News From the Sustainability Front as The Trump White House Makes Controversial Moves on ESG Issues — Actions and Reactions

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

February 23, 2017
Forward Momentum! – Sustainability 2017

Are you like many of us having sleepless nights and anxiety spells as you watch the antics of the Trump White House and the creeping (and similarly moving-backwards) effects into the offices of important Federal agencies that the Administration is taking over?

Consider then “other news” — and not fake news, mind you, or alt-news — but encouraging real news that is coming from OTHER THAN the Federal government.

We are on track to continue to move ahead in building a more sustainable nation and world — despite the roadblocks being discussed or erected that are designed to slow the corporate sustainability movement or the steady uptake of sustainable investing in the capital markets.

Consider the Power and Influence of the Shareowner and Asset Managers:

The CEO of the largest asset manager in the world — BlackRock’s Larry Fink — in his annual letters to the CEOs of the S&P 500 (R) companies in January said this: “Environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors relevant to a company’s business can provide essential insights into management effectiveness and thus a company’s long-term prospects. We look to see that a company is attuned to the key factors that contribute to long-term growth:
(1) sustainability of the business model and its operations; (2) attention to external and environmental factors that could impact the company; (3) recognition of the company’s role as a member of the communities in which it operates.

A global company, CEO Fink wrote to the CEOs, needs to be “local” in every single one of its markets. And as BlackRock constructively engages with the S&P 500 corporate CEOs, it will be looking to see how the company’s strategic framework reflects the impact of last year’s changes in the global environment…in the ‘new world’ in which the company is operating.

BlackRock manages US$5.1 trillion in Assets Under Management. The S&P 500 companies represent about 85% of the total market cap of corporate equities.  Heavyweights, we would say, in shaping U.S. sustainability.

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As S&R investment pioneer Steve Viederman often wisely notes, “where you sit determines where you stand…” (on the issues of the day).  More and more commercial space users (tenants and owners) want to “sit” in green spaces — which demonstrates where they “stand” on sustainability issues.

Consider:  In the corporate sector, Retail and other tenants are demanding that landlords provide “green buildings,” according to Chris Noon (Builtech Services LLC CEO). The majority of his company’s construction projects today can easily achieve LEED status, he says (depending on whether the tenant wanted to pursue the certification, which has some cost involved). The company is Chicago-based.

This is thanks to advances in materials, local building codes, a range of technology, and rising customer-demand.

End users want to “sit” in “green buildings” — more than 40% of American tenants recently surveyed across property types expect now to have a “sustainable home.” The most common approaches include energy-saving HVAC systems, windows and plumbing. More stringent (local and state) building codes are also an important factor.

Municipalities — not the Federal government — are re-writing building codes, to reflect environmental and safety advances and concerns. Next week (Feb 28) real estatyer industry reps will gather in Chicago for the Bisnow’s 7th Annual Retail Event at the University Club of Chicago to learn more about these trends.

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Institutional investors managing US$17 trillion in assets have created a new Corporate Governance framework — this is the Investor Stewardship Group.

The organizers include such investment powerhouses as BlackRock, Fidelity and RBC Global Asset Management (a dozen in all are involved at the start). There are six (6) Principles advanced to companies by the group that including addressing (1) investment stewardship for institutional investors and (2) for public corporation C-suite and board room. These Principles would be effective on January 1 (2018), giving companies and investors time to adjust.

One of the Principles is for majority voting for director elections (no majority, the candidate does not go on board). Another is the right for investors to nominate directors with information posted on the candidate in the proxy materials.

Both of these moves when adopted by public companies would greatly enhance the activism of sustainable & responsible investors, such as those in key coalitions active in the proxy season, and year-round in engagements with companies (such as ICCR, INCR).

No waiting for SEC action here, if the Commission moves away from investor-friendly policies and practices as signaled so far. And perhaps – this activism will send strong messages to the SEC Commissioners on both sides of the aisle.

Remember:  $17 trillion in AUM at the start of the initiative — stay tuned to the new Investor Stewardship Group.  These are more “Universal Owners” with clout.

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Not really unexpected but disappointing nevertheless:  The Trump Administration made its moves on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), part of the Bakken Field project work, carrying out a campaign promise that caters to the project’s primary owners (Energy Transfer Partners**) and other industry interests, S&R investors are acting rapidly in response.

The company needed a key easement to complete construction across a comparatively small distance. Except that…

  • The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe says the route would cross their drinking water source, impact their sacred sites, and threaten environmentally-sensitive areas;
  • would violate treaty territory without meeting international standards for their consent; (this is the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, which according to the U.S. Constitution, should be the supreme law of the land);
  • and ignore alleged shortcomings in the required environmental review (under the National Environmental Policy Act - NEPA).

These are “abuses”, and banks and financial services firms involved may be complicit in these violations by the nature of their financing, S&R investors note. Their involvement in the project financing could impact their brands and reputations and relationships with society. And so S&R shareholders are taking action.

Boston Common Asset Management, Storebrand Asset Management (in Norway) and First Peoples Worldwide developed an Investor Statement to Banks Financing the DAPL. The statement — being signed on to by other investors — is intended to encourage banks and lenders to support the Rock Sioux Tribe’s request for re-routing the pipeline to not violate — “invade” — their treaty-protected territory. The violations pose a clear risk, SRI shareholders are saying.

The banks involved include American, Dutch, German, Chinese, Japanese, and Canadian institutions.  They in turn are owned by shareholders, public sector agencies, and various fiduciaries — “Universal Owners,” we would say.

The banks include: Bayerische Landesbank (Germany); BBVA (Argentina); Credit Agricole (France); TD Securities (Canada); Wells Fargo; ABN AMRO (The Netherlands); Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ; and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, and others.

The shareholders utilizing the Investor Statement say they recognize that banks have a contractual obligation with the respect to their transactions — but — they could use their influence to support the Tribe’s request for a re-route…and reach a “peaceful solution” acceptable to all parties.

As The Washington Post reported on January 24th, soon after the Trump Administration settled in, President Trump signed Executive Orders to revive the DAPL and the Keystone XL pipelines. “Another step in his effort to dismantle former President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy,” as the Post put it.

One Executive Order directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to “review and approve in an expedited manner” the DAPL. Days later the Corps made their controversial decision, on February 7th reversing course granting Energy Transfer Partners their easement. This week the remaining protestors were removed from the site (some being arrested).

The sustainable & responsible & impact investment community is not sitting by to watch these egregious events, as we see in the Investor Statements to the banks involved. The banks are on notice — there are risks here for you.

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May be what is happening in the asset management and project lending activities related to the project is the IBG / YBG worldview of some in the financial services world:  I’ll Be Gone / You’ll Be Gone when all of this hits the fan one day.  (Like the massive Ogalala Aquifer being contaminated by a pipeline break. The route of the extension is on the ground above and on the reservation’s lake bed.  Not to mention the threats to the above ground Missouri River, providing water downstream to U.S. states and cities.)

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Energy Transfer Partners, L.P:  (NYSE:ETP)  This is a Master Limited Partnership based in Texas.  Founded in 1995, the company has 71,000 miles of pipelines carrying various products. The company plans to build other major pipelines — the Rover Project — to carry product from the shale regions (Marcellus and Utica) across the Northern U.S. state east of the Mississippi.  ETP LP acquired Sunoco (remember them?).

Mutual Funds – Bond Holders – other key fiduciaries with brands of their own to protect – are funding the operations of ETP LP.

Brand names of equity holders include Oppenheimer; Goldman Sachs Asset Management; CalPERS; JPMorgan Chase.  Bond holders include Lord Abbett, PIMCO, Vanguard.  There are 567 institutional owners — fiduciaries — with some 45% of ownership, according to Morningstar. Partners include Marathon Petroleum Company (NYSE:MPC) and Enbridge (NYSE:ENB). (Bloomberg News - August 2, 2016 – both firms put $2 billion in the project and related work.)

The Partnership used to have an “Ownership” explanation on its web site — now it’s disappeared. But you can review some of it in Google’s archived web site pages here: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://www.energytransfer.com/ownership_overview.aspx&num=1&strip=1&vwsrc=0

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We are seeing in developments every day (like these above with non-governmental strategies and actions) that hold out promise for corporate and societal sustainability advocates and sustainable investment professionals that with — or without — public sector support, the Forward Momentum continue to build.

We’ll share news and opinion with you — let us know your thoughts, and the actions that you / your organization is taking, to continue the momentum toward building a better future…a more sustainable nation and world.

Out the Seventh Generation, as the Native American tribes are doing out in the American West in protecting their Treaty lands.  In that regard we could say, a promise is a promise — the Federal and state governments should uphold promises made in treaties.  Which are covered as a “guarantee” by the U.S. Constitution that some folk in politics like to wave around for effect.

FYI — this is Article VI:  “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land, and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby…”

In the American West & Midwest: Coal-fired Electricity-Generating Plants to Close

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

February 22, 2017

Momentum Forward! – 2017

Some good news to share:  Several large American coal-fired electric utility plant operators are abandoning the burning of coal and moving to natural gas and renewables to generate electricity.  This news was reported by The Washington Post on February 14th. Headline:  “The West’s largest coal-fired power plan is closing. not even Trump can save it.”

Top of the news: a plant in Arizona that is the largest coal-fired facility in the western part of the United States (the 2,250-MW Navajo Generation Station outside Page, AZ) will be de-commissioned by the owners/operators at the end of 2019 — decades before expected, said the Post.

In the era of low natural gas prices, the use of coal would cost more to produce electric power, which would be passed on to the rate base. The US EPA had listed the plant as the #3 of the major carbon-emitting facilities.

The facility is operated by the Salt River Project, utility companies and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation*. The facility serves the Phoenix area.

The downside:  members of the Navajo and Hopi tribes would (1) lose their jobs in the Kayenta Mine that provides that provides the coal, and (2) the tribes will lose certain royalty payments.  Cautionary note:  The tribes of other operators could step up to continue operations.

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And less than a month earlier, in the State of Ohio the Dayton Power & Light Company and the Sierra Club reached agr3eement to close two plants (Killen and Stuart) which are coal-fired facilities. These will close in mid-2018. Stuart is a 2,440-MW plant; Killen is 666-MW.

Dayton Power & Light will develop solar power facilities to generate about half of the 555-MW by 2022.

The state’s Public Utilities Commission has the plan for its approval from DP&L.  This is good news for environmental NGOs and Ohio consumers; rate payers would be paying more for their electric power with coal — and be breathing in the results of coal-burning.

All of this, of course, comes as President Trump continues to promise to bring back coal mining, and signed an Executive Order to remove the obstacle for mining companies to dump wastes into surface waters (something that President Obama moved to prevent).

The shift from coal to natural gas: Forward Momentum in 2017 for sustainability!

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Footnote: About the Bureau of Land Reclamation*, from its web site:  Established in 1902, the Bureau of Reclamation is best known for the dams, powerplants, and canals it constructed in the 17 western states. These water projects led to homesteading and promoted the economic development of the West. Reclamation has constructed more than 600 dams and reservoirs including Hoover Dam on the Colorado River and Grand Coulee on the Columbia River.

The Bureau is  the largest wholesaler of water in the country, bringing water to more than 31 million people, and provided one-out-of-five Western farmers (140,000) with irrigation water for 10 million acres of farmland that produce 60% of the nation’s vegetables and 25% of its fruits and nuts.

 

Doing the Right Things in Business — Making the Business Case – Making the Financial Case — Also Incorporating the Moral Case?

It’s an age-old topic of discussion:  Where in American business do the issues of morality, ethical behaviors, and “fair and equitable” fit in?  Andrew Winston, author of the best-selling “Green to Gold,” explores the topic (“morality”) in an essay on Sustainable Brands’ “New Metrics” web platform.

Morality:  moralizing; degree of conforming to moral principles.  So — in exploring the subject of morality in business, Andrew Winston thinks managers should crank the “moral” arguments into making-the-business case-for-corporate-sustainability discussions.  Making-the-financial-case (“investors want to know…”) is occurring more frequently now with many more mainstream investors focused on the firm’s ESG performance and the sustainability journey of especially large-cap enterprises.

“This is the right thing to do…” may be the persuasive argument in making the business case to decision-makers.  The moral positions of companies and their leaders are facing greater scrutiny now, says Winston.  Will companies defend LGBT rights — or protect immigrant employees?  Will they publicly argue for greater attention and action on climate change issues?  (It’s the right thing to do, many of you, dear readers, will agree.)

In our Top Story, author Andrew Winston sets out four “buckets” of arguments as to how the initiatives companies pursue create value — and three “mainstream” arguments (have some element of making-the-business-case, such as “short-term financial wins”).  The fourth argument — improve the shared commons –  and is it time to broaden how we talk about sustainability and bring in a moral dimension.

The traditional business case is still critical – but broadening the arguments in making the sustainability business case has Winston wondering if a combined logic or “good for business” and “good for the soul” will work.  He welcomes your thoughts after reading the essay.

Governance & Accountability Institute, Inc. is now in the 10th year of operations.  When we founded G&A back in 2007, we adopted the tagline:  Helping our clients do the right things for the right reasons.  That’s guided us to 2017 and benefited many of our corporate clients and our partners-in-progress.

Is it Time to Add Morality to the Business Case for Sustainability?
(Monday - February 06, 2017)
Source: Sustainable Brands - Every manager (or consultant) who has pitched an initiative under the banner of “sustainability” has faced the same question nearly every time: What’s the business case?

State Street CEO to Boards of Companies in Portfolio: Disclose More About the Impact of Climate Change on Your Business — Be More Transparent…and More

State Street Corp is one of the world’s leading asset managers, with US$2.47 trillion in AUM.  State Street Global Advisors CEO Ron O’Hanley in late-January sent a message to the boards of directors of public companies whose stock is in State Street portfolios:  SSGA is increasing focus on climate change, safety, workplace diversity and various other ESG issues.  Especially climate change.  Tell us more about what you are doing.

How?  The State Street Global Advisors CEO is asking, how is the board [of the company] preparing the enterprise for the impacts of climate change?  He is communicating to these directors that it is necessary for boards to disclose more about those plans.  The CEO’s letter was accompanied by a description of the framework that SSGA uses to evaluate public companies’ sustainability efforts.

In this week’s first Top Story, the highlights of the approach are described for you. Three criteria are used to evaluate and rank companies — as Tier One, Two and Three.  Tier One companies satisfy the three criteria.  The results are reflected in the proxy voting of SSGA, the #3 asset manager of ETF’s in the USA (Exchange Traded Funds).

There were 177 companies in the portfolio that SSGA evaluated in 2016; a mere 7% qualified as Tier One.  Tier Two totals 72%, which meant that companies had a sustainability program but had not integrated it into its overall business strategy, articulated how ESG factors affected long-term strategies, or established long-term goals aligned with ESG strategy. (Tier Three companies were described as not doing anything ESG-wise, 21% of companies in the portfolio, according to the Think Advisor story.)

Company boards and C-suite should consider that State Street is an active player in the coming proxy voting season.  SSGA supported 46% of climate-related proposals in 2016.  That’s important when you consider the competition:  the vote count was zero (voting) at Vanguard, American Funds, Black Rock and Fidelity — a source of concern and a growing level of activism on the issue among sustainable & responsible investing advocates.

In an interview with Bloomberg’s top environmental reporter, Emily Chasan in January (our second Top Story below), SSGA CEO O’Hanley said:  “We’re asking companies to make sure they are identifying and communicating both their risks and opportunities.  Climate change may be the poster child for risk out there.”

The Bloomberg Business Week story has a neat chart for you, with the voting records of “shares of proxy votes in favor of climate-related proposals.”  The Top 20 of the world’s asset managers’ voting records are presented.  State Street is the fifth-ranked (at the top).

Stay Tuned, as we often say, to the coming 2017 Proxy Voting Season at public companies.  ESG issues are front and center at some large corporate issuers and the action will be in the maneuvering around the shareholder-offered resolutions on climate change and other ESG issues by the entire voting body.

Story links below:

State Street Wants Companies to Focus on Sustainability
(Wednesday – February 01, 2017)
Source: Think Advisor - State Street Global Advisors, the third-largest provider of ETFs, wants more companies to incorporate sustainability practices into their long-term business strategies and will consider such corporate efforts in its upcoming

State Street Asks Boards to Disclose More on Climate Preparation
(January 26, 2017)
Source: BloombergBusinessweek - Climate change is no longer listed as a top issue on the White House website, but it’s very much at the forefront for $2.47 trillion asset manager State Street Corp.

The 100 Most Sustainable Global Companies According to Corporate Knight Analysis

Every year the Canadian-headquartered firm Corporate Knights (publishing, research) ranks “the world’s most sustainable companies,” from a universe of 4,000 global enterprises with market cap of at least US$2 billion each. The research team applies 14 metrics in its analysis of “corporate sustainability” to evaluate the management and governance of the sustainability journey.

This year’s list was unveiled at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos.  Among the top 100 “most sustainable companies” are firms headquartered in the USA, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, France, the United Kingdom, Finland, Brazil, and other nations.  The firm ranked #1 by Corporate Knights is Siemens (Germany’s giant industrial manufacturer); #2 is Storebrand ASA (Sweden-insurance); and #3, Cisco – IT leader — USA.  In the Top 10 rankings, there are two US firms (Cisco and Johnson & Johnson); in the next 10 rankings, there is one (McCormick & Co); and in the next 10 (#20 to #30) there is one – Allergan (healthcare).  Overall, the USA had the most companies in the rankings: 19.

Among the key metrics for this important Global 100 ranking by Corporate Knights:  the level of executive compensation.  The ratio of CEO pay to average worker is considered.  This is interesting to note going forward; in 2017 under Dodd-Frank rules (unless the rule is rescinded in some way) American companies will have to start publishing the ratio of CEO pay comparisons to the median worker. The Glassdoor web site in August 2015 stated that this ratio is 204 times (CEO to median pay).  That ratio will be reported by US public companies beginning this year.

The Global 100 Most Sustainable Companies list and background information is in our Top Story this week by Forbes staffer Jeff Kauflin, who writes on management and leadership.  He’s written for Fast Company and Business Insider in the past.

There is more information at Corporate Knights (“the Magazine for Clean Capitalism”).

Read the Januray 17, 2017 Forbes article: The World’s Most Sustainable Companies 2017

An Attendee’s Experience and Review of G&A Institute’s / Global Change Associates’ Sustainable Finance Certificate Program at Baruch College/CUNY

Guest Post by Ling Qin – G&A Institute Data Partner Reports Analyst

LingQinG&A Institute’s Sustainable Finance Certificate Program, developed in partnership with Global Change Associates, was hosted on 14 December, 2016 at Baruch College, City University of New York, in New York City.

This was a very rewarding learning and networking experience for me. Although I have the primary professional foundation for the necessary sustainable skills and knowledge, this one-day intensive seminar provided me with a broader background and more concrete view of different sustainability frameworks, ESG ratings and sustainable trends.

Leading experts in the sustainable finance gathered together at the Baruch College Vertical Campus to offer their first-hand sustainability industrial insights. Experts participating as lecturers came from Governance and Accountability Institute (which is GRI’s Exclusive Data Partner in UK and US), the Baruch Business School, MSCI, SASB, Bloomberg, Global Change Associates, and other organizations.

Mr. Samuel Block from MSCI introduced his company’s ESG products, their ESG rating methodology and ESG rating process. Not only does he introduce how MSCI’s ESG research carries out, but also informed us [the course participants] of lots of resources of ESG data.

Those important ESG datasets from company public reporting, media searches, regulatory, academic and NGO’s (third parties) enables MSCI and other interested parties to do solid analysis focusing on the most material aspects of companies’ ESG performance.

The lively discussion in the Q&A session cast light on the reactions from MSCI when facing push backs from companies with low ESG scores. After this all-day series of lectures, I understood (for example) that MSCI would include the controversies in their final reports presented to the institutional investors, which is a very good signal of the importance of ESG scores and reputation and the independence of the MSCI’s evaluation.

Another impressive section was around the topic of “ESG Equity Fundamentals Data Analytics” provided by Mr. Hideki Suzuki from Bloomberg’s ESG Group.

He showed participants how to explore and conduct cross-analysis of the ESG performance by using Bloomberg Terminal step-by-step. Bloomberg Terminal covers ESG score summary for companies’ historical trends and their comparable peers’ performance.

For the environmental performance, the GHG intensity indicator in the Bloomberg Terminal is introduced as a good example.

The indicators for social performance in the Bloomberg Terminal include company’s productivity through human capital management, total recordable incident rate, employee turnover rate and etc.

Independence of the board, diversity of executives and executive compensation are outstanding indicators for the corporate governance performance.

Mr. Hideki also highlighted that “ratios” are the key to allow researchers to do apple-to-apple comparable studies, which is an important tip that all sustainable professionals need to pay attention to.

By the end of the day, I not only benefitted from all vibrant sustainable knowledge- sharing, but also feel grateful to connect with experienced sustainable professionals.

All the guest speakers are very willing to share their opinions, slides and contacts. I very much enjoyed an intellectually-challenging learning experience and an intimate learning atmosphere for the whole day.  I recommend this course to my professional colleagues who are seeking greater knowledge in the expanding sustainable investing field.

Linq Qin has served as a G&A Institute GRI data partner corporate reporting analyst.

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Save-the-Date031517_squaread

SAVE THE DATE
The next session for the G&A Institute / Global Change Associates “Corporate ESG for Investment & Finance Professionals Certification” will be hosted at Baruch College/CUNY on March 15, 2017.  Click here for more information and to register at Eventbrite.

Update 2017 – Forward Momentum! For Sustainability – Pope Francis Set the Tone in 2016

by Hank Boerner – Chairman, G&A Institute

Here we are in the year 2017 — and I see momentum coming into this new calendar year for continuing many of the positive trends for corporate sustainability / citizenship / responsibility managers, and sustainable investment professionals that I explored and commented on in 2016.

I set out more than 50 of these trends in my collection of commentaries — “Trends Converging! — The Convergence of Important CSR – ESG – SRI – Sustainability Trends in the Year 2016 and Beyond.”

In my first post of 2017 I explained some of these trends and provided background on the many experts and thought leaders that shared their perspectives with us on key topics and issues.  Going forward, I am going to update the trends material with current news and developments and shared perspectives from third parties.

I see this as continuing momentum for the positive trends — even in the face of hostile action that is anticipated in our nation’s capital.  So I am positioning my comments as “Momentum 2017 – Sustainability Forward!” for corporate sustainability and sustainable investing professionals.  And for NGOs and other stakeholders.

The 2016 trends are available for you in total on our G&A Institute web site (under Research menu).  The updates going forward will include the original materials that I saw as being forward-moving and in many instances helping to make “the business case,” “the investing case,” and so on.

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Here’s the first update for 2017 and the original perspectives shared in 2016.

January 2017 – Momentum – Forward!

Thousands of American Roman Catholics have petitioned President-elect Donald Trump to urge him to “take swift and meaningful action on climate change,” including honoring commitments and pledges made by President Barack Obama.

The Catholic Climate Covenant petition asked the incoming president to “demonstrate bold leadership” on climate on three fronts:

  • Keep the U.S. commitment to the Paris Agreement and go forward on the U.S. pledge to cut GhG emissions to 26% / 28% of the 2005 levels by year 2025.
  • Keep the U.S. pledge of $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund to help developing countries address climate change (mitigation, adjustments), including the development of sustainable energy resources.
  • Go forward with the Federal government’s Clean Energy Plan, and the U.S. EPA’s rules designed to help reduce carbon emissions from coal- and gas-fired power plants. (Note that some states are implementing their state-level plan as mandated in the Obama Administration approach. A Federal court put the plan on ice.)

The Catholic coalition cited Pope Francis’s Laudato Si (encyclical)  — On Care for Our Common Home – to remind the President-elect and his minions of the importance to the Roman Catholic Church worldwide of climate change and environmental and social issues to be addressed.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) strongly supports a national carbon pollution standard — as one way to move forward to implement the Paris (COP 21) Agreement of 2016.

The Catholic Climate Covenant is gathering signatures for its appeal to the new President and communicating its appeal on [his] favorite channels – social media!

The petition notes that before Pope Francis came to the USA in September 2015, a Public Religion Research Institute poll found three-out-of-four Catholics believed that the U.S. government should be more to address climate change. When white-only respondents were tallied, the percentage rose to 86%.

More recently (May 2016) a Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University showed the amount held steady, with 73% of American Catholics in favor of society taking steps to combat climate change.

The Covenant petition has been endorsed by the Global Catholic Climate Movement; the Leadership Conference of Women Religious; the Conference of Major Superiors of Men; the Sisters of Mercy; and the Franciscan Action Network.

And in January, the President-elect can expect to see more than 100 prayer vigils stages across the country and during his first 100 days in office. That way, there will be clear demonstration against his climate-skeptic appointments and for an environmentally-sustainable future.

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Here is the foundational perspective offered up in my trend-watching efforts in 2016:  Chapter # 44. Pope Paul and Perspectives and Actions the Roman Catholic Church Worldwide

There are an estimated 1 billion Catholics worldwide, and a huge infrastructure of the RC Church that can implement policies and practices. Worldwide, the Bishops of the Church among other things are traditional heads of local dioceses — there are 177 in the U.S.A. alone. There are “ecclesiastical provinces” organized in metropolitan area; these are usually headed by an archbishop (New York, Washington DC, Baltimore, etc.).

The Roman Catholic Church as a collective institution is one of the largest owners and holders of assets in the world, including properties, solid gold, bonds, cash, and equity investments, pension systems of various orders, Catholic charities, and healthcare systems.

Imagine the power that such an institution can bring to bear on challenges, in the world, in the United States and other large nations — especially when it focuses on a societal issue

The Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, in May 2015, issued “Laudato Si,” the Encyclical Letter of the Holy Father, “On Care of Our Common Home.” Among other things to explain his position, he addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress in September 2015. (Note that in the audience, 31% of Members are Catholic, as well as six of the nine Supreme Court Justices.) The speech received 37 standing ovations.

So what are the Pope’s concerns, expressed in the House of the People? Consider these:

• Climate change;
• addressing common needs;
• addressing risk to our common home (the Earth);
• addressing income inequality (especially in less-developed nations);
• the responsibility of richer nations; advancing justice and peace;
• the dignity of human life;
• job creation;
• business is a “noble vocation”;
• environmental challenges.

“We should have a culture of care,’” Pope Francis said, and “now is the time for action” to protect our planet.

The Pope’s 74-page letter “to the world” and especially to the Catholic faithful in all lands, addressed topics that are front-of-mind for sustainability professionals:

• Pollution and climate change are a threat to the world.
• Part of the cause is the residue of industrialization.
• Part of the cause is our throwaway society.
• The climate is a common good, belonging to all.
• Warming has effects on the carbon cycle. This affects drinking water, agriculture, energy and other activities.
• Climate change is a global problem, affecting environmental, social, economic, political, and distribution of goods.
• There are critical issues in water, biodiversity, global inequality.

Pope Francis called for a vision of “integral ecology,” one that seriously considers environmental, social and economic factors.

The Holy Father set out suggestions for “approach and action,” with dozens of specific steps that could be taken to address challenges and bring about integral ecology. It is in these specificities that action will come through the organs of the worldwide RC Church, and its billion adherents to the faith.

We should not underestimate the enormous power that will be applied in many direct, indirect and subtle ways to implement “Laudato Si,” the Holy Father’s vision of how his church can help to bring about significant changes in the global society.

Consider the work of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), the 35-year old faith-based investment coalition, whose 300 institutional members manage up to $100 billion in assets. ICCR is a value-driven organization “who view the management of their investments as a powerful catalyst for social change.” ICCR’s membership includes many RC Church institutional investors.

We can expect to see the Pope’s vision applied by ICCR institutional members in the areas of concern — corporate governance, domestic health, the environment (including global warming), fair lending, food access and safety, human rights, and water (including corporate water impacts).

I’m keeping in mind the century-long influence that another Pope had with his encyclical letter on labor rights, human rights,

This was Pope Leo XIII and his 1891 letter, “Rerum Novarum” — on “the Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor.” This addressed the conditions of the working classes as industrialization and the emergence of the modern capital markets gained momentum.

What resonates from that work for some today: “Remedy must be found quickly for the misery of wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class…” Through the decades since the start of the 20th Century, RC Church interests have been guided by Rerum Novarum’s dictates to the faithful.

Expect the vision of the present pope to serve RC Church interests in similar ways — with impacts being felt in discussion of climate change, global warming, the plight of the worker, income & wealth inequality, financial & economic fairness, and many more issues that are in the realms of the capital markets and the global corporate community.

Noting MSCI Research on Inequality

About the issues surrounding wealth and income inequality: MSCI recently projected important trends for 2016. In the firm’s “2016 ESG Trends to Watch” report, there is this observation:

According to the NGO Oxfam, at the end of 2014, 80 individuals owned the same wealth as the bottom half of all of the world population. (The number was 388 individuals in 2010.) This is not just a societal issue, MSCI points out. OECD estimates that that growing inequality has cumulatively cuts six to seven percentage points off U.S. economic growth in the United States, Italy and Sweden between 1990 and 2010. (The U.K., Finland and Norway cut in growth was higher, at nine percent.)

What needs more understanding, says MSCI in its report, is how corporations feed into inequality (through job cuts, pushing down of wages, maximizing shareholder return) which over time could impact economic growth and stability.

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So – in the year 2016 we’ll be monitoring the growing intensity of the public debate about wealth and income inequality, in the presidential race for sure (thanks to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and his positions on the subject), in the fiduciary concerns raised (especially by activist investors), and in the restlessness of the population if the anger rises and targets are selected (that is, those perceived to be responsible for growing inequality in developed and developing countries).

The actions of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church, following the Pope’s positions on inequality, will be important to watch in the months ahead.

The statements and actions of investors will also be worth watching. The public dialogue on inequality will have many dimensions, depending on the voices raised. As responsible investment thought leader (and G&A Institute Fellow) Steve Viederman notes, “…where you sit will determine where you stand on an issue.” (“Sitting” meaning your affiliation, where you sit during the business day.)

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What are your thoughts?  Let us know!  Send me an email at: hboerner@ga-institute.com.

So Many Positives in 2016 for Sustainability – Corporate Citizenship – CR – Sustainable Investing — The Core of “Trends Converging!” Commentaries. It’s 2017 — Now What?

by Hank BoernerG&A Institute

Welcome to 2017! We are off to the start of a challenging year for sustainability / responsibility / corporate citizenship / sustainable investing professionals.

We are being forewarned: A self-described (by his constant tweeting) “new sheriff is coming to town,” along with the newly-elected members of the 115th Congress who begin their meetings this week. Given the makeup of the new Administration (at least in the identification of cabinet and agency leaders to date) and the members of the leadership of the majority party on Capitol Hill, sustainability professionals will have their work set out for them, probably coming into a more clear focus in the fabled “first 100 days” after January 20th and the presidential inauguration ceremonies.

The year 2016 began on such a hopeful note! One year ago as the year got started I began writing a series of commentaries on the many positive trends that I saw — and by summer I was assembling these into “Trends Converging! — A 2016 Look Ahead of the Curve at ESG / Sustainability / CR / SRI.” Subtitle, important trends converging that are looking very positive…

As I got beyond charting some 50 of these trends, and I stopped my thinking and writing to share the commentaries and perspectives that formed chapters in an assembled e-book that is available for your reading. I’ve been sharing my views because the stakes are high for our society, business community, public sector, social sector…all of us!

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The specifics: Throughout the early months of 2016 I was encouraged by:

The Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor giving American fiduciaries the green light for considering corporate ESG factors in their investment decision-making. Page 7 – right up front in the commentaries!

The Sustainable Accounting Standards Board (SASB) team completing its comprehensive recommendations for 12 sectors and 80 industry components of these for “materiality mapping” and expansion of corporate reporting to include material ESG factors in the annual 10-k filing. These are important tools for investors and managements of public companies. See Page 17.

His Holiness Pope Francis mobilizing the global resources of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church with his 74-page Laudato Si [encyclical] that includes sharp and sweeping focus on climate change, global warming, water availability, biodiversity, and other social issues. Imagine, I wrote, the power that such an institution can bring to bear on challenges, in the world, in the USA, and other large nations…

This is the Pope’s great work: “On Care of Our Common Home.” I explored the breadth of depth of this in my commentaries. That’s on Page 163 – Chapter 44.

President Barack Obama ably led the dramatic advances made in the Federal government’s sustainability efforts thanks in large measure to several of the President’s Executive Orders (such as EO 13693 on March 19, 2015: Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade).

Keep in mind the Federal government is the largest purchaser of goods and services in the U.S.A. — over time this action will result in positive changes across the government’s prime supply chain networks. Page 50 / Chapter 13.

The European Union’s new rules for disclosure of non-financial information beginning in 2017; As I began my commentary, the various EU states were busily finalizing adoption of the Accounting Directive to meet the deadline for companies within each of the 28 states. The estimate is that as many as 5,000 companies will begin reporting on their CR and ESG performance. Page 27 / Chapter 7.

Here in the USA, Federal regulators were inching toward final rules for the remaining portions of the 2010 Dodd-Frank legislation. Roughly 20% of rules were yet to be completed for corporate compliance with D-F as we entered 2016, according to estimates by the Davis Polk law firm. Page 30 / Chapter 8.

In 2017, one very contentious rule will be in effect — the required disclosure by public companies of the CEO-to-median worker-pay ratio; the final rule was adopted in August 2015 and so in corporate documents we will be seeing this ratio publicized (technically, in the first FY beginning in January 1, 2017). Page 34 / Chapter 9 – What Does My CEO Make? Why It Matters to Me.

Good news on the stock exchange front: member exchanges of the World Federation of Exchanges have been collaborating to develop “sustainability policies” for companies with shares listed on the respective exchanges. At the end of 2015 the WFE’s Sustainability Working Group announced its recommendations [for adoption by exchanges]. Guidance was offered on 34 KPIs for enhanced disclosure. Page 103 / Chapter 27.

The WFE has been cooperating with a broad effort convened by stakeholders to address listing requirements related to corporate disclosure

This is the “SSE” — the Sustainable Stock Exchanges initiative, spearheaded by the Ceres-managed Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR), and leadership of key UN initiatives as well as WFE member exchanges.

NASDAQ OMX is an important part of this overall effort in the United States and is committed to discussing global standards for corporate ESG performance disclosure.  Notd Evan Harvey, Director of CR for NASDAQ: “Investors should have a complete picture of the long-term viability, health and strategy of their intended targets. ESG data is a part of the total picture. Informed investment decisions tend to produce longer-term investments.”

The United Nations member countries agreed in Fall 2015 on adoption of sweeping Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the next 15 years (17 goals/169 specific targets). This is a dramatic expansion of the 2000 Millennium Goals for companies, NGOs, governments, other stakeholders. Now the many nation-signatories are developing strategies, plans, programs, other actions in adoption of SDGs. And large companies are embracing the goals to help “transfer our world” with adoption of mission-aligned strategies and programs out to 2030.

G&A Institute’s EVP Lou Coppola has been working with Chairwoman of the Board Dr. Wanda Lopuch and leaders of the Global Sourcing Council to help companies adopt goals (the GSC developed a sweeping 17-week sourcing and supply chain campaign based on the 17 goals). Page 56 / Chapter 15.

Very important coming forth as the year 2016 moved to a close: The Report on US Sustainable, Responsible and Impact Investing Trends, 2016 – the every-other-year survey of asset managers in the USA to chart “who” considers ESG factors across their activities. Money managers and institutional investors, we subsequently learned later in 2016, use ESG factors in determining $8.72 trillion in AUM – a whopping 33% increase since 2014. Great work by the team research effort helmed by US SIF’s Meg Voorhes and Croatan Institute’s Joshua Humphreys (project leaders). Background before the report release Page 78.

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The above is a very brief overview of the many positive trends that I saw, explored further, and wrote commentaries on through many months of 2016. I worked to weave in the shared perspectives of outstanding thought leaders and experts on various topics. We are all more enlightened and informed by the work of outstanding thought leaders, many presented in the public arena to benefit us.

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Sharing Thought Leadership

In developing our commentaries we shared the wisdom of many people who are influential thought leaders and who enthusiastically share their own perspectives with us. These include:

  • Chris Skroupa, Founder of Skytop Strategies and prominent Forbes blogger. His views on Page i.
  • Pam Styles, Founder/Principal of Next Level Investor Relations and NIRI Senior Roundtable member. See Page iv.
  • Secretary Thomas Perez, U.S. Department of Labor on ERISA for fiduciaries. Page 7.
  • Dr. James Hawley of St. Mary’s College of California on the concept of the Universal Owner, based on the earlier work of corporate governance thought leader Robert Monks. Page 9.
  • the team at Sustainable Accounting Standards Board led by Chair Michael Bloomberg, Vice Chair Mary Schapiro, Founder and CEO Jean Rogers, Ph.D., P.E. . Page 17.
  • the team at TruCost.
  • the team at CDP.
  • the team at CFA Institute (the global organization for Chartered Financial Analysts) developing guidelines for inclusion of ESG factors in analysis and portfolio management — the new Guide for Investment Professionals – ESG Issues in Investing. Coordinated by Matt Orsagh, CFA, CIPM; Usman Hayat, CFA; Kurt Schacht, JD, CFA; Rebecca A. Fender, CFA. Page 20.
  • the leadership team at New York Society of Securities Analysts’ (NYSSA) Sustainable Investing Committee (where I was privileged to serve as chair until December 31st). Page 21. We have great perspective sharing among the core leadership team (Kate Starr, Peter Roselle, Ken Lassner, Andrew King, Agnes Terestchenko, Steve Loren).
  • experts respected law firms sharing important perspectives related to corporate governance, corporate citizenship / CSR / disclosure / compliance and related topics: Gibson Dunn on compliance matters. Page 25.
  • the law firm of Davis Polk on Dodd-Frank rulemaking progress and related matters.
  • experts at the respected law firm of Morrison & Foerster on executive compensation and related regulatory matters (in the excellent Cheat Sheet publication). Page 30.
  • the experts at the law firm of Goodwin Procter addressing SEC regulations. Page 146.
  • the skilled researchers, analysts and strategists at MSCI who shared “2016 ESG Trends to Watch” with their colleagues. The team of Linda Eling, Matt Moscardi, Laura Nishikawa and Ric Marshall identified 550 companies in the MSCI ACWI Index that are “ahead of the curve” in accounting for their carbon emissions targets relative to country targets. Baer Pettit, Managing Director and Global Head of Products, is leading the effort to integrate ESG factors into the various MSCI benchmarks for investor clients.Page 100.

AND……..

  • Thanks to Peter Roselle for his continuous sharing of Morgan Stanley  research results with the analyst community. 
  • the perceptive analysts at Veritas, the executive compensation experts who closely monitor and share thoughts on CEO pay issues. Page 36.
  • the outstanding corporate governance thought leader and counsel to corporations Holly Gregory of the law firm Sidley Austin LLP who every year puts issues in focus for clients and shares these with the rest of us; this includes her views on proxy voting issues. (She is co-leader of the law firm’s CG and Exec Compensation Practice in New York City.) Page 39.
  • the Hon. Scott M. Stringer, Comptroller of the City of New York, with his powerful “Board Accountability Project,” demanding increased “viable” proxy access in corporate bylaws to enable qualified shareholders to advance candidates for board service. Pages 40, 45 on.
  • the experts at Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), a unit of MSCI, which counts numerous public employee pension funds and labor pension systems among its clients; ISS staff share their views on governance issues with the rest of us to keep us informed on their policies and related matters. Page 40.
  • SRI pioneer and thought leader Robert Zevin (chair of Zevin Asset Management) who shares his views on the company’s work to improve corporate behaviors. Page 41.
  • Mark W. Sickles, NACD thought leader, and my co-author of “Strategic Governance: Enabling Financial, Environmental and Social Sustainability” (p.2010) for helping me to better understand and refine my views on the “Swarming Effect” (investor engagement) by institutional investors that influences corporate behavior. Page 44.
  • the experts led by thought leader (and ED) Jon Lukomnik at Investor Responsibility Research Center (IRRC) that, working with Ernst & Young LLP, one year ago in January produced the Corporate Risk Factor Disclosure Landscape to help us better understand corporate risk management and related disclosure. Page 47.
  • CNN commentator and author Fareed Zakaria who shared his brilliant perspectives with us in publishing “The Post American World,” focusing on a tectonic, great power shift. Page 61.
  • The former food, agriculture and related topics commentator of The New York Times, Mark Bittman, who shared many news reports and commentaries with editors over five years before moving on to the private sector. Page 65.
  • our many colleagues at the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) in the Netherlands, the USA, and in other countries, who shared their views on corporate sustainability reporting and related topics; the GRI framework is now becoming a global standard. (G&A Institute is the Data Partner for GRI in the USA, UK and Republic of Ireland; we are also a Gold Community member of supporters for the GRI.) Page 71.
  • our colleagues at Bloomberg LP, especially the key specialist of ESG research, Hideki Suzuki; (and) other colleagues at Bloomberg LP in various capacities including publishing the very credible Bloomberg data and commentary on line and in print. Page 76 and others.
  • Barbara Kimmel, principal of the Trust Across America organization, who collaborated with G&A Institute research efforts in 2016.
  • we have been continually inspired over many years by the efforts of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), and past and present leaders and colleagues there, who helped to inform our views in 2016 on shareholder activism and corporate engagement. Chair the Rev. Seamus Finn is on point with his “Holy Land Principles” in recent years. The long-time executive director, Tim Smith (now at Walden Asset Management) has been very generous in sharing news and perspectives long after his ICCR career. Details on Page 77.
  • our colleagues at the U.S. Forum for Sustainable & Responsible Investment (US SIF), and its Foundation, led by CEO Lisa Woll; and our colleagues at the SIF units SIRAN and IWG. The every-other-year summary of Assets Under Management utilizing ESG approaches showed [AUM] nearing $9 trillion before the run up in market valuations following the November elections. Page 78.
  • Goldman Sachs Asset Management acquired Imprint Capital in 2015 (the company was a leader in developing investment solutions that generate measureable ESG impact — impact investing). Hugh Lawson, head of GSAM client strategy, is leading the global ESG activities. GSAM has updated its Environmental Policy Framework to guide the $150 billion in clean energy financing out to 2025. Page 83.
  • the experts at Responsible Investor, publishing “ESG & Corporate Financial Performance: Mapping the Global Landscape,” the research conducted by Deutsche Asset & Wealth Management and Hamburg University. This is an empirical “study of studies” that looked at the “durable, overall impact of ESG integration to boost the financial performance of companies.” A powerful review of more than 2,000 studies dating back to 1970. Page 90.
  • Boston Consulting Group’s Gregory Pope and David Gee writing for CNBC saw the advantage held by the USA going into the Paris COP 21 talks: advances in technology are making the USA a global leader in low-cost/low-pollution energy production. They worked with Professor Michael Porter of Harvard Business School (the “shared value” proponent) on research. Page 95.
  • researchers, analysts and experts at Morgan Stanley Research charted “what was accomplished in Paris in 2015″ for us; their report identified five key areas of progress that cheered conference participants; I share these in the “Trends Converging!” work. MS Research in the post-Paris days shared perspectives on the carbon tax concept and the status of various nations on the issue — and the actions of the State of California in implementing “AB 32″ addressing GhGs. Page 119.
  • G&A Institute Fellow Daniel Doyle, an experienced CFO and financial executive, sharing thoughts on corporate “inversion” and the bringing back of profits earned abroad by U.S. companies. Page 122.
  • the Council of State Governments (serving the three branches of state governments) is actively working with public officials in understanding the Clean Power Plan of the Obama Administration (the shared information is part of the CSG Knowledge Center). Page 101.
  • Evan Harvey, Director of CR at NASDAQ, has continuously shared his knowledge with colleagues as the world’s stock exchanges move toward guidance or rule making regarding disclosure of corporate sustainability and related topics. Page 104.
  • our former Rowan & Blewitt [consulting practice] colleague Allen Schaeffer, now the leader of the Diesel Technology Forum, explaining the role of “clean diesel” in addressing climate change issues. Page 128.
  • Harvard Business School prof Clayton Christensen, who conceived and thoroughly explained “the Innovator Dilemma” in the book of the same name in 2007, updated recently, characterized new technology as “disruptive” and “sustaining,” now happening at an accelerated pace. We explain on Page 147.
  • the researchers and experts at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has shared important perspectives and research results dealing with the massive shift taking place in the corporate and business sectors as Baby Boomers retire(!) and the Millennials rise to positions of influence and power. And Millennials are bringing very positive views regarding corporate sustainability and sustainable investing to their workplace! The folks at Sustainable Brands also weighed in on this in recent research and conference proceedings. Page 154.
  • Author Thom Hartman in 2002 explored for us the subject of “corporate citizenship” in his book, “Unequal Protection, the Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights.” This work continues to help inform views regarding “corporate rights” in the context of corporate citizenship and beyond. The issue of corporate contributions to political parties and candidates continues to be a hot proxy season debate. Page 160.
  • Author and consultant Freya Williams in her monumental, decade-long research into “Green Giants” shared results with us in the book of that name and her various lectures. Seven green giant [companies] are making billions with focus on sustainability, she tells us, and they outperform the S&P 500 benchmark. Page 170.
  • Speaking of the S&P 500, I shared the results of the ongoing research conducted by our G&A Institute colleagues on the reporting activities of the 500 large companies — now at 81% of the benchmark components. Page 195.
  • And of course top-of-mind as I moved on through in writing the commentaries, I had the Securities & Exchange Commission’s important work in conducting the “Disclosure Effectiveness Initiative,” and a look at Regulation S-K in the “Concept Release” that was circulated widely in the earlier months of 2016. Consideration of corporate sustainability / ESG material information was an important inclusion in the 200-page document. Page 174.

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All of the above and more were important contributors in my collected “Trends Converging!” (in 2016) work. I am grateful to many colleagues in the corporate community and in the capital markets community who shared knowledge, wisdom, expertise and more with Lou Coppola and I over the recent years. They have helped to inform our work.

We thank the knowledge and valuable information willingly shared with us by our valued colleagues at RepRisk, especially Alexandra Milhailescu; Measurabl (Matt Ellis); The Conference Board’s Matteo Tonello; Nancy Mancilla and Alex Georgescu at our partnering organization for training, ISOS Group; Bill Baue at Convetit; Herb Blank at S-Networks Global Indexes; Robert Dornau at RobecoSAM Group, managers of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index family; Barbara Kimmel at Trust Across America.

Also, Professor Nitish Singh of St. Louis University, with his colleague VP Brendan Keating of IntegTree, our on-line professor and tech guru for the new G&A on-line, sustainability and CSR e-learning platform.

And, Executive Director Judith Young and Institute Founder James Abruzzo, our colleagues at the Institute for Ethical Leadership at Rutgers University Business School; Matt LePere and the leaders at Baruch College / City University of New York; and, Peter Fusaro, our colleague in teaching and coaching, at Global Change Associates.

And thank you, Washington DC Power Players!

Very important: We must keep uppermost in mind the landmark work of our President Barack H. Obama (consider his Action Plan on Climate Change, issued in December 2015) with the Clean Power Plan for the USA included. His Executive Orders have shaped the Federal government’s response to climate change challenges.

And there is U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, again and again hitting the hot button sensitive areas for the middle class — like income and wealth inequalities and Wall Street reform — that raised the consciousness of the American public about these issues.
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Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and her views (published in The New York Times) in her “How to Rein in Wall Street” op-ed.

And I thank my G&A Institute colleagues for their support and continued input all through the writing process: EVP Louis Coppola; Ken Cynar, our able editor and news director; Amy Gallagher, client services VP; Peter Hamilton, PR leader; Mary Ann Boerner, head of administration.

So many valuable perspectives shared by so many experts and thought leaders! All available to you…

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And Now to 2017!

And so what will happen in these many, many areas of forward-momentum in addressing society’s most challenging issues (like global warming) with “deniers and destroyers” lining up for key Federal government positions in the new administration and in the 115th Congress?

I and my colleagues at G&A Institute will be bringing you news, commentary and opinion, and our shared perspectives on developments.

If you would like to explore the many (more than 50) positive trends that I saw as 2016 began and proceeded on into the election season, you will find a complimentary copy of “Converging Trends!” (2016) at:http://www.ga-institute.com/research-reports/trends-converging-a-2016-look-ahead-of-the-curve.html

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Please do share with us your own thoughts where you think we might be headed in 2017, and your thoughts on the 2016 trends and their future directions — for 2017 and beyond. Do tune in to the many experts that I included in the various commentaries as they adjust to the New Normal of Washington DC.

I plan to share the individual commentaries with updates in 2017. Do Stay Tuned to G&A Institute’s Sustainability Update blog (you can register here to receive notice of new postings). You can sign on to receive the latest post at: http://www.ga-institute.com/sustainability-update-blog.html (Sharing insights and perspectives for your sustainability journey.)

Best wishes from the G&A Institute team for the New Year 2017!

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barclays Researchers on “Green Bonds”: Small-but-steady Performance Benefits Possible, With Little Evidence of Negative Impact

The investment community — especially fiduciaries — continues to have a flow of more “green” products being made available from a growing number of issuers and their intermediaries; these include “green bonds.”  Charting this trend, a team of Barclays managers and researchers issued a report as part of the “Barclays Impact Series.”  Their findings: ESG investing can have a positive effect on portfolios for institutional and individual investors.  There are small-but-steady performance benefits and no evidence of a negative impact for such investing.

Noted the report authors:  “In a world where concerns over climate change, pollution and issues of sustainability are ever more pressing, socially responsible investing has become an important consideration for a growing number of individuals and institutions.”

The researchers concluded that with this growth of “socially responsible” investing the idea that enjoying a financial return on investment while having a positive impact on society is attractive to a growing number of investors.  And investment in “green bonds” is one approach to attempt to accomplish that.  Different investors, of course, have different appetites for the embrace of ESG factors for their portfolio management.

Introducing ESG factors into the investment process can result in some measure of benefit for portfolios as investors consider the impacts of climate change, limits or constraints on natural resources, shifts in societal norms (such as expecting responsible supply chain management) — and the positive and negative effects on their portfolios.

One of the challenges for investors in assessing ESG investable products is that the typical accounting statements of the issuer (as an example) is not always sufficient for navigating in the new frontier of green bond investing.  The bonds being issued (say, for infrastructure) might typically might address E and S issues that are “non-financial” in the traditional management-speak or investor-speak.  Think of the impacts of climate change / global warming, pollution, energy conservation (the “E’s”) and numerous workplace issues (the “S”).

The Barclays’ Quantitative Portfolio Strategy team researchers determined that an Issuer’s “G” scoring may be more definable and measurable for potential investment outcomes; corporate governance has been an issue for issuer-investor discussion for decades longer than the typical societal (S) issue of more recent times.

In the study effort, taking the individual elements of ESG, the report authors found that “G” (corporate governance) issues can have the greatest impact on portfolio performance.  Green bonds with a higher “G” score apparently have the lowest credit downgrades than those with low G scoring.

The researchers examined bonds in the Bloomberg Barclays US Corporate Investment Grade Index and organized these in Low, Medium and High ESG scoring for their analysis.

The Barclays researchers were Albert Desclee, Lev Dynkin, Jay Hyman, and Simon Polbennikov — they are key players in the firm’s management corps.
There are more details available in the highlights presented in our Top Story. Click here for the presentation of the research results by Barclays.

Sustainable Investing Boosts Bond Portfolio Performance: Barclays Study
(Tuesday - November 29, 2016)
Source: Just Means - The study found that introducing ESG factors into the investment process resulted in a small but steady performance benefit.