Perspectives – Bloomberg, McKinsey, Leading ESG Investors, Mark Cuban – on Corporate Purpose and the Virus Crisis

Excellence in Corporate Citizenship on Display in the Coronavirus Crisis – Post #8   

“Corporate Purpose – Virus Crisis”   #WeRise2FightCOVID-19

April 1, 2020

By Hank Boerner, Chair & Chief Strategist, and the G&A Institute team members

On Corporate Purpose – Words and Actions – Thoughts From Influentials As The Virus Crisis Deepens Worldwide — the Focus on Purpose Can Help Corporate Generals Lead From the Front

In summer 2019, The Business Roundtable (BRT), the association of the CEOs of 200 firms, revamped the organization’s mission statement to read…

…“as leaders of America’s largest corporations, BRT CEOs believe we have a responsibility to help build a strong and sustainable economic future in the United States.”

This followed the publication of the January 2019 CEO-to-CEO letter of Larry Fink, who heads BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager (and therefore a major fiduciary investing in the BRT companies). He regularly writes to the CEOs of companies that BlackRock invests in to let them know where of the major investors stands.

He wrote at the start of 2019…

…Purpose is not the sole pursuit of profits but the animating force for achieving them. And, profits are in no way inconsistent with purpose; in fact, profits and purpose are inextricably linked.

And again in his January 2020 letter to CEOs, Chair & CEO Larry Fink said:

…“As I have written in past letters [to CEOs in 2019, 2018] a company cannot achieve long-term profits without embracing purpose and considering the needs of considering the needs of a broad range of stakeholders. Ultimately, purpose is the engine of long-term profitability.”

Fast forward to March 2020 and now into April. What is the walk-of-the-talk of the CEOs (181 of them) who were signatories as the coronavirus crisis grips the U.S. and the world — and the actions of the signatories’ firms as stakeholders look for aid, comfort, security, payroll, taxes paid, and more?

And what other companies not necessarily in the Roundtable? What actions are taken leveraging corporate power to help society?

The stakeholders are watching. And a good number of the Business Roundtable companies are responding to address societal needs.

And what are the perspectives shared about all of this? We bring you some of these today. Here are some of the views and advice of experts and  influentials.

McKinsey Speaks – On How to Demonstrate Corporate Purpose

Says the influential management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company: Companies will define what they do in the crucible of COVID-19 response – or be defined by it.

So what could company managements be doing when the primary purpose of their efforts is to help the enterprise survive? McKinsey acknowledges this — and provides some advice. This is from their bulletin today.

Questions are being asked, of course, related to survival. How long will the crisis last? What are peers doing? How do we pay our people?

“WIN” – what is important now? (The G&A team has asked and helped to answer that question many times in our three decades of crisis management support for client companies over the years.)

First up, advises the McKinsey team members — understand your stakeholder needs and then with the understanding gained, prioritize your response. There will be tradeoffs among stakeholders – prepare for that.

Then, bring the greatest strengths of the organization to bear – consider, how can you make a difference?

McKinsey advises “collaborate with suppliers and customers and they may identify strengths you didn’t know you had”.

Examples offered:  Car makers can make ventilators (GM, Ford etc). Perfume companies can rapidly turn to manufacture hand sanitizer (LVMH and Estee Lauder are doing that today as we’ve reported in these briefs).

As you move forward, test the assumption and decisions you are taking against your stated purpose – communicate – explain (how and why).

Banks have a commitment to lend money in their community. If the bank pulls away – why? The action could help to define that institution in and after the crisis.

Give people something to do! (We also shared this advice a number of times early in the crisis.)

Involve employees in solutions. Give them a sense of purpose. Your team is looking for signals of leadership. And how to help.

And McKinsey says, the positive is that you may in the process be identifying the next generation of your company’s leadership!

Try new ways. Try using “cross-cutting” teams to develop new solutions, new ways to do things.

When in 2005 Hurricane Katrina hit, Wal-Mart Stores asked employees to deliver supplies to areas that were hard to reach. And we remember that the company’s store managers on their own ordered extra supplies and kept the stores open – even as their own homes were being destroyed.

That led to the CEO embarking on a strategic sustainability journey that revolutionized the whole company and in the process formed the Sustainability Consortium!

And like the best of the military leaders, you should yourself lead from the front. Communicate – often, early. Don’t sugarcoat the news. Adapt to changing conditions (and then communicate again). Your enterprise looks to its leaders for guidance.

Things that stand out for us that McKinsey explains:

  • Executives are uniquely poised now to bring corporate power, guided by social purpose to aid millions of dislodged and vulnerable lives. Done well, your actions can bridge the divide between shareholders and stakeholders. And leave a lasting, positive legacy.
  • Credibility is both essential and fragile element of executive leadership. Authentic actions demonstrate the company’s genuine commitment to social purpose.

Thanks to McKinsey’s Bill Schaninger, senior partner in Philadelphia, and Bruce Simpson, senior partner in Toronto, and their colleagues Han Zhang and Chris Zhu, for the valuable insights and guidance offered to corporate leaders.

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Mark Cuban on COVID-19 – Words & Action

We are often entertained by the antics of Mark Cuban on the courts (he’s owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA team) and appears on the hit TV show, “Shark Tank”. He was serious this week in addressing the virus crisis.

On Twitter he advised the federal policymakers: “Dear government, here is why you require companies that receive bailouts to retain 100% of their employees. The cost of the bailout loan – eventual payments will cost taxpayers less than the cost of government assistance programs for fired employees. Case closed.”

And…

“If you run a business, BEFORE YOUR FIRE ANYONE (or any more), you have an obligation to yourself/employees to find every gov loan option available today and those soon to come. Find the time. When the gov loans start you want to be already an expert and in line.”

Mark Cuban then walked-the-talk, setting up a way to pay his team’s venue employees (American Airlines Arena) even though games are cancelled and no one is coming. Then sent $100,000+ to the area’s not-for-profits aiding the Big D residents.

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Investor Coalition Speaks Its Mind on Corporate Purpose

Nearly 200 long-term institutional investors (with AUM of US$4.7 trillion) called on company managements to protect their workers – difficult to do, the investors acknowledge. Board directors are accountable for long-term Human Capital Management strategies (they remind board members on both domestic U.S. and global companies).

The steps companies could take, says the investor group:

  • Provide paid leave – including emergency leave) for full-time, part-time and subcontracted workers.
  • Prioritize health and safety – meaning, worker and public health safety, and to protect social license to operate. That may include closing facilities as precautionary step.
  • Maintain employment levels – your workers are well-trained (we hope!) and will enable the company to ramp up quickly once the crisis is resolved.
  • And be on the watch for any moves that may be discriminatory.
  • Maintain customer – and supplier — relationships to ensure that you can help stabilize them if necessary (such as financial challenges to suppliers) and to protect your own and other communities and businesses.
  • Practice financial prudence – demonstrate, the advisors strongly urge, the highest levels of ethical financial management and responsibility. And, limit executive and senior management compensation during the crisis (not repeating the practices of companies in the 2008 financial practices with money provided by the taxpayer).

Corporate leadership is critically-needed, the coalition stresses, to help society get through the crisis.

Among the investors in the coalition issuing the advice to public company managements: the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) coalition (with 300 institutional members); the New York City public employees pension fund, led by Comptroller Scott Stringer; AFL-CIO fund; the state treasurers of Connecticut, Maryland, Rhode Island, Oregon, Vermont; American Federation of Teachers (AFT); the British Columbia Government and Services Employees Union; Aviva Investors; APG; Boston Common Asset Management; Coalition on Corporate Responsibility in Indiana & Michigan; Cornerstone Capital Group; Communications Workers of America (CWA); Robeco Asset Management; numerous foundations and religious orders and denominations.

Information: https://www.iccr.org/program-areas/human-rights/investor-action-coronavirus

All of this is spelled out in the “Investor Statement on Coronavirus Response” being circulated among fiduciaries.

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Believe the Investor’s Urging Will Pay Off?

Bloomberg LP provides us with some of the early answers.  Bloomberg Intelligence’s (BI) Shaheen Contractor (ESG Team BI Industry Analyst) in a brief for terminal users noted that an analysis of ESG Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) during the selloff for the week ending February 28 provided a buffer for their investors and outperformed their benchmarks. The data: only 8% of ESG ETFs had outflows while 22% of all U.S. ETFs saw outflows.

This, she writes, suggests ESG is seen by investors as a long-term investment and not a trading strategy.

And the flow to ESG ETF’s suggests that these instruments are “sticky” and less cyclical. Where where the flows to ESG ETFs? BlackRock, JPMorgan, BNP Paribas, Societe Generale, DWS, State Street, and Vanguard all saw inflows during the drawdown.

Good news for investors looking for “proof of concept” of ESG/sustainable investing from Shaheen Contractor – thanks to her and Bloomberg for sharing this good news.

Her email is: scontractor2@bloomberg.net

The brief: “ESG ETFs See Relative Outperformance, Inflows During Drawdown”

For information, it is on the Bloomberg: https://blinks.bloomberg.com/news/stories/Q6RT29T0G1L2

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Lead from the front.  The general who led the effort to win WW II for the U.S.A. and the democracies, General Dwight D. Eisenhower (President, 1953-1961) observed:   “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.  You don’t lead by hitting people over the head–that’s assault, not leadership.”

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G&A Institute Team Note:
We continue to bring you news of private (corporate and business), public and social sector developments as organizations in the three societal sectors adjust to the emergency.

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

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

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

Excellence in Corporate Citizenship on Display in the Coronavirus Crisis – #4

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute and the G&A team — continuing a new conversation about the corporate and investor response the coronavirus crisis…continuing the second week of the conversation… Post #4 – Late Evening,  March 23 … second of the day

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction
These are the times when actions and reactions to crisis helps to define the character of the corporation and shape the public profiles of each of the corporate citizens. For companies, these are not easy times.

Many important decisions are to be made, many priorities set in an environment of unknown unknowns — there are many stakeholders with needs to be taken care of.

The good news: Corporations are not waiting to be part of the solution – decisions are being made quickly and action is being taken to protect the enterprise. This is no easy task while protecting the corporate brand, the reputation for being a good corporate citizen, watching out for the investor base and the employee base — and all stakeholders.

What are companies doing? How will the decisions made at the top in turn affect the company’s employees, customers, hometowns, suppliers, other stakeholders?    Stay tuned.

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Getting Pharmaceuticals to Those in Need

The giant global pharma company Novartis commits to donate up to 130 million doses by end of May of generic hydroxychloroquine (a compound) – this and chloroquine are being evaluated to treat COVID-19. In New York State, tomorrow trials will begin for the use of the two drugs.

Novartis Sandoz division is pursuing regulatory approvals and once that is in hand the managers will work with stakeholders to figure out how to get the drugs to patients. (Novartis has registration for hydroxychloroquine in the USA.)

This is part of the Novartis COVID-19 Response Fund (US$20 million) effort for drug discovery, development, collaboration and price stability. Novartis will work with other companies to support global supply.

The Novartis enterprise resulted from the merger of Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy.

* * * * * * * *

Bayer AG (Germany) is partnering with the federal government to get several millions of anti-malaria drugs – millions of tables of chloroquine (on label: Resochin® – made of chloroquine phosphate) to the U.S. – the other half of the experimental treatment. President Donald Trump called on regulatore to agree on an emergency-use authorization.

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Funding — Cash Really Helps to Bring Aid to the Nation

Morgan Stanley committing $10 million in cash to support children’s wellbeing and capacity-building for first responders. The first distribution is for Feeding America, the CDC Foundation and the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Health Fund.

The CDC Foundation will use the fund to support local and state health departments, the global response, logistics, communications, data management, PPEs, and supplies. These funds are in addition to $500,000 in employee matching to charities supporting the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China.

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Keeping the Power on and Communities’ Needs Met

Alliant Energy, the utility serving Iowa and Wisconsin in the Heartland, donated $100,000 to COVID-19 relief efforts through its foundation arm. CEO John Larsen said the firm worked with non-profit partners to identify local needs – and cash was at the top of the list.

Contributions are headed to non-profits in the two states – to six food banks to be divided between Iowa and Wisconsin (for food boxes, mobile drive-through pantry support, gaps in school lunch programs. And the American Red Cross chapters in each state will receive funds. When the employees and retirees donate to local relief efforts, the Alliant Energy Foundation will match gifts up to $3,500 this year.

The company activated its comprehensive pandemic emergency plan and instituted safety work practices to protect employees. And yes, “Powering What’s Next” is the title of the 2019 Corporate Responsibility Report – you can see it here: https://sustainability.alliantenergy.com/

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Driving Folks Around in a Lyft During the Crisis

The drive-sharing service Lyft’s co-founders (John and Logan) sent customers an email. “All of us feel the weight of our responsibility to the community right now.” To drivers (who need the cash) and to customers, to be their critical lifeline, especially those in need.

And so to support drivers and maximize community impact:

  • Supporting delivery of medical supplies and providing access to necessary transport, especially for low-income individuals.
  • Activating LyftUp to donate tens of thousands of dollars to families and children, low-income seniors, doctors and nurses.
  • Teaming with United Way, World Central Kitchen and Team Rubicon.
  • Riders and drivers encouraged to stay home if they are sick – and work with medical professionals to discuss transportation options.

Coming all together to help:

Governments, not-for-profits, healthcare entities are asked to get in touch with Lyft to discuss how the company can help – form to reply is here. 

Foundations and philanthropic organizations looking to help can connect via email: LyftUpCovid19Funding@lyft.com.

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The Buzz is All About E-Learning – What Do People Need?

In Houston, Texas, school children are at home (and so are their teachers), and “e-learning” or tele-learning is the alternative method of keeping the school year going. Harris County Sheriff’s Office and CITGO Petroleum Corporation are donating 150 tablets (Kindles) to the Houston and Alief Independent School Districts to support low-income students’ e-learning needs during the crisis.

CITGO has had a six-year partnership with the sheriff’s office in offering the “Kindling Young Minds Program” to provide Kindle Fire tables to Houston-area students with perfect or much-improved attendance records – that program is modified now to meet crisis conditions.

The tablets were in student’s hands by March 19th. (More than 600 tablets are now in use.) As they say, life hands you a lemon – go make buckets of lemonade!)

CITGO operates three refineries in Texas, Louisiana and Illinois; wholly or jointly owns 48 terminals, 9 pipelines and other businesses and is #5 refiner in the U.S. The familiar brand is in 30 states. Old timers remember the original brand – Cities Service.

* * * * * * * *

Along these lines, Discovery Education is helping homebound students (and parents & guardians) by launching “Daily DE” – digital curriculum resources, engaging content and professional learning for K-12 classroom. This is a suite of free activities and resources for students and their families.

There are partners in the offering: Afterschool Alliance, American Heart Association, the NFL, US Shoah Foundation, Tiger Woods Foundation, Siemens, 3M, TCS, and others. You can find out more at: https://www.discoveryeducation.com/

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Putting Food on the Table — Addressing the Anxieties of Families

Families and individuals are in need of food during the crisis and Albertsons Companies and Albertsons Foundation pledge funds and launch a major fundraising drive to “fight hunger” during the crisis.

This is a call to action; CEO Vivek Sankaran explains that Albertsons Companies are on the front line of hunger relief and calls on communities to assist. The “Nourishing Neighbors” program (especially focused on breakfast for kids) needs help to feed families now.

Contributions are solicited for food banks, emergency meal distribution at schools, senior center meals, and family access to federal food programs.

There’s information at: AlbertsonsCompaniesFoundation.org.

Hey shoppers – you, too, can chip in at branded retail outlets as they stock up for their own families – look for information at Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s, Star Market, Tom Thumb, Randal’s, ACME, and other of the company’s retail food outlets.

Internally, Albertsons employees are helping each other with donations to the “We Care Fund”, part of the foundation activiti4es.

In 2019, Albertsons Companies and the foundation donated $225 million in food and financial support to communities, for education, hunger relief, cancer research and treatment, veterans outreach, and for people with disabilities. To that list the company and foundation added COVID-19 relief.

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Getting Money and Help to the People Who Need it

Fifth Third Bank Bancorp (Cincinnati) and the Fifth Third Foundation and the Fifth Third Chicagoland Foundation will direct $8.75 million in funds to support community members.

“Recovery and Resilience Funds” will direct funds through “Strengthening Our Communities” grants of the foundation to support small businesses, affordable housing and homeownership, and economic development. Relief funds are directed for COVID-19 response in areas served by Fifth Third Bank.

The institution is also offering a vehicle payment waiver program; consumer credit card payment waiver; mortgage and home equity program for late payments (with no late fees); small business payment waiver (up to six months for loans); suspension of vehicle repossession actions; suspension of foreclosures. Many of these are for at least 60 and 90 days duration.

Banking units serve Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Florida, Tennessee, W Virginia, Georgia, and North Carolina. The federal bank had $169 billion in assets and 1149 full service banking centers. Money management: Fifth Third is among the largest institutions in the Midwest with $413 billion in assets under care.

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And More Funds for Small Businesses

Facebook launched a $100 million grant program for small businesses that are being impacted by the pandemic – most of the disbursements will be in cash payments, with some credits for business services.

“We’ve listened to small businesses to understand how best we can help them,” explains Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Being helped: 30,000 small business enterprises in 30+ nations where Facebook employees live and work.

Facebook’s estimate is that as many as 140 million businesses use the apps each month to help in management and market of the firm as some 200 million people visit an Instagram Business Profile every day.

According to Forbes writer Maneet Ahuja, such firms as Unashamed Imaging (principal, Anesha Collins), a Florida-based wedding photographers is using Facebook Live and IGTV to keep in touch clients; Heavenly Soap (principal Patti Gibbons) pushes ahead using Facebook. These are the types of firms considered for the program.

Last week Facebook launched Business Hub, with resources for small businesses. Info: https://www.facebook.com/business/boost/resource?ref=alias

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Close to home for some of us on the G&A Institute team who live in suburban Nassau or Suffolk counties, PSEG Long Island and the PSEG Foundation are lending support to the leading food bank in the area – Island Harvest.

The company and its foundation are supporting the Island Harvest Food Bank with a grant of $45,000 to address rising food insecurity – including helping local children without access to school food programs because their schools are closed.

Island Harvest relies on donations of surplus food by commercial establishments, wholesalers, supermarkets, individuals. Each day, surplus bread and other commodities have been donated by local Panera Bread markets, for example.

The electric utility’s regional territory includes the populous Nassau and Suffolk counties (almost 3.5 million population. CEO Daniel Eichorn points out that many of the company’s employees volunteer to help Island Harvest each year and the funds will help as part of the ongoing partnership with the food pantry.

PSEG Long Island is a subsidiary of the New Jersey-based Public Service Enterprise Group Inc, a diversified energy company.

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G&A Institute team note: We continue to bring you news of private (corporate and business), public and social sector developments as organizations in the three societal sectors adjust to the emergency.

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

We created the tag “Corporate Purpose – Virus Crisis” for this continuing series – and the hashtag “#WeRise2FightCOVID-19” for our Twitter posts.  Join the conversation and contribute your views and news — email info@ga-institute.com

Getting Serious About SASB: Company Boards, Execs and Their Investors Are Tuning In. What About Accounting Firms?

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

February 26, 2020

The importance of the work over the recent years of the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board in developing industry-specific ESG disclosure recommendations was underscored with the recent letters to company leadership from two of the world’s leading asset management firms.

Corporate boards and/or executive teams received two important letters in January that included strong advice about their (portfolio companies’) SASB disclosures. 

BlackRock CEO Larry Fink explained to corporate CEOs his annual letter:  “We are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance. Important progress in improving disclosure has been made – many companies already do an exemplary job of integrating and reporting on sustainability but we need to achieve more widespread and standardized adoption.” 

While no framework is perfect, BlackRock believes that the SASB provides a clear set of standards for reporting sustainability information across a wide range of issues, from labor practices to data privacy to business ethics. 

In 2020, BlackRock is asking companies that the firm invests in on behalf of clients to publish a disclosure in line with industry-specific SASB guidelines by year end (and disclose a similar set of data in line with the TCFD’s recommendations). 

In a thought paper, BlackRock explained that disclosures intended for investors need to focus on financially material and business relevant metrics and include supporting narratives. The recommendations of the TCFD and the SASB (standards) are the benchmark frameworks for a company to disclose its approach to climate-related risks and the transition to a lower carbon economy.

Absent such robust disclosure, investors could assume that companies are not adequately managing their risk. Not the right message to send to current and prospective investors in the corporation, we would say.

State Street Sends Strong Signals

Separately, State Street Global Advisors (SSgA) CEO Cyrus Taraporevala in his 2020 letter to corporate board members explained:  “We believe that addressing material ESG issues is a good business practice and essential to a company’s long-term financial performance – a matter of value, not values.” 

The asset management firm [one of the world’s largest] uses its “R-Factor” (R=“responsibility”) to score the performance of a company’s business operations and governance as it relates to financially material and sector-specific ESG issues.

The CEO’s letter continued:  The ESG data is drawn from four leading service providers and leverages the SASB materiality framework to generate unique scores for 6,000+ companies’ performance against regional and global industry peers. “We believe that a company’s ESG score will soon effectively be as important as it credit rating.”

The Sustainable Accounting Standards Board

About SASB’s continuing progress:  Recommendations for corporate disclosure centered on materiality of issues & topics were fully developed in a multi-party process (“codified”) concluding in November 2018 for 77 industry categories in 11 sectors by a multi-party process.

The recommendations are now increasingly being used by public companies and investors as important frameworks for enhanced corporate disclosure related to ESG risks and opportunities. 

To keep in mind: A company may be identified in several sectors and each of these should be seriously considered in developing the voluntary disclosures (data sets, accompanying narrative for context).

Bloomberg LP (the company headed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, now a presidential candidate seeking the Democratic nomination) is a private company but publishes a SASB Disclosure report. (Bloomberg is the chair of SASB as well as the leader of his financial information firm.)

The company published “robust” metrics using the SASB on three industry categories for 2018: Internet & Media Services; Media & Entertainment; Professional & Commercial Services.

Bloomberg LP is privately-owned; this was an example for public company managements. The report explained:

“The nature of our business directs us to consult three industries (above). We provide a distinct table for each…containing topics we have identified as material and against which we are able to report as a private company. Quantitative data is followed by narrative information that contextualizes the data table and is responsive to qualitative metrics.”

Solid advice for company boards and executives beginning the expansion of disclosure using the SASB.

SASB Guidance

SASB provides a Materiality Map for each sector (SASB uses its SICS® – The Sustainability Industry Classification System) and provides a Standards Navigator for users. There is also an Engagement Guide for investors to consider when engaging with corporates; and, an Implementation Guide for companies (explaining issues and SASB approaches).

The fundamental tenets of SASB’s approach is set out in its Conceptual Framework: Disclosures should be Evidence-based; Industry-specific; Market-informed.  The recommended metrics for corporate disclosure include fair representation, being useful and applicable (for investors), comparable, complete, verifiable, aligned, neutral, distributive.

Accounting and Audit Professionals Advised: Tune In to SASB

Separate of the BlackRock and SSgA advice to companies and investors, accounting and auditing professionals working with their corporate clients are being urged to “tune in” to SASB.

Former board member of the Financial Accounting Standards Board (“FASB”) Marc Siegel shared his thoughts with the New York State Society of CPAs in presenting: “SASB: Overview, Trends in Adoption, Case Studies & SDG Integration”.  The Compliance Week coverage is our Top Story in the newsletter this week.

Marc Siegel is a Partner in E&Y’s Financial Accounting Advisory Service practice, served a decade on the FASB board (managers and shapers of GAAP) and was appointed to the SASB board in January 2019.

He was in the past a leader at RiskMetrics Group and CFRA, both acquired by MSCI, and is recognized as a thought leader in financial services – his views on SASB will be closely followed.

With the growing recognition of the importance of SASB recommendation for disclosure to companies and the importance of SASB’s work for investors, he encouraged the gathered accountants to get involved and assist in implementing controls over ESG data, suggesting that SASB standards are a cost-effective way for companies to begin responding to investor queries because they are industry-specific. 

Accountants, he advised, can help clients by putting systems in place to collect and control the data and CPA firms can use SASB standards as criteria to help companies that are seeking assurance for their expanding sustainability reporting.

This is an important call to action for accounting professionals, helping to generate broader awareness of the SASB standards for those working with publicly-traded companies and for internal financial executives.

The G&A Institute team has been working with corporate clients in recent years in developing greater understanding of the SASB concepts and approaches for industry-specific sustainability disclosure and helping clients to incorporate SASB standards in their corporate reports. 

We’ve also been closely tracking the inclusion of references to “SASB” and inclusion of SASB metrics by public companies in their reporting as part of our GRI Data Partner work. ‘

The G&A Institute analyst teams examine and assess every sustainability report published in the USA and have tracked trends related to how companies are integrating SASB disclosures into their reporting. 

What began as a trickle of SASB mentions in corporate reports several years ago is now increasing and we are capturing samples of such inclusions in our report monitoring and analysis.

Over the past four+ years we’ve developed comprehensive models and methodologies to assist our corporate client teams incorporating SASB disclosures in their public-facing documents (such as their sustainability / responsibility / citizenship reports, in Proxy Statements, for investor presentations and in other implementations).

Our co-founder and EVP Louis Coppola was among the first in the world (“early birds”) to be certified and obtain the SASB CSA Level I credential in 2015.

If you’d like to discuss SASB reporting for your company and how we can help please contact us at info@ga-institute.com

There’s information for you about our related services on the G&A Institute web site: https://www.ga-institute.com/services/sustainability-esg-consulting/sasb-reporting.html

Top Story

Benefits of sustainability reporting: takeaways for accounting 
Source: Compliance Week – According to former Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) member Marc Siegel, companies are being asked for sustainability information from many sides and are facing a bumpy road because they are under pressure due to pervasive… 

The Year 2020: Off To Great Start For News About Sustainable Investing

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

January 2020 — Here we are now in a new year, and new decade (already, the third decade of the 21st Century) and much of the buzz is all about (1) climate change and the dramatic impacts on business, finance, government and we humans around the globe; and (2) many investors are moving their money to more sustainable investments.

Oh, of course, there are other important conversations going on, such as about corporate purpose, corporate stewardship, human rights, the circular economy, worker rights, supply chain responsibility, reducing GHG emission, conserving natural resources, moving to a greener and lower carbon economy, workplace diversity, what happens to workers when automation replaces them…and more. 

But much of this is really part of sustainable investing, no?  And corporate purpose, we’d say, is at the center of much of this discussion!

The bold names of institutional investors/asset management are in the game and influencing peers in the capital markets – think about the influence of Goldman Sachs, BlackRock (world’s largest asset manager), State Street/SSgA, The Vanguard Group, and Citigroup on other institutions, to name here but a handful of major asset managers adopting sustainable investing strategies and approaches.

This week’s Top Story is about Goldman Sachs Group Inc’s pivot to “green is good”, moved by Reuters news service and authored by Chris Taylor.  The GS website welcome is Our Commitment to Sustainable Finance

The company announced a US$750 billion, 10-year initiative focused on financing of clean energy, affordable education and accessible healthcare, and reduction of or exclusion of financing for Arctic oil-gas drilling.

Head of GS Sustainable Finance Group John Goldstein explains the company’s approach to sustainable financing and investment in the Reuters story. 

Our other Top Story is from Morningstar; this is an update on the investors’ flows into sustainable funds in 2019…what could be the leading edge of a huge wave coming as new records are set. 

For 2019, net flows into open-end and ETF sustainable funds were $20.6 billion for the year just ended – that’s four times the 2018 volume (which was also a record year). There’s always information of value for you on the Morningstar website; registration is required for free access to content.

And the commentary on the January 2020 letter from BlackRock CEO Larry Fink to the CEOs of companies the firm invests in – we’ve included a few perspectives. 

We’d say that 2020 is off to an exciting start for sustainability professionals, in the capital markets, and in the corporate sector! Buckle your seat belts!

Top Stories for This Week

Green is good. Is Wall Street’s new motto sustainable?   
Source: Reuters – If you have gone to Goldman Sachs Group Inc’s (GS.N) internet home page since mid-December, it would be reasonable to wonder if you had stumbled into some kind of parallel universe. 

Sustainable Fund Flows in 2019 Smash Previous Records   
Source: MorningStar – Sustainable funds in the United States attracted new assets at a record pace in 2019. Estimated net flows into open-end and exchange-traded sustainable funds that are available to U.S. investors totaled $20.6 billion for the… 

BlackRock’s CEO’s 2020 Letter to Corporate CEOs – Explaining the World’s Largest Asset Manager’s Perspectives and Actions on the Global Climate Change Crisis

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

The big news this week for sustainability professionals:  The publication of the much-anticipated annual letter to corporate chief executive officers by Larry Fink, Chair and CEO of BlackRock –– the world’s largest asset manager (with almost US$7 trillion in Assets Under Management). 

Every year CEO Fink as fiduciary for his firm’s clients communicates BlackRock’s positions on key issues — and signals the steps ahead as BlackRock enhances its sustainable investing actions as influential global fiduciary.

This week the 2020 annual letter to corporate CEO’s describes what is headlined as “A Fundamental Reshaping of Finance”.   The focus is on climate change – a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects, explains Mr. Fink.

 About the impact of climate change on investors:  “Awareness is rapidly changing, and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental re-shaping of finance.”  Consider some quotes from the letter:

 “In the near future – and sooner than most anticipate – there will be a significant re-allocation of capital.”

 “Climate risk is investment risk.”

 “As I have written in past letters [to CEOs in 2019, 2018] a company cannot achieve long-term profits without embracing purpose and considering the needs of considering the needs of a broad range of stakeholders.  Ultimately, purpose is the engine of long-term profitability.”

 “Every government, company, and shareholder must confront climate change.”

Separately the BlackRock CEO wrote to the firm’s investor clients; he communicated to the corporate CEOs what he is saying to clients about BlackRock actions that will affect them. 

Consider: sustainability will be integral to BlackRock’s portfolio construction and risk management; certain investments will be exited (those presenting high sustainability-related risk, such as coal producers).  There will be new investment products that screen fossil fuels and strengthen BlackRock’s commitment to sustainability and transparency in its investment stewardship activities.

“Over time,” CEO Larry Fink posits, “companies and governments that do not respond to stakeholders and address sustainability risks will encounter growing skepticism from the markets, and in turn, a higher cost of capital. Companies and countries that champion transparency and demonstrate responsiveness…by contrast, will attract investment more effectively, including higher-quality, more patient capital.”

BlackRock was a founding member of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (the TCFD) and is a signatory of the UN Principles for Responsible Investing (PRI) as well as the Vatican’s 2019 statement advocating carbon pricing regimes.

CEO Larry Fink is one of the signatories of The Business Roundtable’s statement on corporate purpose.  BlackRock has just joined the Climate Action 100, a coalition of almost 400 investment manager managing US$40 trillion in AUM. 

There’s a volume of important information for both corporate boards and executives and sustainable investing professionals in the 2020 Larry Fink letter to CEOs of companies in BlackRock’s portfolio.

We can expect going forward in 2020 that many business & financial media will pick up on the BlackRock letter and capital market and corporate sector leaders will weigh in with their perspectives.

We are now a long way from the Professor Milton Friedman school of “shareholder primacy” advanced by the professor, in his books such as “Capitalism and Freedom” (1962) and his September 1970 essay proclaiming “shareholders first” in The New York Times.

Link to the letter.

Top Stories – Start of 2020 Coverage of the BlackRock / Larry Fink Missive

Fortune Magazine’s Coverage:
BlackRock CEO Larry Fink puts climate change at the center of megafund’s investment strategy

Barron’s Coverage for 400,000 Reader-Investors:
BlackRock CEO Larry Fink say’s it’s time to tackle global warming – starting with coal

Bloomberg News:
BlackRock puts climate at center of $7 trillion strategy

Sustainable Investing Has Moved Into the Mainstream — and UBS Survey Results Send Strong Signals This is a Lasting Trend

December 2019

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

There is no doubt now — the world’s largest asset managers are definitely focused on corporate sustainability and sustainable investing (the two go hand-in-hand) as survey upon survey of investment professionals tells us.

In recent years we seen considerable momentum as asset owners and their managers adopt or further enhance their sustainable investing / ESG investing approaches. And to gauge the progress we’re seeing major, global asset managers busily taking the pulse of the capital market players.

For example UBS, the findings from one of the world’s leading asset managers, which regularly surveys asset managers.  James Purcell, Global Head of Sustainable and Impact Investing at UBS Wealth Management shares the latest survey findings in a sponsored editorial post in the Harvard Business Review, and assures executive-level readers:

“Sustainability doesn’t mean one potentially has to give up returns. In fact it may be contributing to the investment process by adding more pertinent non-financial information. In this, we have reached a ‘why not’ moment.”

UBS, the commentator explains, is ambitious in wanting to shape the future of sustainable investing because the company believes these investments can help clients pursue investments according to their values.  And – because UBS is confident that sustainable investing will remain a widely-accepted way of investing.

In the content shared on the HBR platform, the company explains the signals that sustainable investing should be seen as a lasting, major force in the capital markets.  Among these signals:

  • Urgent challenges such as climate change (presented to both companies and investors).
  • The Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the aims of the EU High Level Expert Group on Sustainable Finance – all of these actively suggest solutions to global challenges that are now at a scale demanding critical mass. (We have but 10 years to go to change the direction of perilous global warming, science experts tell us.)
  • At the same time, customers, shareholders and employees are aligning their values and leveraging their investments for the public good. That is impacting (positively) sustainable investing.
  • In turn, this trend creates new demands on institutions to make ESG performance and sustainable investment part of the long-term strategy.
  • Asset owners are heeding the call – see the Principles for Responsible Investing (PRI) for reports on the progress of asset owners (the PRI signatories) and their asset managers. (PRI was launched in 2006 with 63 investment companies committing to incorporate ESG issues into investment decision.  This year there are 2,450 signatories representing US$82 trillion in collective AUM!)
  • Three of four asset owners surveyed by UBS say that they consider ESG management approaches and results as one of the key issues looked at when choosing an asset manager.
  • These and other factors (outlined in the Harvard Business Review commentary) are clear demonstration – important signals! — of the extent to which the mainstreaming of ESG has evolved over the most recent years.

In the 2018 UBS Investor Watch Global Survey, 81% of respondents said they wanted to align their consumer spending patterns with their values.

In the 2019 UBS survey of investors (“ESG: Do You, or Don’t You?”) more four-of-ten respondents said they already have sustainable investments in their portfolios and expect a positive impact on financial performance. Eight-of-ten respondents said they thoughts “sustainable companies” were good investments (they’re perceived as better managed, more forward-thinking).

In 2019, UBS teamed with Responsible Investor to gauge the extent of ESG investing.  Europe had the highest proportion of asset owners active in ESG investing (82% of owners). North America is catching up with 70% of respondents saying they were “do-ers” (making ESG material their day-to-day activity) and 19% were “adopters” (not yet focused day-to-day on ESG but planning to integrate in the future).

Just in time!

Opening this week’s COP 25 meetings, UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres challenged those assembled at the Conference of Parties’ gathering (and millions more tuning in)  by asking – Do we really want to be remembered as the generation that buried its head in the sand, that fiddled while the planet burned? (Or, follow of path of resolve, of sustainable solutions).

The UBS commentary is a message of hope – and there is a handy sidebar explain sustainable investing which is of value.  We invite your reading of this week’s Top Story and the other items (including more sustainable investment items) that Editor-in-Chief Ken Cynar and the G&A team has selected for you this week.

Top Stories

Is Sustainable Investing Moving Into the Mainstream?
Source: Harvard Business Review – Sustainable investing, which incorporates environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria into investment decisions, has been gaining more attention among both individual investors and asset managers in the world’s largest…

Sustainable & Responsible Investment and Asset Manager Perspectives – Today, and Quo Vadis Over the Coming Years…

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

The terms of reference are familiar now to many more institutional owners and their internal and external managers (as well as to a growing number of retail investors who are their clients and beneficiaries).

This movement began as “socially responsible investing” (“SRI”) which evolved over time to “sustainable & responsible investing” and on to “sustainable & responsible & impact investing” in the 21st Century.

In recent months we’re increasingly hearing and using the simplified term “sustainable investing” and “ESG investing”.

The progress is welcomed!  Our esteemed colleague Erika Karp at Cornerstone Capital Group here in New York (she was formerly managing director/head of Global Sector Research at UBS and is one of the founders of SASB) has been saying for some time at public conferences that one day we’ll just be talking about “investing” — and it will all be what today we’re describing as “sustainable investing”. 

So how do investors – the world’s trusted fiduciaries and intermediaries – feel about sustainable investing? 

According to Schroder’s “Institutional Investor Study 2019 – Geopolitics and Investor Expectations” – belief is very high and the proportion of investors worldwide who do not believe in sustainable / ESG investing fell to just 11 percent (from 20% in 2017); the decline was most notable in Latin America (falling to 12% from 29%).

The survey respondents:  pension funds, insurance companies, sovereign wealth funds, endowments, foundations – 650 in total, managing US$25 trillion in assets from 20 global locations.  According to Schroder’s survey of these entities, the “cynics in the asset management sector” fell by 50% in just three years of the survey effort.

Geographic spread of responses:  27%, North America; 38%, Europe; 27%, Asia-Pacific; Latin America, 8%.

Key numbers:  52 percent cite macro and geopolitical risks as greatest concern; 52% look to increase their exposure to private assets; 53% need customized solutions to meet their needs; 67% believe annual total returns will remain above 5% over the next five years; and, 75% believe sustainability will play a more important role over the next five years.

This is an important point to underscore:  Three quarters of respondents expect sustainable investing to grow in importance over the next five years (up from the base of 67% who thought so in the 2017 survey effort). 

Alas, there are still asset managers doubting the value of sustainable investing – almost one-in-five (19%) of investors responding said they do not invest in sustainable investing funds.

Sixty-seven percent of North American survey respondents said greater transparency and better ESG data and benchmarks were important.  

At G&A Institute we’re hearing this argument every day among our capital market colleagues and this is why the major ESG ratings agencies and ESG information providers – such as MSCI, Sustainalytics, Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters/Refinitiv, Vigeo Eiris and ISS — have been strengthening their systems and enhancing their methodologies to meet increasing investor-clients’ demands. 

We have been successfully working with our corporate sector clients in helping them better manage their ESG data profiles and related information in the effort to improve the information available to the rating agencies’ for rankings and data sets in a more efficient and effective manner. And then from the ratings agencies on to their investor clients.

These efforts help the corporate issuer to better represent themselves as a sustainable investment candidate and to make sure they do not get passed over by the dramatically-growing pool of asset managers now focused on corporate ESG as key factors in financial analysis and portfolio management. 

The Schroder’s results as revealed in their latest investor survey are good news all around, we would say!

Schroder’s Global is a 200-year old investment management firm working with institutions, intermediaries and individuals, managing $500 billion-plus in assets for 5,000 people on all continents.

This week’s Top Story is a review of the Schroder’s report for asset managers as published for the readers of Chief Investment Officer.  Information about the Schroder’s report is also available to you here and here.

Each week as part of our Highlights content we bring you news of ESG / Sustainable & Responsible Investment from global sources.

Adding Considerable Value to This Discussion:
Business Insider shared the results of the Merrill Lynch – Bank of America survey of investors. These are the top 10 reasons investors and companies should care about ESG investing. You can read highlights here.

Top Stories

Sustainable Investment Skeptics are Becoming Believers
Source: Chief Investment Officer – The doubters of sustainable investing are rapidly dwindling in numbers, according to a study by asset manager Schroders, which found that cynics of the sector have fallen by nearly 50% in just three years.

Affording an Unaffordable Utility Upgrade

Guest Column by John-Michael Cross, Policy Associate, Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI)

Last year, I moved into a 115 year-old home after years of living in modern apartment buildings. The house was in pretty good shape, but I knew from a career of advocating for home energy upgrades that it very likely needed efficiency improvements.

And my first Minnesota winter loomed.

I had a better idea than most at the likely price tag and benefits of the upgrades, but I was still left wide-eyed when the bills came due. The rebate checks from my electric utility helped a little, as did the lowered heating bills. But — we only were able to get the work done because my wife and I were fortunate and privileged to have the cash on hand to cover the upfront costs.

So many families are not as lucky and are unable to participate in utility incentive programs – even though these families would stand to benefit the most. In order to help households at all income levels reduce their high energy burdens, particularly in rural areas, utilities need to look at innovative financing models that eliminate upfront costs while increasing home comfort and energy savings.

Help For Rural Electric Cooperatives and Utilities

In 2014, the U.S. Congress created a way for rural electric cooperatives and other rural electric utilities to provide their members with the chance to upgrade their homes and businesses without any initial investment, paying for the insulation or other energy upgrades through a monthly fee on their utility bill.

The program — the Rural Energy Savings Program (RESP) — is administered through USDA’s Rural Utilities Services to provide rural electric utilities with zero-percent interest loans to capitalize customer-focused energy efficiency financing programs.

USDA defines “energy efficiency” broadly in this program – it even includes small-scale renewable energy projects! The utility just has to show that each financed project will cost-effectively lower overall energy costs for the participant. RESP funds can also be used for lighting upgrades, building envelope improvements, HVAC systems, water heaters, water and waste efficiency improvements, fuel switching projects, and permanently-installed energy storage devices.

Cooperatives can even apply for funds to fully replace aging, inefficient manufactured homes.

Note that RESP funds are provided at zero-percent interest for 20 years. Utilities then relend (or invest) these funds to their member-customers at rates of up to five percent for 10 years, though most utilities to date have kept rates below three percent.

Where To Find More Information

My organization, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), has worked to promote RESP since its inception, and provides no-cost technical assistance to help interested cooperatives apply for the program.

Because RESP aligns with EESI’s primary goal of accelerating the transition to a new, low-emissions economy based on energy efficiency and renewable energy, we want to see as many rural cooperatives as possible take advantage this program.

We want to see these dollars invested in rural communities, helping lower bills and spurring local economic development. We also push financing models that emphasize equity and inclusion, so that everyone in a utility service territory can participate. (This includes using good bill payment history in lieu of a credit score if the upgrades are expected to produce a positive cash flow.)

Project Examples

Exciting RESP-funded projects are launching around the country. Some important examples:

  • In Washington State, one co-op launched “Switch it Up!” to provide debt-free financing for ductless heat pumps and heat pump water heaters that can cut heating bills in half, as well as the installation of electric vehicle chargers. One member organization that took advantage of this was the Outlook Inn whose owners were able to switch all 17 rooms from expensive propane heat to ductless heat pumps, which they couldn’t have afforded without financing.
  • A group of South Carolina co-ops created the “Help My House” program, which helps their members finance energy efficiency improvements to their homes through their electric bills. One member who took advantage of this program is now saving up to $250 a month on her summer energy bills – even with the loan repayment added to her monthly bill.

Many cooperatives taking advantage of this program have reaped additional benefits through RESP such as reduced per capita energy use and peak load shaving, which can reduce the need for new power generation facilities.

Rural utilities that want to apply should first submit a letter of intent to USDA (the agency provides a sample here). Once approved, the utility must put together the full application. More than $100 million is available in the current round, with letters of intent due by September 30, 2019.

Interested in learning more? Please contact me at jmcross@eesi.org to learn how you can take advantage of this program and what EESI can do to help.

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…

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