In 2017 the G&A Institute Team Celebrates the Company’s 10th Anniversary — and Editor-in-Chief Ken Cynar’s Continuing Efforts to Keep You Well Informed

In 2017, the G&A Institute team is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the founding of our corporate sustainability consulting, counseling, advice and research firm.  Many of us at G&A worked together in a prominent issues and crisis management consulting practice serving the Fortune 100 companies and many prominent multi-national businesses.  Our former firm was acquired and the business was being wound down.  And so, literally, in a garage with office space, G&A was launched.

Our mission includes sharing information and working to inform and educate managers in the corporate sector, and in the investment community, about the rising importance of corporate sustainability, corporate social responsibility, corporate citizenship, and the increasing focus by investors on all of this.

Over time the preferred approach of combining corporate environmental management factors, the addressing of social or societal concerns, and adopting more effective and investor-responsive corporate governance by public companies — the critical “ESG” factors — included many issues and trend that were familiar to us.  As a team, we had worked on these issue sets for many years as we counseled large company managements.

Our first activity as we got underway was the launch of our Accountability Central web platform.  Our colleague Ken Cynar organized the task, setting up his systems for scouring traditional and other media for “sustainability,” “responsibility,” “ESG” and related news, commentary and research results.  Very early in the morning, Ken would scour to find (literally back then) a handful of content to share with our growing audience.

Ten years on, Ken (our Editor-in-Chief) is at the top of his game. This is our 341st weekly issue of the newsletter.  This week he shared with our readers more than 100 articles, all selected by hand, scanning some 1,000 (!) items every week.  A typical week, says Ken, modestly.

Ken joined our team after a distinguished career in government service almost 20 years ago.  He brings you news and more from “everywhere,” in that he has done his scanning, selection and “posting” from such locales as the Czech Republic (his most recent trip), Germany, Italy, France, and various places around North America.

Ken’s selections continue to populate our Accountability Central website; our SustainabilityHQ news selections, and of course, this newsletter.  To Ken, our team member 10 years in — thank you, and well done!

Ken’s selection for you as Top Story this week is a very interesting read.  The panel convened in Singapore was supposed to talk about “Will Businesses Drive the SDGs?” — but quickly veered into a discussion about the financial markets, not rewarding companies for improving their ESG performance…and so the SDG goals cannot be met.  This turned out to be a very controversial dialogue — one you’ll want to tune in to. Many companies are mentioned as the conversation continued and points were made pro and con about sustainability issues and topics.

Speaking of SDGs, G&A has developed an “SDG Alignment Analysis and Strategic Advice” service offering to help companies leverage and align with the SDGs to maximize the impact and value of their corporate sustainability journey and sustainability reporting.  Find out more here.

Top Story

Do financial markets care about sustainability?
(Tuesday – March 07, 2017)
Source: Eco-Business – Razzouk threw this grenade at an audience of sustainability professionals last month, suggesting that as the market does not reward companies for improving their environmental and social performance, the UN’s Sustainable…

World’s Largest Asset Manager on Climate Risk Disclosure — the BlackRock Expectations of Public Company Boards and C-Suite

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

Monday, March 13, 2017 — The world’s largest asset management firm has clear expectations that corporate managements will disclose more on climate risk to their shareholder base…BlackRock speaks out.  Corporate boards and C-Suite – Important News for You….

You all know BlackRock — this the New York City-based “world’s largest asset manager guiding individuals, financial professionals, and institutions in building better financial futures…”

“That includes offerings such as mutual fund, closed-end funds, managed accounts, alternative investments, iShares ETFs, defined contribution plans…”

And — “advocating for public policies that we believe are in our investors’ long-term interests…” “…ensuring long-term sustainability for the firm, client investments and the communities where we work…”

For BlackRock, Corporate Sustainability includes: (1) human capital, (2) corporate governance (3) environmental sustainability, (4) ethics and integrity, (5) inclusion and diversity, (6) advocating for public policy, and (7) health and safety.

In terms of Responsible Investing, the BlackRock approach includes (1) investment stewardship and (2) having a sustainable investing platform (targeting social and environmental objectives AND the all-important financial return).

So it should not come as a big surprise to the boards and managements of literally thousands of public issuers that BlackRock has great expectations regarding the individual company’s (in a portfolio or hope to be) climate change disclosure practices.

What We Are Doing/How We Do it – Shared by BlackRock

Right now the BlackRock managers are sharing with other asset owners & managers their approach to sustainable investing. There are important lessons for corporate managements in these explanations:

As part of the investment process, BlackRock continues to assess a range of factors (that could impact the long-term financial sustainability of the public companies or companies).

Over the past two years, a number of projects have helped BlackRock to more fully understand climate change. BlackRock believes that climate risk (climate risk/change issues) have the potential to present definitive risks and opportunities that could or will impact long-term shareholder value.

The BlackRock team members also contributed to external initiatives such as the Financial Stability Board’s (FSB) Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) and the continued development of the voluntary reporting guidelines of the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board (SASB).

Larry Fink – the influential CEO of BlackRock — sent letters directly to the CEO’s of public companies in 2016 and then again recently (2017) that called attention to the need for the companies to help their investors better understand the ESG factors most relevant to the firm to generate value over time.

That especially includes more robust disclosure and reporting on the issues related to climate risk. (We need to keep in mind that “risk” has a companion — “opportunity,” as represented in the Chinese pictograph for a crisis.)

BlackRock’s Investment Stewardship Team meets with portfolio company managements and votes BlackRock shares at proxy voting time; if an issue is in focus and the C-suite will not make progress on the issue, the team will elevate the concern to the company’s board room. And they “may” in time vote against director nominees and for shareholders proposals that are on the right side of BlackRock’s own concerns.

Company Boards and Executives – for 2017

BlackRock engages with 1,500 companies (on average) every year. As (according to BlackRock) climate risk awareness and its engagement with companies on the issues is being advanced, and as the asset management firm’s own thinking on climate risk continues to evolve, that issue is on the table for the Investment Stewardship Team discussions with company managements in 2017.

Companies “most exposed” to climate risk will be encouraged as part of the discussions to consider reporting recommendations coming from the FSB Task Force.

And, the board will be expected to have “demonstrable fluency in how climate risk affects the business and management’s approach to adapting to and mitigating the risk. Corporate disclosure on all of this will be key to the ongoing relationship with the investor – BlackRock (with US$5 trillion and more AUM).

Other Investment Management Peers

Tim Smith, Director of ESG Shareholder Engagement at Walden Asset Management (Boston)

Tim Smith, Director of ESG Shareholder Engagement at Walden Asset Management (Boston) and long a robust and powerful voice in the sustainable investing movement, applauded BlackRock’s shared information.

“The announcement that climate risk will be a priority in their engagements with public companies is an exceedingly important message being sent by one of your largest shareholders. That they believe climate risk is a priority reinforces the importance of the issues for senior managements of public companies. We’re hopeful that BlackRock’s announcement and engagement on climate risk will result in active support for shareholder resolutions on climate change.”

Walden and others filed their own shareholder resolution with BlackRock asking for a review of the asset manager’s corporate proxy voting process and record on climate change.

BlackRock has been accused by investment peers for its proxy voting practices. For example, Climate Wire reported in 2016 that IF BlackRock and its large institutional investment peers had supported a climate resolution filed with Exxon Mobil (this was part of the not-for-profit Asset Owners Disclosure Project) the resolution would have passed in the final vote by shareholders.

We’ll see what the 2017 BlackRock moves mean in the corporate proxy season getting underway now with continued investor focus on climate change / climate risk / global warming disclosure and reporting demands.

As corporate sustainability consultants and advisors, we at G&A Institute (and as part of our pro bono research work as the exclusive Data Partners for the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) in the United States) analyzed more than 1,500 report sustainability reports in 2016 — and we are seeing an increase now in 2017 early survey results that corporate disclosure on climate risk issues is definitely on the increase.

We will soon release the results of our team’s analysis of S&P 500(r) on sustainability reporting and related issues. Recall that our analysis last year found that 81 percent of the 500 companies were doing structured sustainability reporting.

There’s more information for you here:

https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/en-us/about-us/investment-stewardship/engagement-priorities

https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/en-us/literature/market-commentary/how-blackrock-investment-stewardship-engages-on-climate-risk-march2017.pdf

Asset Owners Disclosure Project:  http://aodproject.net/

Tim Smith / Walden Asset Management:

http://www.waldenassetmgmt.com/team/smith-timothy

 

 

Dangerous Antics – Fiddling with the Future of US EPA and the Health and Safety of the American People

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

The Trump Administration  — Making moves now on the US EPA to destroy its effectiveness through budget cuts and ideological attacks on its missions.

In his landmark work published in 1993 – “A Fierce Green Fire – The American Environment Movement” – former New York Times journalist Philip Shabecoff explained:  the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was created by President Richard Nixon (a Republican) in December 1970 (two years into his first term) as part of an overall re-organization of the Federal government. The EPA was created without any benefit of statute by the U.S. Congress.

Parts of programs, departments and regulations were pulled from 15 different areas of the government and cobbled together a single environmental protection agency intended to be the watchdog, police officer and chief weapon against all forms of pollution, author Schabecoff explained to us.

The EPA quickly became the lightning rod for the nation’s hopes for cleaning up pollution and fears about intrusive Federal regulation.

As the first EPA Administrator, William Ruckelshaus (appointed by Richard Nixon) explained to the author in 1989: “The normal condition of the EPA was to be ground between two irresistible forces: the environmental movement, pushing very hard to get [pollution] emissions no matter where they were (air, water)…and another group on the side of industry pushing just as hard and trying to stop all of that stuff…” Both, Ruckelshaus pointed out, regardless of the seriousness of the problem.

We are a half-century and more beyond all of this back and forth, and the arguments about EPA’s role and importance rage on.

Today we in the sustainability movement are alarmed at the recklessness of the Trump White House and the key Administration officials now charged with responsibility to protect the environment and public health in two key cabinet departments: The EPA and the Department of Energy.

The ripple effects of the attacks on climate change science are in reality much larger: The Department of Defense (which has declared climate change to be a major threat long-term); the Department of Interior, overseeing the nation’s precious legacy of national parks and more; the Department of Agriculture (and oversight of tens of millions of acres of farmland); the Department of Commerce; the Department of Justice..and on and on.

The destruction could start early: The Washington Post (with its ear to the ground) is closely watching the administration and reported on February 17th that President Donald Trump planned to target the EPA with new Executive Orders (between two and five are coming) that would restrict the Agency’s oversight role and reverse some of the key actions that comprise the Obama Administration legacy on climate change and related issues.

Such as: rolling back the Clean Energy Plan (designed to limit power plant GhG emissions), which required states to develop their own plan as well. And, withdrawing from the critical agreement reached in Paris at COP 21 to limit the heating up of Planet Earth (which most of the other nations of the world have also adopted, notably China and India).

The destroyers now at the helm of the EPA also don’t like the Agency’s role in protecting wetlands, rivers etc. (The Post was expanding on coverage originally developed by investigative reporters at Mother Jones.)

Mother Jones quoted an official of the Trump transition team: “What I would like to see are executive orders implementing all of President Trump’s main campaign promises on environment and energy, including withdrawal from the Paris climate treaty.”

And, in the Washington Post/Mother Jones reportage: “The holy grail for conservatives would be reversing the Agency’s ‘so-called endangerment finding,’ which states that GhG emissions harm public health and must therefore be regulated [by EPA] under the Clean Air Act.”

Think about this statement by H. Sterling Burnett of the right-wing Heartland Institute: “I read the Constitution of the United States and the word ‘environmental protection’ does not appear there.” He cheered the early actions by the Trump-ians to give the green light to the Keystone Pipeline and Dakota Access Project.

On March 1st The Washington Post told us that the White House will cut the EPA staff by one-fifth — and eliminate dozens of programs.

A document obtained by the Post revealed that the cuts would help to offset the planned increase in military spending. Cutting the EPA budget from US$ 8.2 billion to $6.1 billion could have a significant [negative] impact on the Agency.

We should remember that in his hectic, frenetic campaigning, Donald Trump-the-candidate vowed to get rid of EPA in almost every present form – and his appointee, now EPA Administrator (Scott Pruitt) sued EPA over and over again when he was Attorney General of Oklahoma, challenging its authority to regulate mercury pollution, smog (fog/smoke), an power plant carbon emissions (the heart of the Obama Clean Energy Plan).

In practical terms, the Post explained, the massive Chesapeake Bay clean up project, now funded at $73 million, would be getting $5 million in the coming Fiscal Year (October 1st on). Three dozen programs would be eliminated (radon; grants to states; climate change initiatives; aid to Alaskan native villages); and the “U.S. Global Change Research Program” created by President George H.W. Bush back in 1989 would be gone.

Important elements of the American Society have tackled conservation, environmental, sustainability and related issues to reduce harm to human health and our physical home – Mother Earth – over the past five decades: Federal and state and local governments; NGOs; industry; investors; ordinary citizens; academia.

Today, the progress in protecting our nation’s resources and human health made since rivers caught fire and the atmosphere of our cities and towns could be seen and smelled, is under attack.

The good news is that for the most part, absent some elements of society, the alarms bells are going off and people are mobilizing to progress, not retreat, on environmental protection issues.

American Industry – Legacy of Three Decade Commitment to Environmental Protection – The Commitment Must Continue

The good news to look back on and then to project down to the 21st Century and Year 2017 includes  the comments by leaders of the largest chemical industry player of the day as the EPA was launched and key initial legislation passed (Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and many more)  – that is the DuPont deNemours Company.

Think about the importance of these critical arguments – which could be considered as foundational aspirations for today’s corporate sustainability movement:

Former DuPont CEO Irving Shapiro told author Philip Shabecoff: “You’ve have to be dumb and deaf not to recognize the public gives a damn about the environment and a business man who ignores it writes his out death warrant.”

The fact is, said CEO Shapiro (who was a lawyer), “DuPont has not been disadvantaged by the environmental laws. It is a stronger company today (in the early 1990s) than it was 25 years ago. Where the environment is on the public agenda depends on the public. If the public loses interest, corporate involvement will diminish…”

His predecessor as CEO, E. S. Woolard, had observed in 1989: “Environmentalism is now a mode of operation for every sector of society, industry included. We in industry have to develop a stronger awareness of ourselves as environmentalists…”

And:  remember, warned Dupont CEO Shapiro: “…if the public loses interest corporate involvement will diminish…”

Today let’s also consider the shared wisdom of a past administrator as she contemplated the news of the Trump Administration actions and intentions:

Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy (2013-2017) said to the Post: “The [proposed] budget is a fantasy if the Trump Administration believes it will preserve EPA’s mission to protect public health. It ignores the need to invest in science and to implement the law. It ignores the history that led to the EPA’s creation 46 years ago. It ignores the American People calling for its continued support.”

Consider the DuPont’ CEO’s comments above … if the American public loses interest.  At this time in our nation’s history, we must be diligent and in the streets (literally and metaphorically) protesting the moves of this administration and the connivance of the U.S. Congress if our representatives go along with EPA budget cuts as outlined to date.

# # #

About “A Fierce Green Fire: The American Environmental Movement,” by Philip Shabecoff; published 1993 by Harper Collins. I recommend a reading to gain a more complete understanding of the foundations of the environmental movement.

A decade ago I wrote a commentary on the 100-year evolvement of the conservation movement into the environmental movement and then on to today’s sustainability movement in my Corporate Finance Review column.  It’s still an interesting read:  http://www.hankboerner.com/library/Corporate%20Finance%20Review/Popular%20Movements%20-%20A%20Challenge%20for%20Institutions%20and%20Managers%2003&04-2005.pdf

 

 

How Valuable is Your Brand — and What Are You Doing to Enhance the Brand Through Your Company’s Sustainability Journey?

And how much value might your enterprise be “losing” in untapped brand value? Hmmm…

Some of the most popular — and valuable — brands in the world are housed under the big umbrella of Unilever (and consider that the Anglo-Dutch parent company name itself is a valuable brand).  Think Unilever brands: Dove (soap); Hellmanns (mayo); Lipton(tea); Breyer’s (ice cream); and Ben & Jerry’s (one of the great pioneers in CSR and purveyors of iconic ice creams).

In results announced in January, Unilever said its sponsored international survey results revealed these top lines:  (1) today a third of consumers are buying from brands based on their social and environmental impact; and (2) there’s a billion Euros opportunity now for brands that make their sustainability credentials more clear to the marketplace.

The company said in announcing results:  “As well as confirming the public’s high expectations of brands when it comes to having a positive social and environmental impact, the study’s findings uncover an unprecedented opportunity for companies to get it right.  More than one-in-five people surveyed said they would actively choose brands if they made their sustainability credentials clearer packaging and in marketing.”

This represents a potential untapped opportunity of almost one trillion Euros out of a 2.5 trillion euro total market for sustainable goods.  Wow!

Looking at this, Jake Dubbins, savvy CEO of the London-based media/ad firm, Media Bounty, was moved by the results to offer his own views on “brands, and the multinational companies that own most of them.”   He looks at the actions of Unilever, Tesla, The Body Shop, Energizer, and other brand marketers.

Says Dubbins: “…there’s a huge shift taking place…effectively positioning your brand as sustainable…you’ll be well placed to tap into the emerging  markets across the globe who are now leading the way in sustainability…”

Jake offers us more of his expert perspectives on why the most “sustainable” brands enjoy clear competitive advantage (and “top tips for success”) in his post on The Drum.

That’s our Top Story for you this week:

Research for Unilever shows that brands are missing out on £820 billion by not pushing sustainability
(Tuesday – February 21, 2017)
Source: The Drum – What defines sustainable? How sustainable is your brand? In short, does your brand actually have permission to ‘push’ sustainability?

“The Authoritative Voice for Wall Streeters,” Says It … Barron’s Tells Mainstream Investors It’s a “New Era of Sustainable Investing” … And that is, in the Trumpian Era, No Less…

The Barron’s weekly newspaper is the “hot read” for Wall Streeters – both institutional and retail investors alike eagerly absorb the news and opinions of the editors, writers, and columnists.  “Did you see Barron’s….?” is a familiar question in the investment community.

And so we ask — did you see Barron’s story this week (Feb 11th issue)?  “A New Era of Sustainability Emerges,” tells readers that the flurry of policy directives at the Trump White House has “fueled activism across the country;” it may also light a fire under some investors focused on sustainable business practices.

Columnist Reshma Kapadia says President Trump’s and allies proposals to roll back environmental and financial regulations…and reject climate-change science…the priorities of a growing number of investors who put a premium on environmental stewardship, corporate governance, transparency, and diversity are at odds with the Trumpian-era directions.

“But here’s the thing,” Reshma Kapadia writes, “the political backdrop could actually be good for ‘so-called’ ESG funds…”  And then she cites the authority of US SIF and the most recent survey of asset managers using ESG criteria — $US9 trillion, or $1-in-$5 in the US capital markets.

Important:  EPFR Global reports that since the November elections, investors have put almost $400 million into ESG stock funds.  And quoting Morningstar’s Jon Hale (head of sustainability research), “the political back drop could have a galvanizing effect, as investors look for ways to more explicitly support sustainable ideas.”

This is a report that you’ll want to read and share.  ESG investing is just common-sense investing, observes the columnist.  It’s one of the most important perspectives in sustainable, responsible and impact investing to appear in the new political era.

Reshma has been with The Wall Street Journal, Smart Money magazine, Reuters, and appears regularly in Barron’s pages.

(Note that you’ll have to register to read or be a subscriber to Barron’s. There are more than 300,000 weekly readers, subscription and newsstand.)

Top Story

A New Era of Sustainable Investing Emerges
(Monday – February 13, 2017)
Source: Barron’s – The political backdrop could actually be good for so-called ESG funds, which include environmental, social, and governance criteria in their stock-picking.

News From the Sustainability Front as The Trump White House Makes Controversial Moves on ESG Issues — Actions and Reactions

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

February 23, 2017
Forward Momentum! – Sustainability 2017

Are you like many of us having sleepless nights and anxiety spells as you watch the antics of the Trump White House and the creeping (and similarly moving-backwards) effects into the offices of important Federal agencies that the Administration is taking over?

Consider then “other news” — and not fake news, mind you, or alt-news — but encouraging real news that is coming from OTHER THAN the Federal government.

We are on track to continue to move ahead in building a more sustainable nation and world — despite the roadblocks being discussed or erected that are designed to slow the corporate sustainability movement or the steady uptake of sustainable investing in the capital markets.

Consider the Power and Influence of the Shareowner and Asset Managers:

The CEO of the largest asset manager in the world — BlackRock’s Larry Fink — in his annual letters to the CEOs of the S&P 500 (R) companies in January said this: “Environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors relevant to a company’s business can provide essential insights into management effectiveness and thus a company’s long-term prospects. We look to see that a company is attuned to the key factors that contribute to long-term growth:
(1) sustainability of the business model and its operations; (2) attention to external and environmental factors that could impact the company; (3) recognition of the company’s role as a member of the communities in which it operates.

A global company, CEO Fink wrote to the CEOs, needs to be “local” in every single one of its markets. And as BlackRock constructively engages with the S&P 500 corporate CEOs, it will be looking to see how the company’s strategic framework reflects the impact of last year’s changes in the global environment…in the ‘new world’ in which the company is operating.

BlackRock manages US$5.1 trillion in Assets Under Management. The S&P 500 companies represent about 85% of the total market cap of corporate equities.  Heavyweights, we would say, in shaping U.S. sustainability.

* * * * * * * *

As S&R investment pioneer Steve Viederman often wisely notes, “where you sit determines where you stand…” (on the issues of the day).  More and more commercial space users (tenants and owners) want to “sit” in green spaces — which demonstrates where they “stand” on sustainability issues.

Consider:  In the corporate sector, Retail and other tenants are demanding that landlords provide “green buildings,” according to Chris Noon (Builtech Services LLC CEO). The majority of his company’s construction projects today can easily achieve LEED status, he says (depending on whether the tenant wanted to pursue the certification, which has some cost involved). The company is Chicago-based.

This is thanks to advances in materials, local building codes, a range of technology, and rising customer-demand.

End users want to “sit” in “green buildings” — more than 40% of American tenants recently surveyed across property types expect now to have a “sustainable home.” The most common approaches include energy-saving HVAC systems, windows and plumbing. More stringent (local and state) building codes are also an important factor.

Municipalities — not the Federal government — are re-writing building codes, to reflect environmental and safety advances and concerns. Next week (Feb 28) real estatyer industry reps will gather in Chicago for the Bisnow’s 7th Annual Retail Event at the University Club of Chicago to learn more about these trends.

* * * * * * * *

Institutional investors managing US$17 trillion in assets have created a new Corporate Governance framework — this is the Investor Stewardship Group.

The organizers include such investment powerhouses as BlackRock, Fidelity and RBC Global Asset Management (a dozen in all are involved at the start). There are six (6) Principles advanced to companies by the group that including addressing (1) investment stewardship for institutional investors and (2) for public corporation C-suite and board room. These Principles would be effective on January 1 (2018), giving companies and investors time to adjust.

One of the Principles is for majority voting for director elections (no majority, the candidate does not go on board). Another is the right for investors to nominate directors with information posted on the candidate in the proxy materials.

Both of these moves when adopted by public companies would greatly enhance the activism of sustainable & responsible investors, such as those in key coalitions active in the proxy season, and year-round in engagements with companies (such as ICCR, INCR).

No waiting for SEC action here, if the Commission moves away from investor-friendly policies and practices as signaled so far. And perhaps – this activism will send strong messages to the SEC Commissioners on both sides of the aisle.

Remember:  $17 trillion in AUM at the start of the initiative — stay tuned to the new Investor Stewardship Group.  These are more “Universal Owners” with clout.

* * * * * * * *

Not really unexpected but disappointing nevertheless:  The Trump Administration made its moves on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), part of the Bakken Field project work, carrying out a campaign promise that caters to the project’s primary owners (Energy Transfer Partners**) and other industry interests, S&R investors are acting rapidly in response.

The company needed a key easement to complete construction across a comparatively small distance. Except that…

  • The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe says the route would cross their drinking water source, impact their sacred sites, and threaten environmentally-sensitive areas;
  • would violate treaty territory without meeting international standards for their consent; (this is the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, which according to the U.S. Constitution, should be the supreme law of the land);
  • and ignore alleged shortcomings in the required environmental review (under the National Environmental Policy Act – NEPA).

These are “abuses”, and banks and financial services firms involved may be complicit in these violations by the nature of their financing, S&R investors note. Their involvement in the project financing could impact their brands and reputations and relationships with society. And so S&R shareholders are taking action.

Boston Common Asset Management, Storebrand Asset Management (in Norway) and First Peoples Worldwide developed an Investor Statement to Banks Financing the DAPL. The statement — being signed on to by other investors — is intended to encourage banks and lenders to support the Rock Sioux Tribe’s request for re-routing the pipeline to not violate — “invade” — their treaty-protected territory. The violations pose a clear risk, SRI shareholders are saying.

The banks involved include American, Dutch, German, Chinese, Japanese, and Canadian institutions.  They in turn are owned by shareholders, public sector agencies, and various fiduciaries — “Universal Owners,” we would say.

The banks include: Bayerische Landesbank (Germany); BBVA (Argentina); Credit Agricole (France); TD Securities (Canada); Wells Fargo; ABN AMRO (The Netherlands); Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ; and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, and others.

The shareholders utilizing the Investor Statement say they recognize that banks have a contractual obligation with the respect to their transactions — but — they could use their influence to support the Tribe’s request for a re-route…and reach a “peaceful solution” acceptable to all parties.

As The Washington Post reported on January 24th, soon after the Trump Administration settled in, President Trump signed Executive Orders to revive the DAPL and the Keystone XL pipelines. “Another step in his effort to dismantle former President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy,” as the Post put it.

One Executive Order directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to “review and approve in an expedited manner” the DAPL. Days later the Corps made their controversial decision, on February 7th reversing course granting Energy Transfer Partners their easement. This week the remaining protestors were removed from the site (some being arrested).

The sustainable & responsible & impact investment community is not sitting by to watch these egregious events, as we see in the Investor Statements to the banks involved. The banks are on notice — there are risks here for you.

* * * * * * * *

May be what is happening in the asset management and project lending activities related to the project is the IBG / YBG worldview of some in the financial services world:  I’ll Be Gone / You’ll Be Gone when all of this hits the fan one day.  (Like the massive Ogalala Aquifer being contaminated by a pipeline break. The route of the extension is on the ground above and on the reservation’s lake bed.  Not to mention the threats to the above ground Missouri River, providing water downstream to U.S. states and cities.)

* * * * * * * *

Energy Transfer Partners, L.P:  (NYSE:ETP)  This is a Master Limited Partnership based in Texas.  Founded in 1995, the company has 71,000 miles of pipelines carrying various products. The company plans to build other major pipelines — the Rover Project — to carry product from the shale regions (Marcellus and Utica) across the Northern U.S. state east of the Mississippi.  ETP LP acquired Sunoco (remember them?).

Mutual Funds – Bond Holders – other key fiduciaries with brands of their own to protect — are funding the operations of ETP LP.

Brand names of equity holders include Oppenheimer; Goldman Sachs Asset Management; CalPERS; JPMorgan Chase.  Bond holders include Lord Abbett, PIMCO, Vanguard.  There are 567 institutional owners — fiduciaries — with some 45% of ownership, according to Morningstar. Partners include Marathon Petroleum Company (NYSE:MPC) and Enbridge (NYSE:ENB). (Bloomberg News – August 2, 2016 – both firms put $2 billion in the project and related work.)

The Partnership used to have an “Ownership” explanation on its web site — now it’s disappeared. But you can review some of it in Google’s archived web site pages here: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://www.energytransfer.com/ownership_overview.aspx&num=1&strip=1&vwsrc=0

* * * * * * * *

We are seeing in developments every day (like these above with non-governmental strategies and actions) that hold out promise for corporate and societal sustainability advocates and sustainable investment professionals that with — or without — public sector support, the Forward Momentum continue to build.

We’ll share news and opinion with you — let us know your thoughts, and the actions that you / your organization is taking, to continue the momentum toward building a better future…a more sustainable nation and world.

Out the Seventh Generation, as the Native American tribes are doing out in the American West in protecting their Treaty lands.  In that regard we could say, a promise is a promise — the Federal and state governments should uphold promises made in treaties.  Which are covered as a “guarantee” by the U.S. Constitution that some folk in politics like to wave around for effect.

FYI — this is Article VI:  “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land, and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby…”

In the American West & Midwest: Coal-fired Electricity-Generating Plants to Close

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

February 22, 2017

Momentum Forward! – 2017

Some good news to share:  Several large American coal-fired electric utility plant operators are abandoning the burning of coal and moving to natural gas and renewables to generate electricity.  This news was reported by The Washington Post on February 14th. Headline:  “The West’s largest coal-fired power plan is closing. not even Trump can save it.”

Top of the news: a plant in Arizona that is the largest coal-fired facility in the western part of the United States (the 2,250-MW Navajo Generation Station outside Page, AZ) will be de-commissioned by the owners/operators at the end of 2019 — decades before expected, said the Post.

In the era of low natural gas prices, the use of coal would cost more to produce electric power, which would be passed on to the rate base. The US EPA had listed the plant as the #3 of the major carbon-emitting facilities.

The facility is operated by the Salt River Project, utility companies and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation*. The facility serves the Phoenix area.

The downside:  members of the Navajo and Hopi tribes would (1) lose their jobs in the Kayenta Mine that provides that provides the coal, and (2) the tribes will lose certain royalty payments.  Cautionary note:  The tribes of other operators could step up to continue operations.

* * * * * * * *

And less than a month earlier, in the State of Ohio the Dayton Power & Light Company and the Sierra Club reached agr3eement to close two plants (Killen and Stuart) which are coal-fired facilities. These will close in mid-2018. Stuart is a 2,440-MW plant; Killen is 666-MW.

Dayton Power & Light will develop solar power facilities to generate about half of the 555-MW by 2022.

The state’s Public Utilities Commission has the plan for its approval from DP&L.  This is good news for environmental NGOs and Ohio consumers; rate payers would be paying more for their electric power with coal — and be breathing in the results of coal-burning.

All of this, of course, comes as President Trump continues to promise to bring back coal mining, and signed an Executive Order to remove the obstacle for mining companies to dump wastes into surface waters (something that President Obama moved to prevent).

The shift from coal to natural gas: Forward Momentum in 2017 for sustainability!

* * * * * * * *

Footnote: About the Bureau of Land Reclamation*, from its web site:  Established in 1902, the Bureau of Reclamation is best known for the dams, powerplants, and canals it constructed in the 17 western states. These water projects led to homesteading and promoted the economic development of the West. Reclamation has constructed more than 600 dams and reservoirs including Hoover Dam on the Colorado River and Grand Coulee on the Columbia River.

The Bureau is  the largest wholesaler of water in the country, bringing water to more than 31 million people, and provided one-out-of-five Western farmers (140,000) with irrigation water for 10 million acres of farmland that produce 60% of the nation’s vegetables and 25% of its fruits and nuts.

 

Doing the Right Things in Business — Making the Business Case – Making the Financial Case — Also Incorporating the Moral Case?

It’s an age-old topic of discussion:  Where in American business do the issues of morality, ethical behaviors, and “fair and equitable” fit in?  Andrew Winston, author of the best-selling “Green to Gold,” explores the topic (“morality”) in an essay on Sustainable Brands’ “New Metrics” web platform.

Morality:  moralizing; degree of conforming to moral principles.  So — in exploring the subject of morality in business, Andrew Winston thinks managers should crank the “moral” arguments into making-the-business case-for-corporate-sustainability discussions.  Making-the-financial-case (“investors want to know…”) is occurring more frequently now with many more mainstream investors focused on the firm’s ESG performance and the sustainability journey of especially large-cap enterprises.

“This is the right thing to do…” may be the persuasive argument in making the business case to decision-makers.  The moral positions of companies and their leaders are facing greater scrutiny now, says Winston.  Will companies defend LGBT rights — or protect immigrant employees?  Will they publicly argue for greater attention and action on climate change issues?  (It’s the right thing to do, many of you, dear readers, will agree.)

In our Top Story, author Andrew Winston sets out four “buckets” of arguments as to how the initiatives companies pursue create value — and three “mainstream” arguments (have some element of making-the-business-case, such as “short-term financial wins”).  The fourth argument — improve the shared commons —  and is it time to broaden how we talk about sustainability and bring in a moral dimension.

The traditional business case is still critical – but broadening the arguments in making the sustainability business case has Winston wondering if a combined logic or “good for business” and “good for the soul” will work.  He welcomes your thoughts after reading the essay.

Governance & Accountability Institute, Inc. is now in the 10th year of operations.  When we founded G&A back in 2007, we adopted the tagline:  Helping our clients do the right things for the right reasons.  That’s guided us to 2017 and benefited many of our corporate clients and our partners-in-progress.

Is it Time to Add Morality to the Business Case for Sustainability?
(Monday – February 06, 2017)
Source: Sustainable Brands – Every manager (or consultant) who has pitched an initiative under the banner of “sustainability” has faced the same question nearly every time: What’s the business case?

State Street CEO to Boards of Companies in Portfolio: Disclose More About the Impact of Climate Change on Your Business — Be More Transparent…and More

State Street Corp is one of the world’s leading asset managers, with US$2.47 trillion in AUM.  State Street Global Advisors CEO Ron O’Hanley in late-January sent a message to the boards of directors of public companies whose stock is in State Street portfolios:  SSGA is increasing focus on climate change, safety, workplace diversity and various other ESG issues.  Especially climate change.  Tell us more about what you are doing.

How?  The State Street Global Advisors CEO is asking, how is the board [of the company] preparing the enterprise for the impacts of climate change?  He is communicating to these directors that it is necessary for boards to disclose more about those plans.  The CEO’s letter was accompanied by a description of the framework that SSGA uses to evaluate public companies’ sustainability efforts.

In this week’s first Top Story, the highlights of the approach are described for you. Three criteria are used to evaluate and rank companies — as Tier One, Two and Three.  Tier One companies satisfy the three criteria.  The results are reflected in the proxy voting of SSGA, the #3 asset manager of ETF’s in the USA (Exchange Traded Funds).

There were 177 companies in the portfolio that SSGA evaluated in 2016; a mere 7% qualified as Tier One.  Tier Two totals 72%, which meant that companies had a sustainability program but had not integrated it into its overall business strategy, articulated how ESG factors affected long-term strategies, or established long-term goals aligned with ESG strategy. (Tier Three companies were described as not doing anything ESG-wise, 21% of companies in the portfolio, according to the Think Advisor story.)

Company boards and C-suite should consider that State Street is an active player in the coming proxy voting season.  SSGA supported 46% of climate-related proposals in 2016.  That’s important when you consider the competition:  the vote count was zero (voting) at Vanguard, American Funds, Black Rock and Fidelity — a source of concern and a growing level of activism on the issue among sustainable & responsible investing advocates.

In an interview with Bloomberg’s top environmental reporter, Emily Chasan in January (our second Top Story below), SSGA CEO O’Hanley said:  “We’re asking companies to make sure they are identifying and communicating both their risks and opportunities.  Climate change may be the poster child for risk out there.”

The Bloomberg Business Week story has a neat chart for you, with the voting records of “shares of proxy votes in favor of climate-related proposals.”  The Top 20 of the world’s asset managers’ voting records are presented.  State Street is the fifth-ranked (at the top).

Stay Tuned, as we often say, to the coming 2017 Proxy Voting Season at public companies.  ESG issues are front and center at some large corporate issuers and the action will be in the maneuvering around the shareholder-offered resolutions on climate change and other ESG issues by the entire voting body.

Story links below:

State Street Wants Companies to Focus on Sustainability
(Wednesday – February 01, 2017)
Source: Think Advisor – State Street Global Advisors, the third-largest provider of ETFs, wants more companies to incorporate sustainability practices into their long-term business strategies and will consider such corporate efforts in its upcoming

State Street Asks Boards to Disclose More on Climate Preparation
(January 26, 2017)
Source: BloombergBusinessweek – Climate change is no longer listed as a top issue on the White House website, but it’s very much at the forefront for $2.47 trillion asset manager State Street Corp.

The Best Intentions of C-Suite On Corporate Sustainability — Results in Are In With Sharing of Bain & Co Survey

This is not encouraging: the respected management consulting company Bain & Company surveyed the leaders of 300 companies engaged in “sustainability transformation” and conducted interviews with heads of sustainability recognized for outstanding results.

The question: What are the results of instituting sustainability as a top priority? The answer: Alas, not really encouraging for stakeholders, says Bain & Company. There’s an important “but” here with tips for CEOs and C-suite on how to overcome the odds of losing forward momentum in corporate sustainability efforts.

The management consulting firm published the results of its research in: “Achieving Breakthrough Results in Sustainability.” This effort found that for the 300 companies, only two percent (2%) of their corporate sustainability programs achieved or exceeded their aims when compared to the companies’ other transformation programs (which had a 12% success rate). There are “change traps” that keep companies from reaching their goals.

Key quote: “Too often, sustainability gets stuck in first gear, while the need for change is accelerating,” said Jenny Davis-Peccoud, who leads Bain’s Sustainability & Corporate Responsibility practice. “Once companies learn to navigate common roadblocks, they open the door to a transformational journey and the potential to leave a legacy,prompting companies to redefine what it means to be a leader in their industry.”

We see this in our analysis of corporate sustainability reporting as the Global Reporting Initiative data partners for the United States, United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland. The corporate leaders in sustainability have made “the journey” an integral part of strategy-setting, operations, marketing, employee motivation, stakeholder (including investor) engagement, and incentivizing internal behaviors. The “leaders” and “laggards” in sectors and industry categories self-identify through their reporting on achieved progress (and stalled progress is also apparent).

For 2016 our analysts reviewed more than 1,500 corporate sustainability / responsibility / environmental progress / citizenship reports published by companies and databased key characteristics, data sets, achievements, and more. This intelligence is leveraged in our client services, shared research and teaching programs.

One of the issues Bain found in its survey effort and conversations with managers is that the rank and file employees do not see sustainability as a business imperative — even though those at the top of the organization understand that enhancing the firm’s “public reputation” is a key driver for sustainability change. Two important factors emerged from the Bain effort: Less than 1/4 of the firms surveyed said employees were held accountable for sustainability through incentives; and, there was a lack of resources as well as competing priorities to deal with.

G&A Institute analysts look for the winning characteristics that overcome these obstacles in their report analysis. G&A has designed a series of tools and services to help companies engage more effectively with their employees on sustainability goals and initiatives that is proving to be very successful among our clients. Please let us know if you’d like to set up a call to discuss how we can help your company.

Among the four tips for CEOs and corporate leadership from Bain: “Highlight the Business Case.” (Helping to make the case: for brand marketers, those with a demonstrated commitment to sustainability grew four times faster than their peers in 2015, according to the Nielsen Global Corporate Responsibility Report.)

There’s more in the Top Story this week, along with information on requesting a copy of the report from Bain & Company. Inc.

Corner Office Sustainability Passions Get Trapped at the Top: Why 98 Percent of Companies Do Not Achieve Their Sustainability Goals
(Wednesday – January 25, 2017)
Source: CSRWire – A new report from investment leader and management consultants Bain & Company — “Achieving Breakthrough Results in Sustainability” — finds that only 2 percent of corporate sustainability programs achieve or exceed their aims, compared to 12 percent of other corporate…