Focus On The Corporate Sustainability Journey This Week – News & Opinion All Around the Topic in Various Communications Channels…

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

Remember the great Beatles’ song…Here, There and Everywhere?  That’s what seems to be happening with “Corporate Sustainability” these days.

The news and commentary seem to be everywhere now, with an examination of how the corporate sector is embracing the concept and developing strategies, action plans, assigning teams and moving forward to address ESG issues.

When we began our sustainability news, commentary and research sharing at Governance & Accountability Institute more than a decade ago, the items were few and far between, skimpy and more periodic than regularly appearing.

Today, a widening range of media and communications channels bring us the news of what the players in the corporate sector are doing — and how institutional investors and other key stakeholders are responding to same.

We see numerous news stories and commentary about what companies are doing in their sustainability journey…and how this matters in so many ways for the issuer (such as improved risk management, more effective investor relations, greater access to capital, enhanced reputation for recruiting and retaining human capital, preferred supplier status, and more).

G&A Institute is the data partner for the USA, UK and Republic of Ireland for the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and in this role, we gather and analyze (and then database) the corporate sustainability and CR reports of literally hundreds upon hundreds of companies.

The progress we’ve seen companies making in their journeys is encouraging and pretty astounding if you think back just 10 years or so (to the dark days of 2008).

And so as companies move ahead in the journey and greatly expand their disclosure and reporting, the communication channels light up with the “sustainability” news, commentary and research focused on a company, a group of peers, investors, an industry or a sector.

We selected a few examples for you this week.  First, from the food processing industry, an examination by Kevin Piccione (he describes his company’s effort – Sealed Air, an early sustainability adopter).

He cites the World Economic Forum finding that most “sustainable companies” outperform their peers by a third – but only 2% actually achieve or exceed their sustainability goals. So why do they succeed?  A brief review for you.

The second article for you is Harry Menear’s more in-depth piece from Energy Digital, examining which companies stand out for “green credentials”.

His focus is on the Corporate Knight’s “Top 10 Sustainable Companies” roster, which is drawn from comprehensive research on 6,000 companies worldwide across all industries (for companies with US$1 billion revenues).

The companies were scored on energy use, carbon, waste and clean air production, innovation expenditures, taxes paid, diversity of leadership, supply chain management, and other elements of the sustainability journey.  Which companies made the Top 10?  The link is below for your reading.

The third item is a note of caution from Bloomberg by Emily Chasan and Chris Martin — who point out that in the midst of the growing enthusiasm about corporate sustainability, there are some companies that investors call out for their “corporate greenwashing” (and they name names).  The authors cite the recent Ceres report on this (500 companies were analyzed).

They write:  Companies are still making questionable claims but accountability is rising.

Emily and Chris tell us companies (and their executives) are being forced now to admit to greenwashing (that is, “gushing” sustainability claims with a tenuous grip on reality).

Examined:  Mid-American; VW; Wal-Mart; Amazon; AB InBev SA.  There are perspectives shared on this by Calvert,  CalSTRS, BlackRock, Neuberger Berman, DWS Group, UBS.

And there are as always many items that our editors share this week in the Highlights, as we say, drawn for you from the many communications channels that our team monitors every day.  Let us know your thoughts as to how we are doing and what you would like to see!

This Week’s Top Stories

Achieving your sustainability goals does not mean sacrificing profits
(Thursday – August 16, 2018) Source: Food Processing – Nearly 90% of business leaders believe that sustainability is essential to remaining competitive and despite the clear link between sustainability and profit, only 2% of companies either achieve or exceed their sustainability…

Top 10 Sustainable Companies
(Monday – August 13, 2018) Source: Energy Digital – Which companies stand out for their green credentials? Energy Digital finds out.

Investors Are Increasingly Calling Out Corporate Greenwashing
(August 20, 2018) Source: Bloomberg – Corporate sustainability reporting has risen dramatically over the last few years, with 85 percent of the S&P 500 index producing annual corporate responsibility documents in 2018, up from just 20 percent in 2011, according to the Governance & Accountability Institute. That’s partially due to investor demand. Assets in sustainable investment funds grew 37 percent last year, according to data tracked by Bloomberg.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Editors Began Steady Coverage of Sustainable Investing

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

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

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

Now – The Mainstream Impact of This Week’s Issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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