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

November 9, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Cradle-to-Cradle: Method Case Study

Guest Column by Lama Alaraj – Analyst-Intern, G&A Institute

We live in a world where our society is run through consumerism and capitalist gains. As a result, this system has had adverse effects on the health of our environment.

One of the major industries in our economies is cleaning products, where demand is unlikely to decrease. Consumer behavior influences the supply of cleaning products in our economy, and as a result there is a rise in demand for the ‘green products’.

As consumers it is important for us to know what hazardous chemicals we are bringing into our homes. In this industry transparency is not enough, as the average human cannot understand chemical labels (citation, Grotewohl, 2018 – see bibliography at end).

I believe that we need more companies to shift their business model to be more of a commitment towards achieving holistic sustainability.

There are many different strategies and business models that companies can apply to experience financial growth, with sustainability and the environment in mind.  The focus of this essay will be on the cradle-to-cradle approach — a more sustainable business model that has proven to work in the cleaning products industry.

The cradle-to-cradle approach is a system that moves away from the conventional linear manufacturing process, which focuses on taking raw materials to produce products that will end up disposed, towards a circular approach by closing the loop in production and eliminating waste.

• This process requires businesses to change their business model towards one that incorporates conscious sustainable thinking at the core (Brennan et al, 2015).

• The approach talks about two types of metabolism: biological and technical (Severis et Rech, 2019).

• Each has corresponding nutrients — ‘biological nutrients’ — are materials that can be safely returned to the biosphere, and ‘technical nutrients’ are manmade materials that can be reused (Severis et Rech, 2019).

Goal: Reuse or Return to the Environment

The goal of this approach is to create products that can either be reused or return to the environment (such as though composting) and therefore eliminating the concept of waste at the end of the life cycle of a material which is related to the common cradle-to-grave operation (Severis et Rech, 2019).

An important term that was a prelude to the birth of the cradle-to-cradle approach is the strategy of being eco-effective. This strategy is defined as using resources that maximize the benefits of a product or a service in order for the material to have a continuous life cycle (Brennan et al., 2015).

For the cradle-to-cradle approach to be successful and sustainable in its application by a business, it needs to adhere to three guidelines: waste equals food, use renewable energy, and celebrate diversity (Brennan et al, 2015). For example:

(1) Waste equals food is essentially where the concept of upcycling comes from. By not creating more waste, companies can look at resources that have already been used and recycled, and utilize these materials to their maximum potential.

This guideline pushes businesses to be creative and innovative, enabling them to design a product that has multiple life cycles, and does not lose its value or superiority when it is recycled into something different (Brennan et al, 2015).

(2) The second guideline, use of renewable energy, pushes firms to switch from fossil fuels and to generate clean energy through the use of solar, wind, hydro or biomass technologies. This fits the framework of using what is naturally present and contributes to a holistic approach (Severis et Rech, 2019).

The final approach is about incorporating diversity within the business, through innovation. As part of this guideline firms are required to design products that “support biodiversity, socio-cultural diversity and conceptual diversity” (Ankrah et al.,2015).

This encourages business leaders and their firms to look outside the box and design products that avoid environmental pollution and strive for maximum material reutilization.

Cradle-to-Cradle Certification

To encourage and enable business to apply the cradle-to-cradle approach, the Cradle-to-Cradle certification was established in 2005. Since then, 200-plus companies have produced products that are certified (Source: Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, 2020).

The rise in Cradle-to-Cradle certified products is influenced by increased environmental awareness, growing consumer demands for green products and business financial savings.

According to research through the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, businesses in the European Union could save up to US$630 billion a year by switching to a cradle-to-cradle model and operating through a circular production system (Cradle-to-Cradle Products Innovation Institute, “CCPII” – 2020).

For instance, Shaw industries, a global carpet manufacturer, switched to a cradle-to-cradle business model in 2007 and as part of this switch, Shaw achieved a 48% increase in water efficiency, and improved energy efficiency, both of which have major environmental benefits (CCPII, 2020).

Financial benefits of this approach allowed Shaw to save US$2.5 million in 2012 alone (CCPII-2020). The benefits of this approach can be vast and are realized through economic, social and environmental gains.

One economic benefit is cost reduction — savings achieved through the reuse of materials, and resource efficiency by saving on water and energy spending (CCPII-2020).

Moreover, these benefits are eliminating toxic waste and pollution, and giving more than one life cycle to a product, through upcycling the material and creating something different in order to operate through environmental awareness and positive sustainable practices (Brennan et al, 2015)

Looking at Cleaning Products

Cleaning products typically contain many hazardous chemicals that can contaminate our groundwater, lakes and oceans, and lead to the formation of algal blooms which threaten marine life. Not only do these chemicals harm our ecosystems, they can also have adverse effects on humans, if exposed to high levels of these chemicals (Grotewohl, 2018).

This is where Method — a United States-based company — decided to take matters into their own hands. They are the “People against dirty”, their infamous slogan is an homage to their commitment against traditional cleaning products that are harmful to our environment, and us.

Method is one of the first green cleaning companies to have a full line of cradle-to-cradle certified products. The company uses non toxic, and full biodegradable formulas, ensuring their products adhere to the unique process of cradle-to-cradle for maximum reutilization (Ryan et al, 2011).

This sophisticated and innovative company values renewable energy at the core of their production process, ensuring to me the renewable energy guideline of cradle-to-cradle fundamentals.

The firm has even opened the first LEED-platinum -certified plant in their industry (Chow, 2015). Everything at this factory is made on site, a one-stop shop approach. The plant runs on wind and solar energy; they have utilized the space in an environmentally-conscious way by allowing Gotham Greens to use the plant’s entire rooftop as a greenhouse in order to harvest organic produce for the local markets and communities (Chow, 2015).

In this way Method demonstrates that the management thinks beyond profitability of the end product, and also looks to maximize every space in their factory and seek inclusivity and to benefit society through their community centered approach, meeting both the renewable energy and diversity guideline of the cradle-to-cradle approach.

The process of recycling actually produces toxins and pollution, so companies encouraging their consumers to recycle is not enough because they are not breaking the system of waste, just contributing to it (Ryan et al., 2011).

Competitors in the cleaning industry typically use white PET to package their goods, as a way to brand their green commitment. However, this type of plastic does not filter through recycling plants and so ends up in landfills (Ryan et al., 2011).

Method’s leaders did their homework, and rather than sticking to traditional industry trends, they designed packaging that is 100% recyclable and made from Post Consumer Recycled PET (Ryan et al., 2011).

In addition to Method’s cleaning materials being sustainably sourced, their packaging is made of 100% recycled bottles, reducing waste in their production process. By upcycling its waste, Method uses up to 70% less energy to manufacture its products (Ryan et al., 2011). Moreover, the plastics used are carefully chosen to ensure they can be recycled and reused, operating a closed loop production system.

For Method, waste is truly fuel, upholding the first guideline in the approach.

Looking at Laundry Detergents

Laundry detergent on the commercial scale is typically water intensive (“80% of detergent is water”), and causes a lot of waste (Ryan et al., 2011). Conventionally, it is packaged to make consumers believe that more is better, so consumers use more detergent than needed (like an optical illusion of sorts).

The first breakthrough in innovation a better detergent was in 2004, when Method launched their ‘three times concentrated’ formula, which uses a lot less water and a lot less energy to clean, making it more environmentally friendly than conventional detergents (Ryan et al., 2011).

This sparked a competitive race in the industry, and major names in the game launched their own versions of concentrated detergents (Ryan et al., 2011). Method creators did not patent their formula, rather they wanted to encourage their competitors to produce more environmentally-friendly and cleaner detergents (Ryan et al., 2011).

In 2010 Method made waves again, and launched their eight times concentrated detergent, and this time it became the first detergent to receive an official cradle-to-cradle certification for its innovative design, non toxic, biodegradable and reduced water formula (Gittell et al., 2012).

Moreover, because it does not require the same amount of energy to clean clothes, it does not require the same amount of detergent either — proving to be resource efficient.

The product is dispensed through a pump, is a lot smaller, and weighs less. This demonstrates the diversity aspect of cradle-to-cradle, because the product used design as a way to reduce excessive and wasteful amounts of detergent that we as consumers have mindlessly done, and by reducing we are benefiting the environment (Gittell et al., 2012,).

Looking Beyond Traditional Business Models

The cradle-to-cradle approach aims to push beyond traditional business models that lean on eco- efficiency policies and towards eco-effective strategies. Typically eco-efficiency relies on the three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle, and operate on zero waste strategies (Brennan et al., 2015).

With this mindset there are some problems that can arise, as this is still adhering to a linear business model. For instance, with recycling, the product loses its value, and hence its life cycle is significantly shortened. We need to do better than that as businesses and go from downcycling, to upcycling, from eco-efficient, to eco-effective.

Method in my view is a cradle-to-cradle success story and I think it is a role model for companies to take that plunge. Since its conception, as a small two person company, Method has grown to be a US$100 million dollar company (Gittell et al., 2012).

Management has never broken the commitment to true sustainability, and has proved that having a cradle-to-cradle business strategy can result in positive environmental impacts & commercial growth. From breaking conventional trends in the industry, to pushing their giant competitors to adopt the three times cycled detergent, i see Method as a force to be reckoned with.


# # #

Lama Alaraj is a graduate of Dalhousie University (Nova Scotia, Canada) with double major in economics and international development studies. She is a marketing consultant for Web.com. She was an analyst-intern with G&A Institute and was a key member of the team producing the S&P 500 Index annual research on sustainability reporting, and was very much involved in the G&A Institute’s GRI Data Partner duties.



Link: https://www.ga-institute.com/about-the-institute/the-honor-roll/lama-alaraj.html

Bibliography

Ankrah, N. A., Manu, E., & Booth, C. (2015, December). Cradle to Cradle Implementation in Business Sites and the Perspectives of Tenant Stakeholders. Elsevier, 83(Energy Procedia), 31-40. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1876610215028581#abs0005

Brennan, G., Tennant, M. and Blomsma, F. (2015). Chapter 10. Business and
production solutions: Closing Loops & the Circular Economy, in Kopnina, H. and Shoreman-Ouimet, E. (Eds). Sustainability: Key Issues. Routledge: EarthScan, pp.219-239

Chow, L. (2015, July 29). Gotham Greens + Method = World’s Largest Rooftop Greenhouse Coming to Chicago. EcoWatch. Cradle to cradle products innovation institute. (2020). Impact Study Executive Summary. www.c2ccertified.org. https://www.c2ccertified.org/impact-study

Gittell, R., Magnusson, M., & Merenda, M. (2012). The Sustainable Business Case Book (Vol. Chapter 6). Saylor Foundation. https://2012books.lardbucket.org/books/sustainable-business-cases/index.html

Grotewohl, E. (2018). Chapter 830: Cleaning Products Are Coming Clean. University of Pacific Law Review, 49(2). Scholarly Commons. https://scholarlycommons.pacific.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1161&context=uoplawreview

Ryan, E., Lowry, A., & Conley, L. (2011). The Method Method: Seven Obsessions That Helped Our Scrappy Start-up Turn an Industry Upside Down. Penguin.

Severis, R., & Rech, J. (2019). Cradle to Cradle: An Eco-effective Model. In Earth and Environmental Science Reference Module Physical and Materials Science. Springer, Cham. https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007/978-3-319-71062-4_62-1

It’s Earth Day Again – Let’s Celebrate – and Pledge Again to Defend Mother Earth!

For Earth Day – Plus 50 – April 22, 2020

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

The first Earth Day was the idea of and championed by a United States Senator, Democrat Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin on April 22, 1970. Fifty years ago!

Let’s also celebrate his life (1916-2005) and the environmental movement he helped to launch as we observe Earth Day 2020.

For those of us who were not around back in the day, I will also offer up some background for you as we celebrate the 50th Earth Day.

Why Earth Day?
In 1970, there were too many assaults on the nation’s environment. On Our Good Earth with air, water, soil polluted – in many parts of the nation, we were really heavily polluted!  (There are still SuperFund sites being cleaned in many states.)

The American landscape was rich with manufacturing facilities and processing plants, located in every state. Our manufacturing and processing exports in the post-WW II period comprised fully one-quarter and more of all world trade.

The generosity of the U.S. in creating the Marshall Plan to help our former wartime enemies build up their economies and our WW II allies’ economies fueled the exports of American-made goods. 

Even today, U.S. manufacturing (really cleaner!) accounts for half of U.S. exports. U.S. manufacturing today by itself makes up the world’s 10th largest economy (ahead of China, Japan, Germany and many other manufacturing centers). But back in the day…

The Importance of U.S. Manufacturing in the Post War
After World War II, the U.S. was the dominant manufacturing center of the world. Germany and Japan factories were coming back on line, having suffered tremendous damage [to each country’s industry].

Early in the post-WW II period many European companies began setting up factories in the U.S. (chemicals, pharma) — and many of those companies were serious polluters here, as they were in Europe. (One reason why European investors were early adopters of ESG approaches – not often discussed.)

In 1951, “re-armament” was in full gear and the Cold War was on. Military production was greater than for consumer goods – and that meant many more plants would be turning out goods without necessarily protecting the environment around the plant. (“In the national interest…”)

Solvents used for manufacturing would go into the ground. Emissions from toxic fumes, into the air. Solid and liquid waste – into ground, or waters (streams, bays, rivers, oceans). As consumer goods manufacturing rose, a “Guns & Butter” economy emerged in the U.S., with the factories running in two or three shifts. Out put steadily rose. So, too, nasty byproducts.

The steady assault on Mother Earth by industry and governments steadily rose.

Among the catalysts for action after two decades:

The Cayuhoga River, flowing through Cleveland, Ohio, the industrial city on the Great Lakes, caught fired and the junk on top burned. (Noontime, June 22, 1969 – a five story fire flashed out of the river in the downtown!) Info at: https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/63

A huge oil spill just offshore fouled the beaches of Santa Barbara, California. January 28, 1969 – 3 million gallons of crude spilled off the shoreline of the beautiful city by Union Oil (now Unocal), leaving an oil slick of 35 miles in length along the California shores…killing bird, fish, mammals (and tourism!). 1,000 gallons of oil per hour flowed for a month.

The federal government had relaxed the regulations on casing around the drilling hole and an explosion ripped the sea floor. (Sound too familiar in 2020?)

The federal government did stop offshore drilling for a few years (in the state’s waters) but then that restriction was relaxed and The Los Angeles Times (which has covered the story for five decades) says today there are 23 oil and gas leases in state waters.

The California spill is considered a catalyst for the modern environmental movement. Richard Nixon was a California native — then sitting in the Oval Office — and was moved to action shortly after the spill.

The LA Times coverage is at: https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-santa-barbara-oil-spill-1969-20150520-htmlstory.html

In the eastern U.S., the trees on mountaintops were constantly seared and leaves gone, branches standing naked of greenery. The “acid rain” coming from parts of the nation to the west wafted high up and denuded New York and New England mountaintop greenery (that was SOX, NOX, etc from smokestacks carried far to the east on the higher winds).

Those with light color cars would be scrubbing the dark stains running vertically on the vehicle. Acid rain streaks. We saw those on our homes (the white paint, the rain gutters, these would be streaked with black stain).
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/09/980928072644.htm

Personal Remembrances
As a boy, heading in the car to Manhattan or Brooklyn with family, I remember being curious about the large black, brown, yellow clouds hovering above the Empire State Building or Chrysler Building in midtown. Wafting along, at leisurely pace. You could “smell” the city as you approached. There was often a coating of soot on my shirt or coat when I returned home.

“Smog” enveloped many American and European cities. (Fog and smoke.) I have written a few times about my flying through or over city smog. Looking down below from the cockpit, thick yellow clouds often blanketed Manhattan on hot summer days. Flying through (at lower levels) I would be on instruments until I was safely over New Jersey’s rural parts heading west. And clean air again filled the cockpit!

You could always see the bellowing smoke coming out of New York City’s electric generating plants, furnaces fired by coal in those days.

For a time, to build flight hours, I flew around the city and suburbs on weekends broadcasting as “Captain Hank, Your Eye-in-the-Sky” for radio stations WGBB and WGSM. Checking on traffic to the beach, open spaces Jones Beach parking fields, fishing offshore, surfing at Gilgo Beach, and the like. Quite often I would be dodging in and out of smog banks that drifted eastward.

Up in Connecticut, driving one day along a river road, I was startled to see “rubber rocks” along the river bank. A large rubber tire company’s outflow of waste from the factory to the river had coated the rocks before heading downstream into Long Island Sound and then to the Atlantic Ocean. Everything would just disappear into the seas, right? (Prevalent thinking of certain business leaders at the time – externalize the crap and let someone else pay for results.)

Up in The Bronx (boro of New York City) and the northern parts of Manhattan, trucks would idle for hours as they picked up or dropped off food at the terminals…the children of minority populations living there had high rates of asthma. Part of the payment for the necessary local industry that employed their parents.

New York City – the Manufacturing Center!
It is hard to believe here in 2020, but New York City was once a mighty manufacturing city for goods now produced in Asia — apparel, footwear, jewelry and accessories. Also, for food and beverages (local beer manufacturers, sugar processing factories, colas). The Brooklyn Navy Yard produced mighty battleships and repaired aircraft carriers damaged in battle (the USS Enterprise).

Manufacturing is still big in Gotham City – but it is far cleaner, safer, more responsible in operations — by many magnitudes. https://nycfuture.org/data/manufacturing-in-nyc-a-snapshot

City of Transportation
New York has a magnificent harbor. The shorelines of Manhattan and Brooklyn boasted of many ocean shipping terminals for both passengers and cargo. Railroads ran along the shoreline (one abandoned line is now the High Line, an important Manhattan tourist attraction). The line brought carloads of meat to the west side, and then on to giant cruise ships of yesteryear.

Trucks ran uptown and downtown (my father owned a local trucking company and I would ride along on school breaks). The driver would back a truck up to the dock, load it, run around the city to deliver and pick up, bringing freight to the waiting rail cars along the docks, which would go on large barges over to New Jersey and out to the nation.

All of this activity pouring engine emissions into the air of New York, and with drip-drip-drip from transport machines (oil, gas, fluids) tricking down into the sewers and out to the rivers and out to the ocean.

This was at the height of 20th Century industrial America, the Arsenal of Democracy of World War Two. From east to west coasts and all through the heartland, factories poured out war materiel, and then shifted to peak production of peacetime goods for 1950s and 1960s consumer purchase. Along with Cold War materiel. Guns & Butter.

We were the world’s major manufacturing exporters, then, not China.

But at a cost. And so the rivers burning, smog choking the cities, creeks and bays and inlets and rivers and then oceans polluting.

Earth Day Helped to Change All of This – Looking Back, Rather Quickly
Senator Nelson was impressed by the 1960s “social revolution” with protest across the country as especially young men and women voiced their opposition to the status quo. Sit-ins were staged at universities to protest the draft and the Vietnam War. Marches took place in the south despite the marchers suffering beatings and arrests.

The senator was fascinated with civil rights sit-ins at southern soda fountains and marches by both black and white leaders — including many clergy and public officials. By the early organizing efforts to protect and ensure the rights of females and passage, state-by-state of the ERA – the Equal Rights Amendment (which failed to reach the votes to become part of the Amendments to the U.S. Constitution).

According to the Earth Day origin story, Senator Gaylord Nelson was thinking to himself: “If we could tap into the environmental concerns of the general public and infuse the student ant-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force the issue onto the national political agenda.” And he did!

He set up an “Environmental Teach-in” (like civil rights counter “sit ins”!) to tell the story of the environmental degradation of the country and send a call to action to college campuses and schools. (Hey, let’s do that again today — so many youngsters are at home in the digital classrooms during this virus crisis!)

The result in 1970 was that 20 million people — roughly one-of-10 citizens — participated that first Earth Day (and that would be like 33 million people celebrating Earth Day today, out of our 330 million population!).

The midterm elections of 1970 saw many long-standing members turned out and a new wave of consciousness sweep the country. President Richard Nixon and the U.S. Congress on January 1, 1970 moved to pass the National Environmental Protection Act – which created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Then came passage of Clean Water Act (1972), Clear Air Act, Endangered Species Act, RCRA (waste), SuperFund (CERCLA-1980), Wilderness Act (1974) and many more federal and state regulations.

The good news is that while Senator Nelson hoped to kick off a movement, he did — and observance of Earth Day took hold – the year 1990 (20 years in) saw the peak participation in the U.S. and by 2000 some 184 countries held formal observances. There’s interesting background at: http://www.nelsonearthday.net/earth-day/

Alas, here in April 2020 we are homebound and not able to march or gather in groups. But we do have our electronic platforms of all kinds – so let’s connect and celebrate Earth Day that way.

We only have one (Earth) to protect and in the spirit of Senator Gaylord Nelson and those early organizers, let’s say we are still here, still with you in spirit, and there is much work still to be done!

Happy Earth Day, Mother Earth!

Shared Perspectives
You might be interested in the environmental movement perspectives here from March/April 2005, my column from the former journal, Corporate Finance Review. Popular Movements: A Challenge for Institutions and Managers” – explaining the emergence of ESG and the Sustainability Movement.

When Sustainability Movement Champion Michael Bloomberg was Mayor of New York City, in April 2007 he delivered a wonderful speech – A Greener, Greater New York – presaging his wonderful work in helping many of the world’s cities make their environments safer and more sustainable. This is what great mayors do!

One of the influential voices following the lead of Senator Nelson in our time is Bill McKibben, whose books and extensive writing have helped to influence the more recent sustainability movement. He was interviewed by the Times Union (Albany , New York) newspaper for this year’s celebration. 

You can follow him on Twitter.

Can’t get into the streets today to help celebrate? Earth Institute at Columbia University offers some suggestions on sheltering in place and celebrating

Issues in Egypt in Focus, 2020 – Ken Cynar Perspectives – Could the Nile Go Almost Dry?

by Ken Cynar – Editor-in-Chief, G&A Institute

On Water Sustainability:

Critical Question: Could the Nile River Go Almost Dry?

Where can Egypt’s people find enough water to drink and continue sustainable agriculture that has lasted more than 5,000 years?

Blue Nile at Luxor

Long before the modern era of civilization first blossomed, the waters of the ancient Blue Nile flowed north from central Africa more than 4,100 miles into the Mediterranean Sea.

Along the way over the millennia the river’s flood cycles deposited fertile soil along its banks, fighting back the ever-encroaching desert, and quenching the thirst of the people and irrigating the crops they grew.

The Nile became the life blood of a region and a nation. This, the world’s longest river, became both the foundation of and the catalyst for the creation of ancient Egypt, nourishing its science, religion, engineering, writings, and other cultural foundations.

Today the Nile River flows through ten countries that share in its water and electric generating capacity…but not equally. The ever-fragile status quo is being threatened by the construction today in Ethiopia of yet another dam.

For Egypt: A Grave Situation

The situation is becoming grave for Egypt and its 97.5 million people who closely congregate in the land adjacent to the Nile as it flows northward.

Only 6 percent of the land in Egypt is usable in its current form and that tiny percentage is the home to almost all of Egypt’s people – with 22 million people in Cairo alone.

The Nile is their source of water for their crops, drinking water and more. Any sizeable disruption in the flow of the Nile would devastate the country, creating ecological calamity for its people and precipitating one economic disaster after another.

The truth is this: Here in northern Africa, water is more precious than oil.

Aswan Dam, Upper Nile

The solution to the problem like most regarding water is not cut and dried (forgive the pun). No one disputes Ethiopia’s right to build the dam and to generate electricity for its own people. The problem is in the details.

Lake Nasser

Behind the new dam the plan is to create a new lake and that lake must be filled with water…the question is how long will it take to fill the lake and how that disruption will impact the flow to the Egyptian Aswan Lake Nasser complex — and thereby the flow of water to the majority of Egypt’s almost 100 million people.

So far that question is unresolved and the dam construction is going forward.

Talks in Washington D.C. have not been fruitful — with no resolution of the issues involved in this complex situation.

As populations grow and poorer countries try to bring themselves and their people into the 21st and 22nd centuries, water control…in terms of protecting source and distribution…are becoming issues that could drive nations to armed conflict.

Currently it appears as Ethiopia is not bargaining in good faith and ignoring the impact their actions will have on its neighbors.

Moving Off “No” and “No Progress” to Resolution

While the United States is trying to broker a compromise there not been significant movement. Is water the new oil? Or has it become the key catalyst for nations marching inexorably to war with their neighbors?

Watch carefully in the coming weeks to see if this issue is being resolved.

There are two difficult sides to the story: Ethiopia wants its dam but Egypt cannot allow the lake to dramatically reduce the flow of the Nile.

That could result in a draught of Biblical proportions leading to the destruction of wildlife, agriculture and even death to those living along the Nile. Could armed conflict ensue? Can a country in the 21st Century allow their supply of water to be cut off by another country?

We have to accept: Water is more precious than ever in a world facing global warming and climate change. Leading to greater civic unrest.

A similar situation is brewing between India and China with the river Ganges …same issue, different continent. They who control the water have the power, the upper hand…more on this issue in coming soon.

About My Egypt Travels

Egyptian Pyramids

We spent eight days touring 5,000 years of Egyptian history…from stately Coptic Churches to the temples at Karnack and Luxor, to King Tut’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings to the Giza plateau and the great Pyramids and the Sphinx.

Our Egyptian tour guide — with a B.A. and Masters in Archeology and Egyptology, Amr — was a wealth of knowledge painting a picture of the gods, goddesses, and pharaohs that made the history, culture and religion of ancient Egypt come alive for us.

His knowledge was enhanced by his love and passion for his country and its history and his deep respect for those ancient peoples. His talks were like the encompassing lectures from the best professor at your university filled with facts, color and excitement.

All this was combined with the execution of the complex logistics by Norm of Mike’s Guiding Light Tours, helping us smoothly glide from location-to-location by plane, river boat, bus, horse-drawn carts and camels — and even by Felucca (the traditional Egyptian sail boat) – all of which made the trip even more exciting.

If you are thinking of touring Egypt or other places worldwide, I recommend that you consider Mike’s Guiding Light Tours. (I know, interesting name, but I think the Guiding Light was his wife’s favorite soap opera.) He is expert in coordination and logistics, with excellent selections of hotels and restaurants and a special feeling of adventure and comradeship…all of this making for a superb travel experience.

Ken Cynar, Inside Tombs

Egypt Museum

Sphinx with Ken & Donna Cynar

Pyramids with Ken & Donna Cynar

Temple of Philae

The Climate Change Crisis – “Covering Climate Now” Can Help to Shape The Public Dialogue

Introducing a new series of perspectives from G&A Institute…

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

We are bringing you a series of commentaries on the climate change crisis to share news, research results and perspectives to you in an organized way.

Fact:  We are facing dire outcomes for humanity and planet if we don’t move faster with strategies and actions to address the challenges of climate change.

We’re calling our shared perspectives “About the Climate Change Crisis”.

Global Warming.  Droughts. SuperStorms. Floods.  Rising Seas. Outbreaks of forest fires.  Loss of Species.  Degradation of farmlands.  Food Shortages. 

These should be defined as crisis situations, no?

Despite these dangers, the public dialogue on “climate change” issues in the United States reflects in some ways the divide in public opinion on critical issues facing the American public, government, business, the financial sector.

Climate changing? Yes and No. Human activities  causing the changes? Yes and No.
Should we be worried? Yes and No.

And so it goes.

The United States of America participated in the 2015 Paris (COP 21) meetings and signed on to the Paris Agreement along with almost 200 other nations, with President Barack Obama becoming a signatory in April 2016 and in September 2016 by presidential action presented the necessary documents to the U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-moon.

The People’s Republic of China also presented the documents, a collaboration negotiated by President Obama. (This step by Barack Obama avoided presenting what amounted to an international treaty agreement to the U.S. Senate for ratification, required by the U.S. Constitution – approval assuredly would not happen in today’s political environment.)

The U.S. also contributed US$3 billion to the Green Climate Fund.

And so also by executive order, his successor in the Oval Office, President Donald Trump in March 2017 with swipe of a pen signaled the start of the complex and lengthy process of removing the U.S. from the historic Paris Agreement to limit the damage of global warming.

By his side: EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt (since gone from the environmental agency).

The backdrop: scientific reports that 2016 was the warmest year on record to date!

And credible scientists telling us that we have a decade at most to get control of climate change issues!

Prior to becoming president Donald Trump declared among other things that climate change was a Chinese hoax. (One of his positioning comments on the subject: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive” – November 6, 2012 tweet.)

But climate change is real – and we face a climate crisis in 2019!

What Did the Current U.S.A. Leader Do?

President Trump on November 4, 2019 officially notified the international community – and specifically the community of the United Nations – that the process of withdrawal was beginning and would be complete one year from now — the day before Election Day 2020.

Note that in November 2018 the government of the United States of America published the fourth climate change assessment by key U.S. government agencies: the “Climate Science Special Report” was prepared by the U.S. Global Change Research Program of the Federal government. (We’ve including an overview in this series.)

The contents are of significance if you are an investor, a company executive or board member, an issue advocate, public sector officer holder or civic leader, consumer — or other type of stakeholder.

There are volumes of data and descriptions in the report presenting a range of “high probability” climate change outcomes in this the 21st Century.

Adding credibility to the Federal government’s report to the nation and the world:  11, 258 scientists in 153 countries from a broad range of disciplines (biosciences, ecology, etc.) published a report in the Bioscience Journal (November 2018) – “World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency” – setting out a range of policies and actions that could be (adopted, taken) to address the emergency.

Good News About News Media

Good news from the purveyors of news to millions of people: the publishers of Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation created the “Covering Climate Now” (the initiative was launched in April 2019) intended to strengthen the media’s focus on the climate emergency.  The lead media partner is The Guardian.

The founders are now joined by cooperating media that today reaches more than one billion people worldwide. Representatives of 350 newsrooms in 32 countries have joined to ramp up coverage of the climate crisis and possible solutions. The campaign is designed to strengthen the media’s focus on the climate emergency.

Combined, the cooperating media reach more than one billion people worldwide.

Participants in the campaign include Bloomberg, Agence France-Press, The Guardian, The Minneapolis Star Tribune, The New Jersey Star Ledger, The Oklahoman, Corporate Knights, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Times, La Republica (Italy), The Hindustan Times (India), Asahi Shimbun (Japan), La Razon (Spain), Greenbiz.com, Huffpost, Mother Jones, Rolling Stone, Scientific American, Teen Vogue, Vanity Fair, and many many other communications platforms.

Partner organizations in the campaign include wire services, news agencies, newspapers, magazines, digital news sites, journals, radio, podcasters, and institutions like Princeton University and Yale Climate Change & Health Initiative.

Could it be that the press, especially the U.S. press, can turn the tide of public opinion (with the naysayers and public doubters) with increasing and accurate coverage of the climate story?

Is the “media awake”?   That question was posed and answered in September 2019 by Mark Hertsgaard (The Nation) and Kyle Pope (CJR editor) addressing the  initiative.

Their comments are here for you: https://www.cjr.org/covering_climate_now/climate-crisis-new-beginning.php

Is this where you get your news a participant? Check the list here: https://www.coveringclimatenow.org/partners

Participating publisher Corporate Knights points out to us that “climate change” was suggested as a term to use by pollster Frank Luntz to President George W. Bush instead of the more frightening term, “global warming”. Let’s not scare the people. Gently move them forward.

We do need to return to the more accurate and realistic title of global warming. The threats posed by warming of land and sea are visible to us – every day now!

But, OK, if climate change is the popular branding, then let’s talk about the climate change crisis or emergency (so says the media collaboration).

We’re presenting this series of climate change crisis commentaries to help to tell the story of the climate change crisis or emergency.

The title is About the Climate Crisis, following the lead of the collaborating journalists.

The Good News

The good news as background to the above is that cities and states are “still in” and implementing strategies and actions to follow the Paris Accord in their jurisdictions. 

Corporations participated in the Conference of Parties (COP) meetings and especially the Paris COP 21 meetings.

Companies have been launching and reporting on their sustainability journey — actively addressing climate change issues — and investors are building more climate change considerations into their financial analysis and portfolio management. 

Combined these actions are keeping the United States in the game and helping to maintain the nation’s edge in climate change matters. Of course, we can ALL do more!

Let us know how we are doing. And please do suggest to us issues and topics and developments that might be of interest to you and other readers of the G&A Institute’s Sustainability Update blog.

Please do Stay Tuned to our ongoing blog commentaries.

Trump Administration Continues Attempts to Unravel U.S. Environmental Protections Put in Place Over Many Years – Now, Shareholder Proxy Resolution Actions on Climate Issues Also In Focus For Investors…

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

We should not have been surprised: in 2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump promised that among his first steps when in the Oval Office would be the tearing up of his predecessor’s commitment to join the family of nations in addressing climate change challenges. 

In late-December 2015 in Paris, with almost 200 nations coming to agreement on tackling climate change issues, the United States of America with President Barack Obama presiding signed on to the “Paris Agreement” (or Accord) for sovereign nations and private, public and social sector organizations come together to work to prevent further damage to the planet.

The goal is to limit damage and stop global temperatures from rising about 2-degrees Centigrade, the issues agreed to. 

As the largest economy, of course the United States of America has a key role to play in addressing climate change.  Needed: the political will, close collaboration among private, public and social sectors — and funding for the transition to a low-carbon economy (which many US cities and companies are already addressing).

So where is the USA? 

On June 1st 2017 now-President Trump followed through on the promise made and said that the U.S.A. would begin the process to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, joining the 13 nations that have not formally ratified the agreement by the end of 2018 (such as Russia, North Korea, Turkey and Iran).  

Entering 2019, 197 nations have ratified the Agreement.

A series of actions followed President Trump’s Paris Agreement announcement – many changes in policy at US EPA and other agencies — most of which served to attempt to weaken long-existing environmental protections, critics charged.

The latest move to put on your radar:  In April, President Trump signed an Executive Order that addresses “Promoting Energy Infrastructure and Economic Growth”.

[Energy] Infrastructure needs – a bipartisan issue – are very much in focus in the president’s recent EO.  But not the right kind to suit climate change action advocates. 

Important: The EO addressed continued administration promotion and encouraging of coal, oil and natural gas production; developing infrastructure for transport of these resources; cutting “regulatory uncertainties”; review of Clean Water Act requirements; and updating of the DOT safety regulations for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facilities.

Critics and supporters of these actions will of course line up on both sides of the issues.

There are things to like and to dislike for both sides in the president’s continuing actions related to environmental protections that are already in place.

And then there is the big issue in the EO:  a possible attempt to limit shareholder advocacy to encourage, persuade, pressure companies to address ESG issues.

Section 5 of the EO“Environment, Social and Governance Issues; Proxy Firms; and Financing of Energy Projects Through the U.S. Capital Markets.” 

The EO language addresses the issue of Materiality as the US Supreme Court advises.  Is ESG strategy, performance and outcome material for fiduciaries? Many in the mainstream investment community believe the answer is YES!

Within 180 days of the order signing, the Secretary of the Department of Labor will complete a review existing DOL guidance on fiduciary responsibilities for investor proxy voting to determine whether such guidance should be rescinded, replaced, or modified to “ensure consistency with current law and policies that promote long-term growth and maximize return on ERISA plan assets”. 

(Think of the impact on fiduciaries of the recommendations to be made by the DOL, such as public employee pension plans.) 

The Obama Administration in 2016 issued a DOL Interpretive Bulletin many see as a “green light” for fiduciaries to consider when incorporating ESG analysis and portfolio decision-making.  The Trump EO seems to pose a direct threat to that guidance.

We can expect to see sustainable & responsible investors marshal forces to aggressively push back against any changes that the Trump/DOL forces might advance to weaken the ability of shareholders – fiduciaries, the owners of the companies! – to influence corporate strategies and actions (or lack of action) on climate change risks and opportunities.  Especially through their actions in the annual corporate proxy ballot process and in engagements. 

You’ll want to stay tuned to this and the other issues addressed in the Executive Order.  We’ll have more to report to you in future issues of the newsletter.

Click here to President Trump’s April 10, 2019 Executive Order.

Facts or not?  Click here if you would like to fact check the president’s comments on withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

We are still in!  For the reaction of top US companies to the Trump announcement on pulling out of the Paris Accord, check The Guardiancoverage of the day.

At year end 2018, this was the roundup of countries in/and not.

For commentaries published by G&A Institute on the Sustainability Update blog related to the above matters, check out it here.

Check out our Top Story for details on President Trump’s recent EO.

This Week’s Top Stories

Trump Order Takes Aim at Shareholders Pushing Companies to Address Climate Change
(Wednesday – April 77, 2019) Source: Climate Liability News – President Trump has ordered a review of the influence of proxy advisory firms on investments in the fossil fuel industry, a mot that…

4th in Series: The Food Industry – GRI & SASB Standards In Focus – Perspectives on Alignments & Differences

By Jessica Caron –  G&A Institute Sustainability Report Analyst Intern

A comparison of the SASB Meat, Poultry & Dairy Standard — which is designed for use by companies involved in the raising, slaughtering, processing and packaging of animal food product — to the GRI Standards must start with the observation that the GRI Standards are general and not industry-specific, asking about topics that apply to most business organizations (such as employee benefits).

The SASB industry standards focus on industry-specific ESG information — such as animal welfare.

The GRI Standards also, in being of value in generating a general portrait of any type of organization, suggest disclosure of a wide range of basic information — such as legal form and markets served as well as significant amounts of content with information directly related to corporate ESG strategies and performance.

The only basic information SASB Standards suggest in the category is information about the number of processing and manufacturing facilities, amount of animal protein produced by category, and percentage of animal protein production that is outsourced.

We should keep in mind SASB is investor-focused, and GRI is stakeholder focused (of course, including investors). And so the information suggested for disclosure by the reporter (the company disclosing) has different end users in mind when using either or both of the standards for corporate reporting.

The GRI Sector Disclosure:

The SASB suggested industry standards are more similar to the Sector Disclosures from the GRI G4, the predecessor of the GRI Standards. Each Sector Disclosure consists of additional disclosures and guidance for answering general GRI disclosures tailored to a certain industry, and thus attains the level of industry focus that the SASB standards have.

The GRI Sector Disclosure most similar to the SASB Meat, Poultry, and Dairy Standard is the Food Processing Sector Disclosure, which is designed for food processing companies rather than farmers, but including questions about a company’s supply chain, which does include farmers. The G4 Food Processing Sector Disclosure is discussed in more detail at the end of this commentary.

Being Prepared for Reporting:

In general, my advice is that corporate reporters should be prepared for using the GRI Standards to disclose much more information than the SASB Standards suggest.

For example, the GRI Standards by design suggest that a company should expect to report on every material ESG issue that affects the company, and the reporting in accordance with “Comprehensive” level reporting option prescribes a management approach (DMA) for every risk, opportunity, and topic mentioned in the issuer’s report. In comparison, SASB suggest a well-defined and narrower set of [material] data and suggests management approaches for just a few topics, such as water management risk.

Other Differences to Note:

The GRI Standards Disclosures have an entire section on economic issues; the SASB Standard does not. These issues are focused on the economic value generated, financial assistance received from the government, and benefit plan contributions. The GRI Standards also ask about anti-corruption practices and anti-competitive behavior (in the “Society” subcategory), which the SASB Standard does not.

The GRI Standards suggest more detailed information in general than the SASB Standard on environmental topics, but the SASB Standard’s suggested disclosures are at times more specific and are on the whole more industry-specific. The main environmental topics both standards deal with are energy, water, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, waste, and biodiversity.

The GRI Standards suggest information on an organization’s energy consumption, energy intensity, and reduction in energy consumption and requirements — in addition to the suggestion that at least one or all, depending on individual company’s materiality assessments, of the ESG issues — be discussed and a management plan provided for it. including energy issues.

In contrast, the only energy information the SASB standard asks for is how much total energy is consumed, and suggests a breakdown of that energy by grid electricity and renewable energy (where the GRI Standards do not).

Overlaps and Differences – E/Environmental:

The water disclosures for GRI and SASB do overlap a great deal – SASB even suggests discussion of water-related risks and management approaches; notably, use of the SASB Standards suggests companies to report water specific non-compliance incidents where GRI Standards has a disclosure which asks for the companies approach for environmental compliance overall.

In terms of the other three topics, SASB only suggests disclosure of Scope 1 GHG emissions, of the amount of animal waste generated, and of the percentage of pasture and grazing land managed to Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservation plan criteria in the biodiversity section.

GRI suggests much more information for all three of these topics (because the GRI Standards are general, they ask about waste only in general terms, but they do suggest disclosure of types of waste generated).

However, SASB suggests disclosure of management approaches for GHG emissions and waste management, whereas GRI suggests disclosure of management approach for each GRI topic considered to be material to the company. The NRCS conservation plan can also be considered as part of a management approach.

Using the GRI Standards For Reporting – More Detailed

GRI is more detailed – by far – than SASB in its suggested disclosures related to employees and their human rights; GRI Standards ask about benefits, labor-management relations, training and education, gender pay equality, diversity and equal opportunity, non-discrimination, forced or compulsory labor, human rights training for security personnel, and grievance mechanisms in addition to employee health and safety — which is the only employee-related topic mentioned in SASB Standards.

SASB Standards, do, however, suggest a description of how respiratory health conditions (a problem in animal feedlots) are managed and prevented, an issue which is much more industry-specific and not specifically mentioned even in the GRI G4 Food Processing Sector Disclosures.

GRI also asks many questions about a company’s product responsibility and impact on society, whereas SASB does not.

Addressing “S” — Social Issues

The social issues GRI Standards ask about are indigenous rights (in the “Human Rights” subcategory); contributions to and effects on local communities; anti-corruption, anti-competitive behavior; consumer privacy and health and safety; compliance; marketing, labeling; and, grievance mechanisms for effects on society. SASB Standards focus on food safety. (Note that the GRI Standards suggests a discussion of markets that ban imports of the company’s products, which is often a food safety issue for the meat, poultry, and dairy industry. SASB Standards address this under the “Food Safety” section; other food safety topics are covered in the G4 Sector Disclosures.)

About Supply Chain Content

Both GRI and SASB Standards address disclosures on supply chain information — the information suggested by SASB Standards specifically address biodiversity, animal welfare, water stress, and climate change resilience in the meat, poultry and dairy supply chain (including discussion of plans to manage climate change risks and opportunities in the supply chain). These are of course all very important issues in the meat, poultry and dairy sector.

GRI in comparison suggests more general information about screening for environmental and social issues and local suppliers. (The Sector Disclosures address in general terms, supplier compliance with sourcing policies and international standards.)

The G4 Food Processing Sector Disclosures — which are the closest equivalent to the SASB Meat, Poultry & Dairy standards — suggest additional information in many sub-categories, such as product safety, and additional guidance for many aspects. (For example, it is noted that financial assistance from government may marginalize small-scale producers and have negative impacts on public health.)

The GRI Sector Disclosures also add information on sourcing practices to the procurement practices section (as discussed in the previous paragraph) and two new sections in the “Society” subcategory, on healthy and affordable food (which SASB does not mention) and animal welfare.

The GRI Sector Disclosures’ food safety questions relate to markets that ban the company’s products and the percentage of food manufactured in facilities accredited by a third party for food safety. SASB has more questions, including about recalls, and does ask about one third-party certification system, the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI).

Focus on Food Issues

The GRI Sector Disclosures also have sections on nutrition — specifically, on fortified foods and food reduced in saturated and trans fats, sodium, and added sugars – and marketing and labeling, especially marketing to vulnerable groups like children and pregnant women.

The SASB Standard does not address these issues. However, other than dairy products, most animal-based foods are not fortified with nutrients or reduced in fat, sodium, or sugar, perhaps making the GRI Sector Disclosures in this area of little relevance to the meat, poultry and dairy industry specifically.

In conclusion, I see the SASB Standard and the GRI Standards + G4 Food Processing Sector Disclosure each covering most of the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) topics relevant to the livestock industry, and together, the GRI and SASB standards fill in each other’s gaps to create a more complete ESG profile for any given company in the industry/sector.

Because some pieces of information are in differently-named categories across the standards, responding in the corporate reporting process to both standards does take a little extra work — but is very much possible and I think beneficial to do if the company seeks to be a sustainability leader in the industry (or industries) in which it operates.

Note:  This commentary is part of a series sharing the perspectives of G&A Institute’s Analyst-Interns as they examine literally thousands of corporate sustainability / responsibility reports.  Click the links below to read the first post in the series which includes explanations and the series introduction as well as the other posts in the series:

1st in Series: The Software / IT Services Industry – GRI & SASB Standards In Focus – Perspectives on Alignments & Differences

2nd in Series: The Agriculture Products Industry — GRI & SASB Standards In Focus – Perspectives on Alignments & Differences

3rd in Series: The Electric Utilities & Power Generators Industry – GRI & SASB Standards In Focus – Perspectives on Alignments & Differences

3rd in Series: The Electric Utilities & Power Generators Industry – GRI & SASB Standards In Focus – Perspectives on Alignments & Differences

By Jess Peete – G&A Institute Sustainability Report Analyst Intern

It is often the case that many us may not give our monthly energy utility company a second thought — unless there is an issue with the power going out or the bill is too high.

However, for those of us working in the sustainability field, the Energy Utilities Industry is one of the most important industries to consider, regardless of where we live or do business.

This industry’s companies power our homes, power our businesses, and in so many ways power our modern lives.

Traditionally, the energy utilities & power generators industry relied on oil and coal to generate supply for the power grid. This historic reliance on fossil fuels has more recently become a major issue in focus for investors, and society, as the effects of climate change continue to grow and the impact of burning fossil fuels for energy become more apparent.

Because of these effects on the environment and atmosphere, the Energy Utilities and Power Generators sector is today considered “high impact”.

Key sustainability reporting frameworks – including the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) — have sector-specific reporting standards (GRI has supplemental guidance that goes beyond their regular reporting requirements in order to more accurately measure the societal impact of the industry.)

Similarities and Differences in Standards

I’ve found that there is a great deal of similarity in the GRI Sector Supplements and SASB Industry standards for the Energy Utilities and Power Generation industry — but there are distinct differences as well.

The sector supplements only exist for GRI-G4, however, it is still advised for reporting organizations to now use the GRI Standards and incorporate the sector-specific disclosures from the GRI-G4 energy sector supplement to establish a more thorough industry-specific review of the total impact of the energy utilities sector.

The SASB Standards

SASB defines the materiality for the Energy Utilities sector reporting to include the following topics:

ENVIRONMENT

  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions & Energy Resource Planning
  • Air Quality
  • Water Management
  • Coal Ash Management

SOCIAL CAPITAL

  • Community Impacts of Project Siting

HUMAN CAPITAL

  • Workforce Health & Safety

BUSINESS MODEL AND INNOVATION

  • End-Use Efficiency & Demand

LEADERSHIP AND GOVERNANCE

  • Nuclear Safety & Emergency Management
  • Grid Resiliency
  • Management of the Legal & Regulatory Environment

Overall, the SASB standards appear to me to be quite comprehensive for a company to follow for their reporting — and would require reporting for many aspects of the electric power grid, including overall energy supply chain impacts.

For instance, SASB requires a calculation of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) emitted related to operations — but also requires a qualitative reporting of management-level planning to reduce the GHG emissions (emitted both from the company and its customers).

SASB addresses this in terms of recommending corporate reporting on negative environmental impacts — such things as coal ash and potential hazards such as posed by nuclear plants.

The GRI Standards

There appears to be little to no mention of coal ash storage in the GRI Standards — unless a company chooses to include coal ash as effluence.

This type of reporting could also be included in a company’s disclosure of their management approach (DMA) in the GRI Standards Report.

One area where the GRI standards seems to have a stronger “urging” for corporate reporting is the Sector impact on water, which is incredibly important because the energy utilities sector is one of the biggest users of water (usually required for cooling).

GRI Standards, in this case, appear to take a more holistic approach to water consumption (measuring total stress) while SASB only requires reporting the water impact from high stress areas.

Conclusion:

Because of the high impact that energy production and distribution have on climate, local communities, and the economy, companies in the Sector using both the GRI Standards and GRI G4 Energy Supplement alongside the SASB Energy Utilities Sector Supplement will be able to create a sustainability report that measures the true impact and costs of operations.

Measuring and managing these material E&S issues can help to provide both companies and investors in the sector a better understanding of their businesses, and a clear pathway to keeping consumer costs low while shifting to an energy portfolio that is one more based on sustainable energy.

Note:  This commentary is part of a series sharing the perspectives of G&A Institute’s Analyst-Interns as they examine literally thousands of corporate sustainability / responsibility reports.  Click the links below to read the first post in the series which includes explanations and the series introduction as well as the other posts in the series:

1st in Series: The Software / IT Services Industry – GRI & SASB Standards In Focus – Perspectives on Alignments & Differences

2nd in Series: The Agriculture Products Industry — GRI & SASB Standards In Focus – Perspectives on Alignments & Differences

4th in Series: The Food Industry – GRI & SASB Standards In Focus – Perspectives on Alignments & Differences

Global Warming / Climate Change — What Are Current Weather Events and Dramatic Changes Telling Us?

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

The National Geographic describes “Global Warming” as a set of changes to the Earth’s climate, or long-term weather patterns, varying from place-to-place.  The dramatic changes in the rhythms of climate could affect the face of our planet – coasts, forests, farms, mountains…all hang in the balance.

So, also hanging in the balance:  the fate of humanity!

Explains NatGeo:  “Glaciers are melting, sea levels are rising, cloud forests are dying, and wildlife scrambles to keep pace.  It’s becoming clear that humans have caused most of the past century’s warming by releasing heat-trapping gases as we power our modern lives.  Greenhouse gases (GhGs) are at higher levels now than in the last 650,000 years.” *

“Climate Change” is the less politically-volatile term used by leaders in the public and private sectors (such as in the numerous shareholder-presented proxy resolutions that are on the ballots of public companies for owner voting and in the language of corporate sustainability reporting).

Carbon Dioxide emissions (CO2) released into the atmosphere have increased by a third since the start of the Industrial Revolution, and so addressing this challenge would logically be a prime responsibility of those who benefited most from the 200-year-plus revolution – pretty much all of us!

The political climate in most of the developed industrial world is mostly reflective of the will to do “something” – witness the almost 200 sovereign nations signing on to the Paris Agreement in 2015 (“COP 21”) to work together and separately to holding the temperature rise to well below 2-degrees Centigrade (3.5F), the pre-industrial levels — and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature rise to 1.5-degrees C above pre-industrial levels. (“As soon as possible.”)

The Agreement also calls for the increasing society’s ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience including low GHG emissions development. **

The outlier nation to the agreement, sad to say, is the world’s largest economy and significant GHG emitter, the United States of America, which has begun the withdrawal process from the Paris Agreement.

This week we present a selection of top stories about climate change – and global warming! – to illustrate the effects of a changed climate around the globe.  And to send signals to the doubting policymakers in Washington DC that the threat is real!

The good news is that many corporate managements, powerful institutional investors, and public policy makers in a growing number of leaders in U.S. cities, states and regions are committed to the goals of the Paris Agreement and working to implement steps to hold the line – to build resilience – that will benefit all of society.

We really do have to hurry — take a look at what is happening around our planet:

This Week’s Top Stories:
Drought, Heat Wave, Wild Fires
— Is the Earth Burning Up?

Earth at risk of becoming ‘hothouse’ if tipping point reached, report warns
(Tuesday – August 07, 2018) Source: CNN – Scientists are warning that a domino effect will kick if global temperatures rise more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, leading to “hothouse” conditions and higher sea levels, making some areas on Earth uninhabitable.

5-year drought raises questions over Israel’s water strategy
(Monday – August 06, 2018) Source: ABC News – For years, public service announcements warned Israelis to save water: Take shorter showers. Plant resilient gardens. Conserve. Then Israel invested heavily in desalination technology and professed to have solved the problem by…

Our climate plans are in pieces as killer summer shreds records
(Monday – August 06, 2018) Source: CNN – Deadly fires have scorched swaths of the Northern Hemisphere this summer, from California to Arctic Sweden and down to Greece on the sunny Mediterranean. Drought in Europe has turned verdant land barren, while people in Japan and…

Are devastating wildfires a new normal? “It’s actually worse than that,” climate scientist says
(Wednesday – August 08, 2018) Source: CBS News – California Gov. Jerry Brown has called the devastating wildfires tearing through Northern California “part of a trend — a new normal.” But one climate scientists says “it’s actually worse than that.”

Europe battles wildfires amid massive heat wave
(Wednesday – August 08, 2018) Source: ABC News – Record-breaking temperatures across Europe have forced people to sleep in a Finnish supermarket, uncovered a piece of World War II history in Ireland and are making it harder to battle the wildfires that have been raging in Spain…

Don’t despair – climate change catastrophe can still be averted
(Wednesday – August 08, 2018) Source: The Guardian – The future looks fiery and dangerous, according to new reports. But political will and grassroots engagement can change this…

Australia’s most populous state now entirely in drought
(Thursday – August 09, 2018) Source: CBS – CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s most populous state was declared entirely in drought on Wednesday and struggling farmers were given new authority to shoot kangaroos that compete with livestock for sparse pasture during the…

Nearly 140 people dead amid Japan heat wave
(Thursday – August 09, 2018) Source: WTNH – Japan is dealing with a heat wave that had killed 138 people. The heat wave started back in May and has been roasting the country ever since…

Europe bakes again in near-record temperatures
(Thursday – August 09, 2018) Source: Phys.org – Europe baked in near-record temperatures on Monday but hopes were for some respite after weeks of non-stop sunshine as people come to terms with what may prove to be the new normal in climate change Europe…

* Greenhouse Gases are defined as a gas trapping heat in the atmosphere, contributing to the “greenhouse effect” by absorbing radiation:  carbon dioxide/CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, and flouorinated gases (such as chlorofluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride).

** The Paris Agreement is at: https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/english_paris_agreement.pdf

Seven Important Trends From Textile Exchange Conference Summed Up: The Industry Gets It on Sustainability

“Sustainability is front and center in the apparel sector” — so writes Tara Donaldson in the November 5th feature story in the Sourcing Journal in covering the Textile Sustainability Conference in October. Seven major trends were discussed at the meeting of industry execs.

Considering such things as reducing microfibers polluting our oceans or using more materials with less environmental impact or other factors, the industry focus on sustainability is creating a new vision for the apparel industry, including for brands that had not yet been on board.  Because: the consumer and industry now demand this.

And there are seven trends that illustrate the paradigm shift in the industry, with details set out by the Journal for each:

Embrace of Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) – more companies are taking a close look at how their businesses align with these, and the October conference in Washington, DC focused on exploring what SDGs mean to the apparel sector. The SDGs provide a common vocabulary for the industry.  And the manufacturing centers are taking a closer look — like China, India, Bangladesh and El Salvador.

Better raw materials in products – slowly but steadily, brands are building products with sustainable materials; the trend is up for the year, according to the 2017 Preferred Fiber & Materials Report.

Circularity/Circularity/Circularity – companies are gearing up for more circularity (circular value chains that is!), with about one-quarter of firms developing such a strategy and more than half with a strategy being implemented.  For example, making a silk-like fiber out of orange peels.

Actions on Climate – for many firms, climate change is a major issue and more than 200 companies have set carbon reduction targets. Luxury products marketer Kering Group plans to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2020, for example.

Leveraging Technology for Sustainability – DNA tech is one of the “big things” with the ability to provide greater transparency and traceability for fiber (the technique is using DNA-based tags embedded in raw materials such as organic cotton).

Water — Being Better Stewards – apparel companies are “water guzzlers,” with 14-plus liters to make one cotton suit (as example).  Companies are figuring out how to go “waterless” or really cut their water usage over time in the production of apparel.

Investors and Long-Term Viability – and yes, the industry leaders acknowledge that investors “are paying heed” to sustainability and long-term business viability. A Bloomberg LP analyst laid out the importance of sustainability to the conference attendees.

There’s more for you in the Top Story on the above seven major trends.  And we include in our wrap up this week another report — about investors now paying greater attention to sustainability efforts in the apparel industry.

Note:  for the Sourcing Journal – a subscription is required — a “Free” registration will allow you access to this story, with a limit of 5 articles per month.

Top Stories This Week…

The Top 7 Sustainability Trends Coming Out of Textile Exchange
(Monday – November 06, 2017) Source: Sourcing Journal – Whether it’s circularity, reducing microfibers polluting the world’s oceans or using more materials with less environmental impact, sustainability is front and center in the apparel sector, and brands that hadn’t been on board…