The NYT Brings Us Encouraging News in the Swelter of Negative Reports as Sustainability Advocates Consider Possible Changes of Course in the New Year for U.S. Federal Government Policies

Leading Business readership publication focuses attention on the dramatic rise of ESG factors in investing over the past five years in wrap up story…

If you have not yet seen the story by Randall J. Smith that appeared in The New York Times Business Section on December 14th, we urge you to read it now, and to share it with your colleagues. Especially those occupants of the C-suite, board room, investor relations office — this will help to make the important case for ESG / sustainable investing. It’s our Top Story this week and the headline puts things in focus: investors are sharpening their focus on “S” and “E” risks to stocks.

This is a front page, Business Section [Deal Book] wrap-up feature that shares news, commentary and important developments at such organizations as MSCI, Vanguard, TIAA-CREF, Goldman Sachs, Perella Weinberg Partners, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, US SIF, Heron Foundation, Parnassus and other leaders in sustainable investing.

“Investing based on ESG factors has mushroomed in recent years,” author Randall Smith explains, “driven in part by big pension funds and European money managers, trying new ways to evaluate potential investments.”  The article helps those not yet familiar with sustainable investing to understand the increasing momentum in “sustainable” or “ESG” or “sustainable, responsible & impact” investing.

The organization MSCI is in sharp focus in the piece, with Linda-Eling Lee (the firm’s able head of global research) interviewed on the company’s approach to ESG research, ratings, equities indexes, and related work.  At MSCI, the assets managed using ESG approaches is now at $8 billion-plus — that’s triple the 2010 level.  ESG-related risks and opportunities are being closely evaluated as MSCI looks at publicly-traded companies, and as explained by the MSCI head of global research, 6,500 companies are followed by 150 analysts working in 14 global offices.

The recent US SIF survey results are heralded — $8.1 trillion in professionally-managed AUM assets in the U.S.A. are determined using ESG factors in analysis and portfolio management (the big driver is client demand).  The TIAA-CREF Social Choice Equity Fund is at $2.3 billion in assets under management — doubling in the past five years.  MSCI’s ESG indexes are at $3 billion — tripling over the past three years.  Vanguard’s social index fund is at $2.4 billion — quadrupling since 2011.  There’s a new CalSTRS low-carbon portfolio (using an MSCI index) set at $2.5 billion.

This article in the Business Section of a leading American daily newspaper provides an encouraging — and very timely! — look at the momentum that’s been building the capital markets signaling mainstream capital markets uptake and dramatic growth in adoption of ESG strategies and approaches for asset owners and asset managers.

As we suggest, it is a wonderful wrap-up of top-line developments in sustainable investing that also underscores the importance of corporate sustainability to individual institutional investors — and should help to make the investing and business cases for top management.

This news article is of course timely as corporate sustainability and sustainable investing professionals consider the potential changes on the horizon with a new administration and the new congress coming to town with a very different agenda – at least what has been publicly proclaimed to date.  There is clearly momentum in the capital markets for consideration of corporate ESG factors as investment dollars are being allocated.  This is good news heading into 2017 and the probable headwinds sustainability professionals will encounter.

Investors Sharpen Focus on Social and Environmental Risks to Stocks
(December 14, 2016)
Source: New York Times - Investing based on so-called E.S.G. factors has mushroomed in recent years, driven in part by big pension funds and European money managers that are trying new ways to evaluate potential investments. The idea has changed over the last three decades from managers’ simple exclusion from their portfolios of “sin stocks” such as tobacco, alcohol and firearms makers to incorporation of E.S.G. analysis into their stock and bond picks.

The Results Are In: Sustainable, Responsible, Impact Investing by U.S. Asset Managers At All-time High — $8 Trillion!

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

We have an important update for you today: The US SIF Report on “US Sustainable, Responsible and Impact Investing Trends, 2016,” was released this week.

The top line for you today: In the U.S.A., sustainable, responsible and impact (SRI) investing continues to expand — at a rapid and encouraging pace.

As we read the results of 2016 survey report, we kept thinking about the past 30 or so years of what we first knew as “socially responsible,” “faith-based,” “ethical” (and so on) approaches to investing, and that more recently we declared to be sustainable & responsible investing (SRI). And even more recently, adding “Impact Investing”).

At various times over the years we tried to visualize “how” the future would be in practical terms when many more mainstream investors embraced SRI / ESG approaches in their stock analysis and portfolio decision-making.

We’re happy to report that great progress continues to be made. It may at times have seemed to be slow progress for some of our SRI colleagues, especially the hardy pioneers at Domini, Trillium, Calvert, Zevin, Walden, Christian Brothers/CBIS, As You Sow, Neuberger Berman, and other institutions.  But looking over the past three decades, always, in both “up and down” markets, and especially after the 2008 market crash — sustainable, responsible and impact investment gained ground!

And so, we in the U.S. SRI community anxiously look forward to the every-other-year survey of U.S.A. asset owners and managers to measure the breadth and depth of the pool of assets that are managed following ESG methods, SRI approaches, etc.

Here are the key takeaways for you in the just-released survey by the U.S. Forum for Sustainable & Responsible Investment (US SIF), the trade association of the SRI community that has tracked SRI in its survey efforts since 1995-1996, and the US SIF Foundation.

2016 Survey Highlights:

• At the start of 2016, ESG (“environmental/social/governance”) factors were being considered for US$8.72 trillion of professionally-managed assets in the United States of America.

• SRI Market size: that is 20 percent / or $1-in-$5 of all Assets Under Management (AUM) / for all US-domiciled assets under professional management (that is almost $9 Trillion of the total AUM of $40.3 trillion).

• This is a gain of 33% over the total number ($6.572 trillion in AUM) in the previous US SIF survey results at the start of 2014.

• Surveyed for the 2016 report: a total of 447 institutional investors, 300 money (asset) managers, and 1,043 community investment institutions. This can be described as a diverse group of investors seeking to achieve positive impacts through corporate engagement -or- investing with an emphasis on community, sustainability or advancement of women.

Drivers: Client demand is a major driver – the U.S. asset owners hiring asset (money) management firms are increasingly focused on ESG factors for their investments — as responsible fiduciaries.

ESG Criteria: Survey respondents in the investment community had 32 criteria to select from in the survey, including E-S-G and product related activities (ESG funds); they could add ESG criteria used as well.

What is important to the investors surveyed?  The report authors cited responses such as:

• Environmental investment factors — now apply to $7.79 trillion in AUM.
• Climate Change criteria – now shape $1.42 trillion in AUM – 5 times the prior survey number.
• Clean Technology is a consideration for managers of $354 billion in AUM.
• Social Criteria are applied to $7.78 trillion in AUM.
• Governance issues apply to $7.70 trillion in AUM, 2X the prior survey.
• Product specific criteria apply to $1.97 trillion in AUM.

The Social criteria (the “S” in ESG) include conflict risk; equal employment opportunity and diversity; labor and human rights issues.

Product issues include tobacco and alcohol; these were the typically “screened out” stocks in the earlier days of SRI and remain issues for some investors today.

Mutual Funds:
Among the investment vehicles incorporating ESG factors into investment management, the survey found 519 registered investment companies (mutual funds, variable annuity funds, ETFs, closed-end funds). Total: $1.74 trillion in AUM.

Alternative Investment Vehicles:
There were 413 alternate investment vehicles identified as using ESG strategies (including private equity, hedge funds, VCs). Total: $206 billion in AUM.

Institutional Investors:
The biggie in SRI, with $4.72 trillion in AUM, a 17% increase since the start of 2014 (the last survey). These owners include public employee funds; corporations; educational institutions; faith-based investors; healthcare funds; labor union pension funds; not-for-profits; and family offices.

Community Investing:
The survey included results from 1,043 community investing institutions, including credit unions; community development banks; loan funds; VC funds. Total: $122 billion in AUM. (These institutions typically serve low-to-moderate income individuals and communities and include CDFI’s.)

Proxy Activism:
SRI players are active on the corporate proxy front: From 2014 to 2016, 176 institutional investors and 49 money managers file / co-file shareholder resolutions at U.S. public companies focused on environmental (E) or social (S) issues. (The number remains stable over the past four years, the report tells us.) The major development was that where such resolutions received 17% approval from 2007 to 2009, since 2013, 30% of resolutions received 30% or more approval.

Methodologies/Approaches:
There are five primary ESG incorporation strategies cited by US SIF: (1) Analyzing, selecting best-in-class companies, positive choices for the portfolio; (2) negative approaches / exclusionary approaches for certain sectors or industries or products by/for the fiduciary; (3) methods of ESG integration — considering various ESG risks and opportunities; (4) impact or “outcome” investing, intended to generate social (“S) or environmental (“E”) impact along with financial return; (5) selecting sustainability-themed funds of various types.

Commenting on the survey results, US SIF CEO Lisa Woll observed that as the field grows, some growing pains are to be expected. . .with the continuing concern that too often, limited information is disclosed by survey respondents regarding their ESG assets. While the number of owners and managers say that they are using ESG factors, they do not disclose the specific criteria used. (This could be, say, criteria for clean energy consideration, or labor issues of various kinds.)

The US SIF biannual survey effort began in 1996, looking at year-end 1995 SRI assets under management. In that first year, $639 billion in AUM were identified. By the 2010 report, the $3 billion AUM mark was reached. That sum was doubled by the 2014 report.

Year-upon-year, for us the message was clear in the periodic survey results: The center (the pioneering asset owner and management firms) held fast and key players built on their strong foundations; the pioneers were joined by SRI peers and mainstream capital market players on a steady basis (and so the SRI AUM number steadily grew); and investors — individuals, and institutions — saw the value in adopting SRI approaches.

Today, $1-in-$5 in Assets Under [Professional] Management sends a very strong signal of where the capital markets are headed — with or without public sector “enthusiasm” for the journey ahead in 2017 and beyond!

There is a treasury of information for you in the report, which is available at: www.ussif.org.

Congratulations to the US SIF team for their year-long effort in charting the course of SRI in 2015-2016:  CEO Lisa Woll; Project Directors Meg Voorhes of the US SIF Foundation and Joshua Humphreys of Croatan Institute; Research Team members Farzana Hoque of the Foundation and Croatan Institute staff Ophir Bruck, Christi Electris, Kristin Lang, and Andreea Rodinciuc.

2016 survey sponsors included: Wallace Global Fund; Bloomberg LP; JP Morgan Chase & Co.; Calvert Investments; TIAA Global Asset Management; Candriam Investors Group; KKR; MacArthur Foundation; Neuberger Berman; Saturna Capital (and Amana Mutual Funds Trust); Bank of America; BlackRock; CBIS (Catholic Responsible Investing); Community Capital Management Inc.; ImpactUs; Legg Mason Global Asset Management / ClearBridge Investments; Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing; Sentinel Investments; Trillium Asset Management; Cerulli Associates; and, Walden Asset Management.

A footnote on terminology: Throughout the survey exercise and reporting, terms used include sustainable, responsible and impact investing; sustainable investing; responsible investing; impact investing; and SRI. These are used interchangeably to describe investment practices.

About US SIF:  This is a three-decade old, Washington-DC-based membership association that advances SRI to ensure that capital markets can drive ESG practices. The mission is to work to rapidly shift investment practices toward sustainability, focusing on long-term investment and the generation of positive social and environmental impacts.  SIF Members are investment management and advisory firms; mutual fund companies; research firms; financial planners and advisors; broker-dealers; non-profit associations; pension funds; foundations; community investment institutions; and other asset owners.

Governance & Accountability Institute is a long-time member organization of the U.S. Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment (US SIF).

As part of the G&A Institute mission, we are committed to assisting more investing and financial professionals learn more about SRI and ESG — especially younger professionals interested in adopting SRI approaches in their work.  G&A is collaborating with Global Change Advisors to present a one-day certification program hosted at Baruch College/CUNY on December 14, 2016.  Details and registration information is at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/intro-to-corporate-esg-for-investment-finance-professionals-certification-tickets-29052781652

For Finance / Investing Professionals: “ESG” IN FOCUS IN ALL-DAY WORKSHOP Hosted At Baruch College/CUNY – NYC

The interest in sustainable investing continues to rise in the mainstream investment community.  Numerous data & analytics providers, ratings & rankings organizations, and other influentials are busily shaping new approaches in and for the mainstream investment community. Corporate “ESG” factors are an important addition to the ubiquitous Bloomberg terminals, as example (i.e. the ESG Dashboard).  Mainstream asset managers — notably BlackRock, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, State Street, and others — are putting sustainable investment approaches in place and launching new products for clients that are demanding “investable” vehicles for “doing well and doing good” with their assets.

As an investment professional, are you up to speed on these developments?  Need to “be more in the know” about sustainable investing?  Here’s a suggestion:  plan to attend an all-day workshop hosted at the Newman Vertical Campus of Baruch College/CUNY and presented by Governance & Accountability Institute and Global Change Associates (GCA). Participants will receive a Certificate of Completion from G&A Institute and GCA.

Mark the Date:  Wednesday, December 14, 2016
The course begins at 8 a.m. and features a full day of lectures from leaders in the field of sustainable investing and corporate sustainability. A networking lunch is included. The topics to be covered include:

  • What is Corporate ESG & Why It Really Matters to Shareowners;
  • ESG Analysis, Rating & Research;
  • What Investors Need to Know about the Rising Importance of Impact Investing;
  • The Sustainable Accounting Standards Board (SASB);
  • Case Study of Corporate Malfeasance — the VW Case;
  • ESG Equity Fundamental – Data Analytics;
  • About the Baruch CSR-Sustainability Monitor Project; 
  • and, Looking Beyond Corporate Sustainability & Financial Performance.

Presenters include:  Samuel Block, MSCI; Kate Starr, Flat World Partners; Eric Kane, SASB (Healthcare); Hideki Suzuki, Bloomberg LP; Mert Demir, PhD, Weissman Center at Baruch College.  And, there’ll be presentations by the principal organizers: Peter Fusaro of Global Change Associates; and, Hank Boerner, Chairman, and Louis D. Coppola, EVP (and co-founders) of G&A Institute.

We look forward to seeing you there, at Baruch College in December! 

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER for the workshop & for more information on the course offering.

New Training Announcement: Introduction to Corporate Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) for Investment & Finance Professionals Certification

- The Why and How of Applying ESG to Corporate Valuations

New York, NY (November 3, 2016) –  In response to the growing demand for sustainable investing education from asset owners, asset managers, financial analysts and other financial professionals we are pleased to announce a one-day certificate program entitled, “Introduction to Corporate Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) for Investment and Finance Professionals.” The program is organized by Governance & Accountability Institute (G&A) in collaboration with Global Change Associates (GCA) and hosted by the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College/CUNY.

The first all-day certification program will be presented on Thursday, December 14, 2016. The program is being hosted at Baruch College’s Newman Vertical Campus (55 Lexington Avenue) in midtown Manhattan.  The course will begin at 8 a.m. with registration and continental breakfast, leading into a full day of lectures from leaders in the sustainable investing field.  A networking lunch is included.  Participants will receive a certificate of completion from G&A and GCA at the 5 p.m. close of the seminar.

AGENDA

Arrival, Registration & Continental Breakfast

What is Corporate ESG and Why It Really Matters to Shareowners
Hank Boerner, Chairman & Co-Founder, Governance & Accountability Institute

Bridging the Perceived Gap Between Corporate Sustainability & Corporate Profitability: Materiality, Risk Management and How Top and Bottom Lines Are Affected
Louis Coppola, EVP & Co-Founder, Governance & Accountability Institute

Coffee Break and Networking

ESG Analysis, Rating, and Research
Samuel Block, Research Analyst – Investment ESG Risk, MSCI

What Investors Need to Know About the Rising Importance of Impact Investing
Kate Starr (Invited), Founder & CIO, Flat World Partners; formerly Vice President-Capital Deployment, Heron Foundation

Networking Lunch

SASB 101: About the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) and More Effective 10-k Disclosure
Eric Kane, Sector Analyst – Health Care, SASB

Case Study of Corporate Malfeasance:  The VW Emissions Scandal
Peter Fusaro, Chairman, Global Change Associates

Break

ESG Equity Fundamentals Data Analytics
Hideki Suzuki, ESG Group, Equity Fundamentals Department, Bloomberg LP

About the Baruch CSR-Sustainability Monitor Project
Mert Demir, Ph.D. in Finance, Senior Research Associate, Weismann Center for International Business at Baruch College

Looking Beyond Corporate Sustainability & Financial Performance
Louis Coppola, EVP & Co-Founder, Governance & Accountability Institute
Peter Fusaro, Chairman, Global Change Associates
Lecturers include leading experts in the sustainable investing field and the participants will come away with an understanding of why ESG matters, and how to apply ESG to corporate valuations, reputation, risk, opportunity and other aspects of financial analysis.

For information and to register click the link below: 
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/intro-to-corporate-esg-for-investment-finance-professionals-certification-tickets-29052781652

About Baruch College (http://www.baruch.cuny.edu/)
Baruch College is a senior college in the City University of New York (CUNY) with a total enrollment of more than 18,000 students, who represent 164 countries and speak more than 129 languages. Ranked among the top 15% of U.S. colleges and the No. 5 public regional university, Baruch College is regularly recognized as among the most ethnically diverse colleges in the country. As a public institution with a tradition of academic excellence, Baruch College offers accessibility and opportunity for students from every corner of New York City and from around the world.

About Governance & Accountability Institute, Inc. (www.ga-institute.com)
Governance & Accountability Institute is a New York City-based sustainability research, consulting and educational services company working with corporate sector and investment community clients. Typical engagements include preparation of sustainability, CSR and citizenship reports; peer benchmarking on ESG issues and reporting; customized ESG research (environmental, social and governance performance); strategic materiality analysis; sustainable investor relations; corporate communications around sustainability; and assistance with stakeholder engagements. The company is the exclusive Data Partner for the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) for the USA, UK and the Republic of Ireland.


About Global Change Associates (www.global-change.com)
Peter C. Fusaro founded Global Change Associates, Inc. in 1991 to focus on the convergence of energy and environmental financial markets. His insights have earned him the international status of “thought leader” in these markets. His advice to client companies who require expert guidance to navigate their way through the multiple impacts of clean energy, natural gas and water technologies has proven invaluable to them. The focus of GCA today is to assist in raising funds for clean energy funds as a Registered Representative and to assist in the commercialization of new energy technologies. Peter holds the highly successful Wall Street Green Summit (www.wsgts.com) now in its 16th year and held in New York City each spring.

Lots of Important Sustainability Events & Training To Tell You About!

Today we call your attention to a number of events and training initiatives that may be of interest if you are:

  1. A corporate manager with responsibilities in the areas of [corporate] citizenship, sustainability, ESG, responsibility, and related areas, or
  2. Working in the capital markets and want to learn more about these topics, or
  3. Working in another field and would like to join a company or investor organization focused on sustainability and sustainable investing…

An important part of the G&A Institute mission since our founding a decade ago is to help educate, inform and share critical information related to the above topics and positions.  As an example we work closely with Skytop Strategies on many events such as the ESG Summit, 21st Century Company, and Future of Corporate Reporting that educate and inform on these subjects.  We’d like to tell you about a few of our most recent initiatives in these areas.

Introduction to the Importance of Corporate ESG for Investment & Finance Professionals at Baruch College 
Watch for announcements soon about a new program offering we’ve organized in partnership with Baruch University and Global Change Associates (headed by G&A Fellow Peter Fusaro) — this is an all-day “Introduction to the Importance of Corporate ESG for Investment and Finance Professionals.”  We’ll have speakers from Bloomberg, MSCI, Sustainability Accounting Standards Board and other organizations sharing valuable information.  Save the date:  December 14th at the Newman Vertical Campus in mid-town Manhattan.

G&A Sustainability Training HQ Platform & CCRSS Course Offering
The “Certification in Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Strategies” in partnership with Professor Nitish Singh of St Louis University, is the first course offering on the new “G&A Sustainability Training HQ” online training platform.

To learn more about the special introductory G&A Sustainability Training Pioneers Program for this course (including a special discount and extra recognition as a leader in this area), contact Louis Coppola at G&A: lcoppola@ga-institute.com.   Click here for more information and to register for the course.

Join G&A for a Special GRI Standards Launch Event Webinar
We’ve been communicating with you about the important event coming up at Bloomberg Headquarters in New York City– the Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) Sustainability Standards Launch Event scheduled for Wednesday, November 3rd.  We’ve learned that the registration for the in-person event is now full and closed.

You can still learn about the new GRI Standards via the convenience of a lunchtime webinar:  Governance & Accountability Institute invites you on behalf of GRI to join us in celebrating the launch of the GRI Sustainability Standards on an informative one-hour webinar led by GRI’s Alyson Genovese on Thursday, November 10th at 12 Noon Eastern Standard Time (EST).

Whether you are new to sustainability reporting or a seasoned veteran, this webinar is designed to provide you with an interactive, detailed overview of the very latest in sustainability reporting. You’ll be guided through the new GRI Standards, important background and benefits, and you’ll be receiving an excellent overview of the changes from the current G4 Guidelines. You’ll have ample opportunity to ask questions to both GRI and G&A (reminder: we’re the exclusive GRI Data Partner in the USA, United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland, member of the GRI Data Consortium, and a Gold Community Member).

To learn more and register for this free event, please visit: 
https://goo.gl/forms/jVPOVUL19Jzd1WnB3

If you have questions or want to learn more, please contact Louis Coppola at lcoppola@ga-institute.com.

Investors Really Do Care About Sustainability – There’s a Gap Between Them and Corporate Executives

Corporate CEOs, CFOs and others in the C-suite typically ask, “do investors really care about corporate sustainability…or is it a fad, a PR thing?”  MIT Sloan Management Review and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) set out to explore that question.  The answer is in their recently released report:  “Investing for a Sustainable Future: Investors Care More About Sustainability Than Many Executives Believe.”

An unfortunate note here:  In the survey of more than 3,000 corporate executives and managers in 100+ countries, executives’ and managers’ perceptions are out of synch with the investing world realities, think the study authors.  Co-author David Kiron (who is exec-editor of the MIT publication) thinks there is a communications gap at work here.  “We found that investor relations professionals in companies are not really talking about value of sustainability to the bottom line, even though investors place real value on sustainability performance.”

Data availability is an important driver of increased investor engagement with sustainability.  “Today’s investors,” say the authors, “armed with richer data and more sophisticated analytics, can take a more nuanced and inclusive perspective.”  And, more than 75% of investment community respondents to the survey feel that increased operational efficiency often accompanies sustainability progress.   (Three-quarters of senior managers surveyed at investment firms said a company’s sustainability performance is material, and half said that they would not invest in a company with a poor sustainability track record.)

Alas, on the corporate side, there’s the gap:  only 60% of corporate senior executives agreed with their senior investment owners or prospective owners (the asset managers surveyed) about the importance of corporate sustainability; 90% of senior corporate executives see sustainability as “important,” but only 60% of companies have a sustainability strategy in place…and just 25% have a clear business case [for sustainability], says BCG senior partner Knut Haanaes.

The MIT Sloan and BCG survey results offer corporate executives suggestions on how to meet the needs of the sustainable investor (a universe that is rapidly expanding).  The study authors will be discussing their findings and suggestion on a webinar on May 26th.   Study results are at:http://sloanreview.mit.edu/projects/investing-for-a-sustainable-future/

Highlights of all this are in the story linked below:
Investors Care More About Sustainability Than Many Executives Believe, Study Shows 
(Friday - May 13, 2016)
Source: MarketWired - Sustainability is increasingly important for a growing number of investors, as evidence mounts that companies’ environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance has an impact on their long-term financial success…

Norway – Sovereign Wealth Giant & Activist Investor Focused on Corporate Sustainability & Responsibility

Many nations have created what can be defined as a “Sovereign Wealth Fund,” which hold assets in portfolio that are supposed to benefit the entire population, and usually, future generations of the country’s citizens. The first such fund was launched in 1954 by the oil-producing nation of Kuwait.  Today, the largest such “SWF” is that of Norway – officially, the Norway Government Pension Investment Fund – with “wealth” now approaching US$1 trillion in Assets Under Management.

The Fund, managed by Norges Bank, invests in literally thousands of public companies.  Consider:  The fund invests in 9,000 companies in 75 countries (1.3% of the world’s listed companies; 2.4% of Europe’s listed companies).  The funds come from Norway’s North Sea oil royalties.

This is an activist investor:  Last year the SWF divested shares in 73 companies because of environmental and governance issues – the news comes from the Fund’s second annual sustainable investing report.  The Norway SWF is an activist investor, voting against 9,000 company-backed proxy resolutions (including votes at Apple, ExxonMobil, Sanofi, Anheuser-Bush InBev, Toyota, and General Electric).

As the Financial Times’ Nordic & Baltic reporter Richard Milne explains in his report, “The disclosures come as part of the oil fund’s second report on responsible investing…detailing its aspiration to use its growing weigh in financial markets to push companies towards good corporate behavior.”

The G&A Institute team has been monitoring SWFs for almost 10 years, as the assets – and influence — of this important sector of the institutional investment community grows and grows.  Not many SWFs could be characterized as sustainable & responsible investors, but the Norway fund example is at least favorably referenced by some other national funds when they describe their own “sustainable investing” activities.

Collectively, the SWF community owned/managed US$7 trillion in AUM as of December 2015, according to the Sovereign Wealth Funds Institute.   (Norway Fund was $825 billion; Abu Dhabi, long the largest SWF, was at $773 billion.)

Other large SWFs are owned by governments of China; Korea; Qatar (and other oil-producing states).  Oil – fossil fuel, legacy fuel – is an important factor in building this type of national wealth.  Norway’s fund states:  “The [Fund] is saving for future generations in Norway. One day the oil will run out, but the return on the fund will continue to benefit the Norwegian population.”

G&A’s SustainabilityHQ web platform tracks the activities of the world’s SWFs and presents headlines of fund activities. The profiles of the SWFs is part of our asset owner/manager profiling resources (part of G&A’s “Big Data”) used for customized research for clients.  Norway is our north star — look at what this Nordic giant is doing and “imagine” in John Lennon’s terms, what might be if many other SWFs followed its lead in responsible investing!

Read more about the Norway Sovereign Wealth Fund in the story below. And tune in to SWFs – we track news of this category of asset owner/manager every day using our SHQ platform tools.

Norway’s oil fund sells 73 stakes on sustainability concerns
(Thursday - February 04, 2016)
Source: FT.com - Norway’s $810bn oil fund sold out of 73 companies last year due to environmental and governance issues as the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund stepped up its work on responsible investing.

Brief Notes for Your Favorite Investor Relations Officer To Help Move the Needle on Sustainability at The Board Level in 2016

If you are a corporate investor relations officer, you’ll want to read this week’s top story.  If you are a manager looking for information to take over to the IR office in your company, this is good for helping to “build the investment case.”  IR magazine, an authoritative voice for the investor relations professional, puts the recent Ceres report in focus.

Ceres, an important NGO, recently released a brief summary that calls attention to important topics for the board room and C-suite – climate change, pollution, diversity, workers’ rights,  governance issues – and the board room general lack of oversight of these important issues.  What is the board room missing out on?  What should the IR professional tune in to regarding corporate sustainability?

The IR Magazine article by Adam Brown is a good conversation starter for the sustainability manager and the IR manager.  Conclusions reached include tying executive compensation to sustainability advances and urging the board to pay more attention to “the extraordinary challenges of global climate change” and more.  It’s a good quick read for the IR officer.

From all of us at G&A Institute to our valued clients, friends and colleagues:  A most joyful holiday season and our best wishes for the 2016 New Year.  The promise of the New Year is shaping up to be a most momentous period for corporate sustainability and responsibility, and for sustainable investing practices.  We stand ready to assist your company to become a sustainability leader in 2016 (please contact us to schedule an introductory call in Q1!), and we’ll continue to bring you the news, research & highlights of actions that advance the sustainability agenda in the new year!  See you in January.

Ceres report recommends boards focus on sustainability
(Friday – December 11, 2015)
Source: IR Magazine - Boards of directors should focus on sustainability issues that significantly affect revenue, promote board diversity and establish stronger ties between executive compensation and sustainability to prepare for the ‘extraordinary…

Dodd-Frank Act at 5 Years – Not Quite Done in Rulemaking

by Hank Boerner – Chairman – G&A Institute

So Here We Are Five Years on With The Dodd-Frank Act

Summer’s wound down/autumn is here  – while you were sunning at the beach or roaming Europe, there was an important anniversary here in the U.S.A. That was the fifth anniversary of “The Dodd-Frank Act,” the comprehensive package of legislation cobbled together by both houses of the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama on July 21, 2010.

The official name of the Federal law is “The Dodd-Frank Reform and Consumer Protection Act,” Public Law 111-203, H.R. 4173. There are 15 “titles” (important sections) in the legislative package addressing a wide range of issues of concern to investors, consumers, regulators, and other stakeholders.

Remember looking at your banking, investment and other financial services statements …in horror…back in the dark days of 2008-2009?

The banking and securities market crisis of 2008 resulted in an estimated losses of about US$7 trillion of shareholder-owned assets, as well as an estimated loss of $3 trillion ore more of housing equity, creating an historic loss of wealth of more than $10 trillion, according to some market observers.

That may be an under-estimation if we consider the wide range of very negative ripple effects worldwide that resulted from [primarily] reckless behavior in some big investment houses and bank holding companies…rating agencies…and then there were regulators dozing off…huge failures in governance by the biggest names in the business…and therefore the ones that investors would presumably place their trust in.

In response to the 2008 market, housing and wealth crash, two senior lawmakers — U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts — went to work to enact sweeping legislation that would “reform” the securities markets, address vexing issues in investment banking practices, and “right wrongs” in commercial banking, and consumer finance services. (Five years on, both are retired from public office. Congressman Frank is still vocal on the issues surrounding Dodd-Frank.)

After more than a year of hearings – and intense lobbying on both sides of the issues — the The Dodd-Frank Act became the Law of the Land — and the next steps for the Federal government agencies that are charged with oversight of the legislation was development of rules to be followed.

So — in July, we observed the fifth anniversary of Dodd-Frank passage. I didn’t hear of many parties to celebrate the occasion. Five years on, many rules-of-the-road have been issued — but a significant amount of rule-making remains unfinished.

Yes, there has been a lot of work done: there are 22,000-plus pages of rules published (after public process), putting about two-thirds of the statutes to work. But as we write this, about one-third of Dodd-Frank statutes are not yet regulatory releases — for Wall Street, banks, regulators and the business sector to follow.

Is The Wind At Our Back – or Front?

What should we be thinking regarding Dodd-Frank half-a-decade on? Are there positive results as rules get cranked out — what are the negatives? What’s missing?

We consulted with Lisa Woll, the CEO of the influential Forum for Sustainable & Responsible Investment (US SIF), the asset management trade association whose members are engaged in sustainable, responsible and impact investing, and advance investment practices that consider environmental, social and governance criteria.

She shared her thoughts on D-F, and progress made/not made to date: “Congress approved the Act following one of the worst financial crises in our country. The 2008 crash impacted the lives of millions of Americans who lost their homes, jobs and retirement savings. The Dodd-Frank Act helped to bring about much-needed accountability and transparency to the financial markets.”

Examples? Lisa Woll thinks one of the most important achievement was creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), “which is up and running and now one of the most important agencies providing relief to consumers facing abuse from creditors.” She points out that CFPB has handled more than 677,000 complaints since it opened its doors four years ago.

Put this in the “be careful what you wish for” category: You may recall that the buzz in Washington power circles was that Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren was slated to head the new bureau – -which was a concept championed by her. Fierce financial service industry opposition and Republican stonewalling prevented that appointment. Elected Senator from Massachusetts on November 6, 2012, she is now mentioned frequently in the context of the 2016 presidential race.

Continuing the discussion on Dodd-Frank, US SIF’s Lisa Woll points to a recently released regulatory rule that addresses CEO-to-work pay-ration disclosure. This is a “Section” of the voluminous Dodd-Frank package requiring publicly-traded companies (beginning in 2017) to disclose the median of annual total compensation of all employees except the CEO, the total of the CEO compensation, and the ratio of the two amounts.

Says Lisa Woll: “Disclosure of the CEO-to-worker pay ratio is a key measure to ensure sound corporate governance.”

She says in general US SIF members are pleased that the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) rule applies to U.S. and non-U.S. employees, as well as full-time, part-time, seasonal and temporary workers employed by the company or any consolidated subsidiaries, with some exceptions: “The rule will provide important information about companies’ compensation strategies and whether CEO pay is out of balance in comparison to what the company pays its workers. Those will be measurable results.”

What Doesn’t Work/ or May be Missing in D-F?

CEO Woll says investors were disappointed that the pay ratio provision (CEO-to-worker) did not include smaller companies and that up to five percent of non-U.S. employees may be excluded from reporting. Her view: “High pay disparities within companies can damage employee morale and productivity and threaten a company’s long-term performance. In a global economy, with increased outsourcing, comprehensive information about a company’s pay and employment practices is material to investors.”

The Conflict Minerals Rule

Another positive example offered by Lisa Woll: The Dodd-Frank Act requirement that companies report on origin of certain minerals that are used, and that originate in conflict zones such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. (Section 1502 of Dodd-Frank instructed SEC to issue rules to companies to disclose company use of conflict minerals if those minerals are “necessary to the functionality or production of a product manufactured by the company”. This includes tantalum, tin, gold or tungsten.)

Lisa Woll observes: The submission of these reports exposes operational risks that are material to investors. Last year 1,315 companies submitted disclosures, according to Responsible Sourcing Network. We continue to urge more corporate transparency in conflict minerals reporting.”

Dodd-Frank Rule Making Scorecard

The US SIF CEO notes that of 390 rules required to be enacted, 60 rules have yet to be finalized and another 83 have not even been proposed, according to law firm Davis Polk & Wardell LP.

Woll: “One example is the Cardin-Lugar Amendment, requiring any U.S. or foreign company trading on a U.S. stock exchange to publicly disclose resource extraction payment made to governments on a project basis. We are still waiting for SEC to complete the rule.”

CEO Woll sees the ongoing effort by some members of the U.S. Congress to undermine or weaken The Dodd-Frank Act as “very concerning,” and putting investors at risk. “In my own work with our asset management members, I am seeing positive effects in that they have greater access to information in order to make an investment decision in companies. The examples are rules around transparency and disclosure. At the same time, asset managers lack access to information in a number of areas where rules are still pending, such as payment disclosures to companies by extractive companies.”

Of rules not yet adopted (or addressed), Lisa Woll urges continued work by SEC: “We hope to see more of the rules finalized so that we can move toward more transparent financial markets and a more sustainable economy.”

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Notes: The Forum for Sustainable & Responsible Investment (US SIF) is an asset management trade association based in Washington, D.C. Member institutions include Bank of America, UBS Global Asset Management, Bloomberg, Calvert Investments, Legg Mason, Domini Social Investments, Cornerstone Capital, Walden Asset Management, and many other familiar names.

Members are engaged in sustainable, responsible and impact investing, and advance investment practices that consider environmental, social and governance criteria. Lisa Woll has been CEO since 2006.

Disclosure: G&A Institute is a member organization of US SIF and team members participate in SIRAN, the organization’s “Sustainable & Responsible Research Analyst Network.”) Other SIF entities include The International Working Group; Indigenous Peoples Working Group; and Community Investing Working Group. Information is at: http://www.ussif.org/

So If The US Equities Market Cools Off — What Happens With ESG Investing Strategies?

Michael Shagrin writing in Fundfire (a Financial Times service) poses the rhetorical question:  Will ESG investing strategies be set up for a fall “if the U.S. equity markets cool off”?  He examines the results of a recent survey by Commonfund that suggests that institutional investors may grow “suspicious” of ESG strategies in a downturn.

Just below half of survey respondents said they didn’t expect that SRI criteria (such as ESG strategies) would be an important part of their investment policy over the next three years — and 25 percent said that ESG would play a greater role in portfolio management at their firm.

Why the “suspicion” or lack of interest? Could be a mis-perception that ESG strategies are “confining,” and reduce a manager’s ability to produce “top flight returns?”  On the other hand, ESG strategy proponents expect to sleep more soundly and have better returns than the “un-convinced,” Shagrin reports.

Could be lack of understanding of ESG strategies that is back holding greater institutional investor acceptance of the approach?  Commonfund’s president, Keith Luke, thinks that is part of the thinking behind responses to the survey.

G&A EVP and partner Louis Coppola adds his perspective: “In our experience, during market downturns (note: like 2008-2009), money flow to safety and we have seen evidence of faster recovery of companies with sustainability integrated into their strategies…”   Read the full for an informative look (in the survey results and perspectives offered) at “ESG’s Future…”

Investor Confusion Clouds ESG’s Future
(Thursday – March 26, 2015)
Source: Michael Shagrin, Fund Fire - Environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategies were hit hard by outflows in 2013 and 2014, and new data suggests that may just be the tip of the iceberg…