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:

Picking Up Speed – Adoption of the FSB’s TCFD Recommendations…

January 21 2021

by Hank BoernerChair & Chief StrategistG&A Institute

Countries around the world are tuning in to the TCFD and exploring ways to guide the business sector to report on ever more important climate related disclosures.  Embracing of the Task Force recommendations is a key policy move by governments around the world.

After the 2008 global financial crisis, the major economies that are member-nations of the “G20” formed the Financial Stability Board (FSB) to serve a collective think tank and forum for the world’s leading developed countries to develop strong regulatory, supervisory, and other financial sector policies (guidance, legislation, regulations, rules).

Member-nations can adopt the policies or concepts for same developed collectively in the FSB setting back in their home nations to help to address financial sector issues with new legislative and/or adopted/adjusted rules, and issue guidance to key market players. The FSB collaborates with other bodies such as the International Monetary Fund (the IMF).

FSB operates “by moral suasion and peer pressure” to set internationally-agreed to policies and minimum standards that member nations then can implement at home. In the USA, members include the SEC, Treasury Department and Federal Reserve System.

In December 2015, as climate change issues moved to center stage and the Paris Agreement (at COP 21) was reached by 196 nations, the FSB created the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, with Michael Bloomberg as chair.  The “TCFD” then set out to develop guidelines for corporate disclosure on climate change-related issues and topics.

These recommendations were released in 2017, and since then some 1,700 organizations endorsed the recommendations (as signatories); these included companies, governments, investors, NGOs, and others.

Individual countries are taking measures within their borders to encourage corporations to adopt disclosure and reporting recommendations. There are four pillars -– governance, strategy, risk management, and metrics & targets.

A growing number of publicly-traded companies have been adopting these recommendations in various ways and publishing standalone reports or including TCFD information and data in their Proxy Statements, 10-ks, and in sustainability reports.

The key challenge many companies face is the recommendations for rigorous scenario testing to gauge the resiliency of the enterprise (and ability to succeed!) in the 2C degree environment (and beyond, to 4C and even 6C),,,over the rest of the decades of this 21st Century.

Many eyes are on Europe where corporate sustainability reporting first became a “must do” for business enterprises, in the process setting the pace for other regions.  So – what is going on now in the region with the most experienced of corporate reporters are based?  Some recent news:

The Federal Council of Switzerland called on the country’s corporations to implement the TCFD recommendations on a voluntary basis to report on climate change issues.

Consider the leading corporations of that nation — Nestle, ABB, Novartis, Roche, LarfargeHolcim, Glencore — their sustainability reporting often sets the pace for peers and industry or sector categories worldwide.

Switzerland — noted the council — could strengthen the reputation of the nation as global leader in sustainable financial services. A bill is pending now to make the recommendations binding.

The Amsterdam-based Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is backing an EU Commission proposal for the European Financial Reporting Advisory Group (EFRAG) to consider what would be needed to create non-financial reporting standards (the group now advises on financial standards only). The dual track efforts to help to standardize the disparate methods of non-financial reporting that exist today.

The move could help to create a Europe-wide standard. The GRI suggests that its Global Sustainability Standards Board (GSSB) could make important contributions to the European standard-setting initiative.

And, notes GRI, the GSSB could help to address the critical need for one global set of sustainability reporting standards.  To keep in mind:  the GRI standards today are the most widely-used worldwide for corporate sustainability reporting (the effort began with the first corporate reports being published following the “G1” guidelines back in 1999-2000).

The United Kingdom is the first country to make disclosures about the business impacts of climate change using TCFD mandatory by 2025.

The U.K. is now a “former member” of the European Union (upon the recent completion of “Brexit” process), but in many ways is considered to be a part of the European region. The UK move should be viewed in the context of more investors and sovereign nations demanding that corporations curb their GhG emissions and help society move toward the low-carbon economy.

In the U.K., the influential royal, Prince Charles — formally titled as the Prince of Wales — has also launched a new charter to promote sustainable practices within the private sector.  He has been a champion of addressing climate challenges for decades.

The “Terra Carta” charter sets out a 10-point action plan designed to reduce the carbon footprint of the business sector by year 2030.  This is part of the Sustainable Markets Initiative launched by the prince at the January 2020 meeting in Davos, Switzerland at the World Economic Forum gathering.

Prince Charles called on world leaders to support the charter “to bring prosperity into harmony with nature, people and planet”. This could be the basis of global value creation, he explains, with the power of nature combined with the transformative innovation and resources of the private sector.

We closely monitor developments in Europe and the U.K. to examine the trends in the region that shape corporate sustainability reporting — and that could gain momentum to become global standards.  Or, at least help to shape the disclosure and reporting activities of North American, Latin American, Asia-Pacific, and African companies.

It is expected that the policies that will come from the Biden-Harris Administration in the United States of America will more strenuously align North American public sector (and by influence, the corporate sector and financial markets) with what is going on in Europe and the United Kingdom.  Stay Tuned!

TOP STORIES FOR YOU FROM THE UK AND EUROPE

Items of interest — non-financial reporting development in Europe:

So Where Is The Corporate Sustainability Journey a Half-Year Into the Dramatic Impacts of the Coronavirus?

August 19, 2020 — in the midst of a strange summer for all of us

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

The questions may be going around in your universe and the answers offered up, say, inside the corporate enterprise as the senior executives and function, business unit and other managers meet the challenges posed by the virus pandemic, related economic disruption and civil protests on a number of topics.  This is about Quo Vadis, Our Sustainability Journey!

The Conference Board is a century-old, well-regarded business organization founded by corporate CEOs who were focused on “knowledge-sharing” at the beginnings of modern corporate management theories.

Today, 1,200 companies are involved as member organizations, typically with varying managers’ participation in sections devoted to specific topics and issue areas. These include Economy, Strategy & Finance; ESG (including Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Governance); Human Capital Management (including Diversity, Equality and Inclusion) …and other focus areas that fit the functional needs of today’s companies.

At G&A Institute we closely follow the extensive research and insights regularly shared by the Board as part of its foundational mission – sharing knowledge. This week The Conference Board issued its survey results for the question(s) asked of corporate connections: “What impact, if any, do you expect the COVID-19 crisis to have on your company’s overall sustainability program?”

If we asked our corporate colleagues that question, we could expect the answers to be all over the place. The Board did ask, and the answers were “sharply divided”, staff reported.

The Conference Board conducted two different surveys — one at more than 200 companies, focused on generating responses from general counsel, corporate secretaries and investor relations execs; the other queries, at 40 companies with questions asked of dedicated sustainability executives.

Top line: Three-in-ten sustainability execs expect the current health crisis to increase emphasis on their “E” and “S” efforts – while only one-in-ten of their fellow governance execs agree with that premise.

Example: responding to whether or not COVID-19 “put general sustainability efforts on temporary hold,” only 7% of sustainability executives said yes, while 19% of legal, governance and IR folks felt that way.

The short survey results are available for you in a Top Story.

Says The Conference Board staff: “This divergence of opinions reveals companies need to reach an internal consensus on the crisis’ impact on their sustainability programs and be prepared to communicate [it] in a cohesive and consistent manner.”  Good advice!

Inside the corporate structure, people may have differing views on what is “sustainability,” what their own company’s sustainability programs are about, (Strategy? Actions? Engagements? Achievements? Third-Party Recognitions?) And senior execs may have different opinions about the real impact of the virus on the company’s operations — not all impacts are yet fully understood as the pandemic roars on around the world.

But there are positives being reported. For example, we are seeing reports every day now of increased productivity at some companies because people are at home and not wasting hours commuting.  Emails are being answered early in the morning and way after dark — increasing the firm’s communication and productivity.

What is the outside view of this, beyond the corporate sector?

While inside the corporate enterprise there may be differences of opinion on the direction of the sustainability journey, here’s some important “outside” news from Sam Meredith at CNBC: “Sustainable investment funds just surpassed US$1 trillion for the first time.”

He cited recent UBS research that the global public sector has been stepping up support for green projects. And, he cited a Morningstar report that spelled out factors contributing to the record 2Q inflows to ESG mutual funds.  Investors are putting their money where their “sustainability beliefs” may be, we could say.

Adding some intelligence to the results of our reading of The Conference Board survey results, Morningstar says: “…the disruption caused by the virus highlighted the importance of building sustainable and resilient business models based on multi-stakeholder considerations…”

Of course, there are no easy answers “inside” to harmonize the views of the executives responding to surveys about their company’s sustainability efforts.  But we can offer some advice.  Looking at the almost 2,000 corporate sustainability et al reports our team analyzed over the past year, we are seeing the formulas for success in the corporate sustainability journey.

People at the top (board room and C-suite) are the champions of the corporate sustainability efforts.  Strategy is set at the top and communicated effectively throughout the organization.  (“Strategem” is the root of the work — in ancient Greece, this was the work of the generals.  The leaders inside the company must lead the sustainability journey!)

Goals are to be set (carbon emissions reduction, increased use of renewable energy, reduction of waste to landfill, water usage and water discharge, and much more); progress is regularly measured and managed. And disclosed.

Serious attention is paid to the firm’s diversity & inclusion efforts and results; effective human capital management (HCM) is a priority at all levels, and in all geographies.

Meaningful engagements — internally and with external parties — are top priorities at multiple levels. Supply chain and sourcing efforts are monitored and bad actors and bad practices are eliminated, with management understanding that the firms in their supply network are part of their ESG footprint.

And the periodic public reporting on all of the above and more is based on the materiality of data and information — the stuff the investors want to know more about for their analysis and portfolio management.

Senior leadership understands that corporate sustainability is not about just “feeling good” but an important element of playing to win in the competition for capital and achieving industry leadership and being recognized for their efforts and accomplishments.  As Morningstar advises, sustainability is part of the business model.

So in the context of the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, the resulting economic and financial dislocations, the caring for the firm’s valuable human assets..quo vadis for your corporate sustainability journey?

Interesting conversations going on, for sure.  Read the survey results from The Conference Board survey and see what you agree/disagree.  Thanks to our colleagues at the board for all the management knowledge that they share.

Top Stories

The Virus Crisis Affects Business in Many Ways – What Will the Risks and Opportunities Result in for Companies “Post-Emergency?” BNP Paribas Offers Views…

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

What might our world look like when the COVID-19 global emergency finally winds down and we move into the “recovery and restoration” phase?  What is in store for business in the transition? And beyond? Looking at risk and opportunity through an ESG lens.

BNP Paribas Asset Management has offered up some important perspectives. ESG Analyst Anupama Rames asks and answers:  (1) Will the world go back to status quo when we exit the current dis-location? (2) Probably not. 

“We believe,” she writes, “that the learnings from the go-remote experiment are here to stay.”

Last year BNP Paribas offered up the “3-E’s” – their methodology for addressing what the large asset management firm sees as the three key sustainability challenges of our time:  (1) Energy transition; (2) Environmental sustainability; (3) Equality and inclusive growth. 

Now, analyst Rames is determining the risk, changes, risk mitigation strategies and opportunities in each of the categories.

The examples she cites:

Energy Transition
There’s now a 20% drop in global oil consumption and negative regional oil pricing; the energy sector is under-performing equity and high-yield indices. Such factors as lower plastic uses (petro is a key component), electrification of transport and climate mitigation policies add up to dampened oil demand.

Changes in work patterns (more remote working, distancing), reductions in personal and business travel mean less oil demand today. Key concern going forward:  stranded oil & gas assets over the long-term.

Possible winners in the opportunity zone:  renewables, conservation measures, energy storage (capturing the energy from the windmill).

And, BNP Paribas ESG integration methodology aims to differentiate winner and losers in the transition, post-emergency

Environmental Sustainability
Analyst Rames brings up a topic not really being discussed (yet) in broader public dialogue – the disease transmission path, from animal to human, such as with COVID-19, SARS, MERS, and other virus infections of recent years.  Natural habitat destruction and global wildlife trade are factors.  Vectors move in times of climate change and bring diseases with them!

Equality and Inclusive Growth
The urban-rural divide — with many differentiations in the access to opportunities, access to the digital economy, mis-information overload, access to affordable healthcare — are key issues being confronted by society (and with varying results during the crisis).

The virus crisis is accelerating the transition to “remote” and digital connectivity in our personal and business lives.  This can be positive – and quite negative in the socio-economic divide. 

A positive:  on the opportunity side, remote healthcare can bring benefits to rural areas. The virus crisis day-by-day brings society closer to a “digitized” future.  Analyst Anupama Rames sees this:  Of all industries being re-shaped, healthcare will be most affected. 

And an important note to corporate leaders:  BNP Paribas is viewing transformations and market shifts through the lens of its 3E (ESG) framework, to identify public companies being proactive in finding solutions to the societal issues that can support “sustainable returns” for the long-term.

There are more details for you in the Top Story.   

Top Story

Will COVID-19 lead to sustainable change?   
Source: Investors-Corner (BNP Paribas Asset Management)
Will the world go back to ‘status quo’ when we exit this dislocation? Probably not. We believe the learnings from the ‘go-remote’ experiment are here to stay. The implications for the future of energy, real estate, work…

COVID-19 And Real Estate: In Pain, Adapting, and Learning

G&A Institute Team Note
We continue to bring you news of private (corporate and business), public and social sector developments as organizations in the three societal sectors adjust to the emergency.  This is post #14 in the series, “Excellence in Corporate Citizenship on Display in the Coronavirus Crisis” – April 7 2020    #WeRise2FightCOVID-19   “Corporate Purpose – Virus Crisis”

By Binyu Zhao – Sustainability Reporting Analyst-Intern, G&A Institute

The impact of the COVID-19 outbreak is being felt across all aspects of work and life. Understandably, the implications for major property sectors and various stakeholders in the industry are quite specific and different.

Although it is difficult to assess the longer-term repercussions, the real estate industry is already responding and reacting to immediate impacts and short-term risks with their best abilities. Their respective crisis response strategies also unveil loopholes and weaknesses that might be overlooked during peace and tranquility.

Therefore, the outbreak also presents the industry an expensive opportunity to thoroughly review its risk assessment procedures, crisis contingency plans, and to upgrade and update systems if necessary.

Commercial Buildings – Bruised and Fighting the Pandemic Head-on

Commercial building managers & owners are experiencing the most short-term volatility in terms of building management, business operations, and risk mitigation for holding both essential and nonessential business activities.

Following state-wide nonessential business closures, travel restrictions, working from homes orders, and the social distancing mandate, commercial building and business holders have quickly responded with several short-term mitigation measures aiming to enhance safety and well-being for employees and shoppers.

For essential businesses that remain open such as grocery stores and supermarkets, building managers and store owners responded with immediate mitigation strategies such as compulsory disinfection of shopping carts, and providing protective equipment for employees such as gloves and masks to improve hygiene.

Within buildings, yellows distancing lines were drawn in between goods shelves and near the counters to practice social distancing. Some buildings even provide wipes and hand sanitizer in the waiting areas and within the markets.

Meanwhile, although office buildings, hotels, and other non-essential-business-holding buildings are closing, shortening, and changing operation hours in affected areas, some of them are conducting a thorough cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch surfaces and taking ventilation precautions to prepare for reopening.

Just like the majority of society, commercial buildings owners and operators did not seem to have health crisis contingency operations plans beforehand.

Ill-preparedness led many owners and managers to react passively and belatedly, therefore missing their chance to contribute early to support society in fighting this crisis.

Retail markets – “Pushing the pause button, but not the stop button”

Real estate transactions are not completely coming to a halt amid the Coronavirus outbreak because many buyers still regard investment-grade real estates attractive in the long-term.

Usually, March is the starting month for a strong buying season, however as the impact of COVID-19 materialized, the industry changing its normal deal transaction processes in light of the travel restrictions and public health concerns to facilitate deal flow.

According to real estate brokerage specialist Frederick Peters, initially, the industry is normalizing the real estate buying processes to a “by appointment only” format, ensuring that only one viewer group could tour the property at a time to practice social distance and crowd control.

Meanwhile, during the usual tour, numerous precautions are put in place: plastic booties for shoes, alcohol wipes for doorknobs to prevent touching directly with bare skins, gloves (for agents), and hand sanitizer at both the beginning and the end of the display.

NAR Survey Results

A recent survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) indicates that out of the 2,500 responses that were received, 1-in-4 home sellers nationwide are implementing practices such as requiring visitors to wash their hands or use hand sanitizers.

However, as situations worsen, some agents and developers are considering adopting visual reality technology so that potential buyers could remotely “visualize” property if the sale is contingent upon the buyer “seeing” the property before signing the dotted line.

More than that, many steps are formerly done in-person (like lawyer consultations and appraisals) are also finding their footing in the electronic space. Undeniably, these kinds of actions, albeit temporarily, could create a real estate transaction slowdown.

However, just as some real estate agents have been saying, the pandemic should not be the catalyst for positive changes that the sector should have already instituted long before — such as technological upgrade and updates that will greatly improve working efficiencies and facilitate business transactions.

Hopefully, the sector could learn a lesson and react quickly to changes in the future.

Real Estate & Building Associations – Learning & Preparing

This unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak has led many to question if the real estate industry and our infrastructures are resilient enough to continue to support society, especially during a public health crisis.

Therefore, to better understand and redefine the critical role buildings, organizations and communities play in crisis prevention and preparedness, resilience and recovery, the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) is creating a Task Force to focus on reducing the enormous health burden from COVID-19 and other respiratory infections.  (This the Task Force on Role Buildings Play in Reducing Health Burden of COVID-19 and other Respiratory Infections.)

According to Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, a  co-chair of the task force: “This task force can help us focus quickly on actionable measures we can take to more fully deliver resources needed to advance a global culture of health that includes everyone” — and also will further study scientifically for enhanced opportunities for the built environment to improve population health.

Overall, the health and well being of employees and tenants will be the initial primary corporate concern for the real estate sector, followed closely by business continuity plans.

Given the rapidly-changing situation, operational resilience will be a longer-term focus for real estate decision-makers as businesses develop their ability to be nimble, flexible, and react boldly and quickly should they face another similar event in the future.

Information on the IWBI Task Force: https://resources.wellcertified.com/press-releases/iwbi-assembles-task-force-on-role-buildings-can-play-in-reducing-health-burden-of-covid-19-and-other-respiratory-infections/

# # #

About the Author
Binyu Zhao
is pursuing a Master’s degree in Public Administration at Columbia University. She served in the Climate Change and Sustainability Services Department at E&Y, and the Capital Markets Team in Ceres. Her strong bilingual skills enable her to provide services and conduct research for clients in Southeast Asia and East Asia. (She received her B.Eng. in Environmental Engineering and minor in Political Science from the National University of Singapore.)

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

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

We created the tag “Corporate Purpose – Virus Crisis” for this continuing series – and the hashtag #WeRise2FightCOVID19 for our Twitter posts.  Do join the conversation and contribute your views and news.

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

Household & Personal Product Industry’s Response to COVID-19 – Strong Display of Corporate Citizenship by the House & Personal Products Industry

G&A Institute Team Note: We continue to bring you news of private (corporate and business), public and social sector developments as organizations in the three societal sectors adjust to the emergency. This is post #11 in the series, “Excellence in Corporate Citizenship on Display in the Coronavirus Crisis.  #WeRise2FightCOVID-19   “Corporate Purpose – Virus Crisis”  –  April 6 2020 

By Kelly Mumford – Sustainability Reporting Analyst Intern – G&A Institute

The current reality around the world has shifted dramatically since the outbreak of COVID-19 a few months ago. As the number of confirmed cases and deaths continue to rise across countries like Italy, Spain, and the U.S., there have been many reactions across industries to help out.

As of today, more than 10,000 people have died in the US, and unemployment rates are now at the highest ever as I write this.

Overall, the economy is struggling and our healthcare system is overwhelmed. However, during this time, the corporate response has also been overwhelming.

Many companies and corporations across sectors are feeling the effects of this pandemic on their operations and at the same time acting to help those who need it the most during this time.

There have been some significant, well-publicized responses from U.S. tech giants Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon. These companies have donated millions to various response efforts across the country.

Many other corporations are also doing what they can to continue paying employees during this time.  Amazon is hiring tens of thousands of employees to help their delivery efforts.

Needless to say, corporate actions have been indicative of a commitment to corporate social responsibility during the coronavirus crisis.

This is a recap of recent actions by companies in the Household and Personal Products Industry.

In the Beauty Field: Estée Lauder Companies

The household and personal product industry is no different. Estée Lauder especially has been leading a strong example. Last week, Estée Lauder Companies announced it will being shifting production to hand sanitizer to help relieve the shortage that has severely affected those in the healthcare industry.

They are re-opening a temporarily-closed facility in suburban Long Island, New York to produce hand sanitizer and volunteer employees will be compensated. However, their efforts don’t stop there.

Estée Lauder is also donating US$2 million to Doctors Without Borders — the organization that is greatly helping countries around the world with less medical support fight the coronavirus.

Also, Estée Lauder made a $75 million dollar grant to support the establishment of The NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund. This fund unites many philanthropies and will go to support many vital community organizations and social services.

Estée Lauder Companies awarded $800,000 to relief efforts in China such as the Red Cross Society of China, the Shanghai Charity Foundation, and Give2Asia with an additional $1.4 million of donations to the China Women’s Development Foundation to support front line medical staff.

It is easy to see with these actions the Estée Lauder Companies’ strong values and family commitment to corporate social responsibility is admirable. Their actions are a promising example of the good that can arise during crisis.

SC Johnson Steps Up to Help

Another huge name in the industry — SC Johnson, another large company with deeply embedded family values is furthering their efforts against COVID-19 with a $5 million donation. The company will put that money towards the needs of the healthcare workers on the front lines.

They will be delivering care packages to police, fire and medical personnel including cleaning and disinfectant products made by SC Johnson. This donation comes in addition to the $2 million and $1 million they have already donated to the CDC Foundation’s Emergency Response Fund and to other efforts in China, Italy and the U.K.

The company said it was continually assessing the most urgent needs of people around the world, and acting accordingly. They have supported many healthcare needs across Europe, Asia, and Latin America to protect families from spreading the virus.

This support has come in the form of cash, product donations, and educational programs. As their headquarters in located in Racine, Wisconsin they have also made a special donation to the town to help support school children in the area and first responders.

Local focus:  The donation will be provided through a partnership with the Racine School District, the Racine YMCA, and Ascension All Saints Hospital.

Lastly, as a way to support the most vulnerable groups during this time the company has also made multiple $25,000 donations to food pantries and homeless assistance organizations to help ease the pressure on these already strained groups.

SC Johnson’s donations and efforts during this pandemic demonstrate a strong commitment to their corporate social responsibility efforts but more important, their assessment of placing aid to some of the most vulnerable groups reveals a targeted and strategic approach to CSR.

The Company is not just throwing money “anywhere” — but rather being strategic in their assessment, and loyal to the community of their headquarters..

Procter & Gamble – Relief Funds and Continued Production

Procter & Gamble, another one of the largest enterprises in the industry, has set up a special relief fund for COVID-19.

P&G has a long running record of CSR reporting and supporting communities so it’s not surprising that they have been working with their partner organizations to provide support and relief to people during this time.

They have created a donation portal for receiving donations — which they will match all donations up to $500,000 and give donations to support the healthcare providers around the world.

The largest P&G factory in Pennsylvania will start production of face masks during the pandemic. Employees will have regular temperature checks, will be socially-distanced, and there will be constant sanitization of all areas. 

Their factories are still open during this time, recognizing that the wide range of their products are necessary for many households, in normal times and during the crisis.

* * * * * * * *

Kelly Mumford is a GRI Report Analyst Intern at G&A Institute. She is a recent graduate of the Development Planning Unit at the University College London. She holds an M.S. in Environment and Sustainable Development (with merit). Kelly led a group during their research on the water and sanitation practices of a coastal city community in Freetown, Sierra Leone. She now plans to pursue a career in sustainability, focusing on ESG and leveraging her research experience and the knowledge gained of sustainability reporting during her internship with G&A Institute.

Sources For Your Reference

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

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

We created the tag “Corporate Purpose – Virus Crisis” for this continuing series – and the hashtag #WeRise2FightCOVID19 for our Twitter posts.  Do join the conversation and contribute your views and news. 

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

New Evidence During the COVID-19 Crisis That ESG Approaches Will Pay Off From Wall Street

Excellence in Corporate Citizenship on Display in the Coronavirus Crisis
Post #10 in the Series – April 6 2020

Important Bloomberg info update – April 8th

By Hank Boerner and Louis CoppolaG&A Institute

Some of the messages we’ve been sharing supports our belief that the companies that continue on the paths of their sustainability journey during the virus crisis will be stronger (in the crisis) and come out stronger as the crisis subsides. That will benefit stakeholders and shareholders.

We posit:  Those publicly-traded companies recognized as sustainable investment leaders should benefit in the competition for capital – access, cost of capital, inclusion in key indices and benchmarks, and so on.

We’ve been monitoring for news and perspectives that support the theory and share some things we’ve found with you.

HSBC Headline: ESG Stocks Did Best in COVID-19 Slump

Climate and sustainable investments outperformed as pandemic struck.

The global bank HSBC’s Ashim Paun (co-head of ESG research) in March published results of the examination of the effect of ESG factors on public companies’ equity in the virus crisis sell off.

The research looked at 613 shares of global public companies valued at more than US$500 million where “climate solutions” generate at least 10% of revenues plus 140 stocks with the highest ESG scores and values above the global average.

Key Takeaway: While the virus upended many economies and markets, shares of companies focused on ESG or climate change have outperformed.

He cites this: Performance from 23 March to 10 December 2019 (the start of the virus in East Asia) was the base for comparison.

Results: Climate-focused shares outperformed others by 7.6% from December on and by 3% since February. And from 24 February, when the market’s high volatility began.

There are four (4) “HSBC Climate Solutions Database” divisions:

  1. Environment & Land Use Management;
  2. Low Carbon & Energy Production;
  3. Energy Efficiency & Energy Management
  4. Climate Finance.

All of these beat the markets over both period – Low Carbon by 11% plus since December, says HSBC. There were regional differences noted in the research results. (The report was published 25 March.)

During the crisis period, Ashim Paun advises that investors think about how well companies are managing their ESG risks – including what companies are best-case, worst-case, and highest likelihood scenarios.

And he shared this with his global investor clients: “Our core conviction is that issuers succeed long-term, and deliver shareholder returns when the create value for all shareholders. When crisis like COVID-19 manifest, particularly with “S” and “E” causes, and implications, investors can see ESG as a defensive characteristics.

The highlights are here – access to HSBC’s full research report is limited to subscribers.

https://www.gbm.hsbc.com/insights/global-research/esg-stocks-did-best-in-corona-slump

There is a very comprehensive examination of the HSBC research on BusinessGreen:

https://www.businessgreen.com/news/4013404/hsbc-companies-focused-climate-change-outperformed-virus-spread?ct=t(RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN)&mc_cid=8dd16a5562&mc_eid=cc59b566af

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In a Financial Times opinion piece by David Stevenson we saw this: He asked the question, are ESG and sustainability the new alpha mantra?

His answer: when money managers begin again to look for alpha strategies, his bet is that more than a few will tell investors that sustainability and ESG will top the list in the search for performance.

He interviewed thought leaders at Impax Asset Management, DWS and BNP Paribas and cited the research of several researchers for the column.

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Bloomberg Asks — Believe the Investor’s Urging Will Pay Off?

As we shared with you last week and repeat here as part of this commentary:

Bloomberg LP provides us with some of the answer.

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

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

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

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

Her email is: scontractor2@bloomberg.net

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

For information Bloomberg: https://blinks.bloomberg.com/news/stories/Q6RT29T0G1L2

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IMPORTANT UPDATE — APRIL 8TH

From Bloomberg Green – dated March 31, 2020 – Claire Ballentine reporting.

As of that date, 59% of U.S. ESG ETFs were beating the S&P 500. And 60% of European ESG ETTs were beating the MSCI Europe Index.

In 2029, sustainable ETFs added more than $8 billion (4X the 2018 level) and another $4 billion were added in January 2020.

Even with the sell off in February and March, $3 billion was added in that period.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Corporate Purpose – Virus Crisis”   #WeRise2FightCOVID-19

April 1, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

He wrote at the start of 2019…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McKinsey Speaks – On How to Demonstrate Corporate Purpose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things that stand out for us that McKinsey explains:

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

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

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Mark Cuban on COVID-19 – Words & Action

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

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

And…

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

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

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Investor Coalition Speaks Its Mind on Corporate Purpose

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

The steps companies could take, says the investor group:

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

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

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

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

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

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Believe the Investor’s Urging Will Pay Off?

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

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

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

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

Her email is: scontractor2@bloomberg.net

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

COVID-19 — And the Global Fashion Industry – Dramatic Impacts – And Good News

By Jesse VelazquezGRI Report Analyst Intern at G&A Institute

Good news in the midst of bad news — emblematic of the COVID-19 crisis environment. 

#7 in the Series – Excellence in Corporate Citizenship on Display in the Corona Virus Crisis

The impact of the coronavirus on the fashion industry has been felt at the height of the season’s fashion month with fashion show events from Giorgio Armani, Prada, Gucci, and Versace, to name a few, cancelled across the world.

In the midst of the bad news there is also welcome news of excellence in corporate citizenship from the industry.  We bring you this wrap-up.

Sharp decreases in sales and revenue loss with global brands like Nike and Uniqlo closing store locations and experiencing major supply chain disruptions with many factories operating out of China, Italy, and France having to close.

The troubling news:

Some retailers, such as Victoria’s Secret, have also had to temporarily close their e-commerce sites.

Reported earnings are stark across the board, with names like Ralph Lauren reporting a decrease in sales by an estimate of US$55 to $70 million dollars.

Capri Holdings — which owns Versace, Michael Kors, and Jimmy Choo brands — experienced a revenue loss of US$100 million dollars, according to CNBC.

Fashion retailers took major hits in the stock market with companies like Gap Inc., down 11.8%; J.C. Penny, down 12.1%; and Nordstrom Inc., down 11.4% (to name but a few).

Smaller fashion brands are unable to weather the financial losses of the pandemic. Los Angeles fashion brand Bldwn had to go directly into Chapter 7 bankruptcy, liquidating assets and letting go of its entire staff.

There are others that have also had to file Chapter 7. Chanel, a major fashion house, had to halt its productions in Italy, France, and Switzerland for the next 2 weeks — but announced its workers will still be paid.

Looking Creatively At the Way Forward

In the midst of all the turmoil, the fashion industry is looking for creative ways to move forward, such as staging fashion shows on Facebook Live and stepping up their philanthropic efforts in their impacted communities.

The Good News
Here are just some of the contributions to COVID-19 relief from the global fashion industry:

Giorgio Armani has donated 1.25 million euros to hospitals and institutions in Italy, and Versace contributed about $144.000 to the China Red Cross Foundation.

LVMH — which owns Dior, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, and Givenchy — is using its perfumes and cosmetics division to produce and distribute hydroalcoholic gel (free) for French hospitals. They also announced that they will be supplying French authorities with more than 40 million face masks in collaboration with a Chinese manufacturer.

Ralph Lauren pledged $10 million dollars to be split among World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund and CFDA’s “A Common Thread” project, among others.

Gucci is donating 2 million euros to COVID-19 efforts. This is split between the Italian Civil Protection Department (Gucci is based in Italy), and through a matching Facebook campaign for the WHO COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. Gucci also pledged to make more than 1 million protective face masks.

Nike had announced that it will donate $15 million dollars in COVID-19 relief efforts in communities both in the US and abroad where Nike employees live and work. It has also recently announced that it is prototyping a face shield to help protect healthcare professionals.

GAP Inc. announced that it will use its factories to make gowns, masks, and scrubs for healthcare workers.

Prada is one of the latest high-end fashion brand to announce that they will produce 110,000 masks by April 6th..

As businesses are able to reallocate their personnel, assets, and networks to support the communities that support them in times of crisis, there are strong signals that the private sector has the capacity to not only transform business to be more resilient to change, but also our communities, and society.

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Note: Along the lines of this wrap-up, Hank Boerner highlighted Estee Lauder’s actions in the Excellence in Corporate Citizenship Series on Display in the Coronavirus Crisis blog –  on March 25, 2020.

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Jesse Velazquez is a GRI Report Analyst Intern at G&A Institute. He’s a career managers in retailing with leading organizations and stepped down from his management role to pursue a degree in Environmental Sustainability (full-time) and now analyzing corporate sustainability / responsibility disclosure & reporting at G&A.

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

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

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

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

Company in the CSR Reporting Spotlight: Salesforce

By Julia Nehring – Report Analyst-Researcher, G&A Institute

In recent months I have been analyzing many dozens of corporate sustainability, responsibility, stewardship, corporate citizenship, and similarly-titled public reports. Many of these are published by very prominent names with well-known brands attached to the corporate name.

For example, you probably know of Salesforce. As many technology companies have done, the enterprise began humbly in a small West Coast residence in 1999, when several entrepreneurs attempted to re-imagine how businesses could utilize computer software.

Today, the company offers a variety of sales, marketing, analytics, and other business services to its 150,000+ clients, which include startups, nonprofits, governments, large corporations, and anything in-between.

Measuring success, between 2017 and 2019 alone, Salesforce’s employee base increased 44 percent and its billions of dollars’ in revenue increased by 58%.

During this period of significant growth, Salesforce has impressively been lauded as a best workplace for diversity, a best workplace for women, and a best workplace overall, among numerous other types of accolades.

The Company’s Reporting Practices

Salesforce discusses these and a range of other accomplishments in its FY19 Stakeholder Impact Report. However, I am not commenting here to heap praise on Salesforce.

Using my lens as a CSR analyst-intern, I will attempt to highlight several reporting frameworks and concepts Salesforce has chosen to use in its most recent report that provide both transparency and promotional value for the company’s practices and accomplishments.

I also offer my own comments and ideas that come from learning about different reporting guidelines from different agencies, as well as reviewing many dozens of corporate CSR reports as a GRI report analyst.

Clicking on any of the links below will take you to G&A resources mentioned about the topic.

ESG Reporting Frameworks

By far the most commonly-used framework worldwide by companies in G&A’s research is the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Salesforce includes multiple references to this framework (formally, the GRI Standards) in its content index. (Best practice: including a content index in your company’s report to help users find information quickly.)

However, the report was not prepared “in accordance” with the GRI Standards. Instead, Salesforce opted to reference only certain disclosures and metrics of the GRI framework, as they apparently deemed applicable internally.

The apparent rationale? Since each framework identified in the report — including the GRI Standards, the Task Force on Financial-related Disclosures (TCFD), and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) — define materiality in different ways, Salesforce did “not attempt to formally reconcile the divergent uses of the term materiality”.

In other words, instead of providing a more complete set of disclosures for one of the frameworks, the company opted to in effect dabble in each.

Along with its GRI references, the report includes some SASB references in the content index, and (positively) mentions its support of and use of the TCFD in conducting a climate-related scenario analysis.

I think investors may find this confusing. While Salesforce is ahead of the majority of companies who do not currently acknowledge SASB or TCFD at all, it is difficult for the report reader to discern which disclosures from each framework have been excluded. This does not help to paint a full picture for the reader.

It appears the company does acknowledge this, as it states that, “Over time we will work to expand our disclosures and align more closely to the leading frameworks, even as the frameworks themselves rapidly evolve.” A good practice, I think.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Salesforce is a supporter of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (the 17 SDGs). In its report, Salesforce lists 12 SDGs that the company closely aligns with.

However, the company does not explicitly state how each SDG aligns with a particular action or initiative. Providing this level of detail — common practice among companies that discuss SDGs in their reports — Salesforce could show the reader that these are not merely ideals for the company, but that in fact Salesforce is actually taking actions in regards to each stated goal.

Regarding External Review

Ernst & Young was retained to review and provide limited assurance for select sustainability metrics in Salesforce’s report.

The items reviewed cover Salesforce’s reported GHG emissions, energy procured from renewable resources, and carbon credits. A limited level of assurance and review of only GHG data or specified sections is very commonly seen in CSR reports.

The companies that tend to stand out among their peers in our wide and deep research of corporate disclosure are those that have decided (strategically) to obtain reasonable/high assurance, or opt to have the entire report reviewed by credible third party auditors.

Salesforce’s awards and growth speak for themselves — the company is undoubtedly providing great value to its clients and doing so in a way that people admire.

While its Stakeholder Impact report overall does an excellent job at showcasing the company’s progress, in my comments here I covered the above areas to encourage and provoke thoughts of striving for even greater completeness and reader comprehension.

Not just for Salesforce, but for public companies in general with Saleforce’s report as one example.

Epilogue: Why did I decide to review Salesforce?

During my time as an analyst-intern for G&A Institute, my intern colleagues and I analyzed dozens upon dozens of CSR reports in depth over the months, many of which are reports of The Business Roundtable (BRT) companies.

Many BRT CEO members signed on to the re-stated “corporate purpose” statement last summer and we researched the companies’ sustainability / responsibility track records and public disclosure practices.

In our research, we found that:

  • Twenty-nine (29) BRT companies had upward trends for all Yahoo! platform’s sharing of Sustainalytics scores (including those for environment, social, and governance) since 2017.
  • Of these 29, five had CEOs that were identified on the Harvard Business Review’s Top 100 CEOs list
  • Of these five, Salesforce was the only company whose Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) score rose between 2017 – 2018 (from “B” to”A” score)

So, while I certainly do enjoy using Salesforce’s tools at my job, it had no bearing on my decision to analyze the company’s CSR report for this project. The company’s growth in spite of (or because of) its commitment to people and planet is very exciting to see.

I hope that my analysis is helpful to Salesforce and other companies that may be following this corporate responsibility leader’s sustainability journey.

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Since her internship as a report analyst, Julie Nehring joined G&A as a Sustainability Analyst. She continues her research role as a member of the G&A team. She pursued an MBA at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and interned at the Caterpillar Inc Data Innovation Lab. Julie previously worked for several years as a project manager for a national environmental consulting firm and for a year as an AmeriCorps volunteer. As the president of her university’s Net Impact chapter, she enjoyed helping colleagues and classmates get involved and volunteer in the community.

Note the views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or position of Governance & Accountability Institute regarding the company.