Plastic Bottles, Past Present and Future – Are They a Factor in Your Organization’s Operations? Some Remedies to Consider…

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

Among the fascinating – and horrifying – environmentally-focused stories we see now on a regular basis are those about the “Pacific Gyre” — that floating (and quickly becoming “a semi-continent”) of garbage and waste in the northern stretches of the vast Pacific Ocean.

The National Geographic Society describes “The Pacific Garbage Patch” as two distinct and vast collections of floating debris in the Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone.

One patch (“the vortex”) spans east-to-west from the North American western coastlines (California to Oregon and Washington State) all the way to Japan and includes the Eastern Patch (garbage floating between Hawaii and California).

An ocean gyre, NG explains, is a system of circular ocean currents formed by the Earth’s wind patterns and the forces created by the planet’s rotation. The gyre center is calm and stable – and so garbage piles up and stays. 

Consider that a plastic water bottle carelessly thrown in the California surf crosses the Pacific and ends up a patch (after about six years of travel). 

Most plastics (alas) do not break down – so the gyre (made up of microplastics for the most part) grows and expands. Much of the debris then slowly sinks to the bottom of the ocean.

On the subject of the ubiquitous (plastic) bottle, how can we think outside the bottle to drive a more sustainable future?  That’s the topic of today’s Top Story, with commentary by Richard Howells and David Sweetman published on the Forbes platform.

They say that 8 million metric tons of plastic are added to our oceans every day.

Among the islands of plastic debris, they examine are the Pacific patches — one is the size of the State of Texas! 

Consider the impact: sea turtles caught around the Great Pacific Garbage Patch can have up to 74% of their diets comprised of ocean plastics…and in turn, some of the plastic consumed by sea creatures finds its way into our human diets. 

What have you eaten today that might have had “microplastics” on the ingredient label? (Hmmm…should we add that now to the required food labels?)

Some states, cities and municipalities are focusing on single-use plastics (shopping bags), plastic bottles and the like. 

In Suffolk County, New York (a bellwether county for progressive ideas that address societal issues, such as seat belts in autos and one of the first to adopt mandatory beverage container recycling 30+ years ago) recently adopted measures to reduce single-bag use by shoppers.

New York State government leaders quickly adopted a statewide ban on most types of single-use plastic bags in retail. This is a trend to watch.

Among the authors’ suggestions for your business:

(1) take action your on supply chain;  

(2) design products and packaging materials to be more bio-degradable;

(3) drive a circular economy (encourage re-use, recycling);

(4) examine the delivery of your products’ packaging – try re-usable containers vs. throwaway packaging.

The details are in the Forbes commentary.

Focus on plastic bottles, they advise, such as the disposable water bottle (that is thinking outside the bottle!).

You can use water dispensing machines; water filtration equipment (typically built in refrigerators now); re-usable water bottles (we have a neat blue bottle here on the desk, a gift from the folks at Nestle Water); be creative in recycling of water bottles. (Mohawk Industries recycles 3 billion plastic bottles annually for their carpet manufacturing.)

There’s more for you in the Top Story. 

And here’s a related story about Amazon’s efforts along these lines:
Amazon’s incredible, vanishing cardboard box  (Tuesday – July 16, 2019) Source: CNN 

You can learn more about the Garbage Patch on the NG website.

Thinking Outside the Bottle to Drive A Sustainable Future
(Monday – July 15, 2019) Source: Forbes – The tide of devastation from single-use plastics polluting our oceans is now at an all-time high. Approximately 8 million metric tons of plastic are added to our oceans every day. Long ago, islands of plastic debris started… 

Trump Administration Continues Attempts to Unravel U.S. Environmental Protections Put in Place Over Many Years – Now, Shareholder Proxy Resolution Actions on Climate Issues Also In Focus For Investors…

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

We should not have been surprised: in 2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump promised that among his first steps when in the Oval Office would be the tearing up of his predecessor’s commitment to join the family of nations in addressing climate change challenges. 

In late-December 2015 in Paris, with almost 200 nations coming to agreement on tackling climate change issues, the United States of America with President Barack Obama presiding signed on to the “Paris Agreement” (or Accord) for sovereign nations and private, public and social sector organizations come together to work to prevent further damage to the planet.

The goal is to limit damage and stop global temperatures from rising about 2-degrees Centigrade, the issues agreed to. 

As the largest economy, of course the United States of America has a key role to play in addressing climate change.  Needed: the political will, close collaboration among private, public and social sectors — and funding for the transition to a low-carbon economy (which many US cities and companies are already addressing).

So where is the USA? 

On June 1st 2017 now-President Trump followed through on the promise made and said that the U.S.A. would begin the process to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, joining the 13 nations that have not formally ratified the agreement by the end of 2018 (such as Russia, North Korea, Turkey and Iran).  

Entering 2019, 197 nations have ratified the Agreement.

A series of actions followed President Trump’s Paris Agreement announcement – many changes in policy at US EPA and other agencies — most of which served to attempt to weaken long-existing environmental protections, critics charged.

The latest move to put on your radar:  In April, President Trump signed an Executive Order that addresses “Promoting Energy Infrastructure and Economic Growth”.

[Energy] Infrastructure needs – a bipartisan issue – are very much in focus in the president’s recent EO.  But not the right kind to suit climate change action advocates. 

Important: The EO addressed continued administration promotion and encouraging of coal, oil and natural gas production; developing infrastructure for transport of these resources; cutting “regulatory uncertainties”; review of Clean Water Act requirements; and updating of the DOT safety regulations for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facilities.

Critics and supporters of these actions will of course line up on both sides of the issues.

There are things to like and to dislike for both sides in the president’s continuing actions related to environmental protections that are already in place.

And then there is the big issue in the EO:  a possible attempt to limit shareholder advocacy to encourage, persuade, pressure companies to address ESG issues.

Section 5 of the EO“Environment, Social and Governance Issues; Proxy Firms; and Financing of Energy Projects Through the U.S. Capital Markets.” 

The EO language addresses the issue of Materiality as the US Supreme Court advises.  Is ESG strategy, performance and outcome material for fiduciaries? Many in the mainstream investment community believe the answer is YES!

Within 180 days of the order signing, the Secretary of the Department of Labor will complete a review existing DOL guidance on fiduciary responsibilities for investor proxy voting to determine whether such guidance should be rescinded, replaced, or modified to “ensure consistency with current law and policies that promote long-term growth and maximize return on ERISA plan assets”. 

(Think of the impact on fiduciaries of the recommendations to be made by the DOL, such as public employee pension plans.) 

The Obama Administration in 2016 issued a DOL Interpretive Bulletin many see as a “green light” for fiduciaries to consider when incorporating ESG analysis and portfolio decision-making.  The Trump EO seems to pose a direct threat to that guidance.

We can expect to see sustainable & responsible investors marshal forces to aggressively push back against any changes that the Trump/DOL forces might advance to weaken the ability of shareholders – fiduciaries, the owners of the companies! – to influence corporate strategies and actions (or lack of action) on climate change risks and opportunities.  Especially through their actions in the annual corporate proxy ballot process and in engagements. 

You’ll want to stay tuned to this and the other issues addressed in the Executive Order.  We’ll have more to report to you in future issues of the newsletter.

Click here to President Trump’s April 10, 2019 Executive Order.

Facts or not?  Click here if you would like to fact check the president’s comments on withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

We are still in!  For the reaction of top US companies to the Trump announcement on pulling out of the Paris Accord, check The Guardiancoverage of the day.

At year end 2018, this was the roundup of countries in/and not.

For commentaries published by G&A Institute on the Sustainability Update blog related to the above matters, check out it here.

Check out our Top Story for details on President Trump’s recent EO.

This Week’s Top Stories

Trump Order Takes Aim at Shareholders Pushing Companies to Address Climate Change
(Wednesday – April 77, 2019) Source: Climate Liability News – President Trump has ordered a review of the influence of proxy advisory firms on investments in the fossil fuel industry, a mot that…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


This Week’s Top Stories

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

When Will Sustainable Investing Be Considered to be in the Mainstream?

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

“Movements” – what comes to mind when we describe the characteristics of this term are some 20th Century examples.

The late-20th Century “environmental movement” was a segue from the older 19th and early 20th Century “conservation movement” that was jump started by President Theodore Roosevelt (#26), who in his 8 years in the Oval Office preserved some 100,000 acres of American land every work day (this before the creation of the National Parks System a decade later).

The catalysts for the comparatively rapid uptake of the environmental movement?  American rivers literally burned in the 1960’s and 1970’s (look it up – Cuyahoga River in Ohio was one).

And that was just one reason the alarm bells were going off.  New York’s Hudson River was becoming an open, moving sewer, with its once-abundant fish dying and with junk moving toward the Atlantic Ocean.  Many East Coast beaches were becoming fouled swamp lands.

One clarion call – loud & clear — for change came from the pen.  The inspired naturalist / author Rachel Carson wielded her mighty pen in writing the 1962 best-seller, “Silent Spring”. 

That book helped to catalyze the rising concerns of American citizens. 

She quickly attracted great industry criticism for sounding the alarm…but her words mobilized thousands of early activists. And they turned into the millions of the new movement.

She explained the title:  There was a strange stillness.  Where had the little birds gone? The few birds seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly.”  (Hint:  the book had the poisonous aspects of the DDT pesticide at its center as the major villain.)

Americans in the 1960s were becoming more and more alarmed not only of dumping of chemical wastes into rivers and streams and drifting off to the distant oceans —

—but also of tall factory smokestacks belching forth black clouds and coal soot particles;

–of large cities frequently buried beneath great clouds of yellow smog a mile high on what were cone clear days;

–of dangerous substances making their way into foods from the yields of land and sea;

–of yes, birds dropping out of the sky, poisoned;

–of tops of evergreen and other trees on hilltops and mountains in the Northeast burned clean off by acid rain wafting in from tall utility smokestacks hundreds of miles away in the Midwest…and more. 

Scary days. For public health professionals, dangerous days.

We will soon again be celebrating Earth Day; give thanks, we are long way from that first celebration back in spring 1970. (Thank you, US Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin for creating that first Earth Day!)

Most of our days now are (as the pilots cheer) CAVU – ceiling (or clear) and visibility unlimited. 

We can breathe deep and as we exhale thank many activists for persevering and driving dramatic change and creating the modern environmental movement… and on to the sustainability movement. 

And now – is it time (or, isn’t time!) for another movement along these lines…the sustainable investing movement going mainstream? 

Experts pose the question and provide some perspectives in this week’s Top Story.

In Forbes magazine, they ask:  “Why Hasn’t Sustainable Investing Gone Viral Yet?”

Decio Fascimento, a member of Forbes Council (and chief investment officer of the Richmond Global Compass Fund) and the Forbes Finance Council address the question in their essay.

In reading this, we’re reminded that such mainstream powerhouse asset managers as BlackRock, State Street/SSgA, Vanguard Funds, TIAA-CREF, and asset owners New York State Common Fund, New York City pension funds (NYCPERS), CalPERS, CalSTRS and other capital market players have embraced sustainable investing approaches. 

But – as the authors ask:  what will it take for many more capital market players to join the movement?  There’s interesting reading for you in the Top Story – if you have thoughts on this, send them along to share with other readers in the G&A Institute universe.

Or send comments our way to supplement this blog post.


This Week’s Top Stories

Why Hasn’t Sustainable Investing Gone Viral Yet?
(Wednesday – April 10, 2019) Source: Forbes – Let’s first look at what sustainability looks like in financial terms. In sustainable investing, the ideal scenario is when you find opportunities that produce the highest returns and have the highest positive impact. 

And of further reading for those interested:

Pope Francis Issues Call for Action on Sustainable Development at Rome Conference of Experts & Activists

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

Global faith leaders can directly and indirectly affect significant changes in our global society. 

One leader with high visibility and strong opinions on important societal issues is the Holy Father in Rome, Pope FrancisThe Roman Catholic Church as a collective institution is one of the largest owners and holders of assets in the world, including pension systems of various orders, Catholic charities, healthcare systems, and more.

The Roman Catholic Church’s policy is guided by important encyclicals issued by the Pope in the Vatican City. 

For example, the contents of the historic 1891 encyclical issued by Pope Leo XIII on capital and labor and the rights of both (and concerns about the Industrial Age working class) continues to reverberate even today in discussions about corporate-labor and public sector-labor issues (this was “Rerum Novarum”).

Amidst the rising discussion worldwide about climate change and the need for action, Pope Francis issued “Laudato Si” (Our Home) in May 2015.  This is a powerful work addressing environmental and ecology issues, especially including the need for action on climate change. This work called on the world society – and especially the institutions of the R.C. church – to address the urgent threats posed by climate change.  (The subtitle was “On care for our common home”.)

As part of the public dialogue, Pope Francis addressed the joint houses of the U.S. Congress in May 2015 and received 37 standing ovations as he addressed climate change, common needs, risk to our common home (the Earth), the responsibility of richer nations, and other societal challenges.

The discussion continues:  the Roman Catholic Church convened a three-day conference earlier this month in Rome to bring together experts and activists in human development, the environment and healthcare.

To – as Pope Francis explained – explore new paths of constructive development … development having been “…almost entirely limited to economic growth… [which] is leading the world down a dangerous path where progress is assessed only in terms of economic growth.”

The title of the conference:  “Religions and the Sustainable Development Goals:  Listening to the Cry of the Earth and of the Poor”. The theme:  “Without a change of attitude that focuses on the well-being of the planet and its inhabitants, efforts to achieve the SDGs will not be sufficient for a fair and reasonable world order.”

Said the Holy Father, leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics:  “No branch of science or form of wisdom should be overlooked, and this includes religions and the languages particular to them.” 

Our Top Story is the news report of the Catholic News Service out of Rome with background on the conference and related information.

Background on the historic significance of Laudato Si (Our Home), Pope Francis’s encyclical is in the “Trends Converging! – A Look Ahead of the Curve” book of essays by G&A Chair Hank Boerner, available (chapter 44) online

There is also a management brief on this on G&A Institute’s “To the Point!” management briefing platform:
https://ga-institute.com/to-the-point/


This Week’s Top Story

Pope: World in need of ‘ecological conversion’ to advance sustainability   
 (Tuesday – March 12, 2019) Source: Cux Now – ROME – Sustainable development cannot be achieved without the voices of those affected by the exploitation of the earth’s resources, especially the poor, migrants, indigenous people and young men and women, Pope Francis told… 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will There Be Action in the 116th Congress?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Among the benefits seen:

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

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

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

Paying For the GND

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

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

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

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

Emergent: A Movement?

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

The Controversial Conversation about GND

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

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

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

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

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

Media Reactions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Money, Money, Money!

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

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

The Social Media Universe Lights Up

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

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

Note that the Congresswoman has about 2 million Twitter followers.

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

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

Putting Things in Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something For Everyone!

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

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

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

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

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

Possible GND Impact on Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Created January 5, 2019 – updated January 9, 2019

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

by Hank BoernerG&A Institute Chair & Chief Strategist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why the Olive Tree and Sustainability?

by Ken Cynar — Editor, G&A Institute’s “Accountability Central” and “Sustainability HQ” web platforms and the weekly Sustainability Highlights newsletter

As a viewer of our public information-sharing websites and our weekly Sustainability Highlights newsletter you may have noticed that we frequently use the picture of an aged olive tree to illustrate certain stories about sustainability. What is the connection? And why this olive tree?

The tree is a powerful symbol. The olive tree grows naturally throughout the Mediterranean region and also in Asia and Africa, but has been cultivated in other parts of the world. Thousands of acres can be seen throughout Italy and Spain, the Middle East and parts of North Africa.

The tree grows slowly and steadily in marginal climate and soil conditions utilizing just the water it needs without sapping all the minerals from the soil. ”Olive trees show a marked preference for calcareous soils, flourishing best on limestone slopes and crags, and coastal climate conditions. They grow in any light soil, even on clay if well drained, but in rich soils, they are predisposed to disease and produce poorer oil than in poorer soil.”

Their existence is mentioned in both the Old and New testaments of the Bible, as well as in Greek and Roman literature. The trees are noted for their longevity with frequent examples dating back from 1,000 to almost 2,000 years. It is these qualities that make them an excellent illustration for today’s focus on societal sustainability.

Why this particular olive tree? This tree is situated in the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, Sicily, just about two hundred meters from the Temple of Hercules, the oldest temple on the site. Here stood the city of Akragas, one of the most important Greek colonies in Sicily, founded around 582 BC by settlers from nearby Gela and from Rhodes.

 

Olive trees dot the old city with this particular one purported to be nearly 2,000 years old. Very few things on earth can boast of being that old, weathering climate changes, wars, famine, plague, etc. I took this picture because of its location and stately appearance and the guide’s assurance of the aged tree. We all know guides do not lie, right?

So here we have it. The olive tree is known for its toughness, measured growth, economy of scale and longevity, even facing myriad natural and man-made challenges.

Aren’t these the qualities of a sustainable company?

And here (photo) is this particular tree. Occupying a site that goes back to a city founded 2,500 years ago. Its roots are deep into the history of civilization, the time of the Romans and the Greeks. In fact, historians have verified that this site has been occupied by human civilization for more than 7,000 years and even then olive trees grew in this Valley.

This illustration was not selected by chance, but with deep respect and a measured recognition of its history and stature and powerful symbolism of the ancient olive tree in the 21st Century society.

# # #

Ken Cynar is Editor-in-Chief of Governance & Accountability Institute, and manages its public-sharing web sites, Accountability Central and SustainabilityHQ. He is editor of the firm’s weekly newsletter – Sustainability Highlights – reaching almost 15,000 professionals interested in sustainability topics and issues.

The quote is from Israel, posted by Alexandra Ben-Abba, from Outer Seed Shadow.

UN IPCC Warns Us: The Time to Act Is Now – The Window For Action on Global Warming is Fast Closing

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

The buzz for the past few days has been about the report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that urged governments everywhere to “take rapid and far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” to avoid catastrophic events and conditions brought on by climate change.

Why?  The planet temperature could reach the critical point – keep 1.5 degrees Celsius / 2.7 F above pre-industrial levels in mind.  We must get measures in place to address the threats of floods, rising seas, food shortages, shrinking arable land, wildfires, rising seas…and more.

Today 195 countries are members of the IPCC (including the United States, United Kingdom, China, Germany, and France) — and thousands of scientists all over the world contribute to the work of the organization.

The panel based its findings on the current high levels of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).  These are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (NO2), and a number of fluorinated gases (such as hydrofluorocarbons). GHGs are measured in parts per million (ppm), parts per billion (ppb) and per trillion. The gases can remain in our atmosphere for years, decades, centuries.

The end effect is to make our Earth warmer and warmer over time.

And where do the GHG emissions come from?  Transportation, production of electricity, industry (using fossil fuels for energy, production), buildings (commercial, residential, industrial), and use of the land (agriculture, forestry, ranching).

The key takeaways from the IPCC report:  We have not done enough in the past / we are not doing enough now (to address global warming) – and we have to dramatically increase the critical steps needed to slow and stop global warming and move the global society back to the pre-industrial levels of GHG emissions (150 to 200 years ago).

The key is more aggressive and rapid reduction of carbon emissions.  Think about achieving that while continuing economic growth (everyone’s desire, everywhere); dealing with steadily increasing population growth (we are on our way to 9 billion level by 2050 says the UN); keeping public sector expenditures at levels that sustain our present way of life while allocating funds to address climate change threats; and, avoiding catastrophic upheavals of various kinds in the decades ahead.

The IPCC report is sobering.  Our Top Story this week is a good review by CNN of where we are today and the rapidly-diminishing days we have left to begin very serious efforts for a course correction.

IPCC background information is available for you at: https://wg1.ipcc.ch/

The U.S. EPA web site also has information at a glance for you: https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions

You can also access the annual Inventory of U.S. GHG Emissions and Sinks there.

This Week’s Top Story

Planet has only until 2030 to stem catastrophic climate change, experts warn
(Monday – October 08, 2018) Source: CNN – Holding global warming to a critical limit would require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” says a key report from the global scientific authority on climate change.

Economic Growth, Protecting & Preserving Our Ecological Systems – Are These Conflicted, Or Complementary As We Strive For Greater Global Sustainability?

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

The continued drive toward greater societal sustainability is very encouraging.  The public sector, multilateral organizations, companies, investors, NGOs, and other stakeholders are adopting new strategies and embracing new approaches and best practices.  Picture the installation of the vast array of a desert solar generating “farm” – that’s progress to cheer.

But there are substantial societal challenges that will require much more effort than we see today if we are to achieve greater, widespread sustainability — worldwide.

Growth is good/growth is an issue.  We are on track, demographers tell us, to see the global population grow from today’s 7.6 billion to 9.6 billion by the year 2050.  We recall a description that describes the challenge of meeting this particular situation: It is like changing tires on an automobile that is moving.

The imagery of that is tantalizing to consider.  This could apply to the challenges of developing solutions to vexing social, environmental and governance issues of 2018 as we steadily move towards 2050.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (the SDGs) comprise an excellent roadmap for us to (1) look at the vexing societal issues and (2) collaborate and innovate to develop solutions, even as economic, population, demographic, political, financial, and other issues throw up still more challenges to meet as we strive to meet today’s challenges.

Reality:  We have to continue “growing”, right?

The 17 SDGs include such laudable and aspirational goals as ending poverty (#1), proving education (#4), providing clean water and sanitation (#6), and achieving “zero” hunger (#2).

Governments, industry, investors, civic leadership, NGOs, and other stakeholders are busily trying to figure out the “how” of addressing the challenges.  (And, how to pay for the work to be done.)  This week the UN Secretary General spoke about the lack of progress in general since the goals were structured in 2015.  Only 12 years are left until the 2030 deadline for having solutions in place, observers noted.

So the question:  Can sustainable development logically co-exist with current economic growth?  The Phys.Org organization provides an interesting (brief) exploration of the topic in a feature article in September. There’s an elephant in the room, say the authors, and that is the “trilemma of population growth, economic growth, and environmental sustainability” – which (they say) reveals the vast incompatibility of current models of economic development with environmental sustainability.

These are some of the findings of a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academic of Sciences (USA); the lead author is Professor Graeme Cumming of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.

An example of the research results:  High-income countries often rely more on non-extractive industries, such as manufacturing and services, but consume more per capital and import more raw materials.

In low-income countries, populations depend more on the extractive industries (agriculture, mining, logging), but have lower per capita consumption rates and higher population growth (and will have more mouths to feed).

The world is divided into two distinct groups of national economies, the authors posit in the Proceedings, roughly equated to developed and less developed nations…and both are pushed toward two different equilibrium points that are unsustainable under population growth. (They studied data and models that are described in the Journal report.)

The solution that we can all agree on:  We need to find ways to make economic development and good standards of living compatible with ecological sustainability.  We can use this knowledge to steer economic growth towards win-win outcomes for people and the environment (so say the authors).

The Journal article is available to you at:
Linking Economic Growth Pathways and Environmental Sustainability by Understanding Development as Alternate Social-Ecological Regimes http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2018/09/04/1807026115

Our Top Story provides highlights of the report authored by Professor Cumming and his colleague, Stephan von Cramon-Taubadel); Dr. Cumming presents brief highlights for you.

This Week’s Top Story

Can sustainable development co-exist with current economic growth?
(Thursday – September 06, 2018) Source: Phys.org – New research confronts the elephant in the room—the ‘trilemma’ of population growth, economic growth and environmental sustainability—and reveals the vast incompatibility of current models of economic development with…