Expanding Public Debates About the “What” & “How” of Corporate ESG Disclosure

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

March 2, 2021

Corporate sustainability / ESG reporting — What to disclose? How to frame the disclosures (context matters!)? What frameworks or standards to use?  Questions, questions, and more questions for corporate managers to consider as ESG disclosures steadily expand.

We are tuning in now to many more lively discussions going on about corporate ESG / sustainability et al public disclosures and structured reporting practices — and the growing complexity of all this disclosure effort, resulting often in disclosure fatigue for corporate practitioners!

Corporate managers ponder the important question:  which of the growing number of ESG frameworks or standards to use for disclosures? (The World Economic Forum (WEF) describes some 600 ESG guidelines, 600 reporting frameworks and 360 accounting standards that companies could use for reporting.  These do vary in scope, quantity, and quality of metrics.)

In deciding the what and how for their reporting, public companies consider then the specifics of relevant metrics and the all-important accompanying narrative to be shared to meet users’ rising information needs…in this era of emergent “stakeholder capitalism”.

Of course, there is the question for most companies of which or what existing or anticipated public sector reporting mandates will have to be met in various geographies, for various sectors and industries, for which stakeholders.

We here questions such as — how to get ahead of anticipated mandates in the United States if the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) does move ahead with adoption of new rules or at least strong guidance for corporate (and investor) sustainability reporting.

The European Union is today ahead in this area, but we can reasonably expect the USA to make important moves in the “Biden Climate Administration” era.  (The accounting standards boards are important players here as well as regulatory agencies in the sovereign states.)

Company boards, executive committees, professional staff, sustainability team managers wrestle with this complex environmental (for ESG disclosure) as their enterprises develop strategies, organize data flows, set in place data measurement protocols, and assemble the ESG-related content for public disclosure. (And, for expanded “private sharing” with ESG ratings agencies, credit risk agencies, benchmark/index managers, to meet customer ESG data requests, and more).

The list of issues and topics of “what” to disclose is constantly expanding, especially as institutional investors (asset owners and their managers) develop their “asks” of companies.

Climate change topics disclosure is at the top of most investor lists for 2021. Human Capital Management issues have been steadily rising in importance as the COVID-19 pandemic (and spread of variants) affects many business enterprises around the globe.

In the USA, SEC has new guidance for corporate HCM disclosures.  Political unrest is an issue for companies.  Anti-corruption measures are being closely examined.

Diversity & Inclusion (including in the board room and C-suite) is growing in importance to investors.

Also, physical risk to corporate assets in the era of superstorms and changing weather patterns – what are companies examining and then reporting on?  Exec compensation with metrics tied to performance in ESG issues is an area of growing interest.

We are monitoring and/or involved in multiple discussions and organized initiatives in the quest to develop more global, uniform, comparable, reliable, timely, complete, and assured corporate sustainability metrics, and accompanying narrative.  And, to provide the all-important context (of reported data) – what does the data mean?  It’s a complicated journey for all involved!

This week we devote the content of this week’s Highlights newsletter to various elements of the public discussions about the many aspects of the journey.

Here at G&A Institute, our team’s recommended best practice:  use multiple frameworks & standards that are relevant to the business and meet user needs; these are typically then disclosed in hybridized report where multiple standards are harmonized and customized for the relevant industries and sectors of the specific company’s operations and reflect the progress (or even lack of) of the enterprise toward leadership in sustainability matters.

This approach helps to reduce disclosure fatigue for internal corporate teams challenged to choose “which” framework or standard and the gathering of data and other content for this year’s and next year’s ESG disclosures.

We shared our thoughts in a special issue of NIRI IR Update, published by the National Investor Relations Institute, the important organization for corporate investor relations officers:


Here are our top selections in the content silos for this week that reflect the complexity of even the public debates about corporate ESG disclosure and where we are in early-2021.

TOP STORIES

The ever-evolving world of ESG investing from a few different points of view. What are the providers of capital examining today for their portfolio or investable product decision-making?  Here are some shared perspectives:

Game Changing News on Climate Crisis Actions – President Biden Announces “Whole of Government” Plans

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

What a time to be a sustainability advocate – January 2021 is it!  There was significant news in the USA on matters related to meeting climate change challenges. Start with the Biden-Harris Administration bold moves on addressing the climate crisis…

President Joseph R Biden, in his first days in office signed Executive Orders to commit the “whole of government” to addressing the climate crisis in the USA — and around the world.

The President of the United States of America has broad, sweeping powers as the elected head of the Executive Branch of government.  Presidential EO”s must be anchored in the existing laws of the land (such as the Clean Air Act), be within the powers of the presidency as set out by the Constitution of the United States, and serve as the “directives” and instructions (as well as memoranda and “findings” and more) from the head of the Executive Branch to the organs of the Federal government of the United States of America.

The American Historical Institute explains the EO serves to deliver direct orders, intrepretation of law, provide guidance for future regulatory actions, structure government institutions or processes, and make political statements (foundations of policy). This is an often-used approach creating policy.

American heads of state have used the EO process at least 20,000 times dating back to the days of President George Washington – these orders can be challenged by the other two branches of the U.S. government (Judicial and Legislative).

The Biden Executive Orders are assembled in “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad” – the EOs issued “take bold steps” to combat the climate crisis at home in the USA and throughout the world with many elements included (starting with rejoining the Paris Agreement). Consider:

  • The climate crisis will be “centered” now in U.S. foreign policy and in national security considerations.
  • There will be a climate leaders’ summit in the USA on Earth Day (in April 2021).
  • The Major Economies Forum will be re-convened.
  • A new Special Presidential Envoy is appointed (former Secretary of State John Kerry).
  • The USA’s process to address the “Nationally Determined Contribution” (NDC) called for in the Paris Accord is now underway.
  • The National Intelligence Estimate on security implications of climate change is to be prepared by the Director of National Intelligence for the White House.
  • The White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy is established (headed by former US EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy).
  • Important: the National Climate Task Force is created; this brings the top leaders of the Federal government across 21 agencies (all Cabinet officers) to implement the president’s climate agenda.
  • Clean energy job creation is an important objective – this to be part of the “Build Back Better” initiatives.
  • “Made in America” for manufacturing is a pillar; the Order directs all agencies to buy “carbon-pollution-free” electricity for all government facilities and clean, zero-emission vehicles to help create good paying, union jobs and stimulate clean energy industries.

There’s more – rebuilding infrastructure (focus on “green” here); advancing conservation; reforestation; revitalizing communities left behind as the transition to clean energy displaced workers in fossil fuel extraction and processing; developing approaches to secure “environmental justice” for communities; spurring economic growth; bringing science back into climate change discussions; creating a Presidential Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

The White House is now reviewing more than 100 of the Executive Orders of the prior administration to reinstate protections for air, water, land and communities.

This is sweeping and presents abundant opportunities and risks for both the corporate community and the capital markets. (As the EOs were being announced, General Motors unveiled its plan to “go all electric” in vehicle manufacture by 2035!)

We have prepared a Resource Paper to explain and explore the many implications for the Biden-Harris Administration moves to address the climate crisis. You can download the paper here: https://www.ga-institute.com/research-reports/resource-papers/biden-harris-white-house-actions-a-ga-resource-paper.html

In the days ahead we will be preparing numerous commentaries for this blog on the many (!) developments aligned with, and supporting, the presidential moves of this week. Stay Tuned!

Looking Back at 2020 and Into 2021-Disruptions, Changes, But Consistency in Climate Change Challenges

January 11 2021

by Hank BoernerChair & Chief StrategistG&A Institute

Seems like just yesterday we were celebrating the great promise of the 21st Century – the Paris Accord (or “Agreement”) on climate change. Can you believe, it is now five years on (260 weeks or so this past December) since the meeting in the “City of Lights” of the Conference of Parties (“COP 21”, a/k/a the U.N. Paris Climate Conference). This was the 21st meeting of the global assemblage focused on climate change challenges.

For most of us the calendar years are neat delineations of time and space – helps us remember “what” and “when” in near and far-times. But often important trends will not fit neatly in a given year. There is for example so much uncertainty in 2020 that continues in 2021.

As we cheered and toasted each other on 31 December 2019 around the world (with tooting horns, fireworks, lighted spheres dropping on famed Times Square in New York City and fireworks on the Thames in London) we probably were looking eagerly into the new year 2020 and the promise of things to come. Oh well.

Now here we are embarked into new year 2021, starting the third decade of the 21st Century, and groping our way toward the “next normal”.  What ever that may have in store for us.

The next normal for when the Coronavirus, now taking many lives and infecting hundreds of millions of us…at last subsides. For when the economies of the world stabilize and everyone can get back to work, in whatever the workspace configurations may be. For when the long-term issues that are generating civil unrest and widespread – and now very violent! — protests can be addressed and we can begin to resolve inequality et al.

Our world has certainly been dramatically interrupted as the calendar changed in both 2020 and now as we begin year 2021.

One consistency, however, has been in our business and personal lives in all of the recent years and is accelerating in 2021: the effort to address the challenges of climate change, with all sectors of our society engaged in the effort.

There is greater effort now to limit global warming and the impact on society in the business sector (especially for large companies); in the public sector (at local, state, and national levels, among the almost 200 nations that are parties to the Paris Agreement); for NGOs; leaders of philanthropies; and we as individuals doing our part.

We all have a role to play in the collective striving to limit the rising temperatures of seas and atmosphere and forestall worldwide great tragedy and cataclysmic events if we fail.

And so now on to 2021. The Top Stories we’ve selected for you, and additional content in the various silos, focus our attention on what has been accomplished in 2019 and 2020 — and what challenges we need to address the challenges of 2021 and beyond.

As we assembled this week’s G&A Institute’s Highlights newsletter, we learned from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that the year 2020 just ended was a period (neatly marked in “2020” for our historical records) of historic weather extremes that saw many billion-dollar weather and climate disasters…smashing prior records.

There were 22 separate billion-dollar events costing the United States of America almost US$100 billion in damages in just the 12 months of 2020.

And this troubling news: in 2020 Arctic air temps continued their long-term warming streak, recording the second warmest year on record. (Since 2000 Arctic temperatures have been more than twice as far as the average for Earth as a whole). When air and sea continue to warm, massive ice fields melt and ocean seas rise, ocean circulation patterns change, and more. Learn more at climate.gov.

Our selection of news and shared perspectives here bridge 2020 and 2021 trends and events. We can expect in the weeks ahead to be sharing content with you focused on climate change, diversity & inclusion, corporate purpose discussions, risk management, corporate governance, ESG matters, corporate reporting & disclosures, sustainable investing…and much more!

Best wishes to you for 2021 from the G&A Institute team. We’re beginning the second decade of publishing this newsletter as well – let us know how we are doing and how we can improve the G&A Institute “sharing”.

If you are not receiving the G&A Institute Sustainability Highlights(TM) newsletter on a regular basis, you can sign up here: https://www.ga-institute.com/newsletter.html

 

TOP STORIES

A year in review and looking ahead to 2021:

Looking to 2021- Michael Bloomberg Advises: What President Biden Should Do

December 31, 2020

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

This is my last post of 2020 – indeed, a chaotic, challenging and tumultuous year for corporate managers and investment professionals.  And the rest of us!

At this time last year we were looking forward to continued peace and economic growth. That new virus spreading infection inside China was a blip on the horizon for many people. 

Most of us did not foresee the rapid spread of this dangerous virus to all corners of the globe, and the resulting tragedy of the immensity of deaths, as many families lost loved ones,  We were not adequately prepared for the resulting economic upheaval posing serious challenges to leaders in the private sector, public sector and capital markets.  At year end we are still working our way through the mess. 

And so we come the start of a new calendar year — 2021! — with all of humanity wishing for better days! 

Many eyes are on the United States of America, the world’s largest economy, which will soon have new leadership in the White House and the important arms of the federal government, the cabinets. Those are State, Treasury, Defense, Interior, Energy, Labor, Commerce, and other departments as well as in key agencies such as the Securities & Exchange Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA).

The better days could start on January 20th when a new President and Vice President are sworn in and a new Congress will already be in office (the 117th Congress will convene on January 5th with 100 Senators and 435 Members of the House of Representatives). 

And there is much work for all of those leaders to do!  There are especially high expectations of soon-to-be President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris…and the men and women they will appoint or nominate (for U.S. Senate confirmation) to help in leading the USA forward, working in cabinet offices or federal agencies. .

President Biden has said that his will be the “climate change administration” and that meeting the challenges posed by climate change is a top priority.

What should / can be done as these leaders settle into the office?

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, head of the Bloomberg LP organization — he with the loudest megaphone to reach and influence capital markets players, government leaders, NGOs, climate activists, multilateral organizations leaders, and many more leaders and influentials — has some specific suggestions for the Biden-Harris team as they assume office.

Here are some of the highlights of Mayor Mike’s suggestions:

  • “Biden Needs to Lead on Climate Reporting” (the headline of the editorial with the suggestions – there’s a link below).
  • Biden’s pledge to rejoin the Paris Agreement should be carried out and this will send a strong signal to the world. But that will take us back four years (when Secretary of State John Kerry led the US delegation in joining the agreement).
  • To move forward President Biden on his first day in the Oval Office should begin the effort to bring together the leaders of the G-20 nations (the world’s leading economies*)  to endorse a mandatory standard for global businesses to measure and then report on risks all nations face from climate change.

There are mechanisms and players in place to help make rapid progress.

Remember that Michael Bloomberg heads the TCFD – the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures — which was formed by the Financial Stability Board (FSB) —  the board a creation of the G20 nations after the disaster of the 2008 financial crisis. 

The concept of the FSB is to serve as a sounding board and think tank for the leading economies of the world to address among critical issues risks to the financial system. 

This is the organization’s official description: “The Financial Stability Board (FSB) is an international body that monitors and makes recommendations about the global financial system.  The FSB promotes international financial stability; it does so by coordinating national financial authorities and international standard-setting bodies as they work toward developing strong regulatory, supervisory and other financial sector policies. FSB fosters a level playing field by encouraging coherent implementation of these policies across sectors and jurisdictions.”

This means that the FSB, working through its member organizations, seeks to strengthen financial systems and increase the stability of international financial markets. The policies developed in the pursuit of this agenda are then implemented by jurisdictions and national authorities.  

Members include the US Department of the Treasury, the Federal Reserve System, and the Securities & Exchange Commission.  

The TCFD is a creation of these and other members. 

The TCFD issued recommendations for companies to measure, manage and report on risks and opportunities related to climate change — which Mayor Bloomberg sees as key driver in directing capital to companies with smarter, more responsible leadership that protect and company and seize opportunities related to climate change.

The TCFD guidelines have been adopted or endorsed by 1,000-plus companies and organizations in 80 countries on six continents, Michael Bloomberg pointed out in his editorial.  Sovereign members of the G20 are among the endorsers — Japan, Canada, France, New Zealand, the United Kingdom. 

And so the United States of America — the world’s largest economy — could serve as the catalyst, the unifier, the key player in the drive for adoption of global standards under Biden-Harris leadership. 

This would serve to bring a coordinated effort to deal with the challenges posed by climate change on a global basis, help to develop the right regulations for the world’s family of nations to develop uniform, comparable regulations for climate change disclosure and reporting, and remove uncertainty for corporate leaders and their providers of capital. 

Michael Bloomberg, whose own company’s widely-used platform (“the Bloomberg”) carries volumes of ESG data, tapping his own knowledge of ESG data, advises us that such data must be useful, comparable, and not be confusing (as is frequently now the case). 

Even with the increasing flow of ESG data, the world’s financial markets, Michael Bloomberg points out, operate in the dark today in terms of climate change – which he sees as the biggest risk to the global economy.

Michael Bloomberg is urging the Biden-Harris team to take action “…to help to develop a single global disclosure framework for climate risks that helps drive a faster and more effective response to climate change”.

Or else we will continue “with competing frameworks that make it harder for investors and businesses to identify risks, leading to more economic harm and lower progress”.

Mayor Bloomberg’s summing up his views:  “Climate disclosure is not flashy but it’s one of the important tools we have to speed progress on prevent climate change and economic hardship…which could dwarf the effects of the financial crisis.  The faster we make [disclosure] standard practice globally, the safer and stronger the economy will be.  The US can help lead the way.”

There’s the complete editorial and more perspectives shared at bloomberg.com/opinion.

And so we end 2020 (farewell!) and begin a new year, filled for many people with great hope and promise for better days.  Stay Tuned!  And best wishes to you for the new year.  

#  #  #

P.S. Michael Bloomberg was also the Chair of the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board (SASB) Foundation, 2014-2018 and remains supportive of the organization.

You can follow Michael Bloomberg on his web site:  https://www.mikebloomberg.com/

*  The G20 nations are the USA, UK, Germany, France Italy, Japan, Canada (these are the G7); Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey.  Plus “guests” – Spain; two African countries; the International Monetary Fund; World Bank; United Nations; the World Trade Organization; the Financial Stability Board (all attend G20 summits).  

To understand the influence of the Financial Stability Board, here are the members: https://www.fsb.org/about/organisation-and-governance/members-of-the-financial-stability-board/

The members of the Task Force (TCFD) and other information: https://www.fsb-tcfd.org/about/

Looking Back to Look Ahead – The Promise of Biden-Harris Administration to Return to the Hopes of Action on Climate Change Issues

November 9, 2020

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

For almost four l-o-n-g, long years we have been watching – and decrying! – the antics of the Trump Administration in the attempt to roll back vital federal environmental protections that have been put in place (and protected) by elected representatives of both parties over five decades.

It was President Richard M. Nixon – a Republican and conservative leader – who signed the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) into the law of the land. NEPA was established by the 91st Congress and became law on January 1, 1970.

This also established the President’s Council on Environmental Quality. What flowed thereafter was important…

…the Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) was created;
The Clean Air Act was enacted into law;
The Clean Water Act soon followed; and then
Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA);  and 
…”Superfund” for clean up of contamination (actually, CERCLA-Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act);  and
Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act;  and 
Endangered Species Act;  and
Federal Insectiside, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act; and 
Energy Policy Act; and
Chemical Safety Information, Site Security and Fuels Regulatory Relief Act;
…and much more!

Beginning almost immediately as the Trump Administration took charge of the EPA and other cabinet agencies, these historic legislative achievements were being undermined and protections whittled away.

There will be new environmental overseers coming to town in 2021 and the great hopes pinned on the Biden-Harris Administration include rebuilding the important rules, oversight mechanisms and enforcement of the laws/rules by EPA, Interior, Energy and other agencies.

The New York Times today outlined the first steps that could be taken – issuance of presidential Executive Orders (EOs) and President Memoranda that would undo the same mechanisms employed by President Trump and EPA political leaders to undermine environmental protection measures.

We read in — “Biden Will Roll Back Parts of the Trump Agenda With Strokes of a Pen” – that on Day One, we can expect action on climate change, writes Michael D. Shear and Lisa Friedman.

That starts with notice to the United Nations that the U.S.A. will rejoin the Paris Agreement.

The move to revoke Trump era EOs and re-issue Obama-Biden Administration orders can be immediate; or, President Joe Biden in 2021 can issue new orders along the same lines of prior EOs addressing climate change issues.

Important: The new Executive Orders would create important policies for the heads and rank and file members of the departments – Defense, EPA, Labor, Commerce, Interior, SEC, and many others that in some way directly or indirectly are affected by climate change.

Attitudes do matter – and Presidential Executive Orders to heads of agencies really matter!

2021 is looking like climate change matters will move to front-and-center on the public policy agenda. The Financial Times today pointed out that candidate Joe Biden set a policy of having a target to reach zero carbon

While Donald Trump led the effort to isolate the United States from world affairs, China moved to pledge net zero by 2060 and Japan and South Korea set net zero targets.

With the USA back on board, real progress can be made toward meeting Paris Agreement goals. Exciting to consider: The United States of America as once again a leader in the drive to make the world a safer, healthier place for billions of us!

For a reminder of the Trump moves in 2017 to reverse a half-century and more of environmental protection, here’s my March 2017 look at what was underway just two months into the new administration, with a new leader (Administrator Scott Pruitt) at the helm of the EPA.

Let’s go back to March 2017 – Just two months into the Trump Administration – with bad news on climate change all around!

http://ga-institute.com/Sustainability-Update/climate-change-nah-the-deniers-destroyers-are-work-white-house-attempts-to-roll-back-obama-legacy/


Food! Will We Have Enough to Feed an Ever-Hungrier Planet? – Are Food & Ag Industries “Sustainable” – Let’s Explore…

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

October 30 2020

The United Nations projection is for today’s global population of an estimated 7.6 billion people to expand to a global population of 8.6B by 2030 and 9.8B by 2050…and then to 11.2 billion in 2100 (so says the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs report, June 2017).

Each year, says the UN, 83 million more people are added to the world’s population.

If we go back 1,000 years, the world population was an estimated 300 million people.

And then, only 4% (about 4 million square kilometers) was used for farming, according to the University of Oxford (source: ourworldindata).

Today, half of the world’s habitable land is used for agriculture (excluding deserts, beaches, rocks, etc.) – that is 51 million KMs. T

There is also land (an additional 40 million KMs) used for livestock, meat, and dairy. Protein supply is largely from plant-based food for much of the world population. (Data – UN Food and Agricultural Organization).

So as the population grows and grows, will we be able to feed millions and then billions of additional people? Where will the capital be needed for food & ag expansion?

Will investors and other stakeholders have enough information – especially reliable, comparable data sets – to understand where the food & ag industry players are…to meet the daily food needs of many more people…to use available arable land wisely and sustainably…to understand what food manufacturers and marketers are doing to be more sustainable and responsible?

We’ve selected a few items in our Top Stories to explore these questions, especially as investors look for agriculture and food trends that fit into the ESG bucket.

TOP STORIES

  1. Forbes contributor Hank Cardello looks at the food industry and the magazine’s list of “100 most sustainably managed public companies” – finding food processing companies “a no show among the top companies”:Food Industry is a No-Show in New Sustainability Study (Source: Forbes)
  2. This ESG / Financial Times article explores why the food sector is difficult to assess from an ESG perspective – to quote, “ESG investors are finding it hard to incorporate food in their portfolios…food businesses’ far-reaching impacts are difficult to measure, making it unclear whether they meet ESG criteria”:Food Proves Hard for ESG Investors to Digest (Source: Financial Times)
  3. This article talks about ESG not being covered in farm media and opines that primary producers don’t have to rely on ESG reporting to get access to capital. So – it seems like these factors could cause difficulty for downstream customers to report on the ESG metrics of their supply chains. Contributing analyst Elaine Kub advises the ag industry that convincing investors a company is operating sustainably and making long-term decisions…and deserves to be in the “ESG category”, but is nary a mention of this in farm media…yet: ESG: Another Acronym for Ag to Know (Source: Progressive Farmer)
  4. 4-A new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) charts organic ag sales have increased 31% from 2016 to 2019:2019 Organic Survey Results Show Sales Up 31% from 2016 (Source: USDA)

Sources:

Advancing Toward a Circular New York

By Kirstie Dabbs – Analyst-Intern, G&A Institute

New York City’s latest OneNYC 2050 strategy outlines an ambitious sustainability agenda that includes goals to achieve zero waste to landfill by 2030, and carbon neutrality by 2050.

New Yorkers who track city- and state-wide environmental goals and regulations are likely aware of the importance of renewable energy and energy efficiency in achieving this climate strategy, but those actions alone won’t fulfill New York’s ambitions.

A circular economy must also be adopted in order to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions and waste, while also conserving resources. Although the OneNYC strategy does make note of this shift, many New Yorkers remain unfamiliar with even the concept of the circular economy, let alone its principles, practices and potential impact.

What is the Circular Economy?

Also known as circularity, the circular economy calls for a reshaping of our systems of production and consumption, and an inherently different relationship with our resources.

Rather than following our current “linear” economic model that extracts resources to make products that are used and disposed of before the end of their useful life, a circular economy follows three core principles to extend the value of existing resources and reduce the need to extract new resources:

  • Design out waste.
  • Keep products and materials in use.
  • Regenerate natural systems.

These three principles — as put forth by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation — create opportunities to reduce and potentially eliminate waste,  from the design phase all the way to a product’s end of life.

Materials Matter

In the design phase, the choice of materials plays a critical role in either facilitating or preventing recirculation of materials down the line. By choosing to manufacture products with recycled materials, companies will drive demand for more post-consumer feedstock, further reducing waste to landfill which is aligned with the City’s waste-reduction goal.

Companies can also choose to manufacture products using responsibly sourced bio-based materials, which enable circularity because they biodegrade at the end of life with the appropriate infrastructure in place.

WinCup and Eco-Products are examples of companies leading the way toward biodegradable paper and plastic cup alternatives. The regenerative process of biodegradation is in line with the third principle of circularity and supports New York City’s waste goals in bypassing the landfill altogether and heading directly to the compost pile.

Durable Design Increases Product Lifespan and Reduces Consumer Demand

In addition to applying material design principles to divert material from landfill, companies can deploy design and marketing strategies to keep their products in use longer.

Designing durable products and those that can be easily repaired not only leads to longer product lives, but also reduces waste and demand for new products. Creating products that will be loved or liked longer – such as “slow” fashion that won’t go out of style – is another tactic to extend the emotional use of a product.

Finally, companies such as Loop that combine durability with reuse offer a solution to the packaging waste dilemma by keeping long-lasting packaging in circulation.

According to a 2019 report from the European Climate Foundation, by recirculating existing products and materials, the demand for new materials will decrease, reducing environmental degradation and product-related carbon emissions.

How Will the Circular Economy Help Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

The same report also notes that in order to meet the carbon reduction targets outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we “cannot focus only on…renewables and energy efficiency” but must also ”address how we manufacture and use products, which comprises the remaining half of GHG emissions.”

A recent press release from the World Economic Forum (WEF) summarized it succinctly: If we don’t link the circular economy to climate change, “we’re not just neglecting half of the problem, we’re also neglecting half of the solution.”

New York’s Steps to Advance the Circular Economy

Although the principles of circularity can be applied to an individual’s or organization’s behavior, to fully achieve a circular economy the economic system as a whole must fully adopt these principles.

According to a recent report by Closed Loop Partners — an investment company dedicated to financing innovations required for a circular economy — the four key drivers currently advancing circularity in North America are investment, innovation, policy and partnership. All are important and increasing; we are seeing the private and public sectors collaborating to take advantage of the economic opportunity offered by circularity while executing this environmental imperative.

The New New York Circular City Initiative

Closed Loop Partners, along with several other private and public organizations, have come together to found the New York Circular City Initiative, officially launching this month.

One of several partners participating in the initiative is the NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), and Chief Strategy Officer Ana Arino spoke last year of how the NYCEDC is well-positioned to inspire and implement city-wide changes leading to a circular economy through levers such as real estate assets; programs to support circular innovation; its intersectional position between the private and public sectors; and public-facing awareness campaigns.

The vision of the New York Circular City Initiative is “to help create a city where no waste is sent to landfill, environmental pollution is minimized, and thousands of good jobs are created through the intelligent use of products and raw materials.” Through engagement in this collaborative effort, the City is taking an important step toward circularity, that, if scaled, has the potential to make significant and lasting changes in the local economy—and beyond.

# # #

Kirstie Dabbs is pursuing her M.B.A. in Sustainability with focus on Circular Value Chain Management at Bard College.  She is currently an analyst-intern at G&A Institute working on GRI Data Partner assignments and G&A research projects. In her role as an Associate Consultant for Red Queen Group in NYC she provides organization analyses and support for not-for-profits undergoing strategic or management transitions.

 

Profile:  https://www.ga-institute.com/about-the-institute/the-honor-roll/kirstie-dabbs.html

 

This article was originally published on the GreenHomeNYC blog on September 28, 2020.

 

Rising Heat & Humidity, Rising Sea Levels, Up & Down Shifts in Crop Yields, More Large Fires, Huge Human Migration Within the United States -– What We Are Learning Today

September 24 2020

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

There is so much going on in the global sustainability space that we could draw an apt analogy – it’s “like drinking water not out of a straw but a fire hose!”

Every week our team seeks out the news, feature and research items that will help you stay informed on developments in corporate sustainability and CSR, sustainable investing, the actions of governments and civil society leadership, activists, academics & researchers…and more.

For the past two or three years the pace of these developments has accelerated and so created a long list of many “possibilities” to share with you.  Sometimes, certain news jumps up and shouts at us from the print or digital page.

Example:  This week we see a powerful accounting of the impacts of climate change as assembled by ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit journalism organization focused on the major issues of the day.   The collaborating journalists – at ProPublica and The New York Times with support from the non-profit Pulitzer Center — focused on “the compounding calamities of climate risk” and the projected impact on the continental U.S.A. over the coming decades.

The issues “stack on top of one another”, they write.  Such as rising heat, excessive humidity, oceans rising, very large fires, crop failures, economic damages, and more…scary projections for the 2040-2060 timeframe.   (That is starting only 20 years, or 240 months, just 1,000+ weeks away!)

ProPublica worked with data from the Rhodium Group, which when presented in the context of the report, tell a story of warming temperatures, and changing rainfall that will drive agriculture and temperate climates from south to north, as the sea levels rise and vast amounts of coastlines “are consumed” and dangerous levels of humidity “swamp the Mississippi River Valley”.

All of this will profoundly interrupt the way that we in this, the world’s largest economy, will live and farm and work later in this century.  This could be an era to be marked by mass migration within the U.S.A., far outpacing the dramatic “Great Black Migration” with large populations moving from southern states to the north, profoundly reshaping this Land.

The data is presented in maps and county-by-county review; you can in the visuals presented see how the temperate zone marches north and more…for corn and soy production, harvests will decrease and increase, depending on location in the country.

Economic impact? (Serious projections to consider today while we experience dislocation now due to the Coronavirus pandemic include rising energy costs, lower labor productivity, poor crop yields, increase in crime and more.

Which counties will rise and which, fall?  The maps tell the story.

This reportage was so important and timely that the NY Times published a comprehensive wrap up this weekend in the Sunday magazine (reaching well beyond two million print and digital subscribers).   We present this important reportage for you in the Top Stories.

Timeliness:  This is also Climate Week, with important digital and some physical meetings around the world to focus on climate change challenges. We’re sharing some of the coverage of that as well.

 

Top Stories

Research We Can Use As We Consider the Changes To Come in a Lower-Carbon Economy

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

There certainly is a large body of research findings and resulting projections of what to expect as society moves toward a lower-carbon global economy.  The research comes from the public sector, academia, NGOs, capital market organizations, and scientific bodies.  One of the most comprehensive of analysis and projections is the National Climate Assessment produced periodically by the U.S. federal government. 

One reliable source of research that we regularly have followed for many years is the The National Bureau of Research (NBER), a not-for-profit “quant” research organization founded 100 years ago in Boston, Massachusetts.  The organization boasts of a long roster of economic experts who issue many Working Papers during the year (1,000 or more) with permission granted to reproduce results.

Such is the stature of NBER over many years that this is the organization that issues the official “start and end” of recessionary periods in the U.S. (you probably have seen that mentioned in news stories).

Lately NBER researchers have been focused on ESG-related topics.  We are sharing just a few top line research results here for you.

Research Results: California’s Carbon Market Cuts Inequality in Air Pollution Exposure

In NBER Working Paper 27205, we learn that California’s GhG cap-and-trade program has narrowed the disparity in local air pollution exposure between the disadvantaged populations and others.  The state’s is second largest carbon market in the world after the European Union’s cap-and-trade (based on total value of permits).

Early on there were concerns that market forces could worsen existing patterns in which disadvantaged neighborhoods would be exposed to even more pollution that better-off counterparts.  Not so, say researchers Danae Hernandez-Cortes and Kyle C. Meng, who examined 300 facilities in the 2008-2017 period.

Findings:  The gap in pollution exposure between disadvantaged and other communities in California narrowed by 21% for nitrogen dioxide; 24% for sulfur dioxide; and 30% for particulates following the introduction of cap and trade. (This between 2012, the start of the state’s program, and 2017).  The researchers labeled this the “environmental justice gap”.

California’s law caps total annual emissions of GhGs, regulating major stationary GhG-emittting sources, such as utilities.  Putting a price on carbon encourages firms to buy emissions permits or carbon offsets.  The researchers say that shifting emission cuts from high-to-low abatement cost polluters, cap-and-trade can be more cost-effective than imposing uniform  regulations on diverse industries.  But – “where” pollution is generated could be altered by market forces and either exacerbate or lessen existing inequities in pollution exposure.

Research Findings:  Building in Wildland-Urban Interface Areas Boosts Wildlife Fire Costs

Speaking of California, over the past few years (and even today as we write this commentary) wildfires have affected large areas of the state.  Who pays the cost of firefighting as more people build homes in high fire-risk areas near federal and state-owned public land?

Researchers Patrick Baylis and Judson Boomhower in NBER Working Paper 26550 show that a large share of the cost of fire fighting is devoted to trying to prevent damage to private homes and borne by the public sector…where there is “interface” between wild areas and urban areas. The guarantee of federal protection generates moral hazard because homeowners do not internalize the expected costs of future protection when they decide where to live or how to design and maintain their homes.

The net present value of fire protection subsidies can exceed 20% of a home’s value.  For 11,000 homeowners in the highest risk areas of the American West, the researchers calculated a subsidy rate of 35% of a home’s value…compared to only 0.8% in the lowest risk area.  And, about 84,000 more homes have been built in high risk areas (than would have been the case) had federal wildlife protection not lowered the cost of homeownership in those areas.

Fire protection provided by the public sector effectively subsidizes large lot sizes and low-density development and may reduce the private incentive to choose fireproof building materials and clear brush around the home.  Fire protection costs level off about 6 acres per home (suggesting cluster development is more preferable).

As we consider the impacts of climate change (drought, high winds, other factors becoming more prevalent), the role of local and state governments in zoning, land use and building code decision-making is key to addressing fire prevention.  Nice to live near to preserved state and federal land…but not sometimes.

Research to Consider:  Environmental Preferences, Competition, and Firm’s R&D Choices

In NBER Working Paper 26921, we learn that consumers’ environmental preferences do affect companies’ decisions to invest in environmentally-friendly innovations.  Buyers care about the environmental footprint of the products they buy.  And so companies do consider these preferences when they make R&D decisions.  (That is, choosing “dirty” or “clean” innovations to invest in.)

Companies use data on patents, consumers’ environmental preferences, and product-competition levels in the automobile manufacturing  industry.  Researchers Philippe Aghion, Roland Benabou, Ralf Martin and Alexandra Roulet looked at 8,500 firms in 42 countries, studying the period 1998-2012 to try to determine how companies in the industry respond to detected changes in consumer preferences.

Findings include:  Firms in auto-related businesses whose customers are environmentally-focused are more inclined to develop sustainable technologies, particularly in markets defined by higher levels of competition.

One effect reported is that for firms with more sustainability-minded consumers, the growth rate of “clean” patents is 14% higher than for “dirty” patents…and is 17% higher in more competitive markets.

Individual consumer preference for “buying green” may not have a direct impact on pollution short-term — but over time such preferences can alters an auto company’s willingness to invest in R&D focused on environmentally-friendly products.

Research Investors Think About:  Could Undeveloped Oil Reserves Become “Stranded” Assets?

If the vehicle shopper wants to “buy green” and is seeking “environmentally-friendly” products, what is the long-term effect on vehicle manufacturing if that segment of the market grows — especially in highly-competitive markets?  Do these preferences mean buyers will move away from fossil fuel-powered vehicles…and over time the in-the-ground assets of energy companies will become “stranded”?

Researchers Christina Atanasova and Eduardo S. Schwartz examined the relationship between an oil firm’s growth in “proved” assets and its value.  The question they posed for their research NBER Working Paper 26497 was: “In an era of growing demands for action to curb climate change, do capital markets reflect the possibility that some reserves may become “stranded assets” in the transition to a low-carbon economy?”

They looked at 679 North American producers for the period 1999-2018; the firms operating (as they described) in an environment of very low political risk and foreign exchange exposure…and with markets that are liquid, with stringent regulation and monitoring (unlike companies in countries with markets that are more easily manipulated, among other factors).

Findings: Capital markets only valued those reserves that were already developed, while growth of undeveloped reserves had a negative effect on an oil firm’s value.  The negative effect was stronger for producers with higher extraction costs and those with undeveloped reserves in countries with strict climate policies.  This reflects, they said, consistency with markets penalizing future investment in undeveloped reserves growth due to climate policy risk.

These are a small sampling of NBER research result highlights.  The full reports can be purchased at NBER individually or by annual subscription.  Contact for information about Working Papers and other research by the organization is:  NBER, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138-5398.

 

 

America’s Tech Giants Address Climate Change, Global Warming With Bold Initiatives in 2020

August 12 2020

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

It’s global warming, you say?  Well, we have to say that it certainly is a hot summer in many parts of the world (north of the Equator) and the U.S. National Hurricane Center has a large list of names for the storms to come.

That’s Arthur and Bertha on to Vicky and Wilfred – 21 named storms so far, with “Isaias” whipping through as tropical storm and causing hundreds of thousands of homes and business to lose power this past week in the NY region. And it was not even a full hurricane in the U.S. Northeast!

And during this week, many communities in the American Midwest lost electric power. Not be provincial here – in the Eastern North Pacific there are storms to come named Amanda and Boris on to Yoland and Zeke.

For the Central Pacific? – Akoni and Ema, and Ulana and Wale are possibly coming your way.  So, can we say this is an effect of global warming or not?  Let’s say…yes, with a number of contributing factors.

Like steadily-rising Greenhouse Gas Emissions trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Think of methane (CH4), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O-or-NOX), ozone, and a host of chlorofluorocarbon gasses steadily drifting upwards into the atmosphere and over time, changing weather patterns to create more super storms. Think: tornadoes, floods, more torrential rain coming down (hello, Houston and New Orleans!)

In the U.S.A. major companies have been steadily addressing their carbon emissions and putting in place important programs to reduce emissions, such as by adding renewable energy sources, and taking small and larger steps to conserve electric power use, and more.

But if you are a company using a lot of power…and constantly adding power…there are ever more challenges to address.

That’s the case as the world continues to move online for many activities in business, education, healthcare, investing, shopping, and more.  And coming online — we are seeing more AI, robotics, approaches to develop self-driving vehicles, machine-to-machine learning, more and more communication…5G systems…all coming our way.  All needing more power generated.

Over the past few days some of the major U.S.-headquartered, powerhouse tech firms have been announcing their plans to address GHG emissions…and in the process the companies have or are putting significant strategies and initiatives in place to protect the planet and do their part of address climate change.

Eight companies launched the Transform to Net Zero coalition, to accelerate action toward a net zero carbon economy. (The firms are A.P. Moeller-Maersk, Danone, Mercedes-Benz, Microsoft, Natura & Co, Nike, Starbucks, Unilever, Wipro, along with the Environmental Defense Fund.)

The examples for you this week in our Top Story choices are familiar names in the U.S. corporate sector: Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Alphabet/Google.  Read on!

Top Stories

Progress on our goal to be carbon negative by 2030
(Source: Microsoft)
By year 2030, MSFT intends to be carbon negative and by 2050, will remove from the environment more carbon than the company ever emitted since its founding.  The company launched a new environmental sustainability initiative in January 2020 focused on carbon, water, waste and biodiversity.

Microsoft commits to achieve ‘zero waste’ goals by 2030
(Source: Microsoft)
By the year 2030, Microsoft will divert at least 90% of the solid waste headed to landfills and incineration from its campuses and datacenters, manufacture 100% recyclable Surface devices, use 100% recyclable packaging, and achieve 75% diversion of construction and demolition waste for all projects.

Facebook to buy 170MW of windpower in landmark renewables deal 
(Source: Power Engineering International)

Renewable energy developer Apex Clean Energy has announced a power purchase agreement (PPA) with Facebook for approximately 170MW of renewable power from its Lincoln Land Wind project in the US state of Illinois, making the social media giant Apex’s largest corporate customer by megawatt.

Apple commits to be 100 percent carbon neutral for its supply chain and products by 2030 
(Source: Apple)

Already carbon neutral today for corporate emissions worldwide, Apple plans to bring its entire carbon footprint to net zero 20 years sooner than IPCC targets. That “footprint” includes the company’s supply chain and products… every device sold! (Apple is already carbon neutral for its global corporate operations.)

Alphabet issues sustainability bonds to support environmental and social initiatives
(Source: Google)

As part of a $10 billion debt offering, Alphabet has issued US$5.75 billion in sustainability bonds — the largest sustainability or green bond by any company in history. During the past three years Google has matched the company’s entire electricity consumption with renewables…and has been carbon neutral since 2007.