Attention Boards & CEOs: The Conference Board Has Important Insights to Share To Help Your Company…Survive and Succeed!

by Hank Boerner – Chairman, G&A Institute

The Conference Board is one of the most prestigious and important (for corporate managements) of our membership business associations, as well as credible research think tank on management issues and topics. The Board has long had corporate governance in focus and has been a major factor in helping to advance effective, responsive, accountable governance in the USA.

The Conference Board was one of the early organizations serving boards, C-suite and key functional managers to expand the governance research and advisory services to include social and environmental issues & topics: ESG is on the of the agenda for many aspects of Board operations.

Members of boards and CEOs and C-suite-ers receive Director Notes on key topics and issues with practical advice needed to improve performance and better serve society.

Today’s issue of Director Notes is worthy of close reading — and re-reading — by sustainability professionals: “Navigating the Sustainability Transformation.” The introduction is bold:

“CEOs and Directors making key business decisions regarding the company’s strategy for the year ahead and beyond would be well-advised to change the current boardroom conversation. Driven by factors tied to sustainability, over the next 15 years, every company in every industry sector will need to transform itself to survive and succeed. Board members, CEOs and he executives advising them need to ask: “How should we plan for this major transformation?” (emphasis mine)

The report describes a four-stage model for companies to progress from engaging initially with sustainability to accelerating, leading, and ultimately transforming their business.”

Addressing the practical aspects of corporate sustainability (board style), the report focuses attention on a host of corporations that are embracing sustainable strategies, actions, programs, engagements.  These include “new brands” such as Airbnb, Google, Tesla, and Uber — all of which have disrupted old business models and achieved leadership – fast! — in their categories (Airbnb vs. the hotel business, Tesla vs. old line auto manufacturers, etc.).

Established companies — some dating back a century or more — are featured in the report, with explanations of how they have achieved success (and frankly, heartily survived) in a business environment (and investment mindset) where disruption is prized over proven models.  These old-line companies have succeeded by being transformation, often disrupting their own cash cows!

Examples include:  3M; General Electric (with its Eco-magination); BMW; DuPont; Dow; Unilever; Michelin; HP; SC Johnson; Nike; Kimberly Clark; McDonalds; Wal-mart Stores; Starbucks; NRG Energy; Newmont Mining; Coca-Cola Company; IKEA; Interface; Sony; BT; Tesco; Azko Nobel; Xcel Energy; and Waste Management;.

Waste Management’s transformation from a traditional waste hauler to strategy and service provider to corporate customers is one highlight of the report.

Sustainability professionals will want to read The Conference Board report’ views on the 4 stages of progression for companies. I think this could become a top-of-agenda discussion in board rooms and C-suites in the weeks ahead.

The stages are (1) engagement with sustainability; (2) accelerating progress; (3) leading (sector, industry, peers, etc); (4) transforming.  There are many companies at stages 1 and 2, a few moving on to 3, and very few to point to as stage 4 (yet).  Many companies exhibit characteristics of stages 1 and 2 — these are examples in the report.

Moving into the transformation stage is challenging, of course. Given the dramatic upheaval in so many businesses, in such a short period of time, will make looking ahead 10 or 15 years to the critical period to 2030 and beyond…daunting, for sure.

But there are practical, realistic things going on in our world that make such exercise ( closely examining where your company is in the 4 stages of sustainability) necessary.  Natural resources (“natural capital to many) grows more scarce in many parts of the world.  It looks like there will be stranded assets on many corporate balance sheets (and in investment portfolios) as we shift away from fossil fuels. (We won’t always have plentiful, easy-to-access USD$48 crude oil available!)

The Conference Board report found a few examples of what could pass for stage 4 companies: “Few companies today are solidly at 4, but a growing number of leaders have one or more stage 4 attributes.  Airbnb, Google and Uber are ‘sharing economy’ companies; DuPont, Novelis, Unilever, and Waste Management are examples of long-established enterprises…”:

The 4-Stage Model is explained in the report.  We can see this having a powerful impact, similar to Professor Michael Porter’s work with Mark Kramer: “Creating Shared Value” (Harvard Business Review, January 2011).

the Conference Board makes the report(s) available for your reading — information is at:  https://www.conference-board.org/publications/publicationdetail.cfm?publicationid=2885

* * * * * * * *

The Director Notes are a series of publications the Board engages experts from various disciplines to contribute to, including experts in leadership, corporate governance, risk oversight, and sustainability.

The current issue was authored by Gilbert (Gib) Hedstrom, principal of Hedstrom Associates.  Content includes excerpts from his coming book, “The Sustainability Scorecard TM Handbook/”  Hedstrom is director of the Conference Board’s Sustainability Council.  He invited me to be guest presenter on corporate sustainability reporting and related topics at a recent Council meeting in Washington, D.C.

Matteo Tonello is managing director for corporate governance at The Conference Board; he is editor of the Director Notes series.

Melissa Aguilar is a researcher in the corporate leadership department of the board and is executive editor of the series.

Conference Board information is at: http://www.conference-board.org/

The Holy Land Principles for US Companies — Campaign for Fair Employment in Israel and Palestine

by Hank Boerner – Chairman G&A Institute

Important note: We published this on 2 December…please note in third and fourth paragraphs important clarifications as of 4 December based on input from Father Sean McManus.

Investors and companies will be keeping watch on a new campaign gaining momentum that is advocating for fair employment policies and practices by US companies doing business in Israel and Palestine.

At the center of the campaign are the Holy Land Principles for companies doing business there.

Clarification:  All 546 U.S. companies doing business in Israel and/or Palestine are receiving communications from the Principles advocates.  The package sent to CEOs included a “pamphlet” with and other background on the issue along with a copy of organizer Father Sean McManus’s updated memoir, “My American Struggle for Justice in Northern Ireland…and the Holy land.”

To date, three U.S public companies — Intel, GE and Corning — have received shareholder resolutions urging the companies to sign on to the Principles on behalf of the Holy Land Principles organizers for 2015 shareholder votes.  The filers are Harrington Investors ((Intel); Cardinal Resources (General Electric); Corning (Jim Boyle).

This campaign is reminiscent of two prior successful investor and advocate campaigns:  the struggle to eliminate South Africa’s official Apartheid policies and  structured discrimination practices, and the campaign to end anti-Catholic worker discrimination practices in Northern Ireland.  Both campaigns involved corporate fair employment issues in those countries.

This new campaign may touch some nerves of people on hearing the news because it may appear to be political — but the organizers stress that only one issue is involved:  fair employment by US companies.  Global or domestic politics aside, the campaign organizers say that this is the most basic, proper thing for American investors to be concerned about.

And, they stress, this is an American campaign, not a Palestinian or Israel campaign. and is restricted to employment conditions in the Holy Land — universally called that because it is home to three of the world’s major faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The Principles campaign is centered on inviting American companies operating in the Holy Land to sign on to the Holy Land Principles — it is essential to note up front that the Principles do not call for quotas, reverse discrimination, dis-investment, divestment, or boycotts.

There are important precedents for this type of issue advocacy campaign.  US companies operating in South Africa and later, Northern Ireland were pressured over years in focused campaigns by investors, issue advocates and a number of US governmental jurisdictions to embrace fair employment practices in those countries.

In focusing on the policies of US companies doing business in Israel and Palestine, of course there may be sensitive issues raised (political, statecraft, religious, ethnic, etc. ).  This is understandable; we offer some background may help to put the campaign in context.

Background to help in understanding the Holy Land Principles:

The Holy Land is spiritual home to three of the world’s great monotheistic religious: in order of evolvement, Judaism, Christianity, Islam.

It is ironic to think that for hundreds of years, yea, for millennia, this relatively tiny land at the eastern edge of the larger Middle East region [that] is considered to be holy, fervently revered by literally billions of people (the faithful) …has been a battleground for various faiths, tribes, outside empires (Roman, Ottoman, British), and more recently, between regional states / nations and nascent states in formation.

Leaders of powerful nations watch or involved in the ongoing efforts to bring peace to the Holy Land and to settle the conflict that has haunted the Holy Land for the past 60+ years. The Palestinian population seeks to create their own state, and the US and other nations have encouraged a “two-state” solution (the State of Israel and a new State of Palestine).

Of course, this is a complicated corner of the world.  The State of Israel is the thriving democracy in the midst of numerous failed states in the region, or states now or previously ruled by monarchies or despots.  And the State of Israel for all of its years since founding the United States and Israel have been allies.

In the case of the MacBride Principles campaign for fair employment in Northern Ireland’s 6 countries (considered part of the United Kingdom), the UK was also a long-time American ally — but in no way did the MacBride Principles campaign vitiate the integrity of the Principles or the reasonableness of the request, the organizers point out.  The campaign never addressed the partition of Ireland, Irish independence, and other thorny political issues.

Similarly, the Holy Land Principles organizers take no position on the issues of one state, two states, refugees, settlements, United Nations resolutions, or issues beyond fair employment practices of US companies doing business in Israel and Palestine.  These are for other parties to address.

The 2014 Campaign Addresses Elements of Holy Land Social Justice Issues – With the MacBride Principles as Model

The campaign organizers point out there were discrimination issues in the six counties of Northern Ireland where the Roman Catholic minority was not being treated fairly by the Protestant majority.   The recent “Troubles” began in the late 1960s and civil unrest and strife continued on to the “Good Friday Agreement” brokered by the US in 1998.

Investors and social justice advocates in the USA created the MacBride Principles, a corporate code of conduct for US companies doing business in Northern Ireland and the standards for actions by the US Congress.

The “Easter” agreement ended the civil war between the United Kingdom’s security forces and Irish political loyalists and armed paramilitary forces (more than 3,500 people died during the conflict).

After years of campaigning, American companies signed on to the MacBride Principles for their Northern Ireland operations.

In a December 1997 post on the Human Rights Library of the University of Minnesota, Father Sean McManus, President of the Irish National Caucus, explained:  “…there are 80 publicly-traded US companies in Northern Ireland and many, because of the systematic practice and endemic nature of anti-Catholic discrimination [the companies] are subsidizing discrimination…”

At that writing 44 US companies agreed to “make all lawful efforts to implement the fair employment practices embodied in the MacBride Principles for their Northern Ireland operations.”  The list of those companies and more information is at: http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/links/macbride.html

A total of 116 companies have to date signed on to the MacBride Principles — the reference materials can be found on the web site: www.HolyLandPrinciples.org.

Father Sean McManus — the same man who launched the MacBride Principles on November 4, 1984 –is also President of the Holy Land Principles (based in Washington, DC) and is still President of the Irish National Caucus.  He is calling on US SRI investors to support the “just, moderate and eminently reasonable Holy Land Principles.”

The Principles, he points out, do not call for quotas, reverse discrimination, dis-investment, or boycotts.  (All of these strategies are hugely unpopular among certain stakeholders.)  They do call for fair employment by American companies.  He describes the Principles as pro-Jewish, pro-Palestinian, pro-company.

Father McManus points out that the Holy Land Principles are based on the success of the MacBride Principles — “now universally regarded as having played a most effective role in promoting equality, justice and peace in Northern Ireland.”

To date, Father McManus reports that one US company has signed on to the Holy Land Principles:  Oxygen Biotherapeutics. OXBT is a specialty pharmaceutical company focused on developing and commercializing a portfolio of products for the critical care market.  In September the Company received shareholder approval to change the Company name to Tenax Therapeutics, Inc.

Is Father McManus discouraged by slow progress?  No – he explains that it took five years for the first US company to sign the McBride Principles.  He adds: “Holy Land Principles is in it for the long haul.  We know the companies will be persuaded sooner or later to sign the Principles. We just urge them to do it sooner rather than later and be on the right side of history, which dictates that American principles should follow American investment.”

By Father McManus’s count, there are 546 American companies operating in the Holy Land; a complete list he assembled is available at:  HolyLandPrinciples.org

The MacBride Principles has had positive, long-term effect.  In November, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli visited Northern Ireland and spoke with Irish News. The newspaper reported that the recently re-elected comptroller (who is sole trustee of the US$180 billion state pension fund) pointed out that the NYS Common Fund had investment capital set aside for Northern Ireland. It is important for the political institutions of Northern Ireland to remain stable to ensure the north is attractive to investors.”

MacBride Luminaries:  During the campaign to have companies adopt the MacBride Principles, individuals and jurisdictions voicing support included President Bill Clinton; US Senator Bob Dole; NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani; NYS Governor Mario Cuomo; Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn (later, ambassador to the Vatican); and 16 states passing MacBride legislation (including New York).

Quo Vadis, Holy Land Principles?

Going forward into the 2015 proxy season we will see where and how the Holy Land Principles may make an impact in the American corporate sector, and in the capital markets.  This is a new campaign seeking to gain traction,  characterized as a “moral appeal” by the Father McManus and the campaign managers.

Intel is in focus and the organizers have created a 29-page pamphlet: “Why Intel Should Sign the Holy Land Principles.” Similar reports have been prepared about GE and Corning.  Activist investor Harrington Investors has filed a resolution with Intel for the 2015 annual meeting of shareholders; similar resolutions are filed at GE and Corning.  The campaign organizers are inviting voting support by other investors.

Intel, says Father McManus, has 10,000 employees and billions of dollars invested in the Holy Land.

On a positive note, Father McManus points out that the “Intel and the 546 US companies have certain fair employment guidelines already in place…but with the MacBride Principles [experience] it was not until the companies sign on that real progress was made in discrimination…:

It’s interesting to speculate:  Will US companies agreeing to the Holy Land Principles help to make a difference in debate about the future peace efforts in the region? Time will tell; what is immediately  important to the US companies as they consider the invitation to sign on to the Principles:  What happens if they (a) sign on or (b) ignore or brush off the request to agree to this new code of conduct?

American CEOs and boards of at least 546 companies no doubt will be watching the progress of the Holy Land Principles every closely.  As will the investment community, and issue advocates, keeping in mind the American social justice campaigns in South Africa and Northern Ireland that changed the course of history.

We’re a Long Way from NYC’s Stonewall Inn, But Still a Ways to Go for Corporate LGBT Policies, Says Investor Coalition

by Hank Boerner – Chairman, G&A Institute

We’ve come a long way since the gay & lesbian communities mobilized and began in earnest their civil rights campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s and into the1990s. It was the New York City Police Department’s wrongheaded “raid” on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village neighborhood in June 1969 that provided the important spark for the long-term, winning campaign by LGBT community for equal rights and equal protection under the laws of the land. “Stonewall” became a rallying cry for the next installment of the continuing “journey” of the civil rights movement in the United States.

The 1960s/1970s were the era of civil rights protests — we were involved in or witnessed and were affected by the civil rights / voting rights movement; the counter-culture “revolution” (remember the hippies?); the drive for adoption of the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution); and the anti-war movement protests against the conflict in Vietnam.  These were catalysts as well for the LGBT equal rights warriors of the decades that followed the 1969 Stonewall protests.

Finally, in recent years, after years of campaigning by LGBT advocates, most states have been adopting protective measures to protect the LGBT community.  Same gender marriage is a reality in many U.S. jurisdictions.

On November 7, 2014 The New York Times carried an update — it was a “milestone year” for LGBT rights advocates, the publication explained.  Voters in the 3Ms — Maine, Maryland and Minnesota – favored same-sex marriage; the first openly-gay US Senator (Tammy Baldwin) was elected by Wisconsin voters.

Still, there was vocal and often fierce opposition to same-sex marriage and equal protection under the law for LGBT citizens.

About LGBT Policies and the US Corporate Community

Many large companies (estimate:70 companies in the S&P 500 Index to date) have adopted non-discrimination policies to protect LGBT employees in the United States, says the 2014 Corporate Equality Index (a national benchmarking tool of the Human Rights Campaign).

We see these policies and programs for inclusion described in the many sustainability and responsibility reports we examine as exclusive data partner for the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) for the United States of America.

Still, legal protections for LGBT citizens are not sufficient in numerous US jurisdictions. “Homophobic” policies and attitudes still reign in too many US cities and states and local communities.

And policies, attitudes, practices in other countries?  Well, that’s really a problem, say sustainable & responsible investment advocates — and steps are being taken to address the situation.

The S&R investment advocacy campaign is focused on the LGBT employees of US firms working overseas.  In countries like Russia, one of the world’s largest industrial economies, which has harsh anti-LGBT policies. The US investor group points out that 79 countries consider same sex relationships illegal; 66 countries provide “some” protection at least in the workplace; and in some countries, homosexuality is punishable by death.

In a business environment that continues to globalize in every aspect, with American large-cap companies operating everywhere, the investor coalition is calling on US companies to extend their LGBT policies on anti-discrimination and equal benefits policies to employees outside the United States. A letter was sent by the coalition to about 70 large-cap companies (the signatories manage US$210 billion in assets.

Shelley Alpern, Director Social Research & Shareholder Advocacy at Clean Yield Asset Management explains: “Today, most leading U.S. corporations now have equitable policies on their books for their [American-based] LGBT employees. Ther’s a dearth of information on how many extend policies outside of the U.S. In starting this dialogue, we hope to identify best practices and start to encourage all companies to adopt them.”

The objective of the shareowner advocacy campaign is to stimulate interest in the issue and create a broad dialogue that leads to greater protection of LGBT employees of US companies operating outside of the United States.

Mari Schwartzer, coordinator of shareholder advocacy at NorthStar Asset Management compliments US firms with effective non-discrimination policies and states:  “While we are pleased that so many companies have adopted non-discrimination policies in the USA which incorporate equal protections for LGBT employees, the next phase of implementation is upon us — we must ensure that international employees are receiving equal benefits and are adequately protected.  Particularly those stationed in regions hostile to LGBT individuals…”

Signatories of the letters sent to companies include these sustainable & responsible investing advocates:  Calvert Investments; Jantz Management; Miller/Howard Investments; Office of the Comptroller of New York City; Pax World Management; Sustainability Group/Loring, Wolcott & Coolidge; Trillium Asset Management; Unitarian Universalist Association; Walden Asset Management; Zevin Asset management.

Companies contacted include:  Aetna, AIG, Allstate, Altria, Amazon, American Express, Apple, AT&T, Bank of America, Baxter, Best Buy, Boeing, Cardinal health, Caterpillar, Chevron, Cisco, Citigroup, Coca Cola, Colgate Palmolive, Costco, CVS Health, Delta, Dow Chemical, DuPoint, EMC, FedEx, Ford Motor, General Electric, General Dynamics, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Google, HP, Home Depot, Honeywell, Human, IBM Ingram Micro, Intel, J&J, JPMorgan Chase, Lockheed Martin, McDonalds, McKesson, Merck, MetLife, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Oracle, PepsiCo, Pfizer, P&G, Prudential, Sears, Sprint, Starbucks, Target, Texas Instruments, United Continental, United HealthGroup, United Technologies, UPS, Verizon, Visa, Walgreen, Walt Disney, Walmart, Wellpoint, Wells Fargo.

Summing up the heart of the issue for investors (and corporate employees):  “Corporations must take the extra step to ensure consistent application of LGBT-inclusive workplace policies throughout their operations, regardless of location,” said Wendy Holding, Partner, the Sustainability Group of Loring, Wolcott & Coolidge.

The DJSI – Analytical Game Changer in 1999 – Sustainable Investing Pacesetter in 2014

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

updated with information provided to me by RobecoSAM for clarification on 17 September 2014.

It was 15 years ago (1999) that an important — and game-changing  ”sustainability investing” resource came in a big way to the global capital markets; that year, S&P Dow Jones Indices and Robeco SAM teamed to create the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices. This is described by the managers as “…the first global index to track the financial performance of the leading sustainability-driven companies worldwide,” based on analysis of financially material economic, environmental and social (societal) factors. Breakthrough, game-changing stuff, no?

Note “financially material” – not “intangible” or “non-financial,” as some capital market holdouts initially (and continue to) described the sustainable investing approach.  There were but handfuls of “sustainability-driven” companies in world capital markets for selection for the World benchmark.  1999 — -that year the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) was assembling its first comprehensive framework for corporate reporting (G#) byond the numbers alone.  Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) was a steadily maturing organization mounting proxy campaigns to challenge the risky behavior of major companies that were polluting the Earth.  The Investor Responsibility Research Center (IRRC) was the go-to source for information on corporate behaviors, particularly related to corporate governance issues.  (And CG issues were rapidly expanding – the governance misbehaviors of unsustainable companies such as of Enron, WorldCom, et al, were not yet as evident as when they collapsed three years later.). Robert Monks and Nell Minow were active in Hermes Lens Asset Management, continuing to target poorly managed companies and encouraging laggard CEOs to move on. (Monks’s book, “The Emperor’s Nightingale,” was just out that year.)

Over the next 15 years, the managers of DJSI benchmarks steadily expanded their analysis and company-picking; the complex now offers choices beyond “World” —  of Dow Jones Sustainability Asia Pacific; Australia; Emerging Markets; Europe; Korea; and North America.

A handful of “sustainability-driven” companies have been aboard “World” for all of the 15 years; this is the honors list for some investors:  Baxter International (USA); Bayer AG; BMW; BT Group PLC; Credit Suisse Group; Deutsche Bank AG; Diageo PLC; Intel (USA); Novo Nordisk; RWE AG; SAP AG; Siemens AG: Storebrand; Unilever; United Health Group (USA).  Updated:  And Sainsbury’s PLC.

Though the DJSI indices have been availble to investors for a decade-and-a-half, it is only in the past few years that we hear more and more from corporate managers that senior executives are paying much closer attention.  “The CEO wants to be in the DJSI,” we frequently hear now.

Each year about this time the DJSI managers select new issues for inclusion and drop some existing component companies.  Selected to be in the World:  Amgen; Commonwealth Bank of Australia; GlaxoSmithKline PLC.  Out of the DJSI World:  Bank of America Corp; General Electric Co; Schlumberger Ltd.

DJSI managers follow a “best-in-lcass” approach, looking closely at companies in all industries that outperform their peers in a growing number of sustainability metrics.  There are about 3,000 companies invited to respond to RobecoSAM’s “Corporate Sustainability Assessment” — effective response can require a considerable commitment of time and resources by participating companies to be considered.  Especially if the enterprise is not yet “sustainability-driven.”  We’ve helped companies to better understand and respond to the DJSI queries; it’s a great exercise for corporate managers to better understand what DJSI managers consider to be “financially material.”  And to help make the case to their senior executives (especially those wanting to be in the DJSI).

updated informationRobecoSAM invites about 2,500 companies in the S&P Global Broad Market Index to participate in the assessment process; these are enterprises in 59 industries as categorized by RobecoSAM, located in 47 countries.

The new G$ framework from GRI, which many companies in the USA, EU and other markets use for their corporate disclosure and reporting, stresses the importance of materiality — it’s at the heart of the enhanced guidelines.  The head of indices for RobecoSAM (Switzerland), Guido Giese, observes:  “Since 1999, we’ve heled investors realize the financial materiality of sustainability and companies continue to tell us that the DJSI provides an excellent tool to measure the effectiveness of their sustainability strategies.”

Sustainability strategies — “strategy” comes down to us through the ages from the Ancient Greek; “stratagem”…the work of generals…the work of the leader…generalship…”  Where top leadership (and board) is involved, the difference (among investment and industry peers) is often quite clear.

At the S&P Dow Jones  Index Committee in the USA, David Blitzer, managing director and chair of the committee, said about the 15 years of indices work: “Both the importance and the understanding of sustainability has grown dramatically over the past decade-and-a-half…the DJSI have been established as the leading benchmark in the field…:”

The best-in-class among the “sustainability-driven” companies that we see in our close monitoring as GRI’s exclusive Data Partner in the USA, UK and Ireland, the company’s senior leadership is involved, committed and actively guiding the company’s sustainability journey.  And that may be among the top contributions to sustainable investing of DJSI managers over these 15 years.

Congratulations and Happy Anniversary to RobecoSAM and S&P Dow Jones Indices (a unit of McGraw Hill Financial).  Well done!  You continue to set the pace for investors and corporates in sustainable investing.