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

INSTITUTIONAL INVESTORS LAUNCH ALLIANCE FOCUSED ON HUMAN RIGHTS

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

ICCR Provides Leadership for Investor Collaboration To Advance Corporate Sector and Investor Action on Human Rights Issues

The recently-launched Investor Alliance for Human Rights provides a collective action platform to consolidate and increase institutional investor influence on key business and human rights issues.

For nearly 50 years, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) has been engaging with corporate managements and boards, coalescing with asset owners and managers and waging campaigns on key E, S and G issues.

ICCR has become a major influence for investors at corporate proxy voting time, and in ongoing investor-corporate engagements.

Consider:  The member institutions have AUM of US$400 billion and influence many other investors (depending on the issue in focus at the time).

ICCR has 300-plus institutional investor members, many (but not all) are faith-based organizations. A good number of member institutions are leaders in making available sustainable & responsible investment products and services. (See representative names in references at end.)

Key issues in focus for ICC members include:

  • Human Rights (key: human trafficking, forced labor, fair hiring practices)
  • Corporate Governance (board independence, CEO comp, lobbying)
  • Health (pharma pricing, global health challenges)
  • Climate Change (science-based GhG reduction targets)
  • Financial Services (risk management for financial institutions, responsible lending)
  • Food (antibiotics in food production, food waste, labor)
  • Water (access, corporate use of water and pollution)

HUMAN RIGHTS IN FOCUS FOR NEW ALLIANCE

On the last issue – Human Rights – ICCR has long been involved in various Human Rights issues back to its founding in 1971 and has been organizing the Investor Alliance for Human Rights since late-fall 2017.  Here are the essentials:

  • Investor Alliance participants will have an effective “Collective Action Platform” for convening, information sharing, and organizing collaboration on action to make the case to corporate decision-makers and public sector policymakers (and other stakeholders) on the need for urgency in addressing human rights issues.
  • The umbrella of a formal alliance will help individual participants to build partnerships and develop collaboration within their own universes of connections (such as NGOs, other investors, community-based organizations, trade groups, corporate leaders, multi-lateral organizations, and other institutions and enterprises).
  • Among the work to be done is the encouragement and support of building Human Rights criteria and methodology into asset owner and manager guidelines, investing protocols, models, and to integrate these in corporate engagements and proxy campaigns, as well as to guide portfolio management. (Buy/sell/hold decision-making.)
  • All of this will help to expand investor reach and influence and strengthen advocacy for best practices in Human Rights by both companies and investors. Leveraging of broader investor influence is key in this regard.

The Alliance will provide participants with a “rapid response” resource to assure that the “investor voices” are clearly heard in corporate board rooms and C-suites, in public sector leadership offices, and in media circles when there are threats posed to effective actions and reforms in Human Rights issues.

The Alliance is outreaching to NGOs, faith-based institutions, academics, media, labor unions, multi-lateral global institutions, trade and professional associations, corporate managements and boards, and of course to a wide range of asset owners and managers.

# # #

The key player at ICCR for the Alliance is David Schilling, a veteran staff member who is Senior Program Director – Human Rights & Resources. (email:  dschilling@iccr.org)

David joined ICCR in 1994 and has led initiatives on human rights in corporate operations in Africa, Asia and Latin America, often visiting factories and meeting with workers on the ground.

David is currently Chair, Advisory Board of the Global Social Compliance Program; member, International Advisory Network of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre; member, RFK Center Compass Education Advisory Committee; UNICEF CSR Advisory Group; and, Coordinator (with ICCR member institutions) of the Bangladesh Investor Initiative (a global collaboration in support of the “Accord for Fire and Building Safety”.

# # #

ICCR stresses that it sees its work “through a social justice lens.”  For more than two decades members and staff have worked to eradicate human rights abuses in corporate operations and across global supply chains, such as forced child labor in cotton fields in Uzbekistan.

The organization has an Advisory Committee of Leaders in Business and Human Rights (formed in late-2016).  Members include representatives of Boston Common Asset Management; Shift; Landesa; The Alliance for a Greater New York; Oxfam America; Mercy Investment Services; International Corporate Accountability Roundtable; and Global Witness.

# # #

ICCR has a long history in Human Rights progress.  The organization came together as a committee of the mainstream Protestant denominations under the  umbrella in 1971 to organize opposition to the policies and practices of “Apartheid” in South Africa.

Over time, the U.S. corporations operating in South Africa stopped operations there.  More than 200 cities and municipalities in the United States of America adopted anti-Apartheid policies, many ending their business with companies operating in South Africa.

Protests were staged in many cities and on many college & university campuses, and U.S. and European media presented numerous news and feature presentations on the issue.

In time, the government of South Africa dismantled Apartheid and the country opened the door to broader democratic practices (the majority black population was formerly prohibited to vote).

Over the years since the Apartheid campaign, ICCR broadened its focus to wage campaigns in other societal issues, including:

  • Focus on fair and responsible lending, including sub-prime lending and payroll lending.
  • Putting climate change issues on the agenda for dialogue with corporations, including the demand for action and planning, and then greater disclosure on efforts to curb GHG emissions.
  • Encouraging investment in local communities to create opportunities in affordable housing, job development, training, and related areas.
  • Promoting greater access to medicines, including drugs for treatment of AIDS in Africa, and affordable pricing in the United States.
  • Promoting “Impact Investing” – for reasonable ROI as well as beneficial outcomes for society through investments.
  • Promoting Islamic Finance.
  • On the corporate front, requesting greater transparency around lobbying by companies to influence climate change, healthcare and financial reforms, both directly and through trade associations and other third-party organizations.
  • Opposing “virtual-only” annual corporate meetings that prevent in –person interaction for shareholders.

Proxy Campaigns – Governance in Focus:

ICCR members are very active at proxy voting time.  Among the “wins” in 2017:

  • Getting roles of (combined) Chair & CEO split – 47% support of the votes for that at Express Scripts and 43% at Johnson & Johnson; 39% at Chevron.
  • More disclosure on lobbying expenditures – 42% support at Royal Bank of Canada and 41% at First Energy; 35% at Cisco and 25% at IBM.

# # #

Notes and References:

Information on the new Alliance is at: http://iccr.org/iccr-launches-new-alliance-amplify-global-investor-influence-human-rights

ICCR’s web site is at: www.iccr.org

And at http://iccr.org/our-issues/human-rights/investor-alliance-human-rights

The Alliance initiative is supported with funding from Humanity United and Open Society Foundations.

Influence and Reach:  The ICCR member organizations include the AFSCME union fund, Walden Asset Management, Boston Common Asset Management, Oxfam, The Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, and Maryknoll Sisters, American Baptist Churches, Mercy Investments, Christian Brothers Investment Services (CBIS), Wespath Investment Management, Everence Financial, Domini Social Investments, Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group, Gabelli Funds, Trillium Asset Management, Calvert Group, Clean Yield, The Nathan Cummings Foundation, and other institutional investors.

 

 

 

 

 

As the Global Demand for Palm Oil Rises, There is More Focus on the Growing Areas – and on Industry Behaviors Such as Deforestation

By Hank Boerner – Chair, G&A Institute

Palm Oil is one of the world’s most popular vegetable cooking oils and in western nations is widely used as prepared food ingredients. Food industry interests promote the benefits: lower cholesterol levels, less heart disease, more Vitamins A and E, and much more, derived from the rich beta-carotene from the pulp of oil palms.

Palm oil also shows up in our detergents, shampoo, cosmetics, pizza slices, cookies, margarine — and even in biofuels. Palm oil is especially used for cooking in Africa, Asia and parts of South America and is growing in favor in other regions such as in North America.

The palm oil plantations are located in such regions of the world as Southeast Asia – and there the industry is linked to the downside of the beneficial consumer product: deforestation, degrading of flora and fauna habitat, abuses of indigenous peoples, and negative impact on climate change as old growth land and tropical forest is cleared to make way for oil palm plantations.

Stakeholder reaction resulted in the creation of “reliable No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation” policies – the “NDPE”.

These were developed for certification (to buyers) by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and adopted in 2013 and 2014 by numerous Southeast Asian palm oil traders and refiners.

The policies (spelled out as best practices) are designed to prevent clearing of forests and peat lands for new palm oil plantations. There are 29 company groups, reports Chain Reaction Research, that have refining capabilities and have adopted NDPE policies. (Climate Reaction Research is a joint effort between Climate Advisers, Profundo and Aidenvironment.)

“Un-sustainable” palm oil practices are an issue for investors, customers (buying the oil), companies with sustainable practices, and countries in which palm oil is grown and harvested.

According to a new financial risk report from Chain Reaction Research, major markets with customers that accept “unsustainable palm oil” include India, China, Pakistan and Indonesia.

One of the major centers of production is the huge – more than 3,000-miles wide — Pacific Basin archipelago nation of Indonesia (once known as the Dutch East Indies). Almost half of the world’s palm oil refineries are in Indonesia and Malaysia.

The Indonesian government (the Ministry of Agriculture) reacted to the NDPE policies and proposed changes to its own certification program – known as the “Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil Standard” (ISPO) – that would appear to be presenting companies with pressure to adopt one or the other of the certifications.  (The ISPO policy focus is on reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions and addressing environmental issues.)

For Indonesia, palm oil is a strategic product that helps the government to meet job creation and export market goals. “Small holders” account for more than 40% of production in the country.

“Evidence suggests that the need for edible oil and energy will continue as populations grow, “Darmin Nasution, Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs for Indonesia points out. “Land that can be utilized will decrease, so the question is how to meet those needs in the limited land area. Increasing productivity will be the key.”

Companies using the existing Indonesian ISPO certification were accused of human rights abuses and “land grabs” and so in January the government developed the new certification, which opponents claim weakens protection (the draft changes for the regulation removes independent monitoring and replaces “protection” with “management” for natural ecosystems).

Stranded Asset Risks

CDP estimates that global companies in the industry had almost US$1 trillion in annual revenues at risk from deforestation-related commodities. As the developed nation buyers looked carefully at their global supply chains and sources, “stranded assets” developed; that is, land on which palm oil cannot be developed because of buyers’ NPDE procurement policies. Indonesia and Malaysia have some of the world’s largest suppliers.

Western Corporate Reaction

Early in 2018 PepsiCo announced that it and its J/V partner Indofood suspended purchasing of palm oil from IndoAgri because PepsiCo — a very prominent global brand marketer — is concerned about allegations about deforestation and human rights were not being met.

Institutional Investors are busily identifying companies that source Crude Palm Oil (“CPO”) without paying attention to sustainability requirements, putting pressure on both sellers and buyers and perhaps pushing the smaller players to the sidelines. European buyers import CPO in large quantities to be used in biofuels.

The bold corporate names in western societies show up in rosters of company groups with refining capacity and NDPE policies, including Bunge, Cargill, Louis Dreyfus Company, Unilever, and Wilmar International. These are large peer companies in the producing countries (like IOI Group, Daabon, Golden Agri-Resources) are aiming for “zero deforestation” in their NDPE policies.

Other companies that source palm oil include Kellogg’s, Procter & Gamble, Mars, General Mills, Mondelez International, and other prominent brand name markets.

Your can check out the Chain Reaction Research group paper – “Unsustainable Palm Oil Faces Increasing Market Access Risks – NDPE Sourcing Policies Cover 74% of Southeast Asia’s Refining Capacity” at: http://chainreactionresearch.com/2017/11/01/report-unsustainable-palm-oil-faces-increasing-market-access-risks-ndpe-sourcing-policies

What About Exercise of National Sovereignty?

This situation raises interesting questions for developed nation brand marketers. If the government of Indonesia presses forward with the country’s own standards, should the purchaser in a developed country ignore or embrace the country standard? Instead of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) standard? What about “sovereign rights,” as in the ability for a sovereign nation to establish its own policies and standards governing the products developed within its borders?

As industry groups create their own standards and invite industry participants to embrace these (such as for product certification), corporations may find themselves bumping up against “nationalistic” guidelines designed to benefit the internal constituencies rather than “global norms” imposed from outside the country’s borders.

# # #

Responding to the streams of negative news coming out of Indonesia, Chain Reaction Research on April 26 reported that Citigroup has cancelled loans to Indofood Agri Resources and its subsidiaries. Citigroup will exit its overall relationship with Indofood other than specific financial relationships that are not related to the palm oil business, says the research organization.

The research firm said that labor and environmental violations by Indofood and other companies related to Anthoni Salim and his family have been documented. The web of companies: Salim and family own 44% of First Pacific, which owns 74% of Indofood.

In April a report commissioned by Rainforest Action Network Foundation Norway and SumofUS and prepared by Chain Reaction Research alleged deforestation of almost 10,000 hectares of peatland by PT Duta Rendra – which is majority owned, the report says, by Salim and PT Sawit Khatulistiwa Lestan, which is associated by Salim.

Notes:

As we prepared this commentary, the Danish Institute for Human Rights and The Forest Trust carried out a Labour Rights Assessment of Nestle’s and Golden Agri-Resources palm oil supply chain in Indonesia.  Nestle’s and GAR and going to share their own action plans in response to the findings and recommendations.

For The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil information: https://www.rspo.org/

There is information from a recent conference in Jakarta for you at: https://www.scidev.net/asia-pacific/forestry/news/science-can-keep-palm-oil-industry-sustainable.html

The Indonesian Government ISPO information is at: http://www.ispo-org.or.id/index.php?lang=en

General Mills Statement on Responsible Palm Oil Sourcing is at: https://www.generalmills.com/en/News/Issues/palm-oil-statement

Rainforest Action Network information is at: https://www.ran.org/palm_oil?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIuJyBg97i2gIVE1mGCh3A-QMYEAAYASAAEgKZePD_BwE#

The Union of Concerned Scientists information is at: https://www.ucsusa.org/global-warming/stop-deforestation/drivers-of-deforestation-2016-palm-oil#.WudvOKjwbAw

They Are Beginning Now – the Long-Awaited Corporate Disclosures on Ratio of CEO Ratio – CEO Pay-to-Median-of-Workforce Pay

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

The big-deal and long-waited corporate announcements / disclosures are beginning in 1Q 2018. 

Way back when…after the 2008 financial crisis when the Dodd-Frank capital markets reform legislation was passed (in 2010)…one of the requirements was that public companies must develop a ratio and disclose this publicly: how much does the CEO earn, and what that is that compared to the median compensation of the employee workforce? (Half below/half above is the median level to be arrived in an analysis for public filing.)

This is the Ratio, CEO Pay-to-Median-Worker-Pay disclosures.

The Securities & Exchange Commission finally issued its guidance on all of this in September 2017 (companies and their trade associations had steadily pushed back on the 2010 disclosure mandate and the SEC struggled with the “how-to” rulemaking / or more “gentle” guidance, causing delays in applying the law).

So – today the CEO-Employee Pay Ratio is upon us – and the first important disclosures are coming out now – including the first filing for a S&P 100 firm.

Bloomberg Markets News reports that Honeywell International Inc’s filing shows that CEO Pay is 333 Times More Than Median Workers. CEO Darius Adamczyk’s pay package was $16.5 million in 2017; the median employee pay (for the company’s 130,000 workers) is $50,296.

The Honeywell CEO package for 2017 is 60% more than for the prior year (when he moved into the job).

Earlier this month Teva Pharmaceutical Industries disclosed a pay ratio of 302-to-1 ($19.4 million for the CEO, median worker $64,081).

The AFL-CIO projected a 347-to-1 ratio (CEO: $13.1 MM; workers, $37,000).

When the SEC guidance was firmed up in 2017, some market observers said this was a “local newspaper headline” and not something that serious investors would pay attention to.

The Los Angeles Times – both a regional newspaper and one with national reach and influence – now features this headline: “The First Official Report on CEO-Worker Pay Ratios Shows and Enormous 333-1 Gap at Honeywell”

LAT’s Pulitzer Prize-winning financial commentator Michael Hiltzik used words like “…obscene…raw figures…economic inequality…the 1%…telling…massively embarrassing..”

Sam Pizzigati, the prominent author and social commentator at the Washington DC think tank Economic Policy Institute, was quoted in the LA Times article:

“This is a confirmation of research done up to now,” Sam Pizzigati, a fellow at EPI, says of the Honeywell data. He expects some corporations to show much larger discrepancies. That could show up especially in the retail sector, where median earnings are likely to be well below the $50,000 level of Honeywell’s heavily professional workforce.

Walmart, for instance, says its average hourly pay for full-time workers was to reach $13.38, following a company-wide wage increase in 2016. That’s about $27,800. Its CEO, C. Douglas McMillon, was paid $22.4 million last year. That would create a ratio of about 805-to-1 based on hourly wages alone.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek writer Anders Melin published a piece in January – “Why Companies Fear Disclosing CEO-to-Workers Pay” — noting:

“U.S. companies must soon begin disclosing what many would rather keep secret: The ratio between the CEO’s compensation and the paycheck of the company’s median worker. The mandate was included in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act to shed light on the growing income gap between executives and workers. Opponents say it’s only meant to embarrass executives and won’t be useful to investors. One critic called it an example of bigotry against the successful.”

And: The disclosures will provide a first-ever glimpse into how thousands of U.S. companies compensate their workers, plus a more accurate sense than ever before of the CEO-to-worker pay gap.

A year ago, Alex Edmans writing in The Harvard Business Review said “…the numbers are striking…the idea is that a high pay ratio is unfair…I strongly believe that executive pay should be reformed…[but] the pay ratio is a misleading statistic because CEOs and workers operate in very different markets…”

His commentary is at:

https://hbr.org/2017/02/why-we-need-to-stop-obsessing-over-ceo-pay-ratios
(He is a professor of finance at London Business School.)

Our new “G&A Institute’s To the Point!” management brief platform has background on the CEO-Worker Pay Ratio, published for guidance in September 2017 as the SEC published its guidance:

IT’S H-E-R-E NOW: SEC Guidance on CEO-Employee Pay Rule Clarified in Interpretive Guidance. Your Company Should Be Prepared for First Quarter 2018 Disclosures and Beyond!

The information is at:
https://ga-institute.com/to-the-point/its-h-e-r-e-now-sec-guidance-on-ceo-employee-pay-rule-clarified-in-interpretive-guidance-your-company-should-be-prepared-for-first-quarter-2018-disclosures-and-beyond/

I have a chapter in my book (“Trends Converging!) about the pay rule (Chapter 9) – the entire book is available for you with my compliments at:
https://www.ga-institute.com/research-reports/trends-converging-a-2016-look-ahead-of-the-curve.html

We’ll continue to bring you news of the CEO-Worker Pay Ratio corporate disclosures in 1Q 2018– company announcements and the public response to same.

Proof of Concept for Sustainable Investing: The Influential Barron’s Names the Inaugural “The Top 100 Sustainable Companies — Big Corporations With The Best ESG Policies Have Been Beating the Stock Market.”

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

Barron’s 100 Most Sustainable Companies

Barron’s is one of the most influential of investor-focused publications (in print and digital format) and a few months ago (in October), the editors published the first of an ongoing series of articles that will focus on ESG performance and sustainable investing, initially making these points:

  • Barron’s plans to cover this burgeoning style of investing on a more regular basis. A lot of possible content that was developed was left on the cutting room floor, the editors note.
  • Says Barron’s: “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.”
  • And:  “Given the corporate scandals of recent days (Wells Fargo, Equifax, Chipotle, Volkswagen, Valeant Pharmaceuticals), it is clear that focus on companies with good ESG policies is the pathway to greater returns for investors!”

The current issue of Barron’s (Feb 5, 2018) has a feature article and comprehensive charting with this cover description:

The Top 100 Sustainable Companies – Big Corporations With the Best ESG Policies Have Been Beating the Market.”

Think of this as proof of concept: The S&P 500® Index Companies returned 22% for the year 2017 and the Barron’s Top 100 Sustainable Companies average return was 29%.

The 100 U.S. companies were ranked in five categories considering 300 performance indicators.  Barron’s asked Calvert Research and Management, a unit of Eaton Vance, to develop the list of the Top 100 from the universe of 1,000 largest publicly-held companies by market value, all headquartered in the United States.

Calvert looked at the 300 performance indicators that were provided by three key data and analytic providers that serve a broad base of institutional investors:

  • Sustainalytics,
  • Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS)
  • and Thomson Reuters ASSET4 unit.

Five umbrella categories were considered:

  • Shareholders
  • Employees
  • Customers
  • Planet
  • Community

There were items considered in the “shareholders” category, like accounting policies and board structure; employee workplace diversity and labor relations; customer, business ethics and product safety; planet; community; GHG emissions; human rights and supply chain.

We can say here that “good governance” (the “G” in ESG) is now much more broadly defined by shareholders and includes the “S” and “E” performance indicators (and management thereof), not the formerly-narrow definitions of governance. Senior managers and board, take notice.

Every company was ranked from 1-to-100, including even those firms manufacturing weapons (these firms are usually excluded from other indexes and best-of lists, and a number of third party recognitions).

Materiality is key: the analysts adjusted the weighting of each category for how material it was for each industry. (Example: “planet” is more material for chip makers using water in manufacturing, vs. water for banking institutions – each company is weighted this way.)

The Top 100 list has each company’s weighted score and other information and is organized by sector and categories; the complete list and information about the methodology is found at Barron’s.com.

The Top 5 Companies overall were:

  • Cisco Systems (CSCO)
  • salesforce.com (CRM)
  • Best Buy (BBY)
  • Intuit (INTU)
  • HP (HPQ)

The 100 roster is organized in categories:

  • The Most Sustainable Consumer Discretionary Companies (Best Buy is at #1)
  • The Most Sustainable Financials (Northern Trust is #1) – Barron’s notes that there are few banks in the Top 100. Exceptions: PNC Financial Services Group and State Street.
  • The Most Sustainable Industrials (Oshkosh is ranked #1)
  • The Most Sustainable Tech Outfits (Cisco is at the top)

Familiar companies names in the roster include Adobe Systems, Colgate-Palmolive, PepsiCo, Deer, UPS, Target, Kellogg, Apple, and Henry Schein.

Singled out for their perspectives to be shared in the Barron’s feature commenting on the ESG trends: John Wilson, Cornerstone Capital; John Streur, Calvert; Calvet Analyst Chris Madden; Paul Smith, CEO of CFA Institute; Jon Hale, Head of Sustainability Research at Morningstar.

Calvert CEO John Streur noted: “This list gives people insight into companies addressing future risks and into the quality of management.”

Top-ranked Cisco is an example of quality of management and management of risk: The company reduced Scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions by 41% since 2007 and gets 80% of its electricity from renewable sources.

This is a feature article by Leslie P. Norton, along with a chart of the Top 100 Companies.

She writes: “…Barron’s offers our first ranking of the most sustainable companies in the U.S. We have always aimed to provide information about what keenly interests investors – and what affects investment risk and performance…” And…”what began as an expression of values (“SRI”) is finding wider currency as good corporate practices…”

The complete list of the top companies is at Barron’s com. (The issue is dated February 5th, 2018)  You will need a password (for subscribers) to access the text and accompanying chart.

For in-depth information: We prepared a comprehensive management brief in October 2017 on Barron’s sustainable coverage for our “G&A Institute’s To the Point!” web platform: https://ga-institute.com/to-the-point/proof-of-concept-for-sustainable-investing-barrons-weighs-in-with-inaugural-list-of-top-100-sustainable-companies/

A Big Year, 2018 – Tipping Points For Developments in Corporate Sustainability & Sustainable Investing…

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

Volume & Velocity!
Those may be well the key characteristics of developments in corporate sustainability and in sustainable in the year 2018.

Linda-Eling Lee, Global Head of Research for MSCI’s ESG Research Group and her colleague Matt Moscardi (Head of Research Financial Sector, ESG) this week described what they are projecting in the traditional early-in-the-year setting out of key ESG trends to watch by the influential MSCI ESG team:

Bigger, faster, more – that’s how Linda describes the “onslaught of challenges happening soon and more dramatically that many could have imagined” in the corporate sector” (including public policy, technology, and climate change as key factors).

Investors (in turn) are looking for ways to better position their portfolios to navigate the uncertainty of the 2018 operating environment in the corporate sector.

As the “heads up” for investors and companies– the five key 2018 trends projected by MSCI’s ESG researchers/analysts:

  • Investors will be using ESG “signals” to navigate the size/shape of the Emerging Markets investment universe to pick the winners for portfolios.
  • The first steps are coming in “scenario testing” for climate change (this is systematically looking at risks emanating from company carbon footprints across asset classes, with short- and long-term transition scenarios).
  • The fixed-income universe will see acceleration (velocity) with the alignment of ESG frameworks by investors across all asset classes.
  • And this is very important for the corporate sector:

Investors are looking beyond the growing volume of corporate disclosure and reporting for data.
Keep In Mind: 65% of a company’s rating by MSCI is based on data sources beyond the corporate reporting!

 

  • MSCI sees 2018 as the Year of the Human – it’s about human talent, talent, talent!  That is, what companies do to help in the transitioning to new working environments (with the changes brought about by automation, artificial intelligence, robotics) that will be factored into the analysis of public companies by the MSCI ESG team, and measured over time (for outcomes over a 3-year horizon).

Linda Eling-Lee observed:  These are the major trends that we think will shape how investors approach the risks and opportunities in 2018.

Already, at the Davos meetings this week, major global firms in IT are creating an initiative to “tech-reskill” one million people to meet the global skills gap challenge inherent in the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” (firms are Cisco, Accenture, CA Technologies, HP, Infosys, Salesforce, SAP, Tata Consultancy, others).

What we think company managements / boards should expect in the “volume and velocity” context:  many more investors (the volume / especially large fiduciaries) are embracing comprehensive ESG factors in their analysis and portfolio management approaches with a faster uptake of this trend among the mainstream elements of the capital markets players (the velocity).

Voluntary reporting by companies has its limits in providing a full picture of the companies’ ESG risks,” the MSCI ESG researchers note. “In 2018 we anticipate that the disclosure movement reaches a tipping point, as investors seek broader data sources that balance the corporate narrative and yield better signals for understanding the ESG risk landscape actually faced by portfolio companies”

# # #

Buzzing:  The Larry Fink CEO-to-CEO Message for 2018

Speaking of significant influence, the head of the world’s largest asset management firm sent an important CEO-to-CEO letter to stress the importance of companies having “a social purpose”

Background:  BlackRock engages with about 1,500 companies a year on a range of ESG issues, meeting with boards of directors and CEOs, and other shareholders when that is needed.

Each year, CEO Fink reaches out to the CEOs of companies in portfolio to alert them to the key issues in focus for BlackRock (as fiduciary).

For 2017-2018, the key Investment Stewardship priorities are:

  • Corporate Governance / Accountability
  • Corporate Strategy
  • Executive Compensation Policies
  • Human Capital (again — there’s the focus on talent management)
  • Climate Risk Disclosure

Larry Fink is the Founder, Chair, and CEO of BlackRock and heads the firm’s “Global Executive Committee.” BlackRock is about to celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2018.  It now manages more than US$6 trillion (Assets Under Management-AUM).

Of this, $1.7 trillion is in active funds managed by the company.  As one of the world’s most important and influential (and trend-setting) fiduciaries BlackRock engages with company management to drive the sustainable, long-term growth clients need to meet their goals.

“Indeed,” CEO Fink said in his letter to CEOs, ”the public expectations of your company has never been higher.”

“Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose…to prosper over time, every company must show it makes a positive contribution to society.”

“Without a sense of purpose, no company…can achieve its full potential…it will ultimately lose the license to operate from key stakeholders…”

# # #

The Key Word on Responsible Investing Growth is Global, RBC Reported

In October 2017, RBC Global Asset Management (RBC GAM) conducted its second annual global survey of asset managers.  Two-out-of-three respondents said they used ESG considerations, and 25% will increase their allocations to managers with ESG investment strategies to offer in 2018.

Does ESG mitigate risk…or drive alpha?  Answers were mixed.  Some asset managers are increasing their allocation and others are skeptical, especially about the accuracy and value of the available data on corporate ESG performance.

For 2018:  RBC sees responsible investing as a global trend, with many managers incorporating ESG in analysis and portfolio management due to client (asset owner) demand.

# # #

Tracking Company Behaviors – The RepRisk ESG Risk Platform

One of the leading producers of research and business intelligence for the banking and investment communities is RepRisk, based in Zurich, Switzerland. The firm started in 2006 to serve bank clients wanting to be alerted to real or possible risk issues in the corporate sector.

RepRisk developed artificial intelligence and data mining tools, that along with human analysis, “reduces blind spots and sheds light on risks that can have reputational, compliance and financial impacts on a company…”

Today, there are 100,000-plus companies in the RepRisk database (both listed and non-listed, from all countries and sectors). The firm started out monitoring 100 companies for clients.  The daily screening is delivered in 16 languages and about 50 companies a day are added for screening.  Is your company one of those tracked?  What are the risks tracked?

# # #

Does Adoption of ESG Approaches Sacrifice Corporate Performance?

Robeco, one of the world’s leading financial services firms (based on The Netherlands), and a sister company of RobecoSAM, managers of the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes, looked at the question of whether or not the adoption of ESG / sustainability approaches “cost” the company performance.

Adopting sustainability approaches does require investment, but companies with poor ESG performance also have greater risks and “seriously under-perform” their peers.  And investors “win” by investing in the better performers (that reduce risk, strategize around climate change, reduce bad behaviors).

Says Robeco:  “…a growing body of evidence concludes that companies which are progressively more sustainable today will reap the rewards of the future…and it may save their businesses…”

The Company’s positioning:  “Robeco is an international asset manager offering an extensive range of active investments, from equities to bonds. Research lies at the heart of everything we do, with a ‘pioneering but cautious’ approach that has been in our DNA since our foundation in Rotterdam in 1929. We believe strongly in sustainability investing, quantitative techniques and constant innovation.”

# # #

CalPERS, America’s Leading Public Employee System – Corporate Engagement on Diversity Issues

“CalPERS: is the California Public Employee’s Retirement System, the largest state investment fund in the United States with about $350 billion in total fund market AUM.

CalPERS sent letters to 504 companies in the Russell 3000 Index to engage on the issue of diversity on the companies’ boards of directors.

CalPERS request:  the company should develop and then disclose their corporate board diversity policy, and the details of the plan’s implementation (to address what CalPERS sees as lack of diversity in the companies).

“Simply put, board diversity is good for business,” said Anne Simpson, CalPERS’ investment director for sustainability.

Starting in Fall 2017 and into 2018, CalPERS is monitoring companies’ progress on the matter and making it a topic for engagement discussions.  If a company lags in progress, CalPERS will consider withholding votes from director-candidates at annual voting time (at annual meetings).

# # #

The Climate Action 100+ Investor Initiative

 Sign of the times: More than 200 investors supporting action on climate change by the corporate sector are focusing on the board room of such companies as ExxonMobil, Boeing, GE, P&G, Ford, Volvo, PepsiCo, BP, Shell, Nestle, Airbus, and  other  enterprises (the “100” plus companies in focus) to dialogue on their GhG emissions as contributions to global warming.

The 100 corporates are said to account for 85% of the total GhG emissions worldwide – they need to step up, says the Coalition, and develop strategies and take action (and disclose!) to address the issue.  The investors manage more than $26 trillion in AUM, and are coordinating their efforts through five partnerships…

# # #

McKinsey Weighs In – ESG No Longer “Niche” – Assets Are Soaring

The McKinsey & Co. experts studied ESG investing and reported to corporate clients that of the $88 trillion in AUM in the world’s capital markets (in late-October), more than $1-in-$4 (25%-plus) are invested according to ESG principles.  That’s a growth of 17% a year, and ESG has become “a large and fast-growing market segment.”

# # #

Investors Are Not Forgetting – Rana Plaza Still in Focus

One of the characteristics of the sustainable investing market players is having-the-memory-of-the-elephant.  Do you remember the Rana Plaza apparel factory tragedy of five years ago?  Most media reporters and commentators have moved on to other crisis events.

Investors are signing on to a statement – “Investors Call on Global Brands to Re-commit to the Bangladesh Accord for Fire and Building Safety” – with focus on the upcoming fifth anniversary of the statement signed (in May 2013) after the accident that killed more than 1,000 workers in Bangladesh.

Reforms were promised in the Accord by industry participants and trade unions.

# # #

Another Example of Investor Action – McDonald’s

“In a win for the health of the world’s oceans,” began the As You Sow shareholder advocacy group announcement, “McDonald’s Corp. agreed to end the use of polystyrene foam packaging – worldwide! – – by the end of 2018.

The advocacy group had campaigned to have the fast food retailer stop using foam cups and takeout containers.

A shareholder proposal filed by As You Sow in May 2017 requested the company stop using polystyrene and 32% of shares voted (worth $26 billion at the time) voted to support.

# # #

Finally – What a Low-Carbon Economy Looks Like – California Dreamin’

The State of California is the world’s sixth largest economy all by itself!

While President Donald Trump upon taking office fulfilled one of his signature campaign promises – beginning the process of withdrawal from the historic COP 21 Paris Accord on climate change – California Governor Edmund (Jerry) G. Brown, Jr is moving ahead with his state’s plans to move to a low-carbon economy.

The Global Climate Change Action Summit is scheduled for September 2018 in San Francisco, California.

The theme, as described by the governor:  “Sub-national governments” (cities & states), business sector leaders, investors and civil society leaders will gather to “demonstrate the groundswell of innovative, ambitious climate action from leaders around the world, highlight economic and environmental transition already underway and spur deeper commitment from all parties, including national governments.”

Says the governor: “California remains committed to a clean energy future and we welcome the responsibility to lead on America’s behalf…”

# # #

Coming:  ISS QualityScores for “E” and “S” for 1,500 Companies

As we communicated in early January, Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) has expanded its long-term focus on corporate governance to encompass “E” and “S” issues for its QualityScore product for fiduciaries (its client base).  In late-January it is expected that ISS will issue the first wave of scores for 1,500 companies in six industries, expanding to 5,000 companies in additional industries by mid-year 2018.

The first 1,500 companies to be scored are in Autos & Components; Capital Goods; Consumer Durables & Apparel; Energy; Materials; and, Transportation.

The QualityScore is a Disclosure and Transparency Signal that investor-clients are seeking, says ISS, and an important resource for investors to conduct comparisons with corporate peers.

Keep in mind:  ISS serves its 1,700 clients with coverage in 117 global markets.

# # #

There’s much more information on this and other critical 2018 tipping points for corporate managers and investment professionals in the comprehensive management brief from the G&A Institute team posted on our G&A Institute’s “To the Point!” platform for you.

We’re presenting here more details on the MSCI trends forecast, the BlackRock CEO-to-CEO letter about Social Purpose for the Corporation, California’s move toward a low-carbon economy,  RepRisk’s focus areas for corporate behavior…and a host of additional important developments at the start of the year 2018 that will shape the operating environment throughout the year – and beyond! Read the brief here!

The Important Group of ESG Rankers for Institutional Investors Expands to a Significant Player — Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS)

Traditional Corporate Governance Focus Expanding to Encompass  ISS Environmental & Social QualityScores for 1,500 Public Companies Coming in January… Expanding to 5,000 Companies in Q2…

by Hank Boerner – G&A Institute Chair

A significant new player is now entering the mix of the growing number of organizations providing institutional investors with ESG rankings and data.

At G&A Institute, we’ve been tracking the growth of these organizations (such as MSCI, Sustainalytics, RobecoSAM, Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters, and others) and work with our clients to help managements understand, optimize and utilize these important intelligence points coming from the rapidly-growing number of investors considering ESG.

Founded in 1985 as Institutional Shareholder Services Inc., ISS is the world’s leading provider of corporate governance and responsible investment solutions for asset owners, asset managers, hedge funds, and asset service providers. Institutional investors today rely on ISS’ expertise to help them make informed corporate governance decisions, integrate responsible investing policies and practices into their strategy, and execute upon these policies through end-to-end voting.

Among the issues monitored, analyzed and perspectives and opinions offered to the investors by ISS:  board room makeup; qualifications of individual board candidates standing for election; CEO compensation; separation of the posts of chair of the board and chief executive officer; proposed transactions such as merger or acquisition; shareholder rights; transparency and disclosure of board and C-suite activities; “over-boarding by directors”…and more.

Over the decades ISS has been a powerful and very visible force in annual corporate proxy voting issues, offering advice to the client base to help the institutions exercise their fiduciary duties, including the mechanics of the voting process during the annual electoral season.

Consider the influence of ISS in the capital markets:  117 global markets covered; 40,000 corporate meetings reviewed; on behalf of 1,700 global institutional investor clients.

Now, “E” and “S” along with “G” issues are coming into sharp focus for ISS – due to the demand of its institutional clients – and included in the QualityScore process.

Tune in now to an important development that significantly expands the influence of ISS and communicates new dimensions of “G” (governance) into the ESG space (E=environmental, S=social, societal issues).  The E and S QualityScore builds on ISS’s market-leading Governance QualityScore, which provides a measure of governance risk, performance, disclosure and transparency in Board Structure, Compensation, Shareholder Right, and Audit & Risk Oversight.

The E&S QualityScore, says ISS, provides a measure of corporate disclosure practices and transparency to shareholders and stakeholders.  This is the Disclosure and Transparency Signal that investor-clients seek, and is a resource that enables effective comparison with company peers.

ISS had been an independent organization, then was acquired by MSCI, and later divested, becoming a unit of the P/E firm Vestar Capital; it was purchased by Genstar Capital in October 2017.  To rebuild the firm’s ESG capabilities lost as a result of the 2014 spinoff from MSCI,  ISS in September 2015 acquired Ethix SRI Advisors, one of Europe’s leading ESG analytics and advisory firms with offices in Scandinavia.

In January 2017, ISS also acquired IW Financial, one of the leading ESG analytics firms in the United States (based in Maine), and in June of 2017 acquired the climate investment data unit of Zurich-based South Pole Group.

ISS’s initial expansion beyond “G” to include Environmental and Social issues in the QualityScore, which will be announced on January 18, covers companies in six industries:  (1) Autos and Components; (2) Capital Goods; (3) Consumer Durables & Apparel; (4) Energy; (5) Materials; and, (6) Transportation – roughly 1,500 companies in all.

Public company managements have been invited to respond to the new “E&S” data verification process for their company (the period ends January 12th).

In 2Q the program expands to include 3,500 more corporate entities in other industries (the total corporate universe in focus by mid-year will be 5,000-plus public companies).

These ratings will be a critical part of a company’s ESG profile for the rapidly expanding number investors with Assets Under Management (AUM) that are considering ESG in their investment decision-making.  This number, as of the latest 2016 US SIF survey includes US$8.72 trillion out of $40.3 trillion total AUM in the United States.  This is now $1-out-of-every-$5   in the U.S. capital markets –and globally the numbers are even more striking with the latest GSIA report showing even larger percentages and rapid expansion in every other part of the world.

The G&A Institute team will be communicating much more detail about this important new initiative by ISS in the weeks ahead, through our various communications channels.  For more information, contact EVP Louis D. Coppola at: lcoppola@ga-institute.com or ISS at ESGHelpdesk@Issethix.com

There are details here on the ESG QualityScore:
https://www.issgovernance.com/file/faq/es-key-issues-discloure-transparency-qualityscore.pdf

For those interested in the Quality Score for Core Corporate Governance Practices in Focus:https://www.issgovernance.com/file/products/1_QS-2017-Methodology-Update-27Oct2017.pdf

Information on ISS Corporate Solutions is here:  https://login.isscorporatesolutions.com/galp/login

AN IMPORTANT UPDATE ON ISS’ EXPANSION INTO ESG
A thorough exploration of ISS’ new E and S QualityScores is available on the G&A Institute’s To The Point! platform including a conversation with Marija Kramer, Head of ISS’ Responsible Investment Business. This important brief is available without subscription, with our compliments by clicking here.

SEC Proposes Important Amendments to Corporate Disclosure & Reporting – Changes Are in the Wind — But Corporate ESG Disclosure Is Not Addressed in the SEC Proposals …

October 12 2017 – by Hank Boerner – Chair, G&A Institute

On October 11, 2017 important news was coming from the Securities Exchange Commission (in Washington DC) for corporate leaders and investment professionals: a comprehensive package of proposed changes (amendments) to existing rules for corporate disclosure and reporting was released for public examination and comment.

There are more than 250 pages of proposed changes and adjustments released for your reading (the document will be published now in the Federal Register for broad communication to stakeholders).

You’ll remember the April 2016 activities as SEC released a 200-plus page Concept Release that addressed a range of issues that could result in revamping the overarching parts of Regulation S-K and parts of Regulation Fair Disclosure (“Reg FD“) and other corporate disclosures required by Federal statutes.

We told you about this in our post of May 13, 2016.
Link: http://ga-institute.com/Sustainability-Update/tag/sec-concept-release/

We said then: Maybe…U.S. Companies will be required…or strongly advised…to disclose ESG Data and related business information…

There were great hopes raised when the Commission in circulating the Concept Release document devoted more than a dozen pages to discussion about ESG, sustainable investing, the possibility of “guidance” or perhaps amending rules to meet investors’ expectations that public companies would begin, expand, improve on, ESG disclosure.

Numerous investor interests provided comments to the SEC in support of the possibilities raised by SEC in the dozen pages of the Concept Release devoted to ESG et al.

The US SIF — the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investing, a very influential trade association of asset owners and managers — provided important input, as did the CFA Institute (the U.S.-based, global certification organization for financial analysts and portfolio managers worldwide).

Disclosure of material ESG issues was a key concern of the numerous responders in the public comment period.

This week’s development: The SEC Commission proposed amendments to existing regulations that are part of the “Modernization and Simplification of Regulation S-K,” citing a different package of legislation. (The FAST Act Modernization, which in part will the sponsors said will attempt to “prune the regulatory orchard” — this is part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act or “FAST”.)

The Commission referred to the proposals as an important step “…to modernize and simplify disclosure requirements for public companies, investment advisors and mutual fund (investment) companies under the FAST Act…”

This, said recently-appointed SEC Chair Jay Clayton, “…is the most effective way to update SEC rules, simplify forms and utilize technology to make disclosure more accessible…”

The proposed amendments were characterized as part of the overall, long-term review of the SEC’s disclosure system. Thus, the SEC said the proposed amendments reflect “perspectives developed during the staff’s broader review…including public input on the prior Concept Release.

The details are available for you in a new 253-page document, at: https://www.sec.gov/rules/proposed/2017/33-10425.pdf

You have 60 days of open comment period ahead during which to express your views on the proposals.

The proposed amendments mostly address corporate governance (G”) issues that if adopted would:

• Change such items as Description of Property**; the MD&A; Directors, Executive Officers, Promoters and Control Persons; Compliance with Section 16(a) of the Exchange Act; Outside Cover Page of the Prospectus.

• Revise rules and forms to update, streamline and improve the SEC disclosure framework by eliminating risk factor examples listed in the disclosure requirement and revising the description of “the property requirement” to emphasize the materiality threshold**”.

Note that while “property” is usually a facility, this does not always apply to the service sectors.

• Update rules as needed to reflect changes since the rules were first adopted or last amended. (Including, “corporate governance” items, such as for Board Auditing, Compensation Committee operations.)

• Simplify the overall disclosure process, including treatment of confidential information; also, changes would be made to the MD&A to allow for “flexibility in discussing historical periods”. (The discussion on confidential info runs for pages – important to read for corporate managers involved in disclosure.)

• Treatment of subsidiaries.

• Incorporate technology to improve access to information requiring data tagging (XBRL) for items on the cover page and use of hyperlinks (HTML) by reference and in the EDGAR system.

Again – the public now has 60 days to submit comments on the proposed amendments (to such statutory authority as the Securities Act of 1933; Securities Exchange Act of 1934; Investment Company Act of 1940; and, regulations under these landmark securities protection laws of the land).

There are numerous sections within the proposed amendment document where the Commission is inviting public comment. To submit your comments, see: http://www.sec.gov/rules/proposed.shtml — file#S7-08-17

Disappointing News: There is no mention that we could find in the proposal document that addressed the many comments that were directed to the SEC staff in response to the earlier Concept Release by sustainable & responsible investor interests. And, in many investor conversations with SEC staff that acknowledged the growing importance of disclosure regarding corporate sustainability and ESG performance.

No mention of: Climate Change. ESG. Responsible Investment.

This is very troubling — no doubt members of the investment community and corporate leaders well along on their sustainability journey will be providing their perspectives to SEC — and the media, and elected officials — on this important oversight.

SEC guidance for corporate reporters regarding their ESG, sustainability, responsibility, citizenship, etc disclosures and reporting activities would be very helpful – right?  Of course, we are in a new political environment now, and perhaps that is helping to shape the agenda at the Commission as “reforms” are drafted and distributed for public consumption.

There is much more news to come when the response to the announcement begins. Stay Tuned!

P.S. – if you/your organization responds to the draft proposals, please do let G&A know so we can publicize your perspectives.

Movers & Shakers in Shareholder Activism — Watch the 2015 Proxy Season and ICCR

by Hank Boerner – Chairman, G&A Institute

For more than 35 years, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) has been in the forefront of pressing for changes and reforms in corporate policies, practices and behaviors. This is a coalition of 300 institutional investment organizations — mainly faith-based and “values-driven” institutions — directly managing US$100 billion in assets.

Members include major religious denominations, sustainable & responsible investing organizations, foundations, unions, colleges & universities, and social issue advocacies.

ICCR through its long0-term activism and corporate engagement — especially in proxy season and importantly, year-round — influences many billions of dollars more in AUM in the US and global capital markets.

Issues on focus for ICCR members in 2014 included:

Corporate Governance — a traditional/perennial set of concerns; this includes separation and chair and CEO positions, and independence of board members;

The Environment – especially global warming / climate change and environmental justice;

Food – access to nutritious food, ag & land use, use of antibiotics in meat animals, food & sustainability…and more; note that for ICCR, food issues include the impact of climate change on growing areas (such as flooding and droughts);

Global Health – access to medicines by people in less-developed economies is a long-standing concern of members, who over the decades have engaged with pharma companies change marketing practices;

Human Rights — increasingly in recent years the focus on corporate supply chain behaviors, policies, and actions has increased;

Water – this ties in to human rights and access to water is a key factor; also, the trend to privatization of water supply is an important focus;

Financial Services – responsible lending was in focus long before the major banks took on too much risk and led the nation into crisis with subprime lending shenanigans; as investors, ICCR members are focused on “risk” as much and perhaps more than many mainstream institutions.

Big issues for ICCR members in recent years includes the focus on corporate political spending (lobbying, contributions); and, strategies / policies / actions / disclosures (and especially lack thereof) on the part of companies in member investment portfolios.

Says the coalition:  “ICCR members advocate for greater transparency around how company resources are used to impact elections, regulations and public policy.”

ICCR through member organizations engages with corporate boards and managements to discuss issues of importance to members, who operate in “a multi-stakeholder collaboration.”  Typically, brand names among public companies are the enterprises engaged for discussion.  Changes made at the brand names will eventually affect (and result in change) for more companies in the industry or sector or geography.

At G&A Institute we have long had a collaborative relationship with ICCR and see [ICCR] actions as important sustainable investment leadership positioning by key institutional and individual investors on ESG issues — especially in the annual corporate proxy voting seasons.

Recently Al-Jazeera America network broadcast an informative segment featuring ICCR leadership –the program interviews feature Sister Pat Daly (leader of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment), Sister Barbara Aires (Sisters of Charity of Paterson NJ), and ICCR Chair Father Seamus Finn, OMI (Missionary of Oblates of Mary Immaculate).

Father Finn is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post — his very readable posts are at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-seamus-p-finn-omi/

Sister Pat, the segment reported, filed 20 proxy resolutions and had corporate engagement meetings in 2014.

The segment is available on line at:  https://ajam.app.boxcn.net/s/7bkt7oc4mpymnfuow3g3

Worth noting:  In December, JP Morgan Chase released a report on changes in how the company does business; ICCR member institutions invested in JPMC welcomed the public release of the report.

Stay Tuned to ICCR in the new year — it’s an important capital markets force…”Inspired by faith, committed to action.”

ICCR is led by Executive Director Laura Berry; you can learn more about her at:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJ4PzEpyiD4; information on ICCR is at:  www.iccr.org

 

The Corporate Proxy Season is Underway – ESG Issues Are in Focus

by Hank Boerner, Chairman, G&A Institute

It’s a new year and the 2014 corporate proxy season is really underway, and the topics in focus are reflective of asset owners’ and managers’ concerns about key societal issues. Managements taking no action on the issues, deciding the wrong actions, or boards and managers ignoring the facts regarding key topics of concern to the asset owners could lead to greater risk, lost opportunities, and dramatic hits on corporate reputation — and share price valuations.

And all of that that could affect the value of the investors’ holdings. Since many of the shareowners are fiduciaries (think of SRI mutual funds, public employee pension funds, state trust funds), the growing consensus is that as fiduciaries, asset owners have a duty to be vocal, to actively engage with corporate management, and to take strong stands on key ESG issues. And, in some cases, to bring those issues to the electoral process at proxy time so all shareholders can have their say. Of course, there is usually negative press resulting for some companies.

“Proxy season” used to be those times of year when certain gadflies showed up to (in the view of management and board) ” harass” the assembled corporate leadership. (Such pioneer proxy luminaries as the Gilbert Brothers and Evelyn Davis come to mind.)

Today, the proxy  season is actually a year-round engagement, with advocates such as the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) institutional members active in dialogue with corporate managements and board members on various E-S-G issues. One sea change of a decade ago or more was the linking of traditional corporate governance concerns with environmental and social or societal issue concerns, and working through the barriers to getting their resolution to the proxy statement and to vote.

Linking “good governance” practices with progress (or lack of) on supply chain issues, or product stewardship, marketing practices, protection of natural resources, or lobbying and political spending, now helps advocates avoid the “no action” letter from the SEC that allowed corporate managements to ignore the shareholder’s resolution. (In the past, the usual practice of SEC staff was to advise the company protesting the draft resolution that “no action” would be recommended to the commissioners if the company ignored the draft.)

So what is in store for 2014 corporate proxy voting — what are the issues in focus? Sustainable & responsible investing (SRI) advocates are raising issues with companies about public policy and climate. (As we write this, every US state is in the grip of a cold wave, that is being linked to climate change by experts.)  For two decades now, investors have engaged company managements about climate change.

Now, coalitions of shareholders are involved in a larger collective effort — “Raising the Bar” — in response, they say, to the expanding and alarming scientific evidence of our changing climate. And, as long-term advocates like Tim Smith of Walden Asset Management point out, the resulting significant environmental and economic impacts on the corporate enterprise. Investor interests are very concerned about climate change.

A number of companies — AEP, Chevron, Conoco, ExxonMobil — have received draft resolutions by coalition shareowners urging boards and managements to re-examine their opposition to regulation and legislation intended to address climate change. That includes their lobbying on climate change issues and disclosing more about those actions to their owners.

It’s not just direct company actions in focus — the shareowners include the corporation-funded efforts of the US Chamber of Commerce , the oil lobby (American Petroleum Institute) and the National Association of Manufacturers in the lobbying and advocacy on issues…

Beyond climate change, other proxy resolutions call for companies to re examine their state-level lobbying, especially through such groups as ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), which operates primarily with corporate contributions and promotes conservative public policy issues with :”model” legislation which often moves from state-to-state. (An example is the “Stand Your Ground” laws adopted by a number of states.)

The companies in focus include Microsoft, Pfizer, Time Warner Cable, and UPS. Among the prime movers in this initiative: State of Connecticut Retirement Plans, Zevin Asset Management, Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, and Walden Asset Management clients.

Some companies are responding to shareowner concerns — Coca-Cola, John Deere, Dell, P&G, GE, GM, Unilever, and Wal-Mart have reduced their involvement or quit ALEC,according to information provided by Walden Asset Management.

Other concerns: ICCR’s David Schilling advises that an issue now in focus is the garment industry’s pricing policies, following the Rana Plaza tragic fire in Bangladesh (killing 1,000+ people). The “Accord for Fire and Building Safety” addresses pricing practices and the almost 300 institutional members of ICCR and other shareholder advocates are focused on current pricing models, outsourcing, and prevailing wages in developing countries.

And, from Green Century Capital Management we hear that more than 40 institutional investors representing US$270 billion in AUM are urging the other invesotrs, major palm oil products, consumers, and major shareholders in such companies as food marketers Kellogg and financiers HSBC to support an effort to not contribute to further deforestation or support human rights violations. “Fueling deforestation is bad business for any company seeking to position itself as a responsible, sophisticated global player,” says Lucia von Reusner, Green Century’s shareholder advocate.

Ceres helps to mobilize business and investor leadership on climate change. Rob Berridge, director of shareholder engagement, says investors Ceres works with are asking corporate managements to actively address forced labor, deforestation, habitat destruction, and accelerating GhG emission, and to develop and operate palm plantations more responsibly.

Consumer-facing brand companies — Uniliver, Kellogg, Dunkin Donuts, HSBC — are facing high-profile consumer campaigns on palm oil issues. Some companies are saying in response that they will purchase of finance palm oil that has been certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

There is much more action to come in the days ahead as the peak of proxy voting nears — we’ll bring you news and commentary and insight on trends in this space.  Stay Tuned to the 2014 ESG-focused proxy campaigns.