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

These days the comparisons of companies in sectors and industries and among investment peers (those companies chasing similar sources of capital) are continuing to gain momentum.  There are numerous third party players busily analyzing, measuring and charting company ESG performance and producing scores, rankings, ratings and various kinds of comparisons (company-to-company, company to industry etc) for their investor-clients (asset owners and managers).

Companies typically get to see how they are doing when they inspect their ESG service provider profiles…but those data and information sets are not always publicly available.

So how should the person without access to the major ESG service providers’ confidential output understand where the public company sits in the views of the analysts (at least the highlights, such as scores assigned)?  Slowly but steadily some of the volumes of information provided to investor clients by the major ESG ratings agencies are making their way into public view.  For example, you can see a public company’s Sustainalytics highlights on Yahoo Finance. For Apple Inc. / NASDAQ: AAPL “ESG Total Score” information, click here.

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

Now a neat presentation comes our way from Visual Capital, authored by Jenna Ross.  This is a mapping of “The Countries with the Most Sustainable Corporate Giants”.  Remember BlackRock CEO Larry Fink’s letter to corporate CEOs urging them to serve a social purpose to deliver not only financial performance but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society?  Following that theme, Corporate Knights “2019 Global 100 Report” data and ranking of the “most sustainable corporations in the world” is presented in visualization format.

Corporate Knights scores companies on a mix of metrics after screening for those with at least US$1 billion in revenues and sufficient sustainability reporting:  resource management; employee (or human capital) management; financial management; “clean” revenue; supplier performance.  The United States comes out at the top of the charting with 22 of the 100 companies on the list, followed by France (11), Japan (8), Finland and United Kingdom 7), and Canada (6).  No company in China or India made the list. Of the “Top 10-star players” only one is from the USA – the REIT Prologis Inc.  Denmark has two companies; the rest are one-off listings from other countries.

Author Jenna Ross sums up: “It’s clear that sustainability is a strong differentiator in the business community.  The world’s largest – and smartest – companies are leading the charge towards a greener, more equitable future.”  We think you’ll find the charting of the Global 100 fascinating and very useful – and there are many other clever and useful visual presentations on the web site.  Check out our Top Story for this week.

This Week’s Top Stories

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

Survey Results: Global Institutional Investors with US$8.4 Trillion in AUM Confirm The Rising Value of Corporate ESG Principles

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

The FTI Consulting business advisory firm surveyed a set of 130 global institutional investors to gauge the depth and breadth of U.S. assets invested using ESG principles. 

This group of investors, contacted from May through July 2018, responded that their Assets Under Management totaling US$8.4 trillion was believed to have benefited by the contribution of extra [corporate] value to a company with a high ESG rating.

And an “extremely positive/high ESG rating” might add an extra 22 percent of corporate value, said the survey responders.  An earlier survey by the same firm – FTI Consulting – revealed that more than 2,000 large-cap global leaders expressed the same views.

There are two factors at work here: (1) there’s greater demand for [qualified] corporate stock by the ESG-conscious investment community; and, (2) the perception that these higher corporate ESG / sustainability performers may be better positioned for the future (yes, they’re more sustainable) and be less likely to encounter regulatory issues and activist activities that could impact reputation and valuation.

In the company’s FTI Journal the authors point that while ESG was once “nice to have” (dating back from the introduction of the phrase in corporate and investing circles a decade-and-a-half-ago), today ESG is integral to a company’s planning and strategy-setting in the eyes of the institutional investor.

A significant share — 87% — told FTI Consulting that an extremely-positive/high rating would add to a company’s worth. 

The survey results include the specific views on this by country (Japan leads, the G-20 nations’ responders are in the middle; the USA is 8th in holding those views).  

FTI released its “Resilience Barometer” report at the World Economic Forum (WEF) Davos meeting, which showed an alignment of understanding in the corporate sector:  The leaders of 2,248 large-cap companies across the G-20 held similar views on the value of ESG on company worth. 

Keep in mind the G-20* account for 90% of GDP and two-thirds of world population, with annual turnover of US$1.6 trillion. (The research for that report was conducted in December 2018.)

So, on the part of the asset managers, what are they looking at in terms of the sources of ESG (from the ratings/reporting services for investors)? 

They responded:  Bloomberg’s ESG Data Service; MSCI ESG Research; Sustainalytics Company ESG Reports; ISS (now adding E and S QualityScores to the long-term G/governance score); CDP; the DJSI; RobecoSAM; RepRisk; VigeoEIRIS; and Oekom

Here’s an interesting finding:  more than half of the institutional investors claim they don’t know how the third party ratings organizations compile their reports.

There’s more detail and charts for you in the Top Story this week. There’s also an interesting development briefly described in the second item up top.

* Notes: The G-20 international forum consists of the world’s leading sovereign economies (19) and the European Union (28 states today including the United Kingdom).  The big economies are there:  USA, Germany, Canada, China, Australia, Saudi Arabia; Japan. Smaller economies such as Turkey and Argentina participate.  Other key players participating include the World Bank; the IMF; the International Labor Organization; WTO; and, the United Nations.


This Week’s Top Stories

Global Survey: Injection of ESG Builds Corporate Value
(Tuesday – April 02, 2019) Source: FTI Joiurnal – An FTI Consulting survey of global institutional investors managing more than a sum of US$8.4 trillion in assets confirms the rising value of corporate Environmental, Social and Governance principles in their investment… 

Corporate Supply Chain Sustainability Strategies & Programs: Count as a Cost or Strategic Investment? Consultant to Large-Cap Companies Provides Some Helpful Answers for Corporate Managers

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

Question:  Does a corporate sustainability program “cost” (and thus shows up on the “expense” side of the ledger) or are there measurable “returns” on the investments that companies are making to develop or adjust strategies, assemble teams and launch sustainability programs? (Especially those that have set goals and where progress is measured and then publicly reported.)

We frequently hear this kind of discussion in the meetings and phone calls we have with corporate managers, especially those at companies where management is now considering what to do or perhaps just starting out on their sustainability journey. 

Senior managements often begin internal discussions with the questions for their managers:

Who is asking for this? What will this cost to respond? 
And where is the ROI for our efforts?

Working with client organizations we see the firms’ customers and clients asking their supply chain partners about their respective sustainability efforts and requesting extensive ESG information, directly of the firms (with detailed questionnaires) and through third parties such as EcoVadis and CDP Supply Chains.

The questions are coming faster and more detailed than in previous years.

The important customer with a range of sustainability-themed “asks” of course considers their supply partners to be part of their (the customer’s) overall sustainability footprint – and so the questions.   

Corporate sustainability leaders understand the importance of the “ask” and provide detailed answers to their valued customers.

If the questions internally at the supplier company are along the lines of: “why” or “who is asking” and “what will this cost us” or “what is the return”…consider: 

“Economic longevity and social and environmental responsibility are increasingly two sides of the same coin. Consumer surveys show that many favored brands are focused on sustainability.  And, removing waste and emissions from the supply chain goes hand-in-hand with efficiency…both boost the corporate bottom line.”

That’s some of the essence of a timely report – “Sustainability: The Missing Link” – that was authored by the Economist Intelligence Unit and sponsored by LLamasoft, an Ann Arbor, Michigan-based supply chain management software provider serving such clients as Ford Motor, 3M, Intel, Bayer, and Kellogg’s.

Highlights of the report and important background come to us this week from Supply Chain & Demand Executive magazine, with an interview with Dr. Madhav Durbha, Group VP at LLamsoft. 

The interviewer explores how sustainability considerations cause companies to think differently about their supply chains and examples of global companies are managing the triple bottom line.

The questions asked of Dr. Durbha by the magazine’s Amy Wunderlin

Why are many supply chains still doomed to inefficiency and environmental waste?  What are the top mistakes companies often make when trying to make their supply chain green? How many organizations strike a balance between profitability and sustainability despite current economic uncertainty? Why are addressing sustainability needs through the entire supply chain important? (There are more questions and more answers in the interview.)

An important take away from the interview: 

“As long as organizations think of cost reduction [efforts] and sustainability being at odds, they may be missing out opportunities to accomplish these dual objectives.”

There are numerous helpful hints for you in this week’s Top Story. 
SDC/Supply Chain & Demand Executive magazine, published by b-to-b media & intelligence company AC Business Media, covers warehousing, transport, procurement and sustainability, among many topics. Subscriptions to SDCExec.com are free. 

This Week’s Top Story

Profitability or Sustainability? It Doesn’t Have to be a Choice
(Wednesday – March 27, 2019) Source: Supply and Demand Chain Executive – Dr. Madhav Durbha of LLamasoft offers insight into why–with the proper tools–organizations don’t need to choose between profitability and sustainability, despite current economic uncertainty. 

Here is the link to the report: http://www2.llamasoft.com/Sustainability:TheMissingLink-NA

EDF Report Offers Perspectives on the Current State of Sustainability Ratings and Rankings — and Has Suggestions for Improvement…

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

Ratings, rankings, scores, best of lists – these are increasingly important to corporate issuers and for investors

The popular CBS TV Network nighttime host David Letterman for many years provided us with periods of laughter with his well-known top 10 list segments. (Example: The Top 10 Stupid Things Americans Say to Brits.)

There’s long been a spirited competition in the corporate sector along the lines of the popular “top of” or “best of” lists (with rankings) that companies are awarded, and/or that companies pursue in the effort to garner more third party recognitions and awards. 

In recent years, there’s been a steadily-increasing number of such contests focused on governance, social and environmental issues.

Popular audience “top 10” awards seem to proliferate overnight (like mushrooms in the forest) coming forth from publishers, NGOs, conference organizers, trade associations, professional membership organizations, academia, and others.  All are welcome to some degree by investors and stakeholders and can add luster to the company reputation and brand.

Indeed, here at G&A Institute we have well beyond 400 “corporate awards and recognitions” related to ESG / Corporate Sustainability, Corporate Responsibility, Corporate Citizenship, et al…identified and profiled to help client companies round out their third party awards roster with relevant, suitable recognitions of different kinds. 

The competitive kinds that we’re all familiar with include Best in industry. Best workplace for women. For LGBTQ employees. Best business sector economic development contributors in the state (the Governor’s Award). Best companies for Hispanic or African-American engineers…and on and on.

Some of these types of recognitions are well known and for investors and stakeholders, welcomed signals of third party recognitions of a company’s citizenship, responsibility or sustainability / ESG progress and achievements.

Many awards began as editorial features of magazines. (In past years, members of our team worked with Fortune on a “Best Places” annual award.)  Forbes is another well-regarded business and finance publication with much-followed awards for companies (the Best Employers List; Best Employers for Diversity; Top Companies to Work For, and more).

Investor-Focused Ratings / Rankings / Scores / Leadership Lists

And then there are the all-important ratings, rankings, scores, index/benchmark selections that many more public companies are receiving from such service provider organizations as MSCI, Sustainalytics and Institutional Shareholder Services.

There are many robust corporate ESG profiles in the Bloomberg platform or on Thomson Reuters’ Eikon (now, “Refinitiv” branded); and coming forth from a host of other ratings organizations in the U.S. and Europe. 

These ESG data sets, and rankings / ratings are also used by many third parties in the methodology to create other awards, recognitions, indexes, and so on.  This is why it’s critical for companies to engage with and improve these key ESG investor data sets and rankings as they flow down and are used by many investors and many other stakeholders.

At the top – in the board room, C-suite — these are indeed critical recognitions and independent (to a large degree) profiles of a company’s ESG strategy, actions, achievements, and recognitions.  Of course there’s grumbling from companies about the efforts to keep up and the independent views of the raters, and how the company may be presented in the ratings work.

So how do the best of these ratings pay off for the public issuer?

Consider:  In terms of ROI for their awards efforts, sustainability rankings can help companies define internal performance measures, attract top talent and link executive comp to corporate sustainability efforts…so write the authors of an essay in Forbes.

Victoria Mills and Austin Reagan of the EDF (Environmental Defense Fund) then add:  Unfortunately, there’s a significant problem with these sustainability lists.

The authors point to a new report – “The Blind Spot in Corporate Sustainability Rankings: Climate Policy Leadership” – produced by EDF+Business — which posits that: “Environmental problems like climate change will never be solved through voluntary corporate actions alone. Public policies are critical to reduce environmental impacts across the economy in an efficient and equitable manner, and on a scale commensurate with the challenges.”

The missing link, thinks EDF, is [corporate] public policy advocacy; companies can be doing more than just addressing their own ESG issues (and winning third party recognition for leadership and admirable rankings and scores from ESG raters).

EDF thinks the most powerful tool companies have to fight climate change is their political influence.

The report explains EDF views on rankings vs. ratings; analysis of rankings (“all have a major blind spot”, explains EDF); the challenges of integrating climate policy advocacy into sustainability rankings; and, a series of recommendations.

The EDF opinions are sure to stimulate debate now among asset owners and managers, and within the corporate community. 

We’re all hooked on sustainability / ESG rankings, ratings, scores and other opinions; they’ve become ever-more important in the decision-making of key asset managers.  So, in this brief report, EDF shares its perspective on the way forward to make corporate reporting on ESG more robust.

Click here to view the 12-page report.

This Week’s Top Story

The Good, The Bad And The Blind Spot Of Corporate Sustainability Rankings
(Thursday – March 21, 2019) Source: Forbes – No matter the industry, business stakeholders care about lists – who’s on them and who’s on top. Consider this small sampling: Fast Company’s “50 Most Innovative Companies” list, Fortune’s “Change the World” list, Forbes’ “The…

Millennials Really Do Want To Work for Environmentally-Sustainable Companies, According to a New Survey of Large Company Employees

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

Here we are in the new millennium, since 2000 or 2001 (the clear delineation of the century-break has been debated) and the generation that straddles the 20th and 21st centuries has characteristics that may be quite different for employers (and as customers, investors, voters).

The Millennial Generation has been defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as those men and women born between 1981 and 1996, who are 23-to-38 years of age in 2019. (For sure, the exact definitions of recent generations are not always in general agreement.)

This cohort succeeded the smaller-sized “Generation Xers” and the larger Baby Boom generation (born 1946-1964, originally 77 million strong and two-thirds larger than the “Silents” before them).  The long-dominant Boomer population has been decreasing in total size since 2012…so what comes next for the business sector and the financial sector?

Answer:  Millennials! – and then over time the Post-Millennials, those born 1997-to-the-present day. But today’s focus is on the many impacts, strong and subtle, of the Millennials.

The Pew Research Center sees some of the defining trends for the Millennials as including experiencing the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the aftermath (shes off at the airport screening); the 2008 financial crisis and the impacts of the Great Recession that followed; steadily escalating costs for higher education and healthcare and housing…and other factors that created “slow starts” for their careers and “that will be a factor for American society for decades to come.”

This is also the generation that grew up surrounded with technology and for some, the experience of transition from land-line phones to early cell phones and then on to sophisticated iPhones; and for most, the internet, the World Wide Web, and social media became the center of life, observes the Pew researchers.

So what should business leaders expect as this maturing generation – in terms of attractive to potential job applicants and for retention of Millennials already under the roof?

Fast Company, the go-to magazine for many in the generation, says corporate sustainability is a priority and most Millennials would actually take a pay cut to work at an environmentally-responsible company; 40 percent have already done so because “company sustainability”. That is higher than the answers of respondents of prior generations (below 25% for Gen Xers and 17% for parents and grandparents in the post-WW II Boomer crowd).

Millennial survey respondents (40%) said they have chosen a job because the company performed better on sustainability than other choices…something only 17% of Boomers said they had done.  As for employee retention, consider that 70% of Millennials said they would stay with a company if it had a strong sustainability plan.

Are these survey results a “blip”?  Fast Company [magazine] tells us that in 2016 a similar survey reported that 64% of Millennials said they would not take a job at a company that was not “socially responsible” — and 75% said they would take a smaller salary to work at a company more in line with their “values”.

The 2019 survey was based on conversations with 1,000 employees at large U.S. companies.  More than 70% of respondents said they would choose to work at a company with a strong environmental agenda, and a sizable number said they would take a pay cut to do so.

Today’s business leaders need to keep these attitudes in mind as this significant demographic shift is taking place.  As the huge generation of Baby Boomers continue to age out of the workplace (the oldest are 73 years of age, the youngest are now 55),

Transition:  Millennials will make up three-out-of-every-four workers in the next six years, staff writer Adele Peters tells readers.(And the Census Bureau says they are one-out-of-four of the total US population today.)

The survey was commissioned by the blockchain-based clean energy platform Swytch – another sign of the times; this is a new platform organized to track and verify the impact of sustainability efforts and action on the global level of C02 emissions using blockchain technology.

The company says that consumers reducing their energy use can win tokens.  Is this 21st Century approach to currency exchange a “blip”? Perhaps not – JPMorgan Chase recently announced its own crypto-currency and as we write this, Bitcoin values are at $4,000.

Says Swytch co-founder Evan Caron of the survey:  “From my perspective, it’s a competitive advantage for large enterprises to really align themselves with employees’ ideas about creating more environmentally-sustainable choices.”

This Week’s Top Story

Most millennials would take a pay cut to work at a environmentally responsible company
(Friday – February 15, 2019) Source: Fast Company – Nearly 40% of millennials have chosen a job because of company sustainability. Less than a quarter of gen X respondents said the same, and 17% of baby boomers.

Question for Corporate Leaders: Is Your Company’s Sustainability Journey Based on Key Strategies? Is There Clear Alignment of Foundational Strategies with Sustainability?

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

HBR Authors Share Some Research Findings Of Importance to Corporate Leaders and Asset Managers…

Strategy – the familiar word comes down to us over the eons from the language of ancient Greece. The roots of the original word (translated to the more modern “stratagem”) mean “the work of the generals, or generalship” which is to clearly say:  to lead from the front..or the top!

In 2019, “strategy” and “sustainability” should be clearly linked, right?  In the corporate sector, setting strategies is at the heart of the work of the men and women at the top, in the board room and in the C-suite.  So what does that mean to us in terms of the intensive focus today on corporate sustainability and ESG performance? (And, the impacts positive and negative in the capital markets?)

The corporate enterprise that is seeking to excel among its peers, and clearly demonstrates leadership in sustainability matters (that encompasses a broadening range of ESG issues today) surely has the leaders at the top crafting, innovating and sharpening the leadership strategy…and driving the foundational elements down into the depth and breadth of the enterprise.  Typically, universal understanding helps to drive competitive advantage and creates a moat more difficult for peers to cross.

And so in this context, what about the “corporate sustainability laggards”?  Often in our ongoing conversations with a wide range of corporate managers – and with investment managers evaluating corporate ESG performance – the companies not yet well along in the journey or perhaps not even started on the journey, lack of sustainability strategy sends a signal of “silence” from the top ranks.

What this says to stakeholders:  ESG and strategy = not connected yet, there is a lack of quality in our management and board.  Don’t look to our firm for signals of sustainability leadership.

We find that most large-caps “get it” and it is the resource-challenged small-cap and mid-cap firms that are not yet started or not far into the sustainability journey.

The topic of corporate sustainability strategy gets a good overview in the pages of the Harvard Business Review by the outstanding ESG / sustainability experts, George Serafeim and Ioannis Ioannou.  Their post is based on their new 45-page paper (“Corporate Sustainability: A Strategy?”) and their co-authored HBR management brief is the topic of our Top Story for you.

They recently published the paper using data from MSCI ESG Ratings for 2012-to-2017 (looking at 3,802 companies); among the approaches was to separate “common practices” (across many companies) and “strategic” (those not so common to most companies).

Your key takeaway from their work:  “Our exploratory results confirm that the adoption of strategic sustainability practices is significantly and positively associated with both return on capital and market valuation multiples, even after accounting for the focal firm’s past financial performance.”

And…”the adoption of common sustainability practices is not associated with return-on-capital, but is positively associated with market valuation multiples.” There’s more for your reading in the Top Story below.

You could share these findings upward in your organization if your firm’s executives are not quite tuned in yet to the importance of having a clear strategy that factors ESG factors and sustainability into account.

Notes:  George Serafeim is Professor of Business Administration at Harvard B-School and Ioannis Ioannou is Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at London Business School.  They frequently collaborate and both write extensively on topics related to corporate sustainability and sustainable investment. And both are frequent speakers and panelists at trade and industry conferences and workshops.

This Week’s Top Story

Yes, Sustainability Can Be a Strategy
(February 11, 2019) Source: Harvard Business Review – In recent years, a growing number of companies around the world have voluntarily adopted and implemented a broad range of sustainability practices. The accelerating rate of adoption of these practices has also provoked a debate about the nature of sustainability and its long-term implications for organizations. Is the adoption of sustainability practices a form of strategic differentiation that can lead to superior financial performance?

Or, is it a strategic necessity that can ensure corporate survival but not necessarily outperformance?

The Ethical and Sustainable Supply Chain – Some Thoughts on This For You From Forbes

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

Ethical sourcing” — we see that term used a lot by companies that are systematically addressing issues in their sourcing and supply chain management to better understand and address (and better manage!) the various issues that their investors, customers, employees, business partners, and other stakeholders care about.

What is “ethical” behavior, to be found in the layers-upon-layers of suppliers in the usual  corporate globalized sourcing effort?  How do we define this?

As we sometimes hear in the poetic notion, little things can have substantial impact; think of the the butterfly wings’ flapping and fluttering in Brazil that can have effects all the way north as expressed through the hurricane winds hitting Mexico and in the tornado whirlings on the American Gulf coast.

This “butterfly effect” (part of the chaos theory portfolio) has counterparts in the supply chains of companies sourcing from near and far lands.

An example shared:  Poor working conditions in the Bangladesh factories have been brought to consumer attention by United Kingdom news reports; the Asian-produced goods (such as T-shirts) end up on retailer shelves with “Spice Girl” branding.  Irony:  the shirts were part of the Comic Relief Event campaign staged to raise money for “gender justice” – and the Bangladesh female workers made 30 cents an hour under hostile working conditions (details are in our Top Story).

Writing for Forbes (brands), contributor Richard Howell’s shares his thoughts in our Top Story.  “Social, economic and environmental sustainability should be at the heart of every supply chain…” he writes.

He posits that consumers are looking to buy from companies that have a preferable design, sourcing, manufacturing, delivery of goods & services…and that operate assets and equipment in an energy-efficient, safe environment (for team members and the environment).  Howell spells these out in his commentary.

So – what is ethical?  Among other things, fair wages, better working conditions and gender equality in the global supply chain that is sustainable as well.

This week’s Forbes commentary is by contributor Richard Howells, a 25-year veteran of supply chain management and manufacturing who describes himself as “responsible for driving market direction and positioning of SAP’s Supply Chain Management and IOT solutions.”  He’s worked on systems for such brand-facing companies as Nestle, Gillette, and others.

This Week’s Top Story

Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want: A Sustainable Supply Chain
(Thursday – January 31, 2019) Source: Forbes – Social, economic, and environmental sustainability should be at the heart of every supply chain

Davos 2019: The Conversation in Switzerland Ripples Out to The Rest of the World – News, Commentaries, Reports, Initiatives, For Your Consideration

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

Davos, Switzerland –  January 2019: The Conversation in Switzerland Ripples Out to The Rest of the World – News, Commentaries, Reports, Initiatives, For Your Consideration

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

The world leadership gathering in Switzerland in winter every year – we see this in the “Davos meetings” in the news report datelines – are part of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) broad thought leadership activities.  This gathering is the WEF’s annual meeting (there are regional meetings as well).

Heads of state, CEOs, invited societal thought leaders, leading academics and journalists, politicians of all persuasions, NGOs, heads of multilateral heads (Christina Lagarde, International Monetary Fund)…they were all gathered there again this year.

WEF bills itself as “the international organization for public-private cooperation”; it was created in 1971 as a not-for-profit, to operate in a non-partisan, independent forum for leaders of society.  The annual meeting provides the opportunity for sharing ideas on a wide range of issues and topics. And then the broadcast of these out to the world.
This year, the broad themes of discussion included “4th Industrial Revolution”, “Geostrategy”, “Environment”, and “Economics”.

“Shaping” (taking actions as private-public partnerships) was the theme of numerous initiatives such as “Shaping The Future of Environment and Natural Resource Security”.

A slew of reports are typically issued each year; in 2019 one was “Seeking a Return on ESG: Advancing the Reporting Ecosystem to Unlock Impact for Business and Society”.

These reports and other information are available for you on-line at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda

Naturally, with the wise men and women of our global society gathered in the snowy reaches of Davos and presenting their views over several days, there was the usual flow of headlines and news stories out to the rest of the world.

Our team, led by Editor-in-Chief Ken Cynar closely monitors the Davos and other WEF meetings (the annual and regionals) to bring you relevant highlights. This week after the conference wrapped up, Ken Cynar selected this week’s Top Story pick.

That selection presents the comments of Hans Vestburg, CEO, Verizon Communications, on the theme of The Fourth Industrial Revolution and a Sustainable Earth.  CEO Vestburg (he’s originally from “high latitudes” Sweden and became CEO in August 2018) is strategically positioning his giant telecomm enterprise to balance market leadership, promising advances in technology (such as 5G networks) and challenges presented by climate change, population growth — and helping society achieve a sustainable and equitable future.

Hans Vestburg said at Davos: “Perhaps it because of my roots in a land so beautiful (Sweden) and yet so vulnerable…I’ve long had an interest in the potential link between technological advancement and environmental sustainability.”  CEO Vestberg helped to lead the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network, as example.

He sees the coming generation of high speed, highly-interactive technologies as a possible resource to help society buy time against catastrophic worldwide climate change (think of 3D printing, 5G networks, the Internet of Things, 4IR networks, autonomous devices).

Consider this, said the CEO of Verizon to the Davos leadership gathering:  “If we and our partners throughout industry, government and academia can collaborate imaginatively on way to maximize the sustainability benefits of these emergent technologies from the very start, the next few crucial decades could see cascading gains in momentum against both materials wastage and emissions.”

We think you’ll find his comments intriguing – and most welcome from the CEO of a prominent U.S. corporation with commitment to address critical issues related to climate change, and willing to speak up!

This Week’s Top Story

Want a Sustainable Earth? Bring on the Fourth Industrial Revolution
(Wednesday – January 23, 2019) Source: World Economic Forum – When I became CEO of Verizon back in August, one of my commitments was to accelerate our company’s progress in Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies, drawing upon our longstanding role as a world leading…

4th in Series: The Food Industry – GRI & SASB Standards In Focus – Perspectives on Alignments & Differences

By Jessica Caron –  G&A Institute Sustainability Report Analyst Intern

A comparison of the SASB Meat, Poultry & Dairy Standard — which is designed for use by companies involved in the raising, slaughtering, processing and packaging of animal food product — to the GRI Standards must start with the observation that the GRI Standards are general and not industry-specific, asking about topics that apply to most business organizations (such as employee benefits).

The SASB industry standards focus on industry-specific ESG information — such as animal welfare.

The GRI Standards also, in being of value in generating a general portrait of any type of organization, suggest disclosure of a wide range of basic information — such as legal form and markets served as well as significant amounts of content with information directly related to corporate ESG strategies and performance.

The only basic information SASB Standards suggest in the category is information about the number of processing and manufacturing facilities, amount of animal protein produced by category, and percentage of animal protein production that is outsourced.

We should keep in mind SASB is investor-focused, and GRI is stakeholder focused (of course, including investors). And so the information suggested for disclosure by the reporter (the company disclosing) has different end users in mind when using either or both of the standards for corporate reporting.

The GRI Sector Disclosure:

The SASB suggested industry standards are more similar to the Sector Disclosures from the GRI G4, the predecessor of the GRI Standards. Each Sector Disclosure consists of additional disclosures and guidance for answering general GRI disclosures tailored to a certain industry, and thus attains the level of industry focus that the SASB standards have.

The GRI Sector Disclosure most similar to the SASB Meat, Poultry, and Dairy Standard is the Food Processing Sector Disclosure, which is designed for food processing companies rather than farmers, but including questions about a company’s supply chain, which does include farmers. The G4 Food Processing Sector Disclosure is discussed in more detail at the end of this commentary.

Being Prepared for Reporting:

In general, my advice is that corporate reporters should be prepared for using the GRI Standards to disclose much more information than the SASB Standards suggest.

For example, the GRI Standards by design suggest that a company should expect to report on every material ESG issue that affects the company, and the reporting in accordance with “Comprehensive” level reporting option prescribes a management approach (DMA) for every risk, opportunity, and topic mentioned in the issuer’s report. In comparison, SASB suggest a well-defined and narrower set of [material] data and suggests management approaches for just a few topics, such as water management risk.

Other Differences to Note:

The GRI Standards Disclosures have an entire section on economic issues; the SASB Standard does not. These issues are focused on the economic value generated, financial assistance received from the government, and benefit plan contributions. The GRI Standards also ask about anti-corruption practices and anti-competitive behavior (in the “Society” subcategory), which the SASB Standard does not.

The GRI Standards suggest more detailed information in general than the SASB Standard on environmental topics, but the SASB Standard’s suggested disclosures are at times more specific and are on the whole more industry-specific. The main environmental topics both standards deal with are energy, water, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, waste, and biodiversity.

The GRI Standards suggest information on an organization’s energy consumption, energy intensity, and reduction in energy consumption and requirements — in addition to the suggestion that at least one or all, depending on individual company’s materiality assessments, of the ESG issues — be discussed and a management plan provided for it. including energy issues.

In contrast, the only energy information the SASB standard asks for is how much total energy is consumed, and suggests a breakdown of that energy by grid electricity and renewable energy (where the GRI Standards do not).

Overlaps and Differences – E/Environmental:

The water disclosures for GRI and SASB do overlap a great deal – SASB even suggests discussion of water-related risks and management approaches; notably, use of the SASB Standards suggests companies to report water specific non-compliance incidents where GRI Standards has a disclosure which asks for the companies approach for environmental compliance overall.

In terms of the other three topics, SASB only suggests disclosure of Scope 1 GHG emissions, of the amount of animal waste generated, and of the percentage of pasture and grazing land managed to Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservation plan criteria in the biodiversity section.

GRI suggests much more information for all three of these topics (because the GRI Standards are general, they ask about waste only in general terms, but they do suggest disclosure of types of waste generated).

However, SASB suggests disclosure of management approaches for GHG emissions and waste management, whereas GRI suggests disclosure of management approach for each GRI topic considered to be material to the company. The NRCS conservation plan can also be considered as part of a management approach.

Using the GRI Standards For Reporting – More Detailed

GRI is more detailed – by far – than SASB in its suggested disclosures related to employees and their human rights; GRI Standards ask about benefits, labor-management relations, training and education, gender pay equality, diversity and equal opportunity, non-discrimination, forced or compulsory labor, human rights training for security personnel, and grievance mechanisms in addition to employee health and safety — which is the only employee-related topic mentioned in SASB Standards.

SASB Standards, do, however, suggest a description of how respiratory health conditions (a problem in animal feedlots) are managed and prevented, an issue which is much more industry-specific and not specifically mentioned even in the GRI G4 Food Processing Sector Disclosures.

GRI also asks many questions about a company’s product responsibility and impact on society, whereas SASB does not.

Addressing “S” — Social Issues

The social issues GRI Standards ask about are indigenous rights (in the “Human Rights” subcategory); contributions to and effects on local communities; anti-corruption, anti-competitive behavior; consumer privacy and health and safety; compliance; marketing, labeling; and, grievance mechanisms for effects on society. SASB Standards focus on food safety. (Note that the GRI Standards suggests a discussion of markets that ban imports of the company’s products, which is often a food safety issue for the meat, poultry, and dairy industry. SASB Standards address this under the “Food Safety” section; other food safety topics are covered in the G4 Sector Disclosures.)

About Supply Chain Content

Both GRI and SASB Standards address disclosures on supply chain information — the information suggested by SASB Standards specifically address biodiversity, animal welfare, water stress, and climate change resilience in the meat, poultry and dairy supply chain (including discussion of plans to manage climate change risks and opportunities in the supply chain). These are of course all very important issues in the meat, poultry and dairy sector.

GRI in comparison suggests more general information about screening for environmental and social issues and local suppliers. (The Sector Disclosures address in general terms, supplier compliance with sourcing policies and international standards.)

The G4 Food Processing Sector Disclosures — which are the closest equivalent to the SASB Meat, Poultry & Dairy standards — suggest additional information in many sub-categories, such as product safety, and additional guidance for many aspects. (For example, it is noted that financial assistance from government may marginalize small-scale producers and have negative impacts on public health.)

The GRI Sector Disclosures also add information on sourcing practices to the procurement practices section (as discussed in the previous paragraph) and two new sections in the “Society” subcategory, on healthy and affordable food (which SASB does not mention) and animal welfare.

The GRI Sector Disclosures’ food safety questions relate to markets that ban the company’s products and the percentage of food manufactured in facilities accredited by a third party for food safety. SASB has more questions, including about recalls, and does ask about one third-party certification system, the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI).

Focus on Food Issues

The GRI Sector Disclosures also have sections on nutrition — specifically, on fortified foods and food reduced in saturated and trans fats, sodium, and added sugars – and marketing and labeling, especially marketing to vulnerable groups like children and pregnant women.

The SASB Standard does not address these issues. However, other than dairy products, most animal-based foods are not fortified with nutrients or reduced in fat, sodium, or sugar, perhaps making the GRI Sector Disclosures in this area of little relevance to the meat, poultry and dairy industry specifically.

In conclusion, I see the SASB Standard and the GRI Standards + G4 Food Processing Sector Disclosure each covering most of the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) topics relevant to the livestock industry, and together, the GRI and SASB standards fill in each other’s gaps to create a more complete ESG profile for any given company in the industry/sector.

Because some pieces of information are in differently-named categories across the standards, responding in the corporate reporting process to both standards does take a little extra work — but is very much possible and I think beneficial to do if the company seeks to be a sustainability leader in the industry (or industries) in which it operates.

Note:  This commentary is part of a series sharing the perspectives of G&A Institute’s Analyst-Interns as they examine literally thousands of corporate sustainability / responsibility reports.  Click the links below to read the first post in the series which includes explanations and the series introduction as well as the other posts in the series:

1st in Series: The Software / IT Services Industry – GRI & SASB Standards In Focus – Perspectives on Alignments & Differences

2nd in Series: The Agriculture Products Industry — GRI & SASB Standards In Focus – Perspectives on Alignments & Differences

3rd in Series: The Electric Utilities & Power Generators Industry – GRI & SASB Standards In Focus – Perspectives on Alignments & Differences

3rd in Series: The Electric Utilities & Power Generators Industry – GRI & SASB Standards In Focus – Perspectives on Alignments & Differences

By Jess Peete – G&A Institute Sustainability Report Analyst Intern

It is often the case that many us may not give our monthly energy utility company a second thought — unless there is an issue with the power going out or the bill is too high.

However, for those of us working in the sustainability field, the Energy Utilities Industry is one of the most important industries to consider, regardless of where we live or do business.

This industry’s companies power our homes, power our businesses, and in so many ways power our modern lives.

Traditionally, the energy utilities & power generators industry relied on oil and coal to generate supply for the power grid. This historic reliance on fossil fuels has more recently become a major issue in focus for investors, and society, as the effects of climate change continue to grow and the impact of burning fossil fuels for energy become more apparent.

Because of these effects on the environment and atmosphere, the Energy Utilities and Power Generators sector is today considered “high impact”.

Key sustainability reporting frameworks – including the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) — have sector-specific reporting standards (GRI has supplemental guidance that goes beyond their regular reporting requirements in order to more accurately measure the societal impact of the industry.)

Similarities and Differences in Standards

I’ve found that there is a great deal of similarity in the GRI Sector Supplements and SASB Industry standards for the Energy Utilities and Power Generation industry — but there are distinct differences as well.

The sector supplements only exist for GRI-G4, however, it is still advised for reporting organizations to now use the GRI Standards and incorporate the sector-specific disclosures from the GRI-G4 energy sector supplement to establish a more thorough industry-specific review of the total impact of the energy utilities sector.

The SASB Standards

SASB defines the materiality for the Energy Utilities sector reporting to include the following topics:

ENVIRONMENT

  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions & Energy Resource Planning
  • Air Quality
  • Water Management
  • Coal Ash Management

SOCIAL CAPITAL

  • Community Impacts of Project Siting

HUMAN CAPITAL

  • Workforce Health & Safety

BUSINESS MODEL AND INNOVATION

  • End-Use Efficiency & Demand

LEADERSHIP AND GOVERNANCE

  • Nuclear Safety & Emergency Management
  • Grid Resiliency
  • Management of the Legal & Regulatory Environment

Overall, the SASB standards appear to me to be quite comprehensive for a company to follow for their reporting — and would require reporting for many aspects of the electric power grid, including overall energy supply chain impacts.

For instance, SASB requires a calculation of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) emitted related to operations — but also requires a qualitative reporting of management-level planning to reduce the GHG emissions (emitted both from the company and its customers).

SASB addresses this in terms of recommending corporate reporting on negative environmental impacts — such things as coal ash and potential hazards such as posed by nuclear plants.

The GRI Standards

There appears to be little to no mention of coal ash storage in the GRI Standards — unless a company chooses to include coal ash as effluence.

This type of reporting could also be included in a company’s disclosure of their management approach (DMA) in the GRI Standards Report.

One area where the GRI standards seems to have a stronger “urging” for corporate reporting is the Sector impact on water, which is incredibly important because the energy utilities sector is one of the biggest users of water (usually required for cooling).

GRI Standards, in this case, appear to take a more holistic approach to water consumption (measuring total stress) while SASB only requires reporting the water impact from high stress areas.

Conclusion:

Because of the high impact that energy production and distribution have on climate, local communities, and the economy, companies in the Sector using both the GRI Standards and GRI G4 Energy Supplement alongside the SASB Energy Utilities Sector Supplement will be able to create a sustainability report that measures the true impact and costs of operations.

Measuring and managing these material E&S issues can help to provide both companies and investors in the sector a better understanding of their businesses, and a clear pathway to keeping consumer costs low while shifting to an energy portfolio that is one more based on sustainable energy.

Note:  This commentary is part of a series sharing the perspectives of G&A Institute’s Analyst-Interns as they examine literally thousands of corporate sustainability / responsibility reports.  Click the links below to read the first post in the series which includes explanations and the series introduction as well as the other posts in the series:

1st in Series: The Software / IT Services Industry – GRI & SASB Standards In Focus – Perspectives on Alignments & Differences

2nd in Series: The Agriculture Products Industry — GRI & SASB Standards In Focus – Perspectives on Alignments & Differences

4th in Series: The Food Industry – GRI & SASB Standards In Focus – Perspectives on Alignments & Differences