About Those Assembled “Best Of” Lists of Companies – What Lessons Are There For The Managers Of Other Firms…Those Not On The List Of The Chosen Corporates?

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

There are a number of “best of” lists that corporate managers and investment professionals scour to see which companies are judged to be doing well (by the list makers)…whether they be industry peers & competitors, or possible acquisitions or partners.

Where do we stand is on the minds of the corporate managers in viewing the many best of lists.

And — for investors, considering whether the listed firms (at or near the top of the lists) might be the right choices for investment portfolios.

One annual list that we do follow closely is produced by Corporate Knights – this is the “Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations”, published for the 15th year in 2019. 

This list begins with around 7,500 possible inclusions in the top 100, all of the firms generating $1 billion or more in revenues.  Analysts devote 5,000 hours scouring almost 4 million data points to narrow the field to the chosen 100.

Examining the results, Holly Johnson of The CEO Magazine shared her perspectives with her readers.  There were top takeaways she learned from examining the work of Corporate Knights analysts:

  1. The top companies “live longer” (average age for the top 10 was 87 years!).
  2. They are better governed than peers, with lower CEO-to-worker pay ratio. They pay more in taxes.
  3. They’re “greener,” generating more revenues from clean (positive green or social impact) goods and services.
  4. More women are found in their ranks, and in the board room; there’s bound to be found a link between exec compensation and sustainability measures.
  5. Revenue is “cleaner” – generated through sustainable products. The Top Company is Chr. Hansen, generating 80% of revenues from development of natural solutions for food preservation and crop protection, as well as alternatives to using antibiotics for food animals.
  6. Investors are happier with these firms. 

You can find the details from each of these findings in our Top Story. There’s a link to the Top 100 Corporate Knights list in The CEO Magazine post.

The company names you’ll find in the Top 10 of the Top 100 firms include Prologis (USA); GlaxoSmithKline Plc (UK); Banco do Brasil S.A. (Brazil); Taiwan Semiconductor (Taiwan).

Author Holly Johnson is staff writer and digital producer with The CEO Magazine, in Australia, where “she now delves into the world of leading business executives.”  The magazine is Australia’s leading business publication.

Top Story

Green leaders: The world’s most sustainable companies in 2019
(Tuesday – July 02, 2019) Source: CEO Magazine – According to Corporate Knights’ list of the 2019 Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations, it encompasses carbon and waste reduction, gender equality in leadership and even revenues derived from clean products. 

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.