Focus on Green Finance – The European Union Action Plan – Mandates Being Put In Place for Fiduciaries

The European Union adopted a Sustainable Finance Action Plan in May 2018; the package of measures included a proposal for a regulation to establish a framework to facilitate sustainable investment.  The aim is to create a unified classification system or taxonomy on what could be considered to be “an environmentally-sustainable economic opportunity”.

Also in the plan:  a proposal for a regulation on disclosures related to sustainable investment and sustainable risks to require financial sector players to integrate ESG in their risk processes and decision-making as part of their fiduciary duties.

The action plan also calls for a regulation to amend the benchmark regulation by creating a new category of benchmarks for low-carbon and positive-carbon impacts (this would provide investors with better information on the carbon footprint of their investments).

The latest move in the action plan is the mandating of disclosure by money managers, insurance companies, pension funds and investment advisors in how these financial sector players are integrating ESG factor in their portfolios and disclosing the details to their beneficiaries, savers, investors, and advisors.

The financial sector fiduciary organizations will have to disclose how certain investments of theirs might cause damage to the planet, such as polluting water (think: mining companies, oil & gas companies, chemical companies, and others) and how an investment might damage biodiversity.

Implementation of the European Commission plan requires amending the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID II) and the Insurance Distribution Directive, and other directives or by adopting new “delegating acts” under the directives.

Also to be expected:  establishing an EU label for “green” financial products, those that comply with green or low-carbon criteria.

Two years ago the EU adopted ESG disclosure policies for public companies (the EU Directive for Non-Financial Disclosures and an Accounting Directive that was adopted by all 28 states); this corporate reporting directive could be strengthened as part of the action plan to assure that companies are providing the right information to investors.

All of this is to further ensure that the financial sector players invest more responsibly, said Valdis Dombrovskis, the EU vice president responsible for financial stability, financial services and the Capital Markets Union (CMU) in talking with Editor Paulina Pielichata of Pensions & Investments.  The CMU is a plan of the European Commission to mobilize capital in Europe and channel it to companies and infrastructure projects to expand and create jobs, part of the vision of creating a single market for capital in the EU.

She had written back in June 2018 after the announcement of the action plan that disclosure of sustainability and low-carbon attributes of investment strategies will soon be standardized as the European Commission worked on creating better transparency for those strategies for moving toward a lower-carbon economy.

There’s more information for you at the EU Sustainable Finance web site: https://ec.europa.eu/info/business-economy-euro/banking-and-finance/sustainable-finance_en

This Week’s Top Story has the current Pension & Investments report by Paulina Pielichata on the latest moves by the EU on the action plan:


This Week’s Top Story

EU agrees to sustainable investment disclosure framework   
(Friday – March 08, 2019) Source: Pension& Investments – The European Parliament and European Union countries agreed Thursday on sustainable investment disclosure rules for institutional investors. Under the agreed rules, money managers, insurance companies, pension funds and…

Looking at Green Finance in the United States of America
Citi announced issuance of its first green bond in January, as part of the Citi Group commitment to environmental and climate finance.  The bond will fund renewable energy, sustainable transportation, water quality and conservation, energy efficiency, and green building projects (all part of the organization’s US$100 billion Environmental Finance Goals (announced in 2015).  In January, Citi issue EU1 billion, 3-year fixed rate notes. Citi is a co-founder of the Green Bonds Principles (2014). Citi VP Michael Eckhart is the key player (he is head of environmental finance and was a principal player in creation of the Principles). 

On April 11th in New York City the Fixed Income Analyst Society (FIASI) will hold an event at the University Club in midtown — “ESG Integration in Fixed income:  How Credit Analysis of Risks and Opportunities is Evolving”.  The event will explore the drivers and current status of ESG integration in fixed income; focus on developments at the largest credit rating agencies regarding ESG integration in creditworthiness, and how investment management firms are considering ESG risks & opportunities in fixed-income investing.

Global sustainable investment assets reached US$23 billion in January 2016, FIASI points out, and one of the fastest-growing segments is ESG integration.  There’s a broad spectrum of methods involved, and for fixed-income instruments, there are higher levels of complexity in evaluating “green” issues than for equity, FIASI explains. Speakers from Moody’s, Fitch, S&P, TD Asset Management, Loomis-Sayles, JP Morgan Asset Management, APG Asset Management, and others will be speakers, moderators and panelists.  For information: https://www.fiasi.org/esg-conference

Information about FIASI is at: https://www.fiasi.org/

Morgan Stanley Research Important Takeaway: Sustainable Investing Approaches Now Clearly Mainstream For Institutional and Retail Asset Owners

A 2018 survey by Morgan Stanley took the pulse of U.S. asset managers (with in-depth telephone interviews) to determine the level of adoption of sustainable investing approaches by asset managers in the United States.

Results:  in the report “Sustainable Signals: Growth and Opportunity in Asset Management” a majority of managers said they now see sustainable investing strategies as a strategic imperative, explains Matthew Slovik, head of Global Sustainable Finance at Morgan Stanley.

Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing and Bloomberg had 300 asset management firms with at least US$50 million in Assets Under Management polled and the results built on a prior Morgan Stanley and Bloomberg survey in 2016 (“Sustainable Signals: The Asset Manager Perspective”). In that year’s pulse-taking, 65% of survey respondents said their firms adopted sustainable investing; the 2018 response was that 75% of asset management firms surveyed had done so.

Reasons cited:  increased investment stability; high client satisfaction; product popularity; possible high finance returns.

Explains Bloomberg Global Head of Sustainable Business & Finance, Curtis Ravenel:  “As investors increasingly consider sustainability factors across asset classes and investment products, we expect to see a shift toward better data tracking and reporting mechanisms…this will increase credibility and improve measurements of impact across portfolios.”

Survey Highlights:  Three-in-four U.S. asset managers now offer sustainable investing strategies. Nine-in-ten say sustainable investing is not a fad, it’s here to stay. Eight-in-ten say strong ESG practices can lead to higher profitability and companies [with ESG practices] may be better long-term investments. Two-out-of-three asset managers believe that it is possible to maximize financial return while investing sustainability.

Consider that according to the most recent survey of U.S. asset owners and managers by the U.S. Forum for Sustainable & Responsible Investing (US SIF), $13 trillion (or one-in-four dollars) of professionally-managed assets now consider sustainability principles, a clear signal that ESG factors are now widely incorporated into investment processes.

The new Morgan Stanley / Bloomberg survey results make the financial case for sustainable investing with both institutional and retail investors demanding an increasingly sophisticated range of investment approaches and impact outcomes.

The Initiative for Responsible Investment at the Hauser Institute for Civil Society at the Harvard Kennedy School and Edelman Intelligence contributed to the work.

The Top Story this week has highlights of the survey; click here to access the 16-page report.

The US SIF’s comprehensive “Report on U.S. Sustainable, Responsible and Impact Investing Trends 2018” is also available.

This Week’s Top Story

Sustainable Investing Goes Mainstream: Morgan Stanley and Bloomberg Survey Finds Sustainable Investing a Business Imperative Among U.S. Asset Managers
(Friday – February 22, 2019) Source: BusinessWire – A majority of U.S. asset managers are now practicing sustainable investing, viewing it as a strategic business imperative. In a new survey entitled Sustainable Signals: Growth and Opportunity in Asset Management, from..

There Were Many Positive Developments for Sustainability Professionals in 2018 and Much Promise for What’s To Come in 2019 – We Are Watching For You

There were many positive developments and trendlines in 2018 that we believe were encouraging for corporate sustainability & responsibility managers, sustainable investing champions, NGO managers and members, and other stakeholders.  The analyses and wrap-ups are beginning to appear now in the many media outlets and platforms that we monitor.  We bring you some highlights in this first newsletter of the exciting new year, 2019!

One of the most compelling and sweeping of essays to kick off the year was the commentary of Andrew Winston in the Harvard Business Review – “The Story of Sustainability in 2018:  We Have About 12 Years Left.”

Author Winston came to broad attention with the publication of his books, “Green to Gold” and “Green Recovery”, and the recent “The Big Pivot”.  In his end-of-year HBR commentary, the author begins with the important 2018 sustainability themes that he sees as having lasting impact, and his belief that the year just ended brought “incredible clarity” about the scale of our challenges and opportunities.”

Clarity:  the world’s scientists sound a “final” alarm on the climate — citing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change/IPCC report on where we are; that is, dear reader, in a global, universally-perilous state with just a dozen years left for bold, collective action on carbon emissions.

Clarity:  the key elements of the government of the United States of America told a similar story in the U.S. National Climate Assessment released at Thanksgiving time (with the White House attempting to bury on a slow Friday after holiday) – climate change inaction could knock off 10% of this, the world’s leading economy’s enormous GDP.  The U.S. GDP was US$19.39 trillion in 2017, said sources including the World Bank.

Clarity:  Business must dramatically change how it operates and companies must push well past their comfort zones.

There’s lots of information for you regarding the threats and challenges posed by dramatic climate change.  And, Andrew Winston points out the positive developments as well, by corporate leaders at organizations such as Unilever, Salesforce, Nike, Kroger, and Danone (which became the world’s largest B Corporation in 2018).

We present Winston’s wrap up for you in this week’s Top Story:

The Story of Sustainability in 2018: “We Have About 12 Years Left” 
(Wednesday – January 02, 2019) Source: Harvard Business School – We have about 12 years left. That’s the clear message from a monumental study from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). To avoid some of the most devastating impacts of climate change, the world must slash carbon…

The State of Sustainable / ESG Investment in 2018: The State of Corporate Sustainability Reporting & How We Got Here

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

In this issue of our weekly newsletter we brought you two important Top Stories that capture the state of sustainable investing from varying points-of-view. 

We selected these research efforts for their value to both corporate managers and investment professionals.

  • Corporate staff can use the findings to “make the case” upward to C-suite and boardroom using both documents.
  • Investors not yet on board with Sustainable / ESG investing can gain valuable insights from both reports.

First is the report by Guido Giese and Zoltan Nagy at MSCI – “How Markets Price ESG” – addressing the question “have changes in ESG scores affected market prices?”

MSCI examines the changes in companies ESG scores, “ESG momentum” — either strong or negative for the companies being rated. Using the firm’s model, the research showed that markets reacted “most sensitively” to improvements in a public company’s characteristics rather than to declines in ESG performance, among many other takeaways in the full report.

The takeaway is that changes in ESG profiles of companies certainly affect company valuations.  The change in ESG characteristics showed the strongest move in equity pricing over a one-year horizon compared to shorter or longer time frames.  The report contains a well designed, thorough methodology which clearly demonstrates the importance of a public company’s ESG profile.

The MSCI score, the authors point out, is a proxy for the ESG-related information that the market is processing. (All MSCI ESG scores are updated at least once a year.)  There’s good information for both corporate managers and investment professionals in the 25-page report.

The second report is a snapshot of the “State of Integrated and Sustainability Reporting 2018” — issued by the Investor Responsibility Research Institute (IRRCI)Sol Kwon of the Sustainable Investments Institute (Si2) is the author and colleague Heidi Welsh is editor.  (IRRCI and Si2 regularly publish research reports together.)

The report charts the evolution of corporate sustainability reporting, which got off to a modest start in the 1980s – then on to the 1990s when corporate sustainability reports as we know them today as investors and companies adopted ESG or Triple Bottom Line approaches.

Key:  Another transition is underway, writes author Kwon, the “value creation” (a/k/a shared value) which should lead to more holistic reporting of inputs and outputs…and the emergence of the integrated report.

In 2013, IRRCI had Si2 look at the state of integrated reporting among the S&P 500® companies and examined practices again for this year’s report.  (The earlier work focused on what companies were reporting without regard to status as “mandated” or “voluntary” disclosure.)  Much progress has been made – for one thing, investor attention on ESG matters is much higher today…making corporate sustainability reporting ripe for the next phase.

The details are set out for you in the IRRCI report including trends and examples in use of reporting frameworks (GRI, SASB, IIRC), Quality, Alignment with SDGs, Inclusion of Sustainability in Financial Reports, Investor Engagement / Awareness, Board Oversight, Incentives, and many other important trends.

This an important comprehensive read for both corporate managers and investment professionals, with a sweep of developments presented in an easy-to-read format.

Example:  What drives ESG integration into investment strategy?  The drivers are identified and presented in a graphic for you.

Important note for you regarding IRRCI:  in 2019 the organization’s intellectual properties will be assumed by the Weinberg Center at the University of Delaware.  The center conducts research and holds conferences on corporate governance and related issues and is headed by Charles Elson, one of the most highly-regarded thought leaders on corporate governance in the U.S.

Important Study on ESG Momentum by MSCI: 
https://www.msci.com/www/research-paper/how-markets-price-esg-have/01159646451

State of Integrated and Sustainability Reporting 2018:
https://irrcinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/2018-SP-500-Integrated-Reporting-FINAL-November-2018.pdf

The Survey Results Are Here: $12 Trillion in Professionally Managed Assets Are Guided by Sustainable Investing / ESG Approaches in the USA – That’s $1-in-$4 of All Capital Market Assets Under Professional Management At End of 2017

The results of the 2018 survey of asset owners, asset managers and community investment professions conducted by The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment (“US SIF”) were announced last week.

Dramatic results were highly anticipated  — and the US SIF trends survey delivered:  at the end of 2017, ESG / sustainable assets under professional management (AUM) totaled US$12 trillion.  That’s 1-in-$4 of total professional managed assets (AUM) in the U.S. capital markets ($46 trillion).

The survey universe consisted of 496 asset owners, 385 asset managers and 1, 145 community investing financial institutions.

These professional money managers pursued ESG integration for a variety of reasons, including:  (1) to meet increasing institutional and retail client demand for “sustainable investing”; (2) to fulfill stated mission and pursuing social benefits; (3) to address a number of societal issues such as climate change, diversity, human and labor rights, weapons manufacturing, and corporate political spending.

High net worth individuals and retail investors increasingly utilized ESG / sustainable investing approaches reporting $3 trillion in sustainable assets.

One of the leading sponsors of the every-other-year study since the 2010 survey report is the Wallace Global Fund.  The managers have embraced sustainable investing and Executive Director Ellen Dorsey commented:  “We support this research as a critical tool to track crucial trends in the industry and benchmark our own goal of 100 percent mission alignment, as we promote an informed and engaged citizenry, help fight injustice and protect the diversity of nature.”

The Trends report breaks out the top ESG issues for investors – nine types of financial institutions (public employee funds, insurance companies, labor funds, and more), mutual funds, ETFs, money management firms, foundations, venture capital funds, and community investing institutions.  There is a tremendous amount of useful data and information or you in the Trends report available from US SIF.  The two top stories this week provide you with highlights.

We encourage readers to order the full report and keep it handy…for the next two years, volumes of content will be cited by investors, investor coalitions and advocates, media, academics, NGOs, government agencies, and others. To get started in digesting the sustainable investing trends, start with our two Top Stories below.

This Week’s Top Story

Breaking News: $12 Trillion in Professionally Managed Sustainable Investment Assets — $1-in-$4 of Total U.S. Assets
(Thursday – November 01, 2018) Source: Hank Boerner – Chair and Chief Strategist – G&A Institute – Call it “sustainable and responsible investing” or “SRI” or “ESG investing” or “impact investing” – whatever your preferred nomenclature, “sustainable investing” in the U.S.A. is making great strides as demonstrated in a new…

US SIF Foundation Releases 2018 Biennial Report On US Sustainable, Responsible And Impact Investing Trends
(Thursday – November 01, 2018) Source: US SIF Foundation – The US SIF Foundation’s 2018 biennial Report on US Sustainable, Responsible and Impact Investing Trends, released today, found that sustainable, responsible and impact investing (SRI) assets now account for $12.0 trillion—or one…

Breaking News: $12 Trillion in Professionally Managed Sustainable Investment Assets — $1-in-$4 of Total U.S. Assets

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

Call it “sustainable and responsible investing” or “SRI” or “ESG investing” or “impact investing” – whatever your preferred nomenclature, “sustainable investing” in the U.S.A. is making great strides as demonstrated in a new report from US SIF.

The benchmark report issued today – “The Report on US Sustainable, Responsible and Impact Investing Trends 2018” – by the U.S. Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment (US SIF) puts things in perspective for investors and corporate managers:

  • At the beginning of 2018, the institutional owners and asset management firms surveyed reported total sustainable investment at US$12 trillion AUM – that is 26% of the total assets under professional management in the U.S.A. — $1-in-$4 of all investable assets!
  • That’s an increase of 38% since the last US SIF report at the start of 2016. The AUM of sustainable investments then was $8.72 trillion. That was $1-in-$5.
  • And that was an increase of 33% since the survey of owners and managers at the start of 2014.
  • Sustainable investing jumped following the 2008 financial crisis, with growth of 240% from 2012 to 2014.

The US SIF bi-annual survey of investors began in 1995, when the total of sustainable investments professionally managed was pegged at $639 billion. There has been an 18-fold increase in sustainable investing assets since then – at a compound rate of 13.6% over the years since that pioneering research was done.

The researchers queried these institutions in 2018:

  • 496 institutional owners (fiduciaries such as public employee pension funds and labor funds – these represented the component of the survey results at $5.6 trillion in ESG assets**).
  • 365 asset/money managers working for institutional and retail owners;
    private equity firms, hedge fund managers, VC funds, REITS, property funds;
    alternative investment or uncategorized money manager assets);
  • 1,145 community investing institutions (such as CDFIs).

What is “sustainable investing”?  There are these approaches adopted by sustainable investors:

  • Negative/exclusionary screening (out) certain assets (tobacco, weapons, gaming);
  • Positive/selection of best-in-class considering ESG performance (peer groups, industry, sector, activities);
  • ESG integration, considering risks and opportunities, ESG assets and liabilities);
    Impact investing (having explicit intention to generate positive social and environmental impact along with financial return);
  • Sustainability-themed products.

The top ESG issues for institutional investors in 2018 included:

  • Conflict Risk (terror attacks, repressive regimes) – $2.97 trillion impact;
  • Tobacco related restrictions – $2.56 trillion
  • Climate Change / Carbon-related issues – $2.24 trillion
  • Board Room issues – $1.73 trillion
  • Executive Pay – $1.69 trillion

Asset managers identified these issues as among the most important of rising concerns:

  • Climate change and Carbon
  • Conflict risk

Prominent concerns for asset owners included:

  • Transparency and Corruption
  • Civilian firearms / weapons
  • a range of diversity and equal employment opportunity issues.

The Proxy Voting Arena

The shareowners and asset managers surveyed regularly engage with corporate executives to express their concerns and advocate for change in corporate strategies, practices and behaviors through presentation of resolutions for the entire shareholder base to vote on in the annual corporate elections.

From 2016 to 2018 proxy seasons these resolutions were focused on:

  • Proxy access for shareowners (business associations have been lobbying to restrict such access by qualified shareowners).
  • Corporate Political Activity (political contributions, lobbying direct expenses and expenses for indirect lobbying by business groups with allocated corporate contributions).
  • A range of environmental and climate change issues.
  • Labor issues / equal employment opportunity.
  • Executive compensation.
  • Human Rights.
  • Call for independent board chair.
  • Board Diversity.
  • Call for sustainability reporting by the company.

Public employee pension systems/funds led the campaigns with 71% of the resolutions filed in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Labor funds accounted for 13% of filings.

Asset/money management firms accounted for 11.5%.

A total of 165 institutional owners and 54 asset managers filed or co-filed resolutions on ESG issues at the beginning of the 2018 proxy voting season.

The ESG Checklist

The institutions and asset managers queried could answer queries that addressed these ESG, community, product factors in describing their investment analysis, decision-making and portfolio construction activities. This is a good checklist for you when discussing ESG issues and topics with colleagues:

The “E” – Environmental:

  • Clean technology
  • Climate change / carbon (including GhG emissions)
  • Fossil fuel company divestment from portfolio, or exclusion
  • Green building / smart growth solutions
  • Pollution / toxics
  • Sustainable Natural Resources / Agriculture
  • Other E issues

The “S” – Social (or “societal”):

  • Conflict risk (repressive regimes, state sponsors of terrorism)
  • Equal employment opportunity (EEO) / diversity
  • Gender lens (women’s socio-economic progress)
  • Human rights
  • Labor issues
  • Prison-related issues (for-profit prison operators)
  • Other S issues

The “G” – Corporate Governance:

  • Board-related issues (independence, pay, diversity, response to shareowners)
  • Executive pay
  • Political contributions (lobbying, corporate political spending)
  • Transparency and anti-corruption policies

Product / Industry Criteria:

  • Alcohol
  • Animal testing and welfare
  • Faith-based criteria
  • Military / weapons
  • Gambling
  • Nuclear
  • Pornography
  • Product safety
  • Tobacco

Community Criteria:

  • Affordable housing
  • Community relations / philanthropy
  • Community services
  • Fair consumer lending
  • Microenterprise credit
  • Place-based investing
  • Small and medium business credit

The report was funded by the US SIF Foundation to advance the mission of US SIF.

The mission: rapidly shift investment practices towards sustainability, focusing on long-term investment and the generation of positive social and environmental impacts. Both the foundation and US SIF seek to ensure that E, S and G impacts are meaningfully assessed in all investment decisions to result in a more sustainable and equitable society.

The bold name asset owners and asset managers and related firms that are members of US SIF include Bank of America, AFL-CIO Office of Investment, MSCI, Morgan Stanley, TIAA-CREF, BlackRock, UBS Global Asset Management, Rockefeller & Co, Bloomberg, ISS, and Morningstar.

Prominent ESG / sustainable investment players include Walden Asset Management, Boston Common Asset Management, Clearbridge, Cornerstone Capital, Neuberger Berman, As You Sow, Trillium Asset Management, Calvert Investments (a unit of Eaton Vance), Domini Impact Investments, Just Money Advisors, and many others.

The complete list is here: https://www.ussif.org/institutions

Information about the 2018 report is here: https://www.ussif.org/blog_home.asp?display=118

About the US SIF Report:  The report project was coordinated by Meg Voorhees, Director of Research, and Joshua Humphreys, Croatan Institute.  Lisa Woll is CEO of US SIF.  The report was released at Bloomberg LP HQs in New York City; the host was Curtis Ravenel, Global Head of Sustainable Business & Finance at Bloomberg. q1

Governance & Accountability Institute is a long-time member. EVP Louis D. Coppola is the Chair of the US SIF Company Calls Committee (CCC) which serves as a resource to companies by providing a point of contact into the sustainable investment analyst community

** Institutional owners include public employee retirement funds, labor funds, insurance companies, educational institutions, foundations, healthcare organizations, faith-based institutions, not-for-profits, and family offices.

Seven Compelling Corporate Sustainability Stories For You – How Entrepreneurs Are Managing Their Sustainable Business and Meeting Society’s Needs

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

How do we structure a more sustainable (and responsible) business – it’s a question we are regularly asked here at G&A Institute. By big firms and small companies — publicly-traded or privately-owned (and numerous planning to go public).

As we get into the conversation, what often becomes clear is that the company really was founded to meet some kind(s) of societal need, and sometimes it actually created a need (think of the popularity of the Apple eco-system or the early days of the Ford Motor Company and the “horseless carriage”) that it fills, benefiting society.

And in the firm’s “growing up and maturing” phase the leaders want to be recognized as a sustainable and responsible enterprise.

There are well-known corporate models that can help point the way for a management team.  We explain the successes of our “top performers and reporters” roster as examples of how the industry leaders (depending on sector and industry) have achieved clear, recognized leadership in sustainability. Their stories are inspirational as well as instructive.

(Tip:  read the companies’ GRI reports for a deep dive into corporate strategies, programs, collaborations, and achievements – our team dives into 1,500 corporate reports and more each year in our work as GRI Data Partners for the USA, UK and Republic of Ireland.)

But what about smaller enterprises, not “giants” in their industry, or niche players, run by talented entrepreneurs and managers who want to do the right thing as they build their business?  How do we find their stories?

You know, like the early story of Ben & Jerry’s (ice cream), two young guys with borrowed money operating a small store (a renovated gas station) in downtown Burlington, Vermont; the founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, built their business as a pioneer in social responsibility. (In 1985, the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation got 7.5% of annual pre-tax profits to fund community-oriented projects and supporting dairy family farming was a priority – like the duo’s support of Farm Aid.)

What we have for you today are the stories of seven perhaps less well-known firms briefly profiled by tech blogger Kayla Matthews in her guest commentary on the Born2Invest platform.  The quick-read profiles explain the companies’ business models and how they try to operate as sustainable enterprises.

These are: Prime Five Homes (building $1 million eco-mod homes in Los Angeles); LaCoste (marketing the well-known crocodile brand of clothing); Liberty Bottleworks (recycled water bottles); Cleancult (paving the way for more efficient detergents); Andean Collection (marketing jewelry from the rainforest and providing Ecuadorian women with jobs ); Blockchain (technology); Wash Cycle Laundry (eco-friendly local laundry service).

What is interesting is that each of the companies, the author explains, develop products and manufacturing processes that benefit employers, employees and Mother Earth by striving for and being (more) sustainable.  The stories are fascinating – and very appealing in this age of anxiety for many of us.

These stories remind us of the 2018 “Sense of Purpose” letter sent to public company CEO’s by Chairman and CEO Larry Fink, who heads the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock. As a fiduciary, he explains, BlackRock engages with companies to drive the sustainable, long-term growth that the firm’s clients (asset owners) need to meet their goals.

And society, he explains to the CEOs receiving the letter, “…is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose.”

To prosper over time, Mr. Fink wrote, “…every company must not only deliver financial performance but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society…without a sense of purpose, no company can achieve its full potential.”

You can read Larry Fink’s letter to corporate CEOs here – it well worth the read: https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/investor-relations/larry-fink-ceo-letter

You can follow Kayla Matthews on her tech blog, Productivity Bytes, where she often connects technology and sustainability topics: https://productivitybytes.com/

And do read our top story – it’s a fascinating and brief read to learn more about these innovative companies striving for greater sustainability and societal responsibility.

This Week’s Top Story

How 7 Eco-Friendly Businesses Are Changing The Sustainability Game
(Tuesday – September 11, 2018) Source: Born To Invest – To save the planet, it’s going to take cooperation from everyone, including both individuals and corporations. In fact, an increasing number of corporations are realizing that modern consumers are growing more environmentally…

About Sustainability Ratings: CPAs Are Being Educated by Their Profession’s Journal – A Good First Effort to Push Information to All Levels of CPAs

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

The professional CPAs working inside a public company, or in the outside accounting firm working with a company may or may not yet be involved in assisting corporate managers in responding to a growing number of third-party surveys focused on the company’s ESG strategies, actions and achievements.  Responses to these periodic surveys and engagements by other means with the ratings and rankings organizations are increasingly shaping outcomes – that is, investor opinions of the company.

Many more companies are now receiving surveys from and responding to a growing number of third-party ESG rating providers – and as we are told by our corporate connections, very often managers are straining under the effort to effectively respond given the breadth of information sought and the information available in the corporation.

As we advise corporate managers, it is important to know that there is a publicly-available ESG profile of your company that investors are considering in various ways – and either you will shape the profile and tell the company’s sustainability progress story, or someone else will.  That “someone else” would be the global universe of ESG rating providers — and their output is directed to their investor clients. The ones who invest in, or could invest in, your company.

Savvy corporate managers of course “get it” and really make the effort to effectively respond to as many queries and surveys as possible.  But what about the internal financial managers and outside accountants – are they involved?  At some firms, yes, and other firms no — or not yet.

The Big Four are tuned in to corporate ESG / sustainability disclosure and reporting.  But many smaller CPA firms are not.

And among small- and mid-cap publicly-traded firms, the role of the ratings and rankings service providers could still be an unknown and under-appreciated factor in shaping the firm’s reputation, valuation, access to and cost of capital, and other considerations. The article in the influential CPA Journal this month is a worthwhile attempt to educate professional CPAs, whatever their position.

Five professors — co-authors and colleagues at the Feliciano School of Business, Montclair State University — explored the question, “Are Sustainability Rankings Consistent Across Rating Agencies?”  One obvious element in the piece that we noticed is something happening in both the corporate sector and investment community:  the fluid interchangeability of terms of reference.

Is what is being explored by the ESG ratings and rankings service providers and their investor clients performance related to …CSR (corporate social responsibility)…ESG performance factors (environment/social/governance)…corporate sustainability…corporate citizenship…sustainable investing?  Combinations? All of these?
The authors use the terms interchangeably, as do company managers and capital markets practitioners in discussing the ever-more important role that “corporate sustainability rating providers” play in investor decision-making.

They cite the 2014 overview of rating agencies by Novethic Research (7 international rating agencies, 2 non-financial data providers, 8 specialized agencies and 20 local/regional agencies). Several studies and books are identified as reference sources.

Specific CSR rankings examined for 2015 results:  Newsweek’s Greenest Companies; Forbes Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations; and, CSR Magazine Top 100 Global RepTrak companies.

We offer the perspectives of the Journal authors in our Top Story so that you can see what CPA’s will be reading in their Journal.

There are important points raised — but the three rankings examined do not cover the full breadth of the expanding universe of ESG rating organizations.  And we are light years away from 2015 in terms of the rating agencies’ influence.

The three rankings cited are not as “investor decision-useful” as would be the analytical work of teams at such firms as MSCI, Sustainalytics, Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS); what was offered in 2015 doesn’t compare to the depth of ESG data available today via Bloomberg and T-R Eikon terminals; the RobecoSAM Corporate Sustainability Assessment (CSA) ratings that influence inclusion in the DJSI; and, volumes of information made available by CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project).

The G&A Institute team assists corporate managers in responding to these important players and an ever-widening range of third-party ESG service providers.

We’d like to share three basic observations with you and with CPAs: (1) the third party queries are becoming more probing in the information and data sought; (2) the corporate response effort is much more organized and thorough these days; (3) the results of both of these efforts are increasingly important to, and utilized by, the institutional investment community (both asset owners and their managers).

So — the more information that CPAs have about sustainable investing and corporate ESG performance, the better equipped they’ll be to support their clients.  The article is a good start in this regard.

The journal authors are academics Betsy Lin, Silvia Romero, Agatha Jeffers, Laurence DeGaetano, and Frank Aquilino.

Top Story

Are Sustainability Rankings Consistent Across Ratings Agencies?
(Thursday – July 26, 2018) Source: CPA Journal – As more and more companies begin to devote serious attention to sustainability reporting, many different systems of rating the depth and effectiveness of sustainability efforts have arisen. The authors compare three leading…

Sustainability & ESG Trends in View -– The G&A Institute Team Closely Monitors Developments For You

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

Every week G&A Institute assembles the value-added content that our team gathers for you as we closely monitor trends and developments in corporate sustainability, corporate responsibility, corporate citizenship, sustainable investing, and related topics and issues.

Our Editor-in-Chief Ken Cynar leads the daily effort and you see the results of his work in each issue of Highlights (note we are on #406 this week).  We hope that you benefit from this effort, part of our information-sharing and educational mission.

One of the benefits for us on the G&A Institute team is the yield from the close and continuous tracking and deep analysis of important trends in the related fields in every corner of the world, and in varying spheres of influence.   We are monitoring thought leaders on the corporate sector side, on the asset owner and manager side, from the perspective of the NGO or civic activist, the regulators, the academics, the ESG research service providers, and many more.

As the Global Reporting Initiative’s  (GRI) Data Partner for the United States of America, the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, our team collects, analyzes and databases considerable volumes of data and narrative from the more than 1,200 reports we process each year (the reports are then made part of the GRI global inventory for public access).

From the thousands of corporate & institutional sustainability reports we process year-after-year, the yield includes value-added information on long-term trends, emerging trends, and “might-be-a-trend-taking-shape” development.  And so high on our list is news, information, research results related to corporate sustainability and responsibility reporting.  We highlight a few for you at the top of the newsletter this week.

We share volumes of information through our communication platforms, such as this weekly newsletter; our G&A Institute company website; the Accountability Central and Sustainability HQ web platform; the  G&A Sustainability Update blog; our TwitterFacebook, and other social media feeds; and more in-depth management briefs through our “G&A Institute To the Point!” platform.

IMPORTANT:  As always, we welcome your engagement, invite your queries, your feedback, your suggestions for issues and trends to watch, and suggestions for the guidance of the information-sharing that we do.  We’d also welcome the opportunity to speak with you about our consulting services.  Email us at info@ga-institute.com.

In this week’s issue, we’ve identified an especially higher number of important trends for you that are worth “tuning in to” as you continue on your sustainability journey.

“Sustainability “ trends that are the march – worldwide!

“Warm regards to you” from The Team at G&A Institute this sweltering summer in most parts!

Barron’s Magazine Heralds the Arrival of Sustainable Investing to the Mainstream In Special Issue This Week – Sustainable Investing Version 2.0 Is Here!

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

The influential Barron’s magazine is published on Mondays by Dow Jones & Company with distribution to almost a half-million retail and institutional investors (300,000+ for print version, the rest digital or combination).

Barron’s says it has been “delivering market-beating stock picks and investment advice to wealthy readers since 1921…”

In Fall 2017, the Barron’s editors picked up the pace on coverage of sustainable investing, adoption of ESG approaches and related topics and positioned its expanding coverage with the statement: “Sustainable Investing is a Powerful Force in Today’s Capital Markets.” T

he October 7, 2017 issue was devoted to sustainable investing and the cover story was “The Top Sustainable Funds” for investors.

Editor Beverly Goodman explained: “As a team of seven writers and I began work on Barron’s first special edition devoted entirely to sustainable investing, we realized something – we could not get people to stop talking about it! CEO’s wanted to tout the strides they are making in labor practices and protecting the environment. Fund managers wanted to talk about how adding ESG criteria to stock picking isn’t that much of a stretch from the multitude of decisions they routinely use.”

And so: Barron’s would now cover this burgeoning style of investing on a regular basis. “We are only in Version 1.0 of sustainable investing – 2.0 is where ESG is not a separate category but a natural part of active management.”

The October 2017 issue’s cover story was about sustainable mutual funds based on data provided by Morningstar using Sustainalytics data – 37% of the 203 funds achieved a “high” or “above average rating” and beat the S&P 500® Index returns. (Only 28% of all large-cap mutual funds managed to do that.)

The Editors Began Steady Coverage of Sustainable Investing

Each of the issues that followed there would be some kind of coverage of sustainable investing. Barron’s followed up with another significant issue in February 2018 naming the sharing the magazine’s first ranking of sustainable companies for investor-readers.

Calvert Research and Management helped with the choices (using data from Sustainalytics, ISS and Thomson Reuters ASSET4) for the “Top 100 Sustainable Companies” rankings.

The top five positions were held by Cisco (#1), salesforce.com, Best Buy, Intuit, and HP (at #5). Said Calvert CEO John Streur: “This list gives people insight into companies addressing future risks and into the quality of management.”

Now – The Mainstream Impact of This Week’s Issue

The editors continued to ramp up coverage in each issue since late-2017. And this week’s issue (dated June 25) positioned Sustainable Investing Version 2.0 for its audience. This week’s content included:

The cover story is about “The New Conscience of Wall Street” – focused on BlackRock CEO Larry Fink and his “Investing With Purpose Theme.” (Subtitle: Larry Fink’s Mission: How the BlackRock CEO is leading a sustainable revolution on Wall Street.”)

One of the articles is a debate between George Serafeim (Harvard B School professor and stalwart advocate for sustainable investment) and Adam Sessel (CEO of Gravity Capital Management): “Does Sustainable Investing Lead to Lower Returns?”

The traditional Barron’s approach to a panel of expert to explore an investing topic is this week’s “ESG Roundtable: Great For the World, Good For Investors” – featuring Erika Karp of Cornerstone Capital; Todd Ahisten, Parnassus Investments; Jon Hale, Morningstar; and Roelfien Kuijpers of DWS Group (the asset management spin off of Deutsche Bank).

There is a “Getting Started in Sustainable Investing” guide for readers, including a Glossary and suggestions for mutual funds “with a purpose”.

The feature about Larry Fink is entitled, “In Defense of Social Purpose” – and his argument for sustainable investing that editors say has “ignited a burning debate about his concept…and him.”

Fink’s words in his CEO letter, says writer Leslie Norton, “…amounted to a Rorschach test for a polarized nation. As the debate rages on over immigration, climate change, guns, income inequality, and other issues, even considering their economic impact on a company looks like a political statement. Yet Corporate America and Wall Street are increasingly doing that…”

To hear CEO Fink tell it, writes Norton, “…short termism is a scourge of corporate thinking and is encouraged by the financial media…” And…ignoring ESG can take a toll…

With this feature there is a neat “Road to Sustainability” chart showing the evolution of SRI from the 1960s to today with many societal issues described along the way to 2018.

Other features include “The Trump Bump: A Silver Lining for ESG Investors” – telling readers that in the month after the November 2016 election results were in, investors’ money flowed into ESG mutual funds and ETFs; the flow into the 275 mutual funds and ETF’s focused on ESG was 10-fold over the prior month!

And, the backlash continues; since November 2016, inflows to ESG-focused mutual funds and ETFs is averaging $700 million per month, which is three times the pace of the prior 12 months. This lifted ESG focused funds to $118 billion to date. 

Looking at fiduciaries, the editors say that $23 trillion is not invested in pension, separately managed accounts and other funds using ESG approaches.

Barron’s editors have selected “The 20 Most Influential People in Sustainable Investing” – the Who’s Who in ESG – you will want to see that list.We are cheered to see our US SIF colleagues Lisa Woll, Tim Smith, Amy Domini, Matt Pasky, and John Streuer in the Top 20!

There is also an interview in the special issue with Jeremy Grantham and how the respected value investor (he’s on the list) is a force in increasing awareness of climate change.

Finally, the Barron’s conference unit scheduled its first “Impact Investing Summit” in San Francisco (last week) and Crystal Kim reports on that event, with focus on the Millennials and their generation’s increasing impact on investing trends.

We at G&A Institute think this is a tipping point moment for investors, as the Barron’s editors position sustainable investing as now a mainstream

# # #

Footnotes:  We prepared a brief about Barron’s coverage in October 2018 on our “G&A Institute’s To the Point!” web platform, and a follow up brief in February 2018.  You can find the in-depth briefs at:

https://ga-institute.com/to-the-point/the-authoritative-barrons-magazine-now-sets-the-pace-sustainable-investing-is-a-powerful-force-in-todays-capital-markets-so-say-the-editors/

https://ga-institute.com/to-the-point/proof-of-concept-for-sustainable-investing-barrons-weighs-in-with-inaugural-list-of-top-100-sustainable-companies/

There is information about Morningstar’s focus on sustainable investing mutual funds and ETFs at:  https://www.morningstar.com/articles/745467/morningstar-sustainability-rating.htm

Be sure to check out the special issue of Barron’s at:https://www.barrons.com/this_week