel. Guns & Butter.

We were the world’s major manufacturing exporters, then, not China.

But at a cost. And so the rivers burning, smog choking the cities, creeks and bays and inlets and rivers and then oceans polluting.

Earth Day Helped to Change All of This – Looking Back, Rather Quickly
Senator Nelson was impressed by the 1960s “social revolution” with protest across the country as especially young men and women voiced their opposition to the status quo. Sit-ins were staged at universities to protest the draft and the Vietnam War. Marches took place in the south despite the marchers suffering beatings and arrests.

The senator was fascinated with civil rights sit-ins at southern soda fountains and marches by both black and white leaders — including many clergy and public officials. By the early organizing efforts to protect and ensure the rights of females and passage, state-by-state of the ERA – the Equal Rights Amendment (which failed to reach the votes to become part of the Amendments to the U.S. Constitution).

According to the Earth Day origin story, Senator Gaylord Nelson was thinking to himself: “If we could tap into the environmental concerns of the general public and infuse the student ant-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force the issue onto the national political agenda.” And he did!

He set up an “Environmental Teach-in” (like civil rights counter “sit ins”!) to tell the story of the environmental degradation of the country and send a call to action to college campuses and schools. (Hey, let’s do that again today — so many youngsters are at home in the digital classrooms during this virus crisis!)

The result in 1970 was that 20 million people — roughly one-of-10 citizens — participated that first Earth Day (and that would be like 33 million people celebrating Earth Day today, out of our 330 million population!).

The midterm elections of 1970 saw many long-standing members turned out and a new wave of consciousness sweep the country. President Richard Nixon and the U.S. Congress on January 1, 1970 moved to pass the National Environmental Protection Act – which created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Then came passage of Clean Water Act (1972), Clear Air Act, Endangered Species Act, RCRA (waste), SuperFund (CERCLA-1980), Wilderness Act (1974) and many more federal and state regulations.

The good news is that while Senator Nelson hoped to kick off a movement, he did — and observance of Earth Day took hold – the year 1990 (20 years in) saw the peak participation in the U.S. and by 2000 some 184 countries held formal observances. There’s interesting background at: http://www.nelsonearthday.net/earth-day/

Alas, here in April 2020 we are homebound and not able to march or gather in groups. But we do have our electronic platforms of all kinds – so let’s connect and celebrate Earth Day that way.

We only have one (Earth) to protect and in the spirit of Senator Gaylord Nelson and those early organizers, let’s say we are still here, still with you in spirit, and there is much work still to be done!

Happy Earth Day, Mother Earth!

Shared Perspectives
You might be interested in the environmental movement perspectives here from March/April 2005, my column from the former journal, Corporate Finance Review. Popular Movements: A Challenge for Institutions and Managers” – explaining the emergence of ESG and the Sustainability Movement.

When Sustainability Movement Champion Michael Bloomberg was Mayor of New York City, in April 2007 he delivered a wonderful speech – A Greener, Greater New York – presaging his wonderful work in helping many of the world’s cities make their environments safer and more sustainable. This is what great mayors do!

One of the influential voices following the lead of Senator Nelson in our time is Bill McKibben, whose books and extensive writing have helped to influence the more recent sustainability movement. He was interviewed by the Times Union (Albany , New York) newspaper for this year’s celebration. 

You can follow him on Twitter.

Can’t get into the streets today to help celebrate? Earth Institute at Columbia University offers some suggestions on sheltering in place and celebrating

Corporate ESG Stakeholders – Supply Chain Management – What’s in Your Supply Chain Mix?

By Pam StylesG&A Institute Fellow

The current COVID-19 pandemic has exposed countless concerns, including (global) supply chain management issues near the top of the list.

Public and private-sector professionals and officials are soon to be attempting to get economies back up and running. Following Herculean and likely imperfect restart efforts, it will be important to debrief supply chain systemic failures and risks that have been exposed during the pandemic crisis.

ESG/Sustainability practitioners may be able to offer unique vantage to assist the debrief in collaboration with company supply chain experts and management teams.

Well-established ESG tracking practices and voluntary reporting frameworks, such as GRI (est. 1997) and CDP (est. 2000), could possibly be used to expand internal information sharing and analysis to augment internal supply chain risk assessments, monitoring and oversight capabilities.

ESG reporting frameworks are not necessarily a perfect fit or infallible, however they could potentially provide existing information platforms from which to add and/or improve accessible reporting, analysis and assessment, and executive leadership observation in a multitude of strategic (multi) sourcing risk assessments and repositioning exercises to come.

As we all try to learn and make important changes going forward, important questions to ask:

What do you know about your company’s suppliers’ supply chain, their suppliers, and so on?

The Business Continuity Institute, Zurich Insurance Company and others have been raising the red flag for years that too many companies do not have full visibility of their supply chain, nor the ability to fully track components through the full vertical supply chain.

Just a few recent examples of how reality has suddenly struck some pharmaceutical, consumer products and electronics companies (the list of other sector impacts can go on):

  • U.S. Pharmaceutical supply chain dependencies on China were well known at high levels prior to COVID-19, but effectively nothing was done about it and consumers were unaware of the looming risk.
  • Consumer Products giant Procter & Gamble indicated 17,600 products could be affected by Coronavirus in China.
  • Apple is dealing with pandemic-driven supply chain and sourcing woes.

Back in 2008 PwC published a fascinating paper about German companies supply chain sourcing practices in China, in which it suggested companies take a closer look at their KPI’s.

Who should raise warning flags and influence corrective supply chain action?

Supply chains can be very complicated with many layers or tiers, all the way down to original raw materials source. Aggregate supply chain geographic risk management is surely challenging.

As a specialist at well-known Gartner Supply Chain observed, “COVID-19 should be a wake-up call to boards of directors, CEOs and supply chain leaders that being well prepared for disruptions, regardless of their cause, is not an optional extra. It is a business necessity.

Companies are learning painful lessons in the shortcomings of legal boilerplate risk disclaimer language in situations like today’s. These lessons should compel executive leadership and Boards to step-up their efforts and investment in overseeing supply chain strategy and active risk management mitigation.

Does your company regularly review and remediate identifiable aggregate risks across the company’s supply chain and associated third-party relationships?

As recently pointed out in a COVID-19 related article by another G&A Institute Fellow, Daniel Goelzer, “Internal auditors are missing key risks.” He went on to observe,

“The Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) has released its annual survey of Chief Audit Executives. The 2020 North American Pulse of Internal Audit “reveals serious gaps in internal audit’s coverage, with audit plans deficient in key risk areas.”

“For example, the IAA found that almost one-third of respondents did not include cybersecurity/information technology in their audit plans. In addition, more than half did not include governance/culture or third-party relationships, and 90 percent did not include sustainability.”

Postulating that the professional supply chain management tools kit is loaded with granularity to boggle the mind, it is fair to suggest the possibility that the many different tools may inadvertently complicate aggregate risk assessments.

Thus, we should think about whether there might be an opportunity for ESG/Sustainability professionals to constructively share their inherently top-down vantage and tools kit to assist companies with additional angles for risk assessment and oversight.

Brainstorming how the growing mainstream ESG/Sustainability field can help:

One gets a strong sense that professional supply chain experts across the board are now committed to re-engineer their collective body of knowledge and management resources to truly understand–down to the last pharmaceutical raw ingredient source, medical gear and equipment–the geographic and geo-political risks of their companies’ product vertical manufacturing and supplies.

First, let’s acknowledge that professional supply chain experts have a lot of knowledge, skills and complex management tools at their disposal that those outside their discipline know little about.

Second, kudos to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for their brilliance and ingenuity. Their recent reminder to all of us that, when a problem is large and complex and a fast solution is needed, it’s worth remembering the “keep it simple” concept.

Their challenge: emergency need to rapidly expand hospital bed and critical care capacity in multiple locations across the country.

Their solution: work with the infrastructure already there – large convention centers, empty hotels, and the like – and quickly retrofit them to meet the hopefully short-term surge capacity needs.

So now let’s apply the “keep it simple” concept, to think about what infrastructure we already have that can be efficiently and effectively adapted to immediate re-purpose, constructive to supply chain risk management.

Pre-dating the world’s awareness of the coronavirus COVID-19 crisis, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) stated in an article published November 15, 2019, that it “recognizes that joining the dots between corporate reporting and the practical changes needed to promote transparent supply chains can be challenging.”

In that same article, GRI announced its new two-year business leadership forum to help businesses work through challenges to bridge the gap between supply chain management and reporting. Your company may already use or be familiar with the GRI reporting framework.

Specific to supply chain, you might take another look at three GRI KPI sub-series: 204 – Procurement Practices, 308 – Supplier Environmental Assessment, and 414 – Supplier Social Assessment.

GRI is the oldest and most widely recognized voluntary ESG/Sustainability reporting framework and provides a wide range of supply chain related leadership interaction. It has alliances and synergies with the ISO certification standards and CDP, among other organizations.

Hence, GRI could be a robust resource to turn to for facilitating internal supply chain risk discussion, brainstorming and improvement.

CDP, originally known as the Carbon Disclosure Project, has grown beyond carbon to include a host of other key sustainability topics including supply chain. Several germane excerpts from the CDP Supply Chain Report 2018-2019:

  • Companies’ supply chains create, on average, 5.5 times as many greenhouse gas emissions as their own operations. (This hints at the veritable iceberg of suppliers beyond the companies’ direct control.)
  • Having a single, common disclosure platform is also proving to be beneficial. Amongst program members, 63% are currently using, or considering using, data from CDP disclosures to influence whether to contract with suppliers or not.
  • Managing supply chain risks, impacts, and capturing opportunities for sustainable value creation is complex. However, the fundamental steps are common across all organizations: understanding, planning and implementing. Learning from outcomes is essential in order to deepen and broaden the value of a Supply Chain strategy.
  • This year a record number of companies submitted disclosures on climate change. CDP supply chain members made requests to 11,692 suppliers, with 5,545 responses received from businesses headquartered across 90 different countries. This is a 14% increase on the 4,858 responses received in 2017.

Taking inspiration from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, a serious question to ask is whether either or both the existing GRI and CDP reporting and data analysis infrastructures could be used (1) ingeniously for a foundation from which to build or expand distance and country concentration inputs to provide additional foundation for sourcing risk analysis and oversight capabilities for companies, as well as (2) to facilitate improved global commerce and public stakeholders supply chain risk awareness?

Concluding Encouragement

To ESG/Sustainability practitioners:

Your reporting frameworks, databases and analytical tools may be well-positioned for collaborative solutions to help companies identify and address deep-tier supply-chain risks — both immediate (public health/safety) and longer-term (climate change) — that can and should now rise to a higher level of scrutiny.

When it comes to Sustainability – climate change is important, but supply chain is urgent.

Pamela Styles – Fellow G&A Institute – is principal of Next Level Investor Relations LLC, a strategic consultancy with dual Investor Relations and ESG / Sustainability specialties.

Technology: Providing Vital Components Influencing the Fight Against COVID-19

G&A Institute Team Note
We continue to bring you news of private (corporate and business), public and social sector developments as organizations in the three societal sectors adjust to the emergency. This is post #17 in the series, “Excellence in Corporate Citizenship on Display in the Coronavirus Crisis” –

16 April 2020   #WeRise2FightCOVID-19   “Corporate Purpose – Virus Crisis”

By Lama Alaraj – Sustainability Reporting Analyst-Intern at G&A Institute

As the tasks of our everyday world are put on hold, all around the world we are playing the waiting game, hoping for an end to this madness.

While at home, waiting for the world to be “normal” again, often our only source of communication with the outside is through our tech devices.

Without most people doing much to get ready for the unanticipated spread of the virus, technology for connecting with one another and the outside world was widely-available and already serving as our first source of comfort…and tech connectivity remains so during this crisis.

Where we stand today: Many sectors in our economies are muted and our reliance as a global society leaning on the digital world greater than ever.

What about after the crisis ebbs and then eventually passes? This is a survey of what is happening in the virus crisis and how tech companies are lending their support. And what developments during the crisis might be breakthroughs for future use.  Here is a round-up of what tech companies are doing in the virus crisis.

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Blue Dot
From the beginning of the crisis, this Canadian tech startup had caught on to the danger posed by virus even before the WHO released an official statement. Blue Dot used a cloud-based GIS platform that works to detect infectious disease outbreaks around the world. This sophisticated technology also uses AI to send alerts about diseases tailored to the affected region (source: Bluedot, 2020).

The power of knowledge enabled by these approaches to use of advanced technology is unrivaled. Artificial intelligence (AI) has the capability of harnessing a previously unthinkable amount of data to sift through, then applying results to an algorithm and calculating vital information that influences our responses (Source: Bowles, 2020).

Technology tools were not only able to detect the first few cases of COVID-19, but through this innovative software development, Blue Dot was able to predict the region the disease was going to spread to from the initial location at Wuhan.

The CBS Network program “60 Minutes” had a good look at the technology and approach behind the success of the Blue Dot detection capabilities.  The program:  ‘The Computer Algorithm That Was Among the First to Detect the Coronavirus Outbreak”.

Subtext:   On New Year’s Eve, a small company in Canada was among the first to raise the alarm about an infectious disease outbreak. Its computer algorithm calculated where the virus might spread next. The technology could change the way we fight another contagion.

You can see the segment here: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-outbreak-computer-algorithm-artificial-intelligence/

We are seeing the global tech giants partnering with the American government to fight against the pandemic. Supercomputers and Artificial Intelligence are the key components in the battle.

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The IBM supercomputer (Watson) is built to analyze standard mathematical problems utilizing AI to generate algorithms based on various models.

In Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the IBM technology was used to look at 8000 different drug compounds – quickly narrowed down to 77 that are believed to be possible components of a future vaccine (Gil, 2020).

This supercomputing / processing power has helped in the current crisis by being able to conduct rapid research that otherwise would have taken years.

Although technology has not yet found a solution for our current dilemma, the foundations and resources these companies are providing are based on valuable insights — giving us relief from trying to understand this disease completely in the blind.

The relationship between health and technology — which has been going on for years —  is now leading the fight in the combat zone.  And there are many promising opportunities for society in the post-crisis, thanks to tech advances.

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Microsoft – another global tech giant — has introduced a Healthcare chatbot. The bot uses machine learning to quickly assess COVID-19 symptoms and provide a resolution of whether you should stay home or seek medical help. The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is currently using this innovation.

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A statement from Alphabet’s Google Inc, and Apple Inc was released recently in regards to the latest development against the fight. The tech giants are now going to utilize AI through our smartphones in order to be able to track the movement of COVID-19.

The end result is that our smartphones will actually start sending us warnings when we have come into contact with a person who has tested positive with the deadly virus.

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Although this is an incredibly sophisticated innovation that can help us flatten the curve, where do we draw the line when it comes to AI and our morals and ethics?  And personal privacy?

There have been a lot of positive changes coming out from this sector that will aid the world’s health professionals with resources to speed up the process in finding a cure.

However, the concept of utilizing surveillance and accessing our private medical records is an area of concern for many. This exact turn in events is what makes humankind fear the coming of AI.

While economies around the world are experiencing a global shutdown and many are suffering due to this, some tech companies have actually experienced new growth.

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Zoom, a video conferencing application, actually experienced a dramatic surge in the amount of users (10X user growth just in days!).

Many people in all walks of life had to adapt quickly to the new norm and Zoom presented its platform as the easy, available answer to be able to connect multiple users at once making meetings, interviews, school classes possible. (The company did experience problems and suffered wide public criticism in the rollout to a broader audience, with many new users mostly unfamiliar with the platform.)

As Zoom shows, the world as we know it every day can be completely transformed in the blink of an eye.

In a world that has just turned dark, our strength must not be divided. Zoom in its concern for society gave us the platform to jump back into our accustomed social constructs in order to hold onto some sense of normal — but for many, through a digitalized lens.

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Bloomberg LP reported that Samsung was experiencing growth in the crisis. The company released their results for the Q1 with an unexpected increase in sales by 5%.

The positive performance of some tech companies can be attributed to the economic shock we are in due to the pandemic. The instantaneous lock-downs across the world changed the consumer demand pattern, where the almost-complete transition to work from home and adaptation to social distancing spiked a demand in video gaming — and thus demand for semiconductors that Samsung provided (Kim, 2020).

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Cautionary Note
The growth the companies are currently experiencing may not be sustainable throughout the rest of the year due to the continuing, aggressive economic downturn and spreading of the virus.

With all these changes that we are seeing it is important to take into account the concern that some may not be able to take part in this ongoing transition. Many businesses have completely shut down for the time being without being able to continue production from home.

We are asking ourselves the questions: What will happen to these concerns when the virus crisis levels off and then subsides? What will happen to their workers?

Moreover, in areas where poverty is more prevalent, and rural regions, there is a real digital divide. This is becoming quite evident in the crisis.

Not every household has access to the internet (or can afford access) and therefore individuals and families cannot take part in the current state of daily life.

The opportunity to cling on to some piece of our world as we knew it is not available to all. For example, there are many school children who currently are not able to attend school, and without technology are missing out on continuing their education. Often, this is simply because they do not have adequate access to the internet or a machine to use for their class work.

We are seeing companies in the tech industry doing their part through the donation of large sums of money to various needy causes.  Examples:

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Google has stepped up and is donating US$800 million to help governmental institutions and small businesses through this pandemic and economic crisis. The money will be supplied through channels of advertising credits/grants and loans (Zakir, 2020). Although this does not “fix” the detrimental effects of COVID-19, the tech giant provides temporary relief in dire times.

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Chuck Robbins, the CEO of Cisco released a statement that the company will be donating “$225 million in cash, in-kind and planned-giving” to support the cumbersome fight against the pandemic.

During times of crisis, of course we do need business leaders like this CEO to help to meet peoples’ needs in order to provide humanity with hope and comfort amid the chaos. That includes shifting from normal production to emergency supplies for the medical community.

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Honeywell has turned their operations over to producing N95 masks in their facilities, to help to address the global supply shortage. Efforts such as these are helping to make us more capable of coping through this crisis and the corporate contributions are helping buffer the severity of the pandemic.

The significance of the technology sector’s heavy involvement with the pandemic of today is no surprise. While many of us are sheltered at home, the internet has become our source of sanity. For many governments, artificial intelligence is their presumed knight in shining armor, ready to save the world.

I do believe that in the new normative we will not be shying away from our relationship with groundbreaking technology. However, there is much uncertainty in this transition.

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The Future Outlook
Our heavy dependence on the technology sector during this crisis is going to have dramatic impacts in our labor force, education and our various economic markets. Moreover, current global economies who do not have a developed technological sector may be left further behind and unable to reap benefits from the current against the pandemic.

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About the Author
Lama Alaraj
is a Sustainability Reporting Analyst-Intern at G&A Institute. She graduated from Dalhousie University (Canada) with a double major in economics and international development studies. Over the years, she developed a growing interest in the power of technology and how it manages to integrate in every sector in our global community.

In addition to the G&A analyst-internship, Lama is currently working as a marketing consultant for Web.com, a company built on web development.

Her personal goal is to take the knowledge she gains from this role and apply it extensively throughout any project or role she takes on.

Lama is very excited to be part of the G&A Institute community and to learn about how industries manage to adhere to their environmental responsibilities. Lama thinks that as the climate continues to change, the choices we make today are more vital than ever.

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G&A Institute Team Note

In this series we are bringing you news of private (corporate and business), public and social sector developments as organizations in the three societal sectors adjust to the emergency.

New items will be posted at the top of the blog post and the items posted today will move down the queue.

We created the tag “Corporate Purpose – Virus Crisis” for this continuing series – and the hashtag #WeRise2FightCOVID-19 for our Twitter posts. Do join the conversation and contribute your views and news.

Do send us news about your organization – info@ga-institute.com so we can share. Stay safe – be well — keep in touch!