Questions We Are Thinking About in the Midst of Major Disruption on Sustainable Investing Trends & Corporate Sustainability Journeys

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

As the global coronavirus pandemic continues to uproot our normal business, financial, economic and personal pursuits, questions that we could logically ask are…

(1) what impact does the virus crisis have on the ongoing corporate sustainability / ESG / citizenship efforts; and

(2) what is the investor reaction – does the move into more sustainable / ESG investment vehicles continue?

Some answers come from Sanghamitra Saha, of Zack’s, writing in Yahoo Finance – “Here’s Why ESG ETFs Are Hot Amid Pandemic”.

He begins by explaining that ESG investing has remained “hot” since the pre-outbreak period, and as Wall Street recorded its worst quarter overall since Q 2008, ESG ETFs appeared [somewhat] resilient to acute selloffs in Q1 2020. (Read, he says: “ESG ETFs Appear Unscathed by the Coronavirus Carnage”.)

These investment vehicles had US$8 billion-plus inflow in 2019, four times their total 2018 inflow. In the first three months of 2020 the flow into ESG Exchange Traded Funds was $6.7 billion — pushing total assets in such funds to $19 billion (only a bit less than the total in February 2018).

Several of these ETFs outperformed the S&P 500® and came close to the Nasdaq performance (which has been the hot place for returns in 2020, bouncing close to the 9000 mark as we write this).

What are some of the reasons for such outperformance even during the virus crisis?

The author shares perspectives from Morningstar and Bloomberg, and presents data on performance on some of the ETFs offered by Nuveen, State Street SPDRs, Vanguard, and iShares MSCI.

We’ve been seeing news and commentary about this trend since the start of the virus crisis as investors seek out what they consider to be more resilient, “safer” companies as packaged in the respective ESG ETFs.  What are public company managements doing to be part of this trend?

Mary Mazzoni, Senior Editor of Triple Pundit and Managing Editor of CR Magazine, shares news from the corporate sector in “Sustainability Isn’t Stopping:  Just Ask These Companies.”

The firms and the stories of their continuing sustainability journeys that she profiles include Bayer and Microsoft.

She begins by addressing the comments of business columnist John D. Stoll in The Wall Street Journal…that “several top companies are starting to put the brakes on their ESG programs due to economic strain…”

Pushing back in TriplePundit:  “Right now we’re all understandably consumed with the human suffering and economic strain posed by the pandemic…but we’re not convinced we’ll see a sunsetting of sustainability – and the eight corporate examples are just some of the reasons why…”

The two Top Stories present the two answers to the questions posed up top.  And throughout the collection in this week’s newsletter you’ll see other answers presented in slightly different form.

The good news from the G&A Institute offices is that our corporate clients continue with vigor and strong commitment on their respective sustainability journeys, even as operations are disrupted by the virus crisis.

Managers tell us that questions from their investors about sustainability, ESG and related issues continue to increase, and major customers continue to ask questions related to their own supply chain management.

2020 is a challenging year – and sustainable, resilient companies are stepping up to meet the challenges, setting a welcome pace.

Top Stories

Here’s Why ESG ETFs Are Hot Amid Pandemic
Source: Yahoo Finance – Environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) investing has remained a hot favorite among investors since the pre-outbreak period. Wall Street recorded the worst quarter to start 2020 since the fourth quarter of 2008. But ESG ETFs appeared somewhat resilient to acute selloffs in Q1 (read: ESG ETFs Appear Unscathed by the Coronavirus Carnage).

Sustainability Isn’t Stopping: Just Ask These Companies
Source: Triple Pundit – Over the weekend, a sustainability-focused Wall Street Journal article started making the rounds on social media. In it, business columnist John D. Stoll notes that several top companies are starting to pump the brakes on their…

And here’s some additional perspectives on the two questions to mull over:

Seven Ways To Make Business Truly Sustainable Post-COVID
Source: Forbes – We humans are a spectacularly resilient species. Wars, famines, plagues, economic crashes – we dust ourselves off and press on. So we will get beyond COVID-19. But is it too much to hope that, devastating as the virus’s effects…

Can companies still afford to care about sustainability?
Source: FT – Note — Please use the sharing tools found via the share button at the top or side of articles. Copying articles to share with others is a breach of FT.com T&Cs and Copyright Policy….

Addressing Supply Chain Challenges in the COVID-19 Era

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

Since the concept of a “new world order” helped to usher in a new era in global trade some 30+ years ago with the end of the Cold War, barriers to trade have continued to tumble. “GATT” (the “General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade” continuing rounds of global trade talks that began in 1947 under United States leadership) gave way to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995.  New rules were applied, and trade continued to become “more liberalized”.  Corporate interests responded with dispersal of many their operations.

Large manufacturing companies spread out their sourcing to many new areas of the world, building a substantial network of suppliers in far-off lands. Mid-sized and smaller firms followed the example and began to source globally.  Manufacturing moved from “home country” to be situated in many other countries over time.

As companies set up their operations in many countries and sourced almost everywhere on the globe; fleets of cargo vessels plied the seas with stacks of containers on their decks.

Result:  today’s diverse, complex, spread out networks of tier one, two and three suppliers, and non-home country factories and facilities — many in China and East Asia and Pacifica nations — have dramatically changed the face and very nature of “home country companies” (such as those based in North America and Western Europe).

Therein, we find the risk!  Today we present two commentaries for you on today’s global supply chains and how to make these more links less risky and more sustainable — and to address the inherent risk in the global supply chain mix.

Writing in SupplyChainBrain, David Cahn suggests “…it is essential for companies and their supply chains to realize that customers prefer to engage with organizations that are focused on environmental sustainability. Significant opportunities exist for leveraging people, processes and technologies to achieve operational efficiencies.”

He suggests five steps in “the Pursuit of Sustainability” that spans the corporate enterprise.  His five areas “ripe for improvement” include: sourcing; manufacturing; recycling; packaging; transportation. There are numerous tips in each of the categories that may be of value to your organization in his commentary.

Author David Cahn is global marketing director for Elemica, a Digital Supply Network for manufacturers that automates and provides visibility into supply chains.

Visibility and understanding the risks inherent in supply chains is important and our second commentary for you comes from our colleague Pam Styles, who poses the question:  “what’s in your supply chain mix”?

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed countless concerns for corporate managers, and for investors and providers of capital — including global supply chain management issues, Pam writes.  And, she suggests, ESG/sustainability practitioners may be able to offer unique vantage to assist the debrief in collaboration with company supply chain experts and management teams.

Her comments are directed at investor relations officers (IROs) who are on point to answer analyst and investor questions about supply chain risks and issues as well as to corporate ESG practitioners.

Pam concludes: When it comes to Sustainability – climate change is important but supply chain is urgent.  Pam is a long-time Fellow of G&A Institute and a valued collaborator on client projects. She is a long-time member of NIRI and the NIRI Senior Roundtable.

Featured Stories

The Pursuit of Sustainability Spans the Enterprise
Source: Supply Chain Brain – These days, it’s essential for companies and their supply chains to realize that customers prefer to engage with organizations that are focused on environmental sustainability. Significant opportunities exist for leveraging…

Corporate ESG Stakeholders – Supply Chain Management – What’s in Your Supply Chain Mix?
Pam Styles commentary in G&A Institute’s Sustainability Update blog:
Does your company regularly review and remediate identifiable aggregate risks across the company’s supply chain and associated third-party relationships?

 

Excellence in Corporate Citizenship on Display in the Coronavirus Crisis – #2

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute and the G&A team   — continuing a new conversation about the corporate and investor response the coronavirus crisis…this is the beginning….

Introduction
These are the times when actions and reactions to crisis helps to define the character of the corporation and shape the public profiles of each of the corporate citizens. For companies, these are not easy times.

Many important decisions are to be made, many priorities set in an environment of unknown unknowns — and there are many stakeholders to be taken care of.

Employees – Customers – Suppliers – Regulators – Partners – Investors – Lenders – Communities – Civic Leadership.

As the the arms of the Federal government rush to aid the American society, CEO Chuck Robbins of Cisco put things in perspective in the story: “It’s critical that D.C. do something fast for companies – if you get 80 percent right today, it’s better than waiting a week and getting it 90% right.”

The good news:  Corporations are not waiting – decisions are being made quickly and action is being taken to protect the enterprise – no easy task while protecting the corporate brand, the reputation for being a good corporate citizen, watching out for the investor base and the employee base — and all stakeholders.

This continuing commentary in the first week of the crisis breaking through the barriers of doubt and with reality setting in. What are companies doing? How will the decisions made at the top in turn affect the company’s employees, customers, hometowns, suppliers, other stakeholders? Stay tuned.

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Friday, March 20, 2020 – Day Four of the National Shutdown in the Coronavirus Crisis…  The Second Roundup of the Day –  Evening Today

Walmart Responds – Setting the Pace for Mass Retailing

Walmart is the largest retailer in the United States of America, with branded stores, Sam’s Club stores, warehouses and other facilities in literally thousands of communities across the continent.

During hurricanes, floods, superstorms and the like, the Walmart men and women have stepped forward to aid their communities in various ways.

The company has a web site up for employees, customers and stakeholders to detail “Walmart’s Response to COVID-19″ (link below).

Among the steps announced so far:

The message from the CEO-President John Furner (Walmart U.S.) to his team members:  “We are so grateful for your hard work.  It’s been incredible to see Walmart associates step up to the challenge of serving America this month.  During a very uncertain and stressful time, you have done your jobs with calm, compassion and excellence.”

Full message here: https://corporate.walmart.com/newsroom/2020/03/19/walmart-u-s-ceo-john-furner-to-associates-we-are-so-grateful-for-your-hard-work

Walmart’s Walking-the-talk reward for associates:

  • Every full timer in stores, supply chain and HQs will receive $300 and part-timers $150 in the bonus (on April 2nd). The bonus payments for Q1 will be accelerated to be paid later in the month of April – the amount will be just as if the first quarter goals were reached.  No associate will receive less than the first Q bonus payment. Cost to WMT: US$180 million.
  • Overall, $550 million will be going to WMT associates during this critical period.  2019 Q4 payments were made this week – so Walmart team members will be seeing money coming in March 19 – April 2 – April 30 – May 28.

We’re hiring!  More associates are needed – the doors are open for up to 150,000 temporary workers for stores, clubs, distribution centers and fulfillment centers – some may convert to permanent jobs after the crisis.  The 2-week application process is now 24 hours.  Information is at careers.walmart.com

The company beefed up its COVID-19 emergency leave policy to encourage sick employees to stay home, or those “uncomfortable”, those who are quarantined, and associates with the virus.

Today (March 20) from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. employees had an “associates-only” shopping hour with the usual 10% discount expanded to include vital grocery items.

Consider the lift:  This company has 2.2 million associates worldwide.

Walmart has a huge footprint across North America and stretched into parts of the world.  Each week (in normal times) 265 million shoppers (customers and “members”) visit 11,500 stores under 56 banners in 27 countries and eCommerce websites.

Says CEO-U.S. John Furner:  “Thank you again for what you’re doing – America needs Walmart right now, and we have been at our absolute best.

Bravo, Walmart associates, for keeping us supplied as best you can in this emergency.

You can keep up with Walmart news at: https://corporate.walmart.com/coronavirus

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Give Us a Few Hours and You Will Have Your Hand Cleaner

LVMH, the luxury brand marketer, met France’s call for more hand sanitizer in just 72 hours. On a typical day the Orleans, France factory produces perfume (Christian Dior etc).  This Monday, reports The Financial Times, the first lines of hand sanitizer in plastic bottles rolled forth, headed for doctors and nurses in Paris hospitals.

The government of France called on industry to help – that was last Friday – and Monday the bottles began to head for boxes for delivery to the besieged hospitals.  (LVMH – Louis Vuitton, Moet Hennessey is the largest company in France.)

The company intends to produce 12 tonnes (!) of the gel to 39 hospitals in Paris (the APHP”) over the coming days and two other production lines (Givenchy, L’Oise and Guerlain Brand, Chartres) are coming on line.

Secret to the ramp up: FT writer Leila Abboud explains that sanitizing needs three main ingredients – purified water, ethanol and glycerine – and the company had these at the ready as the equipment was set up (cosmetics and pharma products being close cousins). The company makes liquid soap, moisturizing creams for the usual products – Dior, Givenchy, Guerlain.

Said the company:  “LVMH will continue to honour this commitment as long as necessary.”

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In related news The Financial Times tells us that other French companies have joined the battle.

  • BNP Paribas donated 500,000 masks to Paris hospitals.
  • Renault loaned 300 autos for medical purposes.
  • L’Oreal is retooling factories to make millions of hand sanitizers destined for nursing homes and hospitals.

Keeping in mind:  Makers of luxury goods will be hard hit in the current crisis, especially as the lucrative China markets shut down – both for sales and for production.  (LVMH is not reliant on China for production, but sales, definitely.)

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Closer to Home – Bacardi in Puerto Rico Steps Up

Bacardi Limited, makes of popular rums, will help to supply the ethanol required for making hand sanitizers.  The distillery in Catano, P.R. where 80% of the rums are made, is partnering with Olein Refinery to product raw materials that will contribute to the production of the products.

Target: at least 500,000 of the 10-ounce units of hand sanitizers – and these will be donated to local communities.  Said Jose Class – VP-Supply Chain & Manufacturing:  “This is a family-owned business sand we know what it means to take care of a community in need.  In the 158 years of [the family-owned] Bacardi, we’ve endured our share of challenging times and have learned that resilience, optimism and community are what will help us come out stronger.”

We’ll hoist a glass to that!  Make it BACARDI® – GREY GOOSE® – DEWARS® – BOMBAY SAPPHIRE® – MARTINI® – and other brands of this corporate citizen in a U.S. territory still struggling to recover from a devastating superstorm.

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Reuters / Ethical Corp:  Moving to the Online to Share Important Perspectives & Guidance

Ethical Corp / Reuters Events create “Reuters Events Ethical Corporation” events.  While in-person meetings will be a zero right now and probably at minimum for a while, that does not mean that the sharing has to stop.

The partners are organizing a new webinar series of 60 minutes each to “deliver solution to key sustainability challenges”.  Senior event speakers from Europe and the USA will present at the upcoming sessions:

  • Investors Engagement: Measuring Your Social Impact
  • Traceability & Visibility: Successfully Map and Monitor Across the Tiers
  • Best Practice Sustainability Supplier Engagement
  • Climate Disclosures – Accurately Reporting Climate Impacts, Risks and Future Opportunities

G&A Institute regularly partners with Reuters / Ethical Corp and G&A’s VP Amy Gallagher is the point person who alerts our connections about upcoming Reuters / Ethical Corp conferences.  She’ll keep us posted on the webinar series – watch for our communications through the usual channels.

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Global Reporting Initiative – Staying Safe and Continuing on Course

Tim Mohin, Chief Executive of the GRI, updated the global community plugged into the standards organization with news from Amsterdam (HQs of the GRI):

  • Most employees have transitioned to remote work arrangements to continue the operations.
  • Virtual solutions are enabling stakeholder engagements through online platforms.
  • All air travel is restricted for the GRI workforce.
  • Employees are being updated and informed through messaging apps, video, collaboration tools.

The GRI organization’s three priorities: (1) the wellbeing of all employees worldwide; (2) continuing the work with partners; (3) meeting new challenges with resilience, dedication and hard work.

You should know: Timothy J. Mohin was senior director of CR for Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and former chair of the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) before joining GRI as chief executive.  He’s the author of the best-seller, “Changing Business from the Inside Out: A Treehugger’s Guide to Working in Corporations”.

Earlier in his career Tim was founder/leader of Apple’s Supplier Responsibility program, and also led Intel’s sustainability functions.

G&A Institute is Data Partner for the GRI in the United States of America, the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland (an EU state).   We value our long relationship with the GRI team and with Tim Mohin and our decade-long collaboration with GRI.

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The National Geographic Shoulders On – Facts and Science in the Forefront

The National Geographic Society has assembled the magazine’s COVID-19 “scientifically-accurate” information for subscribers (online). This includes text, graphics, photos, videos, “fake news” exposes, data sets, and much more.  Also, resources for families (“for facts geared toward kids and ideas on how to occupy their minds while they are out of school – at “Nat Geo Kids”).

All of this is in addition to the usual broad fare of science, geography and other content that the National Geographic offers.  The society’s national office in Washington D.C. is closed until at least March 31st

Says NatGeo:  “The work continues in these uncertain times.  It must.  Earth’s last wild places and millions of species are on the brink of being lost forever. If anything, this pandemic shows what happens when science and the experts are ignored.  We need solutions to the biggest challenges threatening our planet now more than ever. We can’t afford to pause our work, and we’ll do the best that we can to build a better future together while maintaining the health of all.”

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

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

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

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