Will We Ever See SEC Rules / Guidance For Corporate ESG Disclosure and Reporting? The Question Hangs in the Wind…

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

People have questions about corporate sustainability / ESG / responsibility / citizenship disclosure and reporting.  Such reporting has been on a hockey stick rise in recent years.

Should ESG/sustainability etc reporting be regulated?  How? What would be regulated in terms of disclosure and reporting – what should the guidelines for corporate issuers be?  Does this topic become a more important part of the SEC’s ongoing Reg S-K (disclosure) revamping? What information do investors want?  What do companies want to have covered by regulation?  Many questions!

Some answers are coming in the European Union for both issuers and investors with new and proposed regulations.

And in the main will have to come in the U.S.A. from the Securities & Exchange Commission — at some point.

SEC was created with the adoption of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.  The agency was specifically created by the U.S. Congress to oversee behaviors in the securities and markets and the conduct of financial professionals.

Publicly-traded company reporting oversight is also an important part of the SEC mission. The 1933 and 1934 acts and other subsequent legislation (all providing statutory authority for rulemaking and oversight) provide the essential framework for SEC to do its work.

As Investopedia explains for us, the purpose of the 1934 act is “to ensure an environment of fairness and investor confidence.”  The ’34 act gave SEC broad authority to regulate all aspects of the securities industry and to enforce corporate reporting by companies with more than US$10 million in assets and shares held by 500 or more shareowners.

An important part of the ongoing SEC’s mission, we should say here, is to protect investors and be open to suggestions “from the protected” to improve the complicated regimes that guide corporate disclosure. So that investors have the information they need to make buy-sell-hold decisions.  Which brings us to S-K.

In recent months, the SEC staff has been working on the steps to reform and updates segments of Reg S-K and has been receiving many communications from investors to suggest reforms, updates, expansion of, corporate disclosure.  (Details are below in the news release from SEC in 2019. The SEC proposed rule changes, still in debate, are intended to “update rules” and “improve disclosures” for investors and “simplify compliance efforts for companies”.)

Regulation S-K provides standard instruction for filing forms required under the 1933 and 1934 acts and the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975.

Especially important in the ongoing initiative to update Reg S-K, we believe:  the setting out for SEC staff and commissioners of facts and perspectives so that serious consideration is given to the dramatic sea changes in (1) the growth of sustainable investing and the related information needs; (2)  and, the vigorous corporate response, particularly in the form of substantial sustainability / ESG reports issued.

Most of the corporate reports published in recent years have been focused on the recommended disclosures as advanced by popular frameworks and widely-recognized reporting standards (such as those of GRI, SASB, CDP, TCFD, et al).

Will we see SEC action on S-K rules reform that will draw applause from the sustainable investors? Now, we point out, including such mainstream players as BlackRock, State Street and Vanguard Funds, to name but a few owners found in almost every corporate top holder list.

Ah, Depends.  Political winds have driven changes in rules at SEC. Then again, it is an election year.  (To be kept in mind:  There are five SEC commission members; two are appointed and confirmed Democrats, two are Republicans – and the chair is nominated by the president…right now, a Republican holds that position.)

Investor input is and should be an important part of SEC rule making. (All of the steps taken by the Commission to address such items as corporate disclosure and reporting in adopting or amending the rules have to follow the various statutes passed by the congress related to the issue.  Investor and stakeholder input is an important part of the approach to rule-making.  Sustainable investing advocates have been making their views abundantly clear in this initiative to update Reg S-K.)

The SEC Investor Advisory Committee formally makes recommendations to the agency to help staff and commissioners be aware of investor sentiment and help to guide the process through the advice provided.

Recently the committee voted to make recommendations to the SEC on three topics: (1) accounting and financial disclosure; (2) disclosure effectiveness; and, (3) ESG disclosure.

The committee said they decided that after 50 years of discussion on ESG disclosure it is time to make a move, now that ESG / sustainability are recognizably important factors in investing.  Given the current political environment in Washington, there probably won’t be much movement at SEC on the issue, many experts agree.

But the marker has been strongly set down in the committee’s recent report, one of numerous markers set down by sustainable investment champions.  

Commissioner Hester M. Pierce addressed the Investor Advisory Committee, and shared her perspectives on ESG reporting.  “The ambiguity has made the ESG debate a difficult one…”  She thinks “the call to develop a new ESG reporting regime…may not be helpful right now…”  (She is a Republican nominee, a lawyer in academia.)

We have included her comments in the selection of four Top Stories for you.  Another of the items – the comments of SEC Chair Jay Clayton along the same lines about ambiguity and confusion of ratings etc. (he is also a Republican appointee).

To which sustainable investing proponents might say – if not now, when, SEC commissioners!

While the conversation may at times be focused on “what do investors want,” there is also wide agreement among corporate boards and executives that guidance and standardization in corporate ESG / sustainability et al reporting would be very helpful.

With the current comments of the leadership of SEC we are not quite there yet.

Interesting footnote:  The October 1929 stock market crash helped to plunge the nation into the Great Depression.  The 1932 presidential elections resulted in New York Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt (a Democrat) moving to the White House in March 1933 and swiftly taking action to address important public policy issues.  He brought him his “brains trust”, experts in various public policy issues that helped to create sweeping reforms and creation of powerful regulatory agencies — such as the SEC.

The story goes that there was so much to do that the financial markets and corporate oversight legislation had to be divided into two congressional sessions – in 1933 and 1934 (the congress met for shorter periods in those days – the members were part-timers).  Thus, the Securities Act of 1933 and the 1934 act.

Regulation overall was then and today is a very complicated topic!

Top Stories

SEC’s Investor Advisory Committee Makes Disclosure Recommendations  (Source: Cooley PubCo)

SEC Chair Warns of Risks Tied to ESG Ratings 
(Source:  Financial Times)

In addition, see:

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

For Earth Day – Plus 50 – April 22, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Among the catalysts for action after two decades:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Earth Day, Mother Earth!

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

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

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

You can follow him on Twitter.

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

G20 & Central Banks Response on COVID-19 — Global Challenge Requires Global Response

By Sofia Yialama – Sustainability Reporting Analyst-Intern, G&A Institute

Exploring how the G20 leaders plan to preserve the global financial safety.

The G20 Group, representing both developed and developing countries and the 80% of the world’s economic output, recently expressed its willingness and responsibility to undertake an immediate, coordinated and bold response on the current global health and economic crisis.

At the latest virtual G20 Leader’s Summit, the leaders of the world’s largest economies committed to amplify their fiscal, credit and monetary support aiming to bolster the resilience and stability of the global economy, provide adequate stimulus packages and safeguard the global market from a global recession.

In a spirit of cooperation and readiness to support the global economy, the G2O nations, among other commitments, pledged to underpin the global economy with over US$5 trillion, as part of targeted fiscal policy, economic measures, and guarantee schemes.

All together, they expressed their support to the central banks and highlighted the urgent need for cooperation between them and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in order to mobilize emergency funding.

To surmount the socio-economic impact from COVID-19 and ensure market recovery in all countries, they also mandated their respective Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors to develop a G20 joint action plan.

Following the G20 Leader’s Communiqué, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-OPEC Ministerial Meeting on 9th April and the G20 Energy Ministers Meeting on 10th April, were both crucial for the global economic stability.

“OPEC+” (“plus”) is joining forces with the G20 to coordinate the supply/demand imbalance in the international oil market and finally work to end the recent oil price war during such exceptionally difficult times. This was characterized as ‘a historic show of cooperation” and “by far the biggest supply deal in history”.

Enough Effort – Is More Action Needed?

Are these actions enough to counteract the detrimental coronavirus impact on the global economy?

Front-line international organizations — such as the United Nations, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the International Association of Ports and Harbours (IAPH) — have called on G20 leaders to provide explicit support to vulnerable countries and sectors in high risk, respectively.

At the same time, a strong international group, including various former presidents and prime ministers, with an open letter to G20 leaders, asked them to set up a G20 Executive Task-force and accelerate the development of an action plan for COVID-19, along with targeted financial packages to support the global health system and provide essential financial aid to the developing countries, especially in Africa.

These facts showcase that the world needs urgent coordinated action.

Which system will last by the end of the virus crisis? The cooperation pact or the self-protectionism?

How the central banks of key G20 members responded on COVID-19

In 2009, after the 2008 global financial crisis, the G20 group urged the establishment of the Financial Stability Board (FSB) to gather treasury ministries and central bank governors together with the aim of coordinating actions and find solutions for the global financial system’s vulnerabilities.

For this reason, it is highly important now to examine how the central banks of the world’s largest economies have responded during the pandemic.

Central banks have taken surprising credit, regulatory and monetary measures to ensure adequate liquidity in the market and uphold the credit safety of businesses and households.

And at this moment, as the rampant spread of the virus continues, every day each of the banks announce additional financial packages to prevent the economic collapse.

So far, the central banks of key G20 member countries — notably the US Federal Reserve (Fed), the European Central Bank (ECB), the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), the Bank of Japan (BOJ), and the Bank of England (BOE) — have moved to:

  • monetary policy easing and unprecedented cut of interest rates,
  • increasing lending,
  • provision of cheaper loans and new funding schemes,
  • emergency free lending to other financial and non-financial institutions,
  • easing bond issuance, and
  • additional incentives for SMEs.

Further, as a joint response, the central banks of the U.S., Canada, Japan, Euro Area, the U.K., and Switzerland, enhanced further the provision of liquidity via the standing US dollar liquidity swap line arrangements.

The extraordinary measure of cutting rates to near zero started from the U.S. Fed and triggered similar measures by other central banks all over the world — such as in New Zealand, Japan and South Korea and Australia.

As a result, this extreme U.S decision spurred the “domino effect” and so, other non-G20 central banks followed on reducing their interest rates.

Are these coordinated measures enough to save the global financial system?

The answer is still vague, as the pandemic is still ongoing in all the affected countries.

As the title of this document says, a global challenge requires a global response.

The world economies now are called to action in order to secure a sustainable and resilient future.

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About the Author

Sofia Yialama is a GRI-certified Senior Sustainability Research Analyst from Greece. She holds a Bachelor and MSc degree in International and European studies and her areas of expertise include international relations, international cooperation and sustainable development.

As a former E.U Projects Consultant and member in regional Task Forces, she has significant experience in project management in sectors such as

Sustainability in the Blue Economy sectors, Green Economy, Sustainable Tourism and Nature-Based solutions.

Her solid career objective and self-motivation is to inspire, influence and develop initiatives and projects coupled with multilateral partnerships towards achieving “Sustainability Transition” in the private sector.

# # #

References 

  1. https://g20.org/en/media/Documents/FMCBG_Extraordinary_Press%20Release.pdf
  2. https://g20.org/en/media/Documents/G20_PR_Second%20Virtual%20FMCBG%20Meeting_30%20March_ENG%20(1).pdf
  3. https://g20.org/en/media/Documents/Virtual_Leaders_Summit_King_Salman_Opening_Remarks_EN.pdf
  4. https://g20.org/en/media/Documents/G20_Extraordinary%20G20%20Leaders%E2%80%99%20Summit_Statement_EN%20(3).pdf
  5. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/07/coronavirus-global-leaders-urge-g20-to-tackle-twin-health-and-economic-crises
  6. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2020/04/08/commentary/world-commentary/now-never-global-leadership-covid-19/#.XpMfFMgzbIU
  7. https://www.ft.com/content/150df67ba-839f-455a-9546-6edf72a08df0
  8. https://www.opec.org/opec_web/en/press_room/5882.htm
  9. https://www.imf.org/en/Topics/imf-and-covid19/Policy-Responses-to-COVID-19#U
  10. https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/coronavirus
  11. https://www.piie.com/blogs/realtime-economic-issues-watch/timeline-central-bank-responses-covid-19-pandemic
  12. https://www.oecd.org/about/secretary-general/Coronavirus-COVID-19-Joint-actions-to-win-the-war.pdf
  13. https://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/pressreleases/monetary20200409a.htm
  14. https://www.boc.cn/en/
  15. https://www.boj.or.jp/en/index.htm/
  16. https://www.ecb.europa.eu/home/html/index.en.html
  17. https://www.seatrade-maritime.com/regulation/ics-iaph-joint-call-g20-support-maritime-sector-and-global-supply-chains
  18. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-central-banks-glob/global-central-banks-pull-out-all-stops-as-coronavirus-paralyzes-economies-idUSKBN2130KR
  19. https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/note-correspondents/2020-03-24/note-correspondents-letter-the-secretary-general-g-20-members

Excellence in Corporate Citizenship on Display in the Coronavirus Crisis

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute and the G&A team   — starting a new conversation about the corporate and investor response the coronavirus crisis…this is the beginning….

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 — and there are many stakeholders to be taken care of.  

Employees – Customers – Suppliers – Regulators – Partners – Investors – Lenders – Communities – Civic Leadership.

We are in the age of the stakeholder – beyond the long-time focus on investors only (the Milton Friedman school of shareholder primacy).

Setting the challenge before corporate leaders for us, The New York Times in a story by Jim Tankersley and Ben Casselman, we read:

“Economists fear that by the time the coronavirus pandemic subsides and economic activity resumes, entire industries could be wiped out, proprietors across the country could lose their businesses and millions of workers could find themselves jobless.”

As the Federal government rushes to aid the American society, CEO Chuck Robbins of Cisco put things in perspective in the story: “It’s critical that D.C. do something fast for companies – if you get 80 percent right today, it’s better than waiting a week and getting it 90% right.”

The good news:  Corporations are not waiting – decisions are being made quickly and action is being taken to protect the enterprise – 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.

We’re starting this commentary in the first week of the crisis breaking through the barriers of doubt and with reality setting in. 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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March 20, 2020 – Day Four of the National Shutdown in the Coronavirus Crisis…

Outdoor Heroes and Timberland

(The firm is well known for its shoes and boots and out-of-doors gear)

Message to Consumers
At Timberland, we’ve always cared deeply about nature and people.
With this great passion, comes the responsibility to protect the health and well-being of our community. For this reason, to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus and minimize impact, we’ve decided to temporarily close our stores. All retail employees at these locations will continue to receive full pay and benefits during the closure period.

In the meantime, we can stay in touch through our social channels and your can shop from home at our online store with free shipping.
As an outdoor brand, it’s hard for us to suggest that you stay home, but for now it’s advised. Perhaps use this time to plan your next outdoor adventure. Nature will wait for us. #NATURENEEDSHEROES (end)

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Amazon – Hiring Underway in the Dark Valley of Layoff Land

The giant internet retailer Amazon is set on hiring 100,000 workers for warehouse and delivery services to help the company meet the delivery demand during the crisis period. This could be a relief for workers laid off in key industries – restaurants, hospitality, airlines, amusement parks, and other service industry categories.

The company will create both full and part-time positions, paying a minimum of $15 per hour to $17 per hour in the USA, with similar raises in Canada, the UK and EU states.

* * * * * * * *

Delivering All Those Packages – FedEx on the Line

FedEx says it will not require recipient to physically sign for deliveries during the crisis in the USA. The company has set up COVID-19 safety page for information: https://www.fedex.com/en-us/coronavirus.html

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Paying for Those Deliveries — Chase Bank for Business – Adjusting Branch Hours

Chase Bank notified customers today that branch hours may be adjusted (for in-person or ATM visits). The bank encourages customers to use the Chase Mobil App (bank from anywhere). The bank explains that the branch teams are using EPA-approved disinfectants for cleaning ATM screens and key pads for customer safety.

“Chase for Business” has a “Business recovery page” for the latest information. Chase is encouraging customers to tune in to the advice at: https://recovery.chase.com/customers  — to keep their contact information current and up to date.

* * * * * * * *

Valley Bank – Relief for Customers — From the Regional Bankcorp Serving New York, New Jersey, Florida and Alabama.

Announcing Relief Measures:

  • The bank will be increasing debit and credit card limits.
  • Increasing the funds held in ATMs for easy access to cash.

For eligible customers (consumer and business) – the invitation is out to connect with the Valley representative to discuss interest and principal deferrals; waiver of overdraft charges; waiver of penalties for early CD withdrawals for emergencies; increased loan limits.

Valley is an SBA lender and will implement the federal government’s emergency plans. Bancorp has total of US$37.5 assets.

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Grubhub – We’ll Save Restaurants $100 Million in the Crisis

CEO / Founder Matt Maloney told CNN that the firm is temporally suspending collection of up to US$100 million in commission fees for delivery etc that the firm collects from vendors.

Grubhub services more than 350,000 restaurants of all types, including McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Subway. But of the total, some 80% are locally-owned businesses.

The announcement was made in Chicago with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and local restaurant owners present and participating.

* * * * * * * *

Information That Board Members Need in the Crisis

The National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) is the premier board member professional organizations; both individual and full board membership is offered, as well as membership for board advisors. This is an educational- and informational-focused peer organization for the board room.

For the crisis, NACD is offering limited access to “NACD Directors Daily”® -that is usually for members only; this also has links for board members to access key COVID-19 resources.
For information: Matt Barone, Director, Board Development – www.NACDonline.org

* * * * * * * *

What is Happening in the Distant Work Site? Verité is the Checker

Verité, the supply chain audit company, communicates that its team members are now working from home and that all offices are closed. The program and project work continues with remote connecting.

The work that usually involves group visits to factories, farms or other worksites is now suspended. Verité is collaborating with funders, partners, clients, other stakeholders to determine the way forward such as adjusting the programs to protect its team members.

The organization notes: This, as vulnerabilities of workers worldwide are increasing. The firm will be back in full swing as soon as “trusted authorities” say that it is OK.

* * * * * * * *

Burlington Retail Stores – Open But Watching Carefully

Burlington Stores, Inc. (NYSE:BURL) is a well-known retailer of off-price high-quality, branded apparel (and toys, gifts, home goods) with 700-plus stores across the United States (in 47 states and Puerto Rico).

The corporate offices are closed in New Jersey so employees could work at home, and stores’ hours are reduced with evaluation going on about the retail, local store operations.

Today, 100 stores have been closed. The Fortune 500® company “is carefully managing expenses, inventory receipts, capex and balance sheet.

* * * * * * * *

Update For Greater New York City – Business and Government Partnerships in the five boroughs (counties) of the city.

City Council Member Brad Lander (D-Brookyn) shared this news today:

Essential Businesses: Governor Andrew Cuomo has expanded on business closures. Restaurants, bars and cafes may only serve food take-out and delivery. Gyms, theaters and many other establishments have been ordered to close.

Gatherings of over 50 people are prohibited. (Later reduced further.)

Yesterday, Governor Cuomo ordered that all non-essential businesses reduce their workforce by 50%. He said that essential businesses would include health-care providers, grocery and food production, pharmacies, shipping, media, warehousing, utilities, banks and related financial institutions, and other industries critical to the supply chain.

Everyone is encouraged to work from home wherever possible.

Schools: NYC Schools (with one millions students, largest system in the USA) are closed this week as teachers prepare for distance learning. Grab-and-go meals are available for students between 7:30 and 1:30 am at any public school.

Next week, some schools will open as enrichment centers to provide childcare, food and support for children of essential workers and those who cannot stay home.

Some online learning resources are already available here. NYC is buying and giving out laptops for students who do not have access to technology at home (people can fill out the form to request tech).

Spectrum  is making internet access free for those who do not already have it for the next two months.

Spectrum is service of the franchise holder – Charter Communications, Inc. – the NYC service was formerly owned by Time Warner Cable. The company is offering free access to Spectrum Broadband and Wi-Fi for 60 days for new K-12 and college student households beginning March 16. Click here for more info. 

Hospital capacity: The City and State are taking action to find and create more hospital beds and supplies, as we look ahead to overwhelmed hospitals. They are considering turning spaces like the Javits Conference Center and private hotels into emergency hospitals. The shortage of beds and supplies means that we all need to do our part in preventing hospitals from being overwhelmed.

Paid Sick Leave: The New York State legislature passed legislation yesterday to provide emergency paid sick leave up to two weeks for employees who test positive for the virus or are told to quarantine.

While that is a good step, says Council Member Lander, the legislation leaves out hundreds of thousands of workers in NY who are independent contractors, including many mis-classified workers like food delivery workers and for hire drivers. “I am continuing to push for an expansion of paid sick leave to reach many more people, both now and in the long term”, he declared.

* * * * * * * *

G&A Institute Team Note 
We will 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 in this first blog post will move down the queue.

We are creating 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!

Issues in Egypt in Focus, 2020 – Ken Cynar Perspectives – Could the Nile Go Almost Dry?

by Ken Cynar – Editor-in-Chief, G&A Institute

On Water Sustainability:

Critical Question: Could the Nile River Go Almost Dry?

Where can Egypt’s people find enough water to drink and continue sustainable agriculture that has lasted more than 5,000 years?

Blue Nile at Luxor

Long before the modern era of civilization first blossomed, the waters of the ancient Blue Nile flowed north from central Africa more than 4,100 miles into the Mediterranean Sea.

Along the way over the millennia the river’s flood cycles deposited fertile soil along its banks, fighting back the ever-encroaching desert, and quenching the thirst of the people and irrigating the crops they grew.

The Nile became the life blood of a region and a nation. This, the world’s longest river, became both the foundation of and the catalyst for the creation of ancient Egypt, nourishing its science, religion, engineering, writings, and other cultural foundations.

Today the Nile River flows through ten countries that share in its water and electric generating capacity…but not equally. The ever-fragile status quo is being threatened by the construction today in Ethiopia of yet another dam.

For Egypt: A Grave Situation

The situation is becoming grave for Egypt and its 97.5 million people who closely congregate in the land adjacent to the Nile as it flows northward.

Only 6 percent of the land in Egypt is usable in its current form and that tiny percentage is the home to almost all of Egypt’s people – with 22 million people in Cairo alone.

The Nile is their source of water for their crops, drinking water and more. Any sizeable disruption in the flow of the Nile would devastate the country, creating ecological calamity for its people and precipitating one economic disaster after another.

The truth is this: Here in northern Africa, water is more precious than oil.

Aswan Dam, Upper Nile

The solution to the problem like most regarding water is not cut and dried (forgive the pun). No one disputes Ethiopia’s right to build the dam and to generate electricity for its own people. The problem is in the details.

Lake Nasser

Behind the new dam the plan is to create a new lake and that lake must be filled with water…the question is how long will it take to fill the lake and how that disruption will impact the flow to the Egyptian Aswan Lake Nasser complex — and thereby the flow of water to the majority of Egypt’s almost 100 million people.

So far that question is unresolved and the dam construction is going forward.

Talks in Washington D.C. have not been fruitful — with no resolution of the issues involved in this complex situation.

As populations grow and poorer countries try to bring themselves and their people into the 21st and 22nd centuries, water control…in terms of protecting source and distribution…are becoming issues that could drive nations to armed conflict.

Currently it appears as Ethiopia is not bargaining in good faith and ignoring the impact their actions will have on its neighbors.

Moving Off “No” and “No Progress” to Resolution

While the United States is trying to broker a compromise there not been significant movement. Is water the new oil? Or has it become the key catalyst for nations marching inexorably to war with their neighbors?

Watch carefully in the coming weeks to see if this issue is being resolved.

There are two difficult sides to the story: Ethiopia wants its dam but Egypt cannot allow the lake to dramatically reduce the flow of the Nile.

That could result in a draught of Biblical proportions leading to the destruction of wildlife, agriculture and even death to those living along the Nile. Could armed conflict ensue? Can a country in the 21st Century allow their supply of water to be cut off by another country?

We have to accept: Water is more precious than ever in a world facing global warming and climate change. Leading to greater civic unrest.

A similar situation is brewing between India and China with the river Ganges …same issue, different continent. They who control the water have the power, the upper hand…more on this issue in coming soon.

About My Egypt Travels

Egyptian Pyramids

We spent eight days touring 5,000 years of Egyptian history…from stately Coptic Churches to the temples at Karnack and Luxor, to King Tut’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings to the Giza plateau and the great Pyramids and the Sphinx.

Our Egyptian tour guide — with a B.A. and Masters in Archeology and Egyptology, Amr — was a wealth of knowledge painting a picture of the gods, goddesses, and pharaohs that made the history, culture and religion of ancient Egypt come alive for us.

His knowledge was enhanced by his love and passion for his country and its history and his deep respect for those ancient peoples. His talks were like the encompassing lectures from the best professor at your university filled with facts, color and excitement.

All this was combined with the execution of the complex logistics by Norm of Mike’s Guiding Light Tours, helping us smoothly glide from location-to-location by plane, river boat, bus, horse-drawn carts and camels — and even by Felucca (the traditional Egyptian sail boat) – all of which made the trip even more exciting.

If you are thinking of touring Egypt or other places worldwide, I recommend that you consider Mike’s Guiding Light Tours. (I know, interesting name, but I think the Guiding Light was his wife’s favorite soap opera.) He is expert in coordination and logistics, with excellent selections of hotels and restaurants and a special feeling of adventure and comradeship…all of this making for a superb travel experience.

Ken Cynar, Inside Tombs

Egypt Museum

Sphinx with Ken & Donna Cynar

Pyramids with Ken & Donna Cynar

Temple of Philae

Tune In To This Important Report – Today And In Time to Come: The Fourth Official “Climate Science Special Report” Issued by the U.S. Government’s “Global Change Research Program” – Projected the Critical Impacts of Climate Change on the American Society in the 21st Century

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

Another in the About the Climate Crisis series

November 7, 2019


In November 2018 the government of the United States of America published the fourth climate change assessment by key U.S. government agencies — this is the “Climate Science Special Report” as prepared by the U.S. Global Change Research Program of the Federal government.

The contents are of significance if you are an investor, a company executive or board member, an issue advocate, officer holder or civic leader, consumer — or other type of stakeholder.

There are volumes of data and descriptions for a range of “high probability” outcomes in this the 21st Century.

The foundation of the report: Literally hundreds of studies conducted by researchers around the world that clearly document increases in temperatures at Earth’s surface as well as in the atmosphere and oceans — and projections of what that means to the planet and its occupants.

What is clear: Human activities are the primary driver of climate changes observed in the three-plus centuries of the modern industrial era (i.e., GHG emissions, deforestation, land-use changes).

Think about the impacts of these events and developments on your business and personal life:

  • we can expect many more superstorms;
  • and more drought in more areas of the U.S., Africa, other parts of the globe;
  • greatly increased risk of forest fires;
  • more floods;
  • melting glaciers melting resulting in steadily rising sea levels;
  • the news of still more melting glaciers; ocean acidification; 
  • death of species;
  • increasing atmospheric water vapor (thus, more powerful rainstorms, especially accompanying superstorms)…and more.

And — what about a potential drop of 10% in the U.S.A. Gross Domestic Product by end of this century? What impact will that have on you? On your children and their children?

The impacts of climate change will be felt in such activities as human health, agriculture and food security, water supply, transportation, energy, trade, migration, and ecosystems…becoming increasingly disruptive in coming years.

These are some of the subjects explored in depth in the “Climate Science Special Report” released the day after Thanksgiving 2018 by the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

(The Trump Administration released that day to hide the report, critics immediately charged; the report directly and emphatically challenges the “climate change is a hoax” claim of the administration. Friday after the Thanksgiving holiday is usually a very slow news day.  However, the release of the report resulted in broad media coverage on “a slow day”.)

Influential Authors: The Global Change Program

The program is a mandated collaborative effort of more than a dozen Federal departments of the United States of America government — such as NOAA, NASA, US EPA, and executive branch cabinet offices of Commerce, Agriculture, Energy, State, Transportation, and Defense; plus the Office of Management & Budget (OMB – this is part of the Office of the President).

The many experts gathered from these departments of the U.S. government, plus a universe of university-based experts, reported (in more than 1600 pages of related content) on the “state of science relating to climate change and its physical impacts.”

The CSSR (“Climate Science Special Report”) serves as a foundation for efforts to assess climate-related risks and inform decision-makers…it does not include policy recommendations.

The results are not encouraging – at least not in November 2018 and here in October 2019 as we look out to the rest of the 21st Century, given the s-l-o-w pace of actions taken to date to address climate change challenges.

Highlights of The Report:

NOAA — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — is the lead agency working with NASA and other Federal governmental bodies to develop the report.

The collaborative effort analyzes a wide body of scientific research and observations of current trends in climate change — and projects a number of major trends out to the end of this 21st Century.

The focus of the work is on impacts to human welfare, societal, economic, and environmental elements of climate change.

Each of the 15 chapters of the report focuses on key findings; authors have assigned a “confidence statement” for scientific uncertainties. (There are numerous statements of “Confidence Levels” and “Likelihoods” for various trends and events.)

There are 10 regional analyses of climate change — such as the Northeastern region of the U.S., and sprawling Southern Great Plains. The report was 18 months in preparation and the final report is the sixth draft developed over that time.

Chapters include such themes as: Physical Drivers of Change; Climate Models, Scenarios and Projections; Droughts, Floods and Wildfires; Extreme Storms; Changes in Land Cover; Sea Level Rise.

Some takeaways to consider:

1. This period is now the warmest in the history of modern civilization. Since the publication of the last Assessment, 2014 became the warmest year on record globally; 2015 was even warmer and 2016 surpassed that; 16 of the warmest years on record occurred during the last 17 years.

2. Thousands of scientific and technical studies have documented changes in surface, atmospheric and oceanic temperatures.

3. Land and sea ice glaciers are continuing to melt; there is acceleration in ice sheet loss with up to 8.5 feet of global sea rise possible by 2100. (Think about that impact on major population areas on the edge of the seas, such as New York, Boston, Miami, Liverpool, Hamburg, Naples and Bari, Lisbon, Rio de Janeiro, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, and more.)

4. Ice melts and then Sea levels continues rising; global average sea level has risen 7-to-8 inches since 1900, half of that since 1993.

5. Related: the incidence of daily tidal flooding is accelerating in more than 25 Atlantic and Gulf coast cities – watch out New Orleans and Houston.

6. Heat waves are more frequent and cold waves are less frequent.

7. Forest fires have steadily increased since the early 1980s (look at the disaster in California in recent years – and in 2018 and 2019!).

8. Carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration has passed 400 PPM — a level that last existed some 3 million years ago, when both global average temperatures and sea level were higher than today.

9. Since 1980, extreme weather events for the U.S. has exceeded costs of US$1.1 trillion.

There are hundreds of references to scientific studies throughout the report.

The various findings, the authors point out, are based on a large body of scientific, peer-reviewed research, evaluated observations and modeling data sets.

In this report, we should note, experts and not politicians and speak to us in clear terms that we can all understand.

Important Key Findings:

  • Global climate is projected to change over this century (and beyond) – the report is complete with “likelihoods”) and with major effort, temps could be limited to 3.6°F / 2°C or less – or else.
  • Without action, average global temperatures could reach to 9°F / 5°C relative to pre-industrial times – disaster at the end of the 2100s.
  • Human activity continues to significantly affect the Earth’s climate and is the dominant cause of climate warming. Aerosols are a key activity with profound and complex roles.

There are 12 Reporting Findings with important results here: https://nca2014.globalchange.gov/highlights#section-5683

Related to this:  The TCFD Scenario Testing Recommendations

Formed after the 2008 financial crisis, The Financial Stability Board (organized by the central banks and treasury ministries of the G20 nations) appointed a Task Force on Climate-related Financial Risk Disclosure (the “TCFD”), which in Fall 2017 strongly recommended that the financial sector companies and (initially) identified four business sectors begin to examine the effects of climate change on their businesses, and as part of the analysis test scenarios against (to begin with) 2-degrees Centigrade (3.5°F) temp rise — and increase scenario testing from there over time.

This important assessment (the Federal government’s 2018 report described here) should be a valuable resource for investors, bankers, insurance carriers and public and private company boards and managements in their analysis and scenario planning (alternative scenarios are suggested in the TCFD report).

And these assessment can be especially useful for publicly-traded company managements who are being urged by investors and stakeholders to begin scenario testing and disclose the results.

This will be an important issue in the engagements of investors/companies and in the 2020 corporate proxy season – and beyond.

There are various scenarios in the Assessment that can be referenced by companies in their own scenario testing.

Report Authors:

A wide range of experts helped to prepare the report; these included: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; the U.S. national laboratories; scientists at such universities as Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, Maryland, Texas Tech, Pennsylvania State, North Carolina State, Iowa State; Rutgers-NJ, California-Davis, and, Alaska. In all, more than 300 experts contributed to the report.

The full report is available at:

https://science2017.globalchange.gov/downloads/CSSR2017_FullReport.pdf

The Exec Summary at: https://science2017.globalchange.gov/downloads/CSSR2017_PRINT_Executive_Summary.pdf

Important Notes:

The U.S. Global Change Research Program, based in Washington, D.C., is a Federal program mandated by the U.S. Congress – the first branch of government identified in the U.S. Constitution, Article One — to coordinate Federal research and investments in understanding the forces shaping the global environment both human and natural, and their impacts on society.

The USGCRP was established in 1989 and mandated by the U.S. Congress in 1990…to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.

There are 13 Federal agencies involved that conduct or use research on global change. Among these there are Interagency Working Groups to implement and coordinate research activities (within and across the agencies).

The critical guidance: Thirteen Agencies, One Vision: Empower the Nation with Global Change Science.

The Governance Aspects:

The USGCRP is steered by the Subcommittee on Global Change Research of the National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on the Environment, overseen by the White House Office of Science and Technology.

Executive Cabinet offices involved: U.S. Departments of State; Health and Human Services; Defense; Commerce; Agriculture; Energy; Transportation; Interior.

Federal Agencies: NASA; US EPA; National Science Foundation; Smithsonian Institution; U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); the White House (OMB and NSTC).

Interesting:
Positioning statement (on the web site): Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities. Global climate change has already resulted in a wide range of impacts across every region of the country and many sectors of the economy that are expected to grow in the coming decades.

This Fourth assessment (known as “NCA4” to insiders) developed by USGCP is a state-of-the-science synthesis of climate knowledge, impacts and trends across U.S. regions to inform decision-making and resilience-building.

It is the most comprehensive and authoritative assessment to date on the state of knowledge of current and future impacts of climate change on society in the U.S.

You can access the full report at: https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/

Reporting requirements for the Assessment comply with Section 106 of the U.S. Global Change Research Act of 1990 and other federal requirements.

There is regional information from Global Change at: https://www.globalchange.gov/explore

The current report takes into consideration the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – of which the United States is a participating country.

IPCC issued its Fifth Assessment Report (“AR5”) in 2014 and issued a Special Report (“SR15”) – Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5-degrees C – in October 2018.

The latest IPCC report and related information is at: http://www.ipcc.ch/

There are scholarly assessments of the Fourth Climate Change Assessment at: https://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=fourth+climate+change+assessment&hl=en&as_sdt=0&as_vis=1&oi=scholart

We will be sharing more thoughts on IPCC in separate commentaries.

Note:  This originally was drafted for G&A Institute’s “To the Point!” management briefs (now archived) in November 2018 and updated here in November 2019.

The Climate Change Crisis – “Covering Climate Now” Can Help to Shape The Public Dialogue

Introducing a new series of perspectives from G&A Institute…

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

We are bringing you a series of commentaries on the climate change crisis to share news, research results and perspectives to you in an organized way.

Fact:  We are facing dire outcomes for humanity and planet if we don’t move faster with strategies and actions to address the challenges of climate change.

We’re calling our shared perspectives “About the Climate Change Crisis”.

Global Warming.  Droughts. SuperStorms. Floods.  Rising Seas. Outbreaks of forest fires.  Loss of Species.  Degradation of farmlands.  Food Shortages. 

These should be defined as crisis situations, no?

Despite these dangers, the public dialogue on “climate change” issues in the United States reflects in some ways the divide in public opinion on critical issues facing the American public, government, business, the financial sector.

Climate changing? Yes and No. Human activities  causing the changes? Yes and No.
Should we be worried? Yes and No.

And so it goes.

The United States of America participated in the 2015 Paris (COP 21) meetings and signed on to the Paris Agreement along with almost 200 other nations, with President Barack Obama becoming a signatory in April 2016 and in September 2016 by presidential action presented the necessary documents to the U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-moon.

The People’s Republic of China also presented the documents, a collaboration negotiated by President Obama. (This step by Barack Obama avoided presenting what amounted to an international treaty agreement to the U.S. Senate for ratification, required by the U.S. Constitution – approval assuredly would not happen in today’s political environment.)

The U.S. also contributed US$3 billion to the Green Climate Fund.

And so also by executive order, his successor in the Oval Office, President Donald Trump in March 2017 with swipe of a pen signaled the start of the complex and lengthy process of removing the U.S. from the historic Paris Agreement to limit the damage of global warming.

By his side: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt (since gone from the environmental agency).

The backdrop: scientific reports that 2016 was the warmest year on record to date!

And credible scientists telling us that we have a decade at most to get control of climate change issues!

Prior to becoming president Donald Trump declared among other things that climate change was a Chinese hoax. (One of his positioning comments on the subject: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive” – November 6, 2012 tweet.)

But climate change is real – and we face a climate crisis in 2019!

What Did the Current U.S.A. Leader Do?

President Trump on November 4, 2019 officially notified the international community – and specifically the community of the United Nations – that the process of withdrawal was beginning and would be complete one year from now — the day before Election Day 2020.

Note that in November 2018 the government of the United States of America published the fourth climate change assessment by key U.S. government agencies: the “Climate Science Special Report” was prepared by the U.S. Global Change Research Program of the Federal government. (We’ve including an overview in this series.)

The contents are of significance if you are an investor, a company executive or board member, an issue advocate, public sector officer holder or civic leader, consumer — or other type of stakeholder.

There are volumes of data and descriptions in the report presenting a range of “high probability” climate change outcomes in this the 21st Century.

Adding credibility to the Federal government’s report to the nation and the world:  11, 258 scientists in 153 countries from a broad range of disciplines (biosciences, ecology, etc.) published a report in the Bioscience Journal (November 2018) – “World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency” – setting out a range of policies and actions that could be (adopted, taken) to address the emergency.

Good News About News Media

Good news from the purveyors of news to millions of people: the publishers of Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation created the “Covering Climate Now” (the initiative was launched in April 2019) intended to strengthen the media’s focus on the climate emergency.  The lead media partner is The Guardian.

The founders are now joined by cooperating media that today reaches more than one billion people worldwide. Representatives of 350 newsrooms in 32 countries have joined to ramp up coverage of the climate crisis and possible solutions. The campaign is designed to strengthen the media’s focus on the climate emergency.

Combined, the cooperating media reach more than one billion people worldwide.

Participants in the campaign include Bloomberg, Agence France-Press, The Guardian, The Minneapolis Star Tribune, The New Jersey Star Ledger, The Oklahoman, Corporate Knights, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Times, La Republica (Italy), The Hindustan Times (India), Asahi Shimbun (Japan), La Razon (Spain), Greenbiz.com, Huffpost, Mother Jones, Rolling Stone, Scientific American, Teen Vogue, Vanity Fair, and many many other communications platforms.

Partner organizations in the campaign include wire services, news agencies, newspapers, magazines, digital news sites, journals, radio, podcasters, and institutions like Princeton University and Yale Climate Change & Health Initiative.

Could it be that the press, especially the U.S. press, can turn the tide of public opinion (with the naysayers and public doubters) with increasing and accurate coverage of the climate story?

Is the “media awake”?   That question was posed and answered in September 2019 by Mark Hertsgaard (The Nation) and Kyle Pope (CJR editor) addressing the  initiative.

Their comments are here for you: https://www.cjr.org/covering_climate_now/climate-crisis-new-beginning.php

Is this where you get your news a participant? Check the list here: https://www.coveringclimatenow.org/partners

Participating publisher Corporate Knights points out to us that “climate change” was suggested as a term to use by pollster Frank Luntz to President George W. Bush instead of the more frightening term, “global warming”. Let’s not scare the people. Gently move them forward.

We do need to return to the more accurate and realistic title of global warming. The threats posed by warming of land and sea are visible to us – every day now!

But, OK, if climate change is the popular branding, then let’s talk about the climate change crisis or emergency (so says the media collaboration).

We’re presenting this series of climate change crisis commentaries to help to tell the story of the climate change crisis or emergency.

The title is About the Climate Crisis, following the lead of the collaborating journalists.

The Good News

The good news as background to the above is that cities and states are “still in” and implementing strategies and actions to follow the Paris Accord in their jurisdictions. 

Corporations participated in the Conference of Parties (COP) meetings and especially the Paris COP 21 meetings.

Companies have been launching and reporting on their sustainability journey — actively addressing climate change issues — and investors are building more climate change considerations into their financial analysis and portfolio management. 

Combined these actions are keeping the United States in the game and helping to maintain the nation’s edge in climate change matters. Of course, we can ALL do more!

Let us know how we are doing. And please do suggest to us issues and topics and developments that might be of interest to you and other readers of the G&A Institute’s Sustainability Update blog.

Please do Stay Tuned to our ongoing blog commentaries.

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…

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: