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

The FSB Task Force (TCFD) on Climate-Related Financial Disclosure And The Dramatic Contents of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – Hot Topics

A Brief Checklist of the Discussion for You This Week…

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

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988 (30 years ago!) to provide a “clear scientific view of the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts”.

In the late 1970s, the discussion about climate change and global warming began to, well, pardon the pun – heat up!  Foreign Affairs magazine, in 1978 posed the question:  “What Might Man-Induced Climate Change Mean?”

“The West Antarctica Ice Sheet and CO2 Greenhouse Gas Effect” appeared in the authoritative publication, Nature in the same year.  The debate was on — and multi-lateral organizations and governments began to take note and respond. Ten years later the IPCC debuted on the global scene.

Over the years since there have many meetings and studies produced, with 195 countries eventually joining the IPCC membership.  Including, significantly, China, the USA, the United Kingdom, the Russian Federation, Germany, France, Italy, Ireland, Israel… and many other sovereigns. The membership list is here: http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/ipcc-faq/ipcc_members.pdf

Thousands of scientists – subject matter experts – regularly participate in the work of the organization, which is typically around task forces and delving into specific issues.  This gives the IPCC findings and recommendations “a unique opportunity to provide rigorous and scientific information to decision-makers”. The work is policy-relevant but also policy-neutral and never policy-prescriptive.

In October 2018 the IPCC issued a Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C (above pre-industrial levels) and the rising threat of climate change, as well as sustainable development (think of the SDGs) and efforts to wipe out poverty.

The report and related materials are here for you: http://www.ipcc.ch/

Our Top Story comes from our colleagues at Ethical Corporation, authored by Karen Luckhurst.  She reports on the related activities during a two-days of  meetings at which the FSB’s Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) recommendations and the  IPCC Special Report were analyzed and discussed by corporate and organizational leaders.

She shares with us 10 top takeaways from the TCFD discussions and includes the comments on key players – Richard Howitt, CEO of the IIRC; Susan Beverly of Abbott; Richa Bajpai of Goodera; GRI’s Pietro Bertazzi (head of sustainable development); Laura Palmeiro of Danone; Professor Donna Marshal at USC College of Business; Mark Lewis at Carbon Tracker; Katie Schmitz Eulitt of the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board; Mairead Keigher of NGO Shift (human rights organization); Daniel Neale at Corporate Human Rights Benchmark; Craig Davies at EBRD (investments); and Andre Stovin at AstraZeneca.

Richard Howitt of IRRC told the group that there is a major alignment soon to be announced with other reporting standards agencies (GRI, CDP) – watch for that.

Do read the Top Story this week.  And, mark your calendars – the Ethical Corp “Responsible Business Summits” are coming to San Diego, CA on November 12th; to New York City on March 18, 2019 and on to London for June 10th convening.  There is more information at:http://www.ethicalcorp.com/events.

Governance & Accountability Institute has been a long-term event media partner of Ethical Corporation events for going on 8 years.

This Week’s Top Story

Ten takeaways from the Sustainability Reporting and Communications Summit
(Tuesday – October 16, 2018) Source: Ethical Corp – Reporting on the SDGs, alignment between reporting standards, and the Task Force on Climate, Climate-Related Financial Disclosure were big topics during two days of high-level discussion…

Seven Compelling Corporate Sustainability Stories For You – How Entrepreneurs Are Managing Their Sustainable Business and Meeting Society’s Needs

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

How do we structure a more sustainable (and responsible) business – it’s a question we are regularly asked here at G&A Institute. By big firms and small companies — publicly-traded or privately-owned (and numerous planning to go public).

As we get into the conversation, what often becomes clear is that the company really was founded to meet some kind(s) of societal need, and sometimes it actually created a need (think of the popularity of the Apple eco-system or the early days of the Ford Motor Company and the “horseless carriage”) that it fills, benefiting society.

And in the firm’s “growing up and maturing” phase the leaders want to be recognized as a sustainable and responsible enterprise.

There are well-known corporate models that can help point the way for a management team.  We explain the successes of our “top performers and reporters” roster as examples of how the industry leaders (depending on sector and industry) have achieved clear, recognized leadership in sustainability. Their stories are inspirational as well as instructive.

(Tip:  read the companies’ GRI reports for a deep dive into corporate strategies, programs, collaborations, and achievements – our team dives into 1,500 corporate reports and more each year in our work as GRI Data Partners for the USA, UK and Republic of Ireland.)

But what about smaller enterprises, not “giants” in their industry, or niche players, run by talented entrepreneurs and managers who want to do the right thing as they build their business?  How do we find their stories?

You know, like the early story of Ben & Jerry’s (ice cream), two young guys with borrowed money operating a small store (a renovated gas station) in downtown Burlington, Vermont; the founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, built their business as a pioneer in social responsibility. (In 1985, the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation got 7.5% of annual pre-tax profits to fund community-oriented projects and supporting dairy family farming was a priority – like the duo’s support of Farm Aid.)

What we have for you today are the stories of seven perhaps less well-known firms briefly profiled by tech blogger Kayla Matthews in her guest commentary on the Born2Invest platform.  The quick-read profiles explain the companies’ business models and how they try to operate as sustainable enterprises.

These are: Prime Five Homes (building $1 million eco-mod homes in Los Angeles); LaCoste (marketing the well-known crocodile brand of clothing); Liberty Bottleworks (recycled water bottles); Cleancult (paving the way for more efficient detergents); Andean Collection (marketing jewelry from the rainforest and providing Ecuadorian women with jobs ); Blockchain (technology); Wash Cycle Laundry (eco-friendly local laundry service).

What is interesting is that each of the companies, the author explains, develop products and manufacturing processes that benefit employers, employees and Mother Earth by striving for and being (more) sustainable.  The stories are fascinating – and very appealing in this age of anxiety for many of us.

These stories remind us of the 2018 “Sense of Purpose” letter sent to public company CEO’s by Chairman and CEO Larry Fink, who heads the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock. As a fiduciary, he explains, BlackRock engages with companies to drive the sustainable, long-term growth that the firm’s clients (asset owners) need to meet their goals.

And society, he explains to the CEOs receiving the letter, “…is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose.”

To prosper over time, Mr. Fink wrote, “…every company must not only deliver financial performance but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society…without a sense of purpose, no company can achieve its full potential.”

You can read Larry Fink’s letter to corporate CEOs here – it well worth the read: https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/investor-relations/larry-fink-ceo-letter

You can follow Kayla Matthews on her tech blog, Productivity Bytes, where she often connects technology and sustainability topics: https://productivitybytes.com/

And do read our top story – it’s a fascinating and brief read to learn more about these innovative companies striving for greater sustainability and societal responsibility.

This Week’s Top Story

How 7 Eco-Friendly Businesses Are Changing The Sustainability Game
(Tuesday – September 11, 2018) Source: Born To Invest – To save the planet, it’s going to take cooperation from everyone, including both individuals and corporations. In fact, an increasing number of corporations are realizing that modern consumers are growing more environmentally…

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.

G&A Institute Research Results: 85% of the S&P 500® Index Companies Published Sustainability / Responsibility / CR / Citizenship Reports in 2017

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

One of the world’s most important benchmarks for equity investors is the S&P 500 Index®, a proprietary market-value weighted “basket” of the top stocks that represent about 80% of the U.S. equity markets according to the index owner, S&P Dow Jones Indices/McGraw Hill Financial.

Market Clout:  There are about US$8 trillion in Assets Under Management benchmarked to the index  – companies included in the index have a market-cap of US$6 billion or more (ticker:SPX).

More than six years ago the G&A Institute team decided to focus on the companies in the index to determine their level of (or lack of) ESG / Sustainability / CR / Citizenship disclosure and reporting.

Our first look-see was for year 2011 corporate reporting activities and after scouring the known sources  — each of the corporate websites, IR reports, printed reports, search engines results, connecting with companies and more —  we found just about 20% or about 100 of the large-cap index 500 companies were doing “something” along the lines of what we can describe today as structured reporting.  There were numerous brochure-type publications that did not qualify as a structured report of value to investors and stakeholders.

The GRI Was a Favored Framework – Then and Now
A good number of the early reporting companies were following the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) framework for reporting guidance (that was for G3 and G3.1 at the time), and some perhaps had some other form of reporting (such as publishing key ESG performance indicators on their website or in print format for stakeholders); GRI’s G4 was later embraced by the 500.  And now we move on to the GRI Standards, which we are tracking for 2018 reporting by the 500.

This initial research effort was a good bit of work for our analyst team because many of the companies simply did not announce or publicize the availability of their sustainability et al report. (Some still do not announce, even in 2017 and 2018!)

The response to our first survey (we announced the results in spring 2012) was very encouraging and other organizations began to refer to and to help publicize the results for stakeholders.

We were pleased that among the organizations recognizing the importance of the work was the GRI; we were invited to be the data partner for the United States, and then the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.  That comprehensive work continues and is complementary to the examination of the 500.

The 2011 Research Effort – Looking Back, The Tipping Point for Sustainability Reporting

Looking back, we can see that the research results were early indications of what was going on in the corporate and investment communities, as more asset owners and managers were adopting ESG / sustainability approaches, investment policies, engagement programs — and urging more public company managements to get going on expanded disclosure beyond the usual mandated financials (the “tangibles” of that day).

Turns out that we were at an important tipping point in corporate disclosure.

Investor expectations were important considerations for C-suite and board, and there was peer pressure as well within industries and sectors, as the big bold names in Corporate America looked left and right and saw other firms moving ahead with their enhanced disclosure practices.

And there was pressure from the purchasing side – key customers were asking their corporate supply chain partners for information about their ESG policies and practices, and for reports on same.  There was an exponential effect; companies within the 500 were, in fact, asking each other for such reports on their progress!

We created a number of unique resources and tools to help guide the annual research effort.  Seeing the characteristics and best practices of sustainability reporting by America’s largest and for the most part best-known companies we constantly expanded our “Sustainability Big Data” resources and made the decision to closely track S&P 500 companies’ public reporting — and feed the rich resulting data yield into our databases and widely share top-line results (our “Flash Report”).

The following year (2013) we tracked the 500 companies’ year 2012 reporting activities – and found a very encouraging trend that rang a bell with our sustainable investing colleagues:  a bit more than half of the 500 were now publishing sustainability et al reports.  Then in 2013, the numbers increased again to 72%…then 75%…then 81%…and now for 2017, we reached the 85% level.  The dramatic rise is clearly evident in this chart:

Note that there are minor annual adjustments in the composition of the S&P 500 Index by the owners, and we account for this in our research, moving companies in and out of the research effort as needed.

Louis Coppola, EVP of G&A Institute who designs and manages the analysis, notes:  “Entering 2018, just 15% of the S&P 500 declined to publish sustainability reports. The practice of sustainability reporting by the super-majority of the 500 companies is holding steady with minor increases year after year. One of the most powerful driving forces behind the rise in reporting is an increasing demand from all categories of investors for material, relevant, comparable, accurate and actionable ESG disclosure from companies they invest in, or might consider for their portfolio.

“Mainstream investors are constantly searching for larger returns and have come to the conclusion that a company that considers their material Environmental, Social, and Governance opportunities and risks in their long-term strategies will outperform and outcompete those firms that do not. It’s just a matter now of following the money.”

Does embracing corporate sustainability in any way impact negatively on the market performance of these large companies?  Well, we should point out that the annual return for the SPX was 22% through 12-13-18.   You can read more in our Flash Report here.

Thank you to our wonderful analyst team members who over the years have participated in this exhaustive search and databasing effort.   We begin our thank you’s to Dr. Michelle Thompson, D.Env, now a postdoc fellow supporting the U.S. Department of Energy in the Office of Energy Policy Systems Analysis; and her colleague, Natalia Valencia, who is now Senior Research Analyst at LAVCA (Latin American Venture Capital Association).  Their early work was a foundational firming up of the years of research to follow.

Kudos to our G&A Research Team for their significant contributions to this year’s research report:  Team Leader Elizabeth Peterson; analyst-interns Amanda Hoster, Matthew Novak, Yangshengling “UB” Qui, Sara Rossner, Shraddha Sawant, Alan Stautz, Laura Malo Yague, and Qier “Cher” Zue.

We include here a hearty shout out to the outstanding analyst-interns who have made great contributions to these research efforts in each year since the start of the first project back in 2011-2012.  It’s wonderful working with all of these future leaders!

The reports from prior years are posted on the G&A Institute website: https://www.ga-institute.com/research-reports/research-reports-list.html

Check out our Honor Roll there for the full roster of all of the talented analysts who have worked on these reports and numerous other G&A Institute research that we broadly share with you when the results are in.  Their profiles (which we work with our valued colleagues to keep up to date as they move on to great success in their careers) are on the G&A website: https://www.ga-institute.com/about-the-institute/the-honor-roll.html

Footnote:  As we examine 1,500 corporate and institutional reports each year we see a variety of titles applied:  Corporate Sustainability; Corporate Social Responsibility; Corporate Responsibility; Corporate Citizenship (one of the older titles still used by GE and other firms); Corporate Stewardship; Environmental Sustainability…and more!

If you would like to have information about G&A Institute research efforts, please connect with us via our website.

Changes Ahead for Corporate Sustainability Reporting

This is a guest post by our colleague-in-sustainability, Jane DeLorenzo.  She recently completed the on-line Certificate in Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability Strategies.  The platform is hosted by G&A Institute and developed in partnership with IntegTree LLC. This is a dual credentials course!  A certificate is issued by Swain Center for Executive & Professional Education at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington and a separate certification is issued by G&A Institute.  This commentary is prepared as part of the completion of the coursework.  We are sharing it today to broaden understanding of the state-of-sustainability reporting – present and future.  Find out more about the dual certificate program here.

By Jane DeLorenzo  October 27, 2017

Now is the time for businesses and other organizations to take a closer look at their sustainability reporting; key considerations are what they report, why, how and which standards to use.

New standards released by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) will take effect July 1, 2018 — so the clock is ticking.

As more global companies produce sustainability reports, the process has become more complex. Competing standards and frameworks, increasing pressures from investors and other stakeholders, and the costs and resources involved to develop such reports can be challenging – and baffling to leaders.

While GRI is positioning and advocating to be the de facto global reporting standard, companies can select other frameworks, such as those of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) or the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC).

There are important factors to consider. Organizations can opt for an integrated report that includes both financial and sustainability information, or they can issue a sustainability report that is separate from the annual financial report.

Producing no sustainability report is also an option, since all three of these standards are voluntary in the United States and most other countries. Companies should be aware, though, that stakeholders may cry foul if no report is produced.

What’s a company to do?

The Continued Evolution of Reporting

Sustainability reports tell the story of an organization’s impacts on economic, environmental and social issues. Many corporations began to examine their non-financial impacts following the environmental and social movements of the 1970s in Europe and the United States.[i]

Public outcry due to rising awareness of pollution and social inequities pushed companies to try to be more transparent. Shareowners were making the case that non-financial issues can and do impact a firm’s financial performance.

In the U.S., for example, emissions data reporting was spurred by Right-to-Know legislation and rules in 1986 that required accountability from companies that were releasing toxic chemicals into the environment.[ii]

Demand for environmental and social disclosures led to the formation of GRI in 1997 by the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (now known as CERES) and the nonprofit Tellus Institute, both based in Boston. GRI later partnered with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which had been promoting voluntary environmental reporting by companies and industry groups.

At a ceremony in 2002 announcing the move of the GRI headquarters from Boston to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, UNEP Executive Director Dr. Klaus Töpfer acknowledged GRI’s mission to develop a framework for voluntary sustainability reporting.

He commented: “An increasing number of stakeholders, including the investment community, share the goal of the GRI to raise the practice of corporate sustainability reporting to the level of rigour, credibility, comparability and verifiability of financial reporting.”[iii]

GRI launched its first sustainability reporting framework in the year 2000 and subsequently developed four versions of its guidelines (G1 through G4). Keeping current was a long-term challenge for companies reporting their corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts. Over time it became clear that a simplified, easier-to-update standard was needed. The new GRI Standards are meant to streamline and simplify the process.

As GRI marks its 20th year, the organization is attempting to “tackle the confusion among companies about the proliferation of different reporting frameworks,” according to GRI Chief Executive Tim Mohin.[iv]

While some media reports claim GRI and SASB are competing frameworks, a 2017 article in GreenBiz, co-authored by Mohin and SASB Founder/CEO Jean Rogers, intended to dispel this perception.[v] The article states: “Rather than being in competition, GRI and SASB are designed to fulfill different purposes for different audiences. For companies, it’s about choosing the right tool for the job.”

Best Practices

Using the right tool, or standard, is the key to companies producing a successful report for their target audience.

While GRI is the widely-accepted framework for reporting sustainability initiatives to a broad audience, SASB focuses on reporting to the investor audience. This audience is interested in the link between sustainability and financial performance. Both GRI and SASB agree on a common goal: to improve corporate performance on sustainability issues.

Other organizations with similar goals include a list of initials and acronyms:  IIRC, CDP, ISO, OEDC, SDG and more. These are:

  1. IIRC (International Integrated Reporting Council) promotes integrated reporting to provide “investors with the information they need to make more effective capital allocation decisions,” according to its website.[vi]
  2. CDP (formerly known as Carbon Disclosure Project) partners with organizations to measure their carbon footprint. Many companies use CDP alongside other reporting frameworks.
  3. ISO, the International Organization for Standardization developed ISO 26000 to help organizations improve their social responsibility efforts.
  4. OECD is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Its industrial economy member countries negotiate guidelines surrounding social responsibility.
  5. SDG stands for the United Nations “Sustainable Development Goals.” UN member states adopted the 17 SDGs with 169 targets that seek to protect the planet, end poverty, fight inequality and address other social injustices.

While CSR reporting has been widely voluntary, mandatory reporting is taking effect in some countries. In the European Union, large companies (more than 500 employees and certain assets and revenues) now face mandatory disclosure of environmental and social impacts beginning with their 2018 annual reports.[vii]

The EU published its own guidelines in 2017, but it allows companies to choose among the various standards. Laws requiring CSR reporting are also in effect in South Africa, China and Malaysia. Meanwhile, a growing number of stock exchanges around the world are issuing sustainability reporting guidance and requirements.

Companies that are just beginning the process to report on their sustainability impacts should find the new GRI Standards relatively simple to use. The Standards are free to download from the GRI website (www.globalreporting.org) by registering a company name and email address. Organizations can use all or some of the Standards, but they must notify GRI of their intended use.

The new Standards are made up of three modules (or manuals): (1) the Foundation, which describes the basic reporting principles; (2) General Disclosures, which outline required contextual information about an organization and how it operates; and (3) Management Approach, which requires organizations to state how they approach their selected sustainability topics or issues.

While the content and requirements are basically unchanged from the currently-used GRI G4, the Management Approach now takes center stage. A reporting company must provide information on how it “identifies, analyzes and responds to its actual and potential impacts.”[viii]

Once a company determines its approach to a key topic, this management approach might stay the same from year to year. Also, one management approach may apply to several key topics, which should make reporting more concise. The Standards include three additional modules that are organized according to topic categories: economic, social and environment.

Focusing on material (or key) topics, rather than a long list of topics, should also make the reporting process more concise as well as more meaningful to stakeholders. In other words, less is more. The new Standards direct companies to identify their key topics and then report on at least one of the topic-specific GRI disclosures.

For example, Company XYZ determines from stakeholder feedback that the topic of waste will be included in its sustainability report. Both the new GRI standards and G4 guidelines include five disclosures on waste. The new Standards require reporting on one disclosure so Company XYZ can report more in depth on this key topic.

Previously, some companies felt compelled to report on a greater number of topics and disclosures in order to be ranked favorably by rating agencies like Bloomberg or Thomson Reuters. These ratings not only can affect a company’s stock price, but they also can influence a company’s CSR strategy.

According to a 2016 study on rating agencies, about 33 percent of companies said inquiries from sustainability analysts shaped their overall business strategy.[ix]

Implications and Conclusion

Regardless of which sustainability reporting guidelines an organization chooses, the number of companies producing voluntary or mandatory reports is growing.

The process itself can give companies a clearer picture of their impacts and progress meeting their CSR targets. These insights help companies develop strategies to identify risks and opportunities within their realm of sustainability.

Because the GRI framework has been widely accepted globally, its new Standards will likely have a strong impact on the future of reporting. But it’s also likely that the leadership of corporations will continue to take a closer look at the link between sustainability and financial performance. Consequently, other frameworks that focus on both financial and non-financial impacts could gain acceptance.

GRI, SASB, IIRC and other frameworks are all driving improvements in sustainability reporting. As GRI’s Mohin explained: “In order to be more impactful, reporting needs to be concise, consistent, comparable and current. Brevity and consistency are key to successfully managing and understanding the insights delivered by the reported data.”[x]

Reporting must consider the financial bottom line if a company is to be both profitable and sustainable. What matters is that organizations need to be mindful of their reasons for reporting and how sustainability reporting can make an impact internally and externally. Honest, balanced and transparent reporting will ultimately benefit companies, their stakeholders and society-at-large.

Author:  Jane DeLorenzo is Principal of Sustainable Options, specializing in sustainability report writing and editing, and compliance with GRI reporting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The on-line Certificate in Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability Strategies provides a broad overview of key corporate responsibility challenges and strategies that will enable organizations to succeed in the 21st Century Green Economy.  The Program Developer is Nitish Singh, Ph.D., Associate Professor of International Business at the Boeing Institute of International Business at Saint Louis University with Instructor Brendan M. Keating.

Information is here:  http://learning.ga-institute.com/courses/course-v1:GovernanceandAccountabilityInstitute+CCRSS+2016/about

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References:

[i] Brockett, A. and Rezaee, Z. (2015). Corporate Sustainability: Integrating Performance and Reporting. Retrieved from https://www.safaribooksonline.com/library/view/corporate-sustainability-integrating/9781118238066/chapter02.html

[ii] Environmental Protection Agency, United States. (n.d.) Timeline of Toxics Release Inventory Milestones. Retrieved from  https://www.epa.gov/toxics-release-inventory-tri-program/timeline-toxics-release-inventory-milestones

[iii] CSRwire (2002, April 22). Global Reporting Initiative Announces Move to Amsterdam. Retrieved from http://www.csrwire.com/press_releases/15359-Global-Reporting-Initiative-Announces-Move-to-Amsterdam

[iv] GRI (2017, October 4). Q&A with GRI Chief Executive Tim Mohin. Retrieved from https://www.globalreporting.org/information/news-and-press-center/Pages/QA-with-GRI-Chief-Executive-Tim-Mohin.aspx

[v] Mohin, T. and Rogers, J. (2017, March 16). How to approach corporate sustainability reporting in 2017. Retrieved from https://www.greenbiz.com/article/how-approach-corporate-sustainability-reporting-2017

[vi] International Integrated Reporting Council. (n.d.) Why? The need for change. Retrieved from https://integratedreporting.org/why-the-need-for-change/

[vii] European Commission, Belgium. (n.d.) Non-financial reporting. Retrieved from    https://ec.europa.eu/info/business-economy-euro/company-reporting-and-auditing/company-reporting/non-financial-reporting_en

[viii] GRI (n.d.) GRI 103: Management Approach. Retrieved from https://www.globalreporting.org/standards/gri-standards-download-center/gri-103-management-approach/

[ix] Sustainable Insight Capital Management (2016 February) Who are the ESG rating agencies? Retrieved from https://www.sicm.com/docs/who-rates.pdf

[x] GRI (2017, October 4). Q&A with GRI Chief Executive Tim Mohin. Retrieved from https://www.globalreporting.org/information/news-and-press-center/Pages/QA-with-GRI-Chief-Executive-Tim-Mohin.aspx

 

Musing About the Alphabet Soup of ESG – SRI – CSR … et al!

Blog post

March 16, 2017

by Hank Boerner and Louis CoppolaG&A Institute

Often in our conversations with managers at companies that are new to corporate sustainability and especially new to publishing corporate sustainability reports, we often move into exploration of the various terms and titles applied to corporate sustainability.

SRI.  ESG.  Sustainability.  Corporate Citizenship.  Corporate Responsibility. 

Or, Corporate Social Responsibility.  Shorthand:  CSR, CR.  What else!

And on the investment side, in our discussions with financial analysts, or asset managers, we’re discussing socially responsible investing, sustainable & responsible investing (both SRI) and more recently, sustainable & responsible & impact investing — the “S&R&I”).

This alphabet soup of titles, characterizations, approach classifications and so on is usually confusing to corporate managers not well versed in matters related to corporate sustainability.

And, to investors new to sustainable investing, sustainable & responsible investing, impact investing, analyzing corporate ESG analytics…those managers also have questions on what all these terms really mean (And ask: is there a substantive difference between terms?).

Each year as the data partners for the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) in the U.S.A., United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland, we analyze and database more than 1,500 reports each year (most are published by corporations; there are also institutional and public sector reports). Here we see firsthand every day this alphabet soup of terms playing out:

  • Corporate Responsibility / Corporate Social Responsibility (CR/CSR)
  • Corporate Citizenship (an older but still popular titling, especially among large-caps)
  • Corporate Sustainability (more often leaning toward environmental management, growing out of the traditional EHS functions at operating companies)
  • Environmental Update / Progress Report
  • Corporate Ethics

The Investment Community Point-of-View

And for investors:  There is also Faith-based investing and ethical investing, and a few other terms.  (“Green Bonds” are coming on strong!)

Many institutional investor  — asset owners and their managers, and their analysts — are seeming to favor “ESG” because it better captures the entirety of the three main issues buckets (Corporate Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance strategies, performance and issues) that make up what most investors consider to be a pretty good definition of corporate sustainability.

As corporate sustainability consultants and advisors, working closely with managements to help them effectively engage with investors on ESG issues, and so we see the term ESG becoming more and more of a preferred term for these discussions.

Consider, too, the familiar Bloomberg terminal on the desks of many investors is helping to bring volumes of corporate ESG data through the Bloomberg ESG Dashboard.

The Views of the Professional Analyst

The CFA Institute, the global education, training, testing and certification, and professional standards organization for financial analysts (“Charterholders” use the CFA professional designation) addressed this alphabet soup in its recent guide for investment professionals — “Environmental, Social and Governance Issues in Investing” (published in 2016).

The guide authors explain:  “The practice of environmental, social and governance issues in investing has evolved significantly from its origins in the exclusionary screening of listed equities on the basis of moral values. A variety of methods are now being used by both value-motivated and values-motivated investors considering ESG issues across asset classes.”

(The guide was authored by Usman Hayet, CFA; Matt Orsagh, CFA, CIPM; with contributions by Kurt N. Schacht, JD, CFA; and Rebecca A. Fender, CFA.)  Consider their views:

E:  Looking at the environmental components (the “E”), CFA Institute, investor concerns include climate change and fossil fuel assets [becoming stranded], water stress…that means that corporate ESG KPIs should be carefully examined.

S:  Looking at the social (“S”), the authors point out that labor relations can have a direct and significant impact on financial performance.

G:  Looking at corporate governance (“G”), the authors note that these were previously seen as a concern for value-motivated investment, and the E and S issues were relevant mainly for values-motivated investors.  Not anymore  — ESG issues are relevant for all long-term investors.

The CFA authors explain that there are various labels for the same issues and ESG common theme underlying the various labels is an emphasis is on ESG issues.

We Are Leaning in the Direction of….

In our work we prefer to use “Sustainability” or “ESG”, which we think best encapsulates the entirety of what we consider to be the issues in focus for institutional and individual investors.  And therefore we advise that the company’s ESG key performance indicators should be a priority concern for the board, C-suite and various level of management and corporate function areas, because of the importance of access to capital, cost of capital, and so on.

The corporate ESG performance and reporting on same might be positioned under an oversight umbrella in the corporate structure. We see these ESG activities being in the province of legal, public affairs, human resources, supply chain management, operations, EHS, investor relations, finance, corporate communications, and so on.

At times, however, we do find that some people in the corporate community hear the term “Sustainability” they automatically think only of environmental-related issues — (“E”) which of course, are just one part of what we consider sustainability to be.

And yes, all of this is still not clear cut, is it?  Varying terms and titles will probably be used for a while.

As explained, we prefer ESG when we are working with our sustainability consulting clients because this term includes the three main issue areas or buckets of issues — and says what it means. Using “ESG” tends to  make sure that it’s clear that our work includes three “bucket” areas – Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance.  (Not just Environmental!)

And the clearer we can be with our terminology, and more specific, the better off we will all be.

But Investors Are Not Asking….

Managers at many companies that we communicate with, especially in our investor relations sustainability consulting, will say, “Why don’t our analysts ask questions about sustainability on our quarterly calls?”

Erika Karp, formerly of UBS and founder of Cornerstone Capital in New York City often responds to this key question during her public presentations (Cornerstone is an ESG-focused investment firm.)

Erika:  “You’re wrong, they are asking!  If you peel back the layers of the “E” (climate, biodiversity, water, energy, waste etc); the “S” (employee retention, training, community engagement, human rights, labor contracts, benefits); and the “G” (executive compensation, proxy resolutions, board makeup, board independence, board skills, board diversity, critical issues management, and oversight of the company’s key functions) — then you can listen to the quarterly calls and you will see that you are in fact getting questions on sustainability (or ESG issues).”

We agree with Erika!  And this line of discussion points even more to the problems with our terminology in this space.

Of course, even though the analyst may not be asking: “Hey, so what about your sustainability?” the analysts and asset managers on your  calls may be or are asking about the individual elements that make up sustainability, and some of these ESG KPI’s are more important than others.  It’s important to recognize that these are Sustainability issues that they are asking you about!

As We Move Ahead…

All of this terminology discussion is our industry’s challenge, and somewhat of an educational problem in that we need to better inform others about the intricacies and the complexities that make up “Corporate Sustainability” so that there is deeper understanding of the full breadth and depth and importance of the ESG performance areas — and of the full impacts on a company’s reputation, valuation and more.

Of course, there are variations in which of these ESG issues is important (or material!), depending on industry and sector, size and geography.

We think that as we move along, “ESG” will continue to be a more preferred term for many analysts looking holistically at a public issuer. ESG will likely to continue to catch on because this approach will more clearly reflect the “completeness and complexity” of the various issue buckets that make up the corporate sustainability journey – ESG represents what it means and says what it is!

The Early Evolvement of SRI – and the Lasting Legacy

Looking back, the emergence of the Socially Responsible Investing approach (SRI #1), starting with screening out the shares of companies from portfolios (tobacco, gaming, etc.) may have a lasting legacy for some in the investment community.  More and more investors are now using the term, Sustainable & Responsible Investing (SRI #2), and even Sustainable & Responsible & Impact Investing (SRI #3 also!). These are gaining currency in the mainstream analyst and asset management communities.

And so, this is not necessarily a new discussion about titles and terminologies – it has been going on for quite some time.  In April 2009, when one of us (Hank) was editing the National Investor Relations Institute monthly magazine — IR Update — he offered up a commentary: ” Stay Tuned: More Initials for the IRO — These Could Spell Long-Term Success… Or Market Failure for Corporate Issuers ”

It was about ESG – SRI – CSR – even TARP (remember that?) — in that almost a decade-ago column, we noted that a 2008 survey of asset owners and managers, two terms were emerging as the preferred references:  ESG and Sustainability best summed up their approach.  We think this still rings true today.

It’s still an interesting read:  http://www.hankboerner.com/library/NIRI%20IR%20Update/2009/Boerner2009Apr.pdf

What are you thinking about this?  Do weigh in — please share your thoughts in the comments area below — weigh in on the dialogue!

What are your preferred terms in the daily conversation about…….

 

 

World’s Largest Asset Manager on Climate Risk Disclosure — the BlackRock Expectations of Public Company Boards and C-Suite

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

Monday, March 13, 2017 — The world’s largest asset management firm has clear expectations that corporate managements will disclose more on climate risk to their shareholder base…BlackRock speaks out.  Corporate boards and C-Suite – Important News for You….

You all know BlackRock — this the New York City-based “world’s largest asset manager guiding individuals, financial professionals, and institutions in building better financial futures…”

“That includes offerings such as mutual fund, closed-end funds, managed accounts, alternative investments, iShares ETFs, defined contribution plans…”

And — “advocating for public policies that we believe are in our investors’ long-term interests…” “…ensuring long-term sustainability for the firm, client investments and the communities where we work…”

For BlackRock, Corporate Sustainability includes: (1) human capital, (2) corporate governance (3) environmental sustainability, (4) ethics and integrity, (5) inclusion and diversity, (6) advocating for public policy, and (7) health and safety.

In terms of Responsible Investing, the BlackRock approach includes (1) investment stewardship and (2) having a sustainable investing platform (targeting social and environmental objectives AND the all-important financial return).

So it should not come as a big surprise to the boards and managements of literally thousands of public issuers that BlackRock has great expectations regarding the individual company’s (in a portfolio or hope to be) climate change disclosure practices.

What We Are Doing/How We Do it – Shared by BlackRock

Right now the BlackRock managers are sharing with other asset owners & managers their approach to sustainable investing. There are important lessons for corporate managements in these explanations:

As part of the investment process, BlackRock continues to assess a range of factors (that could impact the long-term financial sustainability of the public companies or companies).

Over the past two years, a number of projects have helped BlackRock to more fully understand climate change. BlackRock believes that climate risk (climate risk/change issues) have the potential to present definitive risks and opportunities that could or will impact long-term shareholder value.

The BlackRock team members also contributed to external initiatives such as the Financial Stability Board’s (FSB) Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) and the continued development of the voluntary reporting guidelines of the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board (SASB).

Larry Fink – the influential CEO of BlackRock — sent letters directly to the CEO’s of public companies in 2016 and then again recently (2017) that called attention to the need for the companies to help their investors better understand the ESG factors most relevant to the firm to generate value over time.

That especially includes more robust disclosure and reporting on the issues related to climate risk. (We need to keep in mind that “risk” has a companion — “opportunity,” as represented in the Chinese pictograph for a crisis.)

BlackRock’s Investment Stewardship Team meets with portfolio company managements and votes BlackRock shares at proxy voting time; if an issue is in focus and the C-suite will not make progress on the issue, the team will elevate the concern to the company’s board room. And they “may” in time vote against director nominees and for shareholders proposals that are on the right side of BlackRock’s own concerns.

Company Boards and Executives – for 2017

BlackRock engages with 1,500 companies (on average) every year. As (according to BlackRock) climate risk awareness and its engagement with companies on the issues is being advanced, and as the asset management firm’s own thinking on climate risk continues to evolve, that issue is on the table for the Investment Stewardship Team discussions with company managements in 2017.

Companies “most exposed” to climate risk will be encouraged as part of the discussions to consider reporting recommendations coming from the FSB Task Force.

And, the board will be expected to have “demonstrable fluency in how climate risk affects the business and management’s approach to adapting to and mitigating the risk. Corporate disclosure on all of this will be key to the ongoing relationship with the investor – BlackRock (with US$5 trillion and more AUM).

Other Investment Management Peers

Tim Smith, Director of ESG Shareholder Engagement at Walden Asset Management (Boston)

Tim Smith, Director of ESG Shareholder Engagement at Walden Asset Management (Boston) and long a robust and powerful voice in the sustainable investing movement, applauded BlackRock’s shared information.

“The announcement that climate risk will be a priority in their engagements with public companies is an exceedingly important message being sent by one of your largest shareholders. That they believe climate risk is a priority reinforces the importance of the issues for senior managements of public companies. We’re hopeful that BlackRock’s announcement and engagement on climate risk will result in active support for shareholder resolutions on climate change.”

Walden and others filed their own shareholder resolution with BlackRock asking for a review of the asset manager’s corporate proxy voting process and record on climate change.

BlackRock has been accused by investment peers for its proxy voting practices. For example, Climate Wire reported in 2016 that IF BlackRock and its large institutional investment peers had supported a climate resolution filed with Exxon Mobil (this was part of the not-for-profit Asset Owners Disclosure Project) the resolution would have passed in the final vote by shareholders.

We’ll see what the 2017 BlackRock moves mean in the corporate proxy season getting underway now with continued investor focus on climate change / climate risk / global warming disclosure and reporting demands.

As corporate sustainability consultants and advisors, we at G&A Institute (and as part of our pro bono research work as the exclusive Data Partners for the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) in the United States) analyzed more than 1,500 report sustainability reports in 2016 — and we are seeing an increase now in 2017 early survey results that corporate disclosure on climate risk issues is definitely on the increase.

We will soon release the results of our team’s analysis of S&P 500(r) on sustainability reporting and related issues. Recall that our analysis last year found that 81 percent of the 500 companies were doing structured sustainability reporting.

There’s more information for you here:

https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/en-us/about-us/investment-stewardship/engagement-priorities

https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/en-us/literature/market-commentary/how-blackrock-investment-stewardship-engages-on-climate-risk-march2017.pdf

Asset Owners Disclosure Project:  http://aodproject.net/

Tim Smith / Walden Asset Management:

http://www.waldenassetmgmt.com/team/smith-timothy

 

 

An Attendee’s Experience and Review of G&A Institute’s / Global Change Associates’ Sustainable Finance Certificate Program at Baruch College/CUNY

Guest Post by Ling Qin – G&A Institute Data Partner Reports Analyst

LingQinG&A Institute’s Sustainable Finance Certificate Program, developed in partnership with Global Change Associates, was hosted on 14 December, 2016 at Baruch College, City University of New York, in New York City.

This was a very rewarding learning and networking experience for me. Although I have the primary professional foundation for the necessary sustainable skills and knowledge, this one-day intensive seminar provided me with a broader background and more concrete view of different sustainability frameworks, ESG ratings and sustainable trends.

Leading experts in the sustainable finance gathered together at the Baruch College Vertical Campus to offer their first-hand sustainability industrial insights. Experts participating as lecturers came from Governance and Accountability Institute (which is GRI’s Exclusive Data Partner in UK and US), the Baruch Business School, MSCI, SASB, Bloomberg, Global Change Associates, and other organizations.

Mr. Samuel Block from MSCI introduced his company’s ESG products, their ESG rating methodology and ESG rating process. Not only does he introduce how MSCI’s ESG research carries out, but also informed us [the course participants] of lots of resources of ESG data.

Those important ESG datasets from company public reporting, media searches, regulatory, academic and NGO’s (third parties) enables MSCI and other interested parties to do solid analysis focusing on the most material aspects of companies’ ESG performance.

The lively discussion in the Q&A session cast light on the reactions from MSCI when facing push backs from companies with low ESG scores. After this all-day series of lectures, I understood (for example) that MSCI would include the controversies in their final reports presented to the institutional investors, which is a very good signal of the importance of ESG scores and reputation and the independence of the MSCI’s evaluation.

Another impressive section was around the topic of “ESG Equity Fundamentals Data Analytics” provided by Mr. Hideki Suzuki from Bloomberg’s ESG Group.

He showed participants how to explore and conduct cross-analysis of the ESG performance by using Bloomberg Terminal step-by-step. Bloomberg Terminal covers ESG score summary for companies’ historical trends and their comparable peers’ performance.

For the environmental performance, the GHG intensity indicator in the Bloomberg Terminal is introduced as a good example.

The indicators for social performance in the Bloomberg Terminal include company’s productivity through human capital management, total recordable incident rate, employee turnover rate and etc.

Independence of the board, diversity of executives and executive compensation are outstanding indicators for the corporate governance performance.

Mr. Hideki also highlighted that “ratios” are the key to allow researchers to do apple-to-apple comparable studies, which is an important tip that all sustainable professionals need to pay attention to.

By the end of the day, I not only benefitted from all vibrant sustainable knowledge- sharing, but also feel grateful to connect with experienced sustainable professionals.

All the guest speakers are very willing to share their opinions, slides and contacts. I very much enjoyed an intellectually-challenging learning experience and an intimate learning atmosphere for the whole day.  I recommend this course to my professional colleagues who are seeking greater knowledge in the expanding sustainable investing field.

Linq Qin has served as a G&A Institute GRI data partner corporate reporting analyst.

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Save-the-Date031517_squaread

SAVE THE DATE
The next session for the G&A Institute / Global Change Associates “Corporate ESG for Investment & Finance Professionals Certification” will be hosted at Baruch College/CUNY on March 15, 2017.  Click here for more information and to register at Eventbrite.

So Many Positives in 2016 for Sustainability – Corporate Citizenship – CR – Sustainable Investing — The Core of “Trends Converging!” Commentaries. It’s 2017 — Now What?

by Hank BoernerG&A Institute

Welcome to 2017! We are off to the start of a challenging year for sustainability / responsibility / corporate citizenship / sustainable investing professionals.

We are being forewarned: A self-described (by his constant tweeting) “new sheriff is coming to town,” along with the newly-elected members of the 115th Congress who begin their meetings this week. Given the makeup of the new Administration (at least in the identification of cabinet and agency leaders to date) and the members of the leadership of the majority party on Capitol Hill, sustainability professionals will have their work set out for them, probably coming into a more clear focus in the fabled “first 100 days” after January 20th and the presidential inauguration ceremonies.

The year 2016 began on such a hopeful note! One year ago as the year got started I began writing a series of commentaries on the many positive trends that I saw — and by summer I was assembling these into “Trends Converging! — A 2016 Look Ahead of the Curve at ESG / Sustainability / CR / SRI.” Subtitle, important trends converging that are looking very positive…

As I got beyond charting some 50 of these trends, and I stopped my thinking and writing to share the commentaries and perspectives that formed chapters in an assembled e-book that is available for your reading. I’ve been sharing my views because the stakes are high for our society, business community, public sector, social sector…all of us!

* * * * * * * *

The specifics: Throughout the early months of 2016 I was encouraged by:

The Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor giving American fiduciaries the green light for considering corporate ESG factors in their investment decision-making. Page 7 – right up front in the commentaries!

The Sustainable Accounting Standards Board (SASB) team completing its comprehensive recommendations for 12 sectors and 80 industry components of these for “materiality mapping” and expansion of corporate reporting to include material ESG factors in the annual 10-k filing. These are important tools for investors and managements of public companies. See Page 17.

His Holiness Pope Francis mobilizing the global resources of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church with his 74-page Laudato Si [encyclical] that includes sharp and sweeping focus on climate change, global warming, water availability, biodiversity, and other social issues. Imagine, I wrote, the power that such an institution can bring to bear on challenges, in the world, in the USA, and other large nations…

This is the Pope’s great work: “On Care of Our Common Home.” I explored the breadth of depth of this in my commentaries. That’s on Page 163 – Chapter 44.

President Barack Obama ably led the dramatic advances made in the Federal government’s sustainability efforts thanks in large measure to several of the President’s Executive Orders (such as EO 13693 on March 19, 2015: Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade).

Keep in mind the Federal government is the largest purchaser of goods and services in the U.S.A. — over time this action will result in positive changes across the government’s prime supply chain networks. Page 50 / Chapter 13.

The European Union’s new rules for disclosure of non-financial information beginning in 2017; As I began my commentary, the various EU states were busily finalizing adoption of the Accounting Directive to meet the deadline for companies within each of the 28 states. The estimate is that as many as 5,000 companies will begin reporting on their CR and ESG performance. Page 27 / Chapter 7.

Here in the USA, Federal regulators were inching toward final rules for the remaining portions of the 2010 Dodd-Frank legislation. Roughly 20% of rules were yet to be completed for corporate compliance with D-F as we entered 2016, according to estimates by the Davis Polk law firm. Page 30 / Chapter 8.

In 2017, one very contentious rule will be in effect — the required disclosure by public companies of the CEO-to-median worker-pay ratio; the final rule was adopted in August 2015 and so in corporate documents we will be seeing this ratio publicized (technically, in the first FY beginning in January 1, 2017). Page 34 / Chapter 9 – What Does My CEO Make? Why It Matters to Me.

Good news on the stock exchange front: member exchanges of the World Federation of Exchanges have been collaborating to develop “sustainability policies” for companies with shares listed on the respective exchanges. At the end of 2015 the WFE’s Sustainability Working Group announced its recommendations [for adoption by exchanges]. Guidance was offered on 34 KPIs for enhanced disclosure. Page 103 / Chapter 27.

The WFE has been cooperating with a broad effort convened by stakeholders to address listing requirements related to corporate disclosure

This is the “SSE” — the Sustainable Stock Exchanges initiative, spearheaded by the Ceres-managed Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR), and leadership of key UN initiatives as well as WFE member exchanges.

NASDAQ OMX is an important part of this overall effort in the United States and is committed to discussing global standards for corporate ESG performance disclosure.  Notd Evan Harvey, Director of CR for NASDAQ: “Investors should have a complete picture of the long-term viability, health and strategy of their intended targets. ESG data is a part of the total picture. Informed investment decisions tend to produce longer-term investments.”

The United Nations member countries agreed in Fall 2015 on adoption of sweeping Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the next 15 years (17 goals/169 specific targets). This is a dramatic expansion of the 2000 Millennium Goals for companies, NGOs, governments, other stakeholders. Now the many nation-signatories are developing strategies, plans, programs, other actions in adoption of SDGs. And large companies are embracing the goals to help “transfer our world” with adoption of mission-aligned strategies and programs out to 2030.

G&A Institute’s EVP Lou Coppola has been working with Chairwoman of the Board Dr. Wanda Lopuch and leaders of the Global Sourcing Council to help companies adopt goals (the GSC developed a sweeping 17-week sourcing and supply chain campaign based on the 17 goals). Page 56 / Chapter 15.

Very important coming forth as the year 2016 moved to a close: The Report on US Sustainable, Responsible and Impact Investing Trends, 2016 — the every-other-year survey of asset managers in the USA to chart “who” considers ESG factors across their activities. Money managers and institutional investors, we subsequently learned later in 2016, use ESG factors in determining $8.72 trillion in AUM – a whopping 33% increase since 2014. Great work by the team research effort helmed by US SIF’s Meg Voorhes and Croatan Institute’s Joshua Humphreys (project leaders). Background before the report release Page 78.

* * * * * * * *

The above is a very brief overview of the many positive trends that I saw, explored further, and wrote commentaries on through many months of 2016. I worked to weave in the shared perspectives of outstanding thought leaders and experts on various topics. We are all more enlightened and informed by the work of outstanding thought leaders, many presented in the public arena to benefit us.

* * * * * * * *

Sharing Thought Leadership

In developing our commentaries we shared the wisdom of many people who are influential thought leaders and who enthusiastically share their own perspectives with us. These include:

  • Chris Skroupa, Founder of Skytop Strategies and prominent Forbes blogger. His views on Page i.
  • Pam Styles, Founder/Principal of Next Level Investor Relations and NIRI Senior Roundtable member. See Page iv.
  • Secretary Thomas Perez, U.S. Department of Labor on ERISA for fiduciaries. Page 7.
  • Dr. James Hawley of St. Mary’s College of California on the concept of the Universal Owner, based on the earlier work of corporate governance thought leader Robert Monks. Page 9.
  • the team at Sustainable Accounting Standards Board led by Chair Michael Bloomberg, Vice Chair Mary Schapiro, Founder and CEO Jean Rogers, Ph.D., P.E. . Page 17.
  • the team at TruCost.
  • the team at CDP.
  • the team at CFA Institute (the global organization for Chartered Financial Analysts) developing guidelines for inclusion of ESG factors in analysis and portfolio management — the new Guide for Investment Professionals – ESG Issues in Investing. Coordinated by Matt Orsagh, CFA, CIPM; Usman Hayat, CFA; Kurt Schacht, JD, CFA; Rebecca A. Fender, CFA. Page 20.
  • the leadership team at New York Society of Securities Analysts’ (NYSSA) Sustainable Investing Committee (where I was privileged to serve as chair until December 31st). Page 21. We have great perspective sharing among the core leadership team (Kate Starr, Peter Roselle, Ken Lassner, Andrew King, Agnes Terestchenko, Steve Loren).
  • experts respected law firms sharing important perspectives related to corporate governance, corporate citizenship / CSR / disclosure / compliance and related topics: Gibson Dunn on compliance matters. Page 25.
  • the law firm of Davis Polk on Dodd-Frank rulemaking progress and related matters.
  • experts at the respected law firm of Morrison & Foerster on executive compensation and related regulatory matters (in the excellent Cheat Sheet publication). Page 30.
  • the experts at the law firm of Goodwin Procter addressing SEC regulations. Page 146.
  • the skilled researchers, analysts and strategists at MSCI who shared “2016 ESG Trends to Watch” with their colleagues. The team of Linda Eling, Matt Moscardi, Laura Nishikawa and Ric Marshall identified 550 companies in the MSCI ACWI Index that are “ahead of the curve” in accounting for their carbon emissions targets relative to country targets. Baer Pettit, Managing Director and Global Head of Products, is leading the effort to integrate ESG factors into the various MSCI benchmarks for investor clients.Page 100.

AND……..

  • Thanks to Peter Roselle for his continuous sharing of Morgan Stanley  research results with the analyst community. 
  • the perceptive analysts at Veritas, the executive compensation experts who closely monitor and share thoughts on CEO pay issues. Page 36.
  • the outstanding corporate governance thought leader and counsel to corporations Holly Gregory of the law firm Sidley Austin LLP who every year puts issues in focus for clients and shares these with the rest of us; this includes her views on proxy voting issues. (She is co-leader of the law firm’s CG and Exec Compensation Practice in New York City.) Page 39.
  • the Hon. Scott M. Stringer, Comptroller of the City of New York, with his powerful “Board Accountability Project,” demanding increased “viable” proxy access in corporate bylaws to enable qualified shareholders to advance candidates for board service. Pages 40, 45 on.
  • the experts at Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), a unit of MSCI, which counts numerous public employee pension funds and labor pension systems among its clients; ISS staff share their views on governance issues with the rest of us to keep us informed on their policies and related matters. Page 40.
  • SRI pioneer and thought leader Robert Zevin (chair of Zevin Asset Management) who shares his views on the company’s work to improve corporate behaviors. Page 41.
  • Mark W. Sickles, NACD thought leader, and my co-author of “Strategic Governance: Enabling Financial, Environmental and Social Sustainability” (p.2010) for helping me to better understand and refine my views on the “Swarming Effect” (investor engagement) by institutional investors that influences corporate behavior. Page 44.
  • the experts led by thought leader (and ED) Jon Lukomnik at Investor Responsibility Research Center (IRRC) that, working with Ernst & Young LLP, one year ago in January produced the Corporate Risk Factor Disclosure Landscape to help us better understand corporate risk management and related disclosure. Page 47.
  • CNN commentator and author Fareed Zakaria who shared his brilliant perspectives with us in publishing “The Post American World,” focusing on a tectonic, great power shift. Page 61.
  • The former food, agriculture and related topics commentator of The New York Times, Mark Bittman, who shared many news reports and commentaries with editors over five years before moving on to the private sector. Page 65.
  • our many colleagues at the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) in the Netherlands, the USA, and in other countries, who shared their views on corporate sustainability reporting and related topics; the GRI framework is now becoming a global standard. (G&A Institute is the Data Partner for GRI in the USA, UK and Republic of Ireland; we are also a Gold Community member of supporters for the GRI.) Page 71.
  • our colleagues at Bloomberg LP, especially the key specialist of ESG research, Hideki Suzuki; (and) other colleagues at Bloomberg LP in various capacities including publishing the very credible Bloomberg data and commentary on line and in print. Page 76 and others.
  • Barbara Kimmel, principal of the Trust Across America organization, who collaborated with G&A Institute research efforts in 2016.
  • we have been continually inspired over many years by the efforts of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), and past and present leaders and colleagues there, who helped to inform our views in 2016 on shareholder activism and corporate engagement. Chair the Rev. Seamus Finn is on point with his “Holy Land Principles” in recent years. The long-time executive director, Tim Smith (now at Walden Asset Management) has been very generous in sharing news and perspectives long after his ICCR career. Details on Page 77.
  • our colleagues at the U.S. Forum for Sustainable & Responsible Investment (US SIF), and its Foundation, led by CEO Lisa Woll; and our colleagues at the SIF units SIRAN and IWG. The every-other-year summary of Assets Under Management utilizing ESG approaches showed [AUM] nearing $9 trillion before the run up in market valuations following the November elections. Page 78.
  • Goldman Sachs Asset Management acquired Imprint Capital in 2015 (the company was a leader in developing investment solutions that generate measureable ESG impact — impact investing). Hugh Lawson, head of GSAM client strategy, is leading the global ESG activities. GSAM has updated its Environmental Policy Framework to guide the $150 billion in clean energy financing out to 2025. Page 83.
  • the experts at Responsible Investor, publishing “ESG & Corporate Financial Performance: Mapping the Global Landscape,” the research conducted by Deutsche Asset & Wealth Management and Hamburg University. This is an empirical “study of studies” that looked at the “durable, overall impact of ESG integration to boost the financial performance of companies.” A powerful review of more than 2,000 studies dating back to 1970. Page 90.
  • Boston Consulting Group’s Gregory Pope and David Gee writing for CNBC saw the advantage held by the USA going into the Paris COP 21 talks: advances in technology are making the USA a global leader in low-cost/low-pollution energy production. They worked with Professor Michael Porter of Harvard Business School (the “shared value” proponent) on research. Page 95.
  • researchers, analysts and experts at Morgan Stanley Research charted “what was accomplished in Paris in 2015” for us; their report identified five key areas of progress that cheered conference participants; I share these in the “Trends Converging!” work. MS Research in the post-Paris days shared perspectives on the carbon tax concept and the status of various nations on the issue — and the actions of the State of California in implementing “AB 32” addressing GhGs. Page 119.
  • G&A Institute Fellow Daniel Doyle, an experienced CFO and financial executive, sharing thoughts on corporate “inversion” and the bringing back of profits earned abroad by U.S. companies. Page 122.
  • the Council of State Governments (serving the three branches of state governments) is actively working with public officials in understanding the Clean Power Plan of the Obama Administration (the shared information is part of the CSG Knowledge Center). Page 101.
  • Evan Harvey, Director of CR at NASDAQ, has continuously shared his knowledge with colleagues as the world’s stock exchanges move toward guidance or rule making regarding disclosure of corporate sustainability and related topics. Page 104.
  • our former Rowan & Blewitt [consulting practice] colleague Allen Schaeffer, now the leader of the Diesel Technology Forum, explaining the role of “clean diesel” in addressing climate change issues. Page 128.
  • Harvard Business School prof Clayton Christensen, who conceived and thoroughly explained “the Innovator Dilemma” in the book of the same name in 2007, updated recently, characterized new technology as “disruptive” and “sustaining,” now happening at an accelerated pace. We explain on Page 147.
  • the researchers and experts at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has shared important perspectives and research results dealing with the massive shift taking place in the corporate and business sectors as Baby Boomers retire(!) and the Millennials rise to positions of influence and power. And Millennials are bringing very positive views regarding corporate sustainability and sustainable investing to their workplace! The folks at Sustainable Brands also weighed in on this in recent research and conference proceedings. Page 154.
  • Author Thom Hartman in 2002 explored for us the subject of “corporate citizenship” in his book, “Unequal Protection, the Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights.” This work continues to help inform views regarding “corporate rights” in the context of corporate citizenship and beyond. The issue of corporate contributions to political parties and candidates continues to be a hot proxy season debate. Page 160.
  • Author and consultant Freya Williams in her monumental, decade-long research into “Green Giants” shared results with us in the book of that name and her various lectures. Seven green giant [companies] are making billions with focus on sustainability, she tells us, and they outperform the S&P 500 benchmark. Page 170.
  • Speaking of the S&P 500, I shared the results of the ongoing research conducted by our G&A Institute colleagues on the reporting activities of the 500 large companies — now at 81% of the benchmark components. Page 195.
  • And of course top-of-mind as I moved on through in writing the commentaries, I had the Securities & Exchange Commission’s important work in conducting the “Disclosure Effectiveness Initiative,” and a look at Regulation S-K in the “Concept Release” that was circulated widely in the earlier months of 2016. Consideration of corporate sustainability / ESG material information was an important inclusion in the 200-page document. Page 174.

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All of the above and more were important contributors in my collected “Trends Converging!” (in 2016) work. I am grateful to many colleagues in the corporate community and in the capital markets community who shared knowledge, wisdom, expertise and more with Lou Coppola and I over the recent years. They have helped to inform our work.

We thank the knowledge and valuable information willingly shared with us by our valued colleagues at RepRisk, especially Alexandra Milhailescu; Measurabl (Matt Ellis); The Conference Board’s Matteo Tonello; Nancy Mancilla and Alex Georgescu at our partnering organization for training, ISOS Group; Bill Baue at Convetit; Herb Blank at S-Networks Global Indexes; Robert Dornau at RobecoSAM Group, managers of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index family; Barbara Kimmel at Trust Across America.

Also, Professor Nitish Singh of St. Louis University, with his colleague VP Brendan Keating of IntegTree, our on-line professor and tech guru for the new G&A on-line, sustainability and CSR e-learning platform.

And, Executive Director Judith Young and Institute Founder James Abruzzo, our colleagues at the Institute for Ethical Leadership at Rutgers University Business School; Matt LePere and the leaders at Baruch College / City University of New York; and, Peter Fusaro, our colleague in teaching and coaching, at Global Change Associates.

And thank you, Washington DC Power Players!

Very important: We must keep uppermost in mind the landmark work of our President Barack H. Obama (consider his Action Plan on Climate Change, issued in December 2015) with the Clean Power Plan for the USA included. His Executive Orders have shaped the Federal government’s response to climate change challenges.

And there is U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, again and again hitting the hot button sensitive areas for the middle class — like income and wealth inequalities and Wall Street reform — that raised the consciousness of the American public about these issues.
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Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and her views (published in The New York Times) in her “How to Rein in Wall Street” op-ed.

And I thank my G&A Institute colleagues for their support and continued input all through the writing process: EVP Louis Coppola; Ken Cynar, our able editor and news director; Amy Gallagher, client services VP; Peter Hamilton, PR leader; Mary Ann Boerner, head of administration.

So many valuable perspectives shared by so many experts and thought leaders! All available to you…

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And Now to 2017!

And so what will happen in these many, many areas of forward-momentum in addressing society’s most challenging issues (like global warming) with “deniers and destroyers” lining up for key Federal government positions in the new administration and in the 115th Congress?

I and my colleagues at G&A Institute will be bringing you news, commentary and opinion, and our shared perspectives on developments.

If you would like to explore the many (more than 50) positive trends that I saw as 2016 began and proceeded on into the election season, you will find a complimentary copy of “Converging Trends!” (2016) at:http://www.ga-institute.com/research-reports/trends-converging-a-2016-look-ahead-of-the-curve.html

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Please do share with us your own thoughts where you think we might be headed in 2017, and your thoughts on the 2016 trends and their future directions — for 2017 and beyond. Do tune in to the many experts that I included in the various commentaries as they adjust to the New Normal of Washington DC.

I plan to share the individual commentaries with updates in 2017. Do Stay Tuned to G&A Institute’s Sustainability Update blog (you can register here to receive notice of new postings). You can sign on to receive the latest post at: http://www.ga-institute.com/sustainability-update-blog.html (Sharing insights and perspectives for your sustainability journey.)

Best wishes from the G&A Institute team for the New Year 2017!