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.

* * * * * * * *

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.
.
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…

* * * * * * * *

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

* * * * * * * *

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!

 

 

Responsible Investing – An Evolved Definition for the 21st Century

Guest Post by Herb Blank
- Senior Consultant | S-Network Global Indexes, LLC,
- Partner: Thomson Reuters Corporate Responsibility Indices

G&A’s good friend Herb Blank wrote this very interesting piece on Responsible Investing that we thought our readers would enjoy, value and learn from so we are sharing it here on Sustainability-Update:

 

There seems to be a lot of confusion in the market as to what constitutes Responsible Investing (RI) and Socially Responsible Investing (SRI).  There shouldn’t be, however, especially about the latter.  The principles of SRI have over time become more clearly defined and now fit into a consistent framework.  It may be worth taking a step back to look at the evolution of SRI through the years and try to define what SRI means within the modern context.

In western culture, many trace the SRI movement back to the famed John Wesley Methodist sermon, “The Use of Money”, encouraging business practices that do no harm to neighbors.  One of the early investment funds quoted Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” in implementing strategies that avoided ownership of the shares of companies in sinful industries as defined in the fund’s charter.  The popularity of this fund led to the development of others, some of which defined sinful industries differently and some that also excluded companies with poor corporate citizenship practices. The latter was generally defined by public controversies. For example, in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, I served on the Investment Committee of a Social Principles Fund where the Board members determined the criteria for what business practices were undesirable. Excluded companies included: Sherwin Williams that produced lead-based paints linked to children’s deaths; Union Carbide over its resistance to taking full responsibility for the cleanup and restitution to victims following the Bhopal disaster; Schlumberger for its repudiation of the Sullivan principles; and Exxon for its Alaskan oil spill and subsequent unsatisfactory response.

Around the same time, there were a number of student protests attempting to pressure university endowments  to  employ  socially  responsible  investment  screens  to  influence  the  behaviors  of corporations.  In  turn,  this  provoked  papers  by  respected  academics,  one  of  which  was  by  Yale University’s Dr. Stephen Ross arguing that removing stocks from the selection universe resulted in a reduction in the expected-return-per-unit-risk ratio for the overall portfolio.   He turned the socially responsible proposition on its head, proclaiming that it was downright irresponsible for a fiduciary in charge of an investment portfolio to consider social factors because the fiduciary’s most important obligation was to generate the highest possible return for a selected level of risk.  Other accomplished professors praised this paper.  Several opined publicly that social constraints had no place in the science of investing. The concept that attention to social factors causes inferior returns is still held as gospel by some to this day.

The next shift occurred in the 1990’s when some advocates of good corporate citizenship applied the ecological term sustainability to finance and economics.  Sustainability is defined as the potential for long- term maintenance of well-being which has ecological, economic, political and social dimensions. On March  20,  1987,  the  Brundtland  Commission  of  the  United  Nations  declared  that  “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs “Applied to the investment in stocks of corporations, sustainability looks beyond whether a company is engaged in “good” or “bad” businesses and to the actual practices of the company.”  However, as Louise Fallon, Editor of Worldwise Investor observed, “The problem with it, is that its interpretation depends on the perspective of the user.”

This harkens back to the “arbitrary” criticism attributed to SRI because what is socially irresponsible to the Southern Baptist Convention is not necessarily socially irresponsible to the Sierra Club and vice versa. In fact, one observed trend has been to drop the word social from responsible investing practices.  A lot of companies have renamed their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) departments and officers to Corporate Responsibility.  Similarly, many investment publications and an increasing number of investors have evolved these concepts from SRI to the phrase Responsible Investing. In this context, the word responsible means to divert resources away from the least sustainable activities in order to increase allocations to the more sustainable areas of the firm while the word social is firmly ensconced as one of the pillars of ESG (Economic, Social, and Governance) by referring to measurable firm behaviors with social impact. This is consistent with and leads into the current United Nations Principles declaration.

The United Nations Principles for Responsible Investing (UNPRI) defines “responsible investment” as an approach to investment that explicitly acknowledges the relevance to the investor of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors, and the long-term health and stability of the market as a whole. It is driven by a growing recognition in the financial community that effective research, analysis and evaluation of ESG issues is a fundamental part of assessing the value and performance of an investment over the medium and longer term, and that this analysis should inform asset allocation, stock selection, portfolio construction, shareholder engagement and voting. Responsible investment requires investors and companies to take a wider view, acknowledging the full spectrum of risks and opportunities facing them, in order to allocate capital in a manner that is aligned with the short and long-term interests of their clients and beneficiaries. This definition has led many to refer to responsible investing as ESG Investing.

Identification of ESG factors as the three main building blocks brings form and shape to Responsible or ESG Investing (RI or ESGI).  Rather than judging a line of business to be “bad”, RI takes a best-practices approach within the ESG framework As the global trends of corporations stepping up reporting these data items continue to increase, the There are two major global organizations: the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and the Sustainable Accounting Standards Boards (SASB) dedicated to global acceptance of ESG reporting standards. The GRI is in its fourth global iteration and is based on the underlying principles of sustainability.  The US-based SASB follows a more rules-based approach.  Both initiatives focus on identifying material Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) within each of the three ESG pillars, then creating a reality where corporate reporting of these KPIs becomes as automatic as reporting on the firm’s key balance sheet and income statement items.

As increasing amounts of measurable corporate ESG data have become available globally, so have efforts to integrate these data into investment portfolios – even those portfolios without ESG mandates. This  makes  sense  because  they  contain  the  same  types  of  insights  into  the  future  directions  of companies and potential major risks (e.g., environmental events, litigation) as inventory turnover ratios and projected revenue growth rates. One such approach that has gained popularity is called Triple Bottom-Line Investing.   This is a holistic approach to measuring a company’s performance on environmental, social, and economic issues. The triple bottom line approach to management focuses companies not just on the economic value they add, but also on their exposures to potential positive and negative environmental and social effects and controversies.

Certainly, we will continue to see investors who wish to put their money to work in accordance with their beliefs.  This includes the traditional no-sin and socially principled investors referenced earlier along with a more recent movement known as impact investing.  One early forms of impact investing by institutional investors was the voting of proxies against management initiative to institute “poison pills” and other practices they considered representative of poor corporate governance. These efforts continue today but some have adopted even more activist approaches.  According to the Global Impact Investing Network, impact investments are investments made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate measurable social and environmental impact alongside an investment return.

In accordance with active awareness, leading SRI and impact investing practitioners have embraced the promotion of ESG reporting and made active use of increasingly available ESG data.  The traditional SRI investors score ESG data alongside traditional fundamental factors for their entire universe, then screen out companies in objectionable businesses or on a list of companies with bad practices. The impact investors use a similar universe screening practice to focus on companies where their investment dollars can promote positive impact.

The best fiduciary practices issue has now come full circle.   Increasingly, companies are publicly disclosing data relating to Key Performance Indicators regarding their environmental, social and corporate governance  practices.    Published  studies  have  documented  relationships  during  different  periods between such data and returns, some of which correlate periods of outperformance with positive ESG data.  Whether these relationships will persist throughout the majority of market cycles is still open to question.   Nevertheless, it is clear that investors who exclude or ignore ESG data as part of their fundamental research process do so at their own risk. The tenets of Modern Portfolio Theory state that alpha can only exist when one or more participants have access to and apply information that others do not.  If investors have access to publicly available data but ignore them, this may create the same market advantages that investors can achieve with nonpublic information. The only difference is that in this case, that informational advantage is perfectly legal.

At this point, I turn the question back to Dr. Ross and his colleagues.   As an increasing number of portfolio managers continue to integrate ESG data into the investment process, can investment policies that preclude the consideration of such data truly be responsible?  I posit that such a position is internally inconsistent. ESG-aware investing that accounts for these factors along with other fundamental factors is destined to become the standard for responsible investing.

 

Glossary

Active  ownership  -  Voting  company shares  and/or  engaging  corporate  managers  and  boards  of directors in dialogue on environmental, social, and corporate governance issues

Best-in-class – An approach that focuses on investments in companies that have historically performed better than their peers within a particular industry or sector based on analysis of environmental, social, and corporate governance issues. Typically involves positive or negative screening, or portfolio tilting

Corporate Governance - Procedures and processes according to which an organization (in this context, mainly a company) is directed and controlled. The corporate governance structure specifies the distribution of rights and responsibilities among the different participants in the organization—such as the board, managers, shareholders and other stakeholders—and lays down the rules and procedures for decision making

CR (Corporate Responsibility) also known as CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) – An approach to business which takes into account economic, social, environmental, and ethical impacts for a variety of reasons, including mitigating risk, decreasing costs, and improving brand image and competitiveness.

Divestment - Selling or disposing of shares or other assets. Gained prominence during the boycott of companies doing business in South Africa

Environmental Investing – Sometimes referred to as green investing, this is an investment philosophy that includes criteria relating to the environmental performance and areas of business of companies considered for investment; the three principal areas of focus are: emissions reductions; natural resource usage; and innovative technological improvements

ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) Investing – This is an investment approach which incorporates environmental, social, and governance factors into the investment process. ESG terminology was developed and promulgated by the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investing (UNPRI)

Ethical Investing - Investment policies and strategies guided by moral values, ethical codes, or religious beliefs. These practices have traditionally been associated with negative screening.

Global Reporting Initiative – The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is a network-based organization whose goals include universal disclosure on environmental, social, and governance performance.

Impact Investing – Investing in companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate measurable social and environmental impact alongside an investment return

Negative Screening – This term can be used to categorize any investment strategy of avoiding companies whose products and business practices are harmful to individuals, communities, or the environment.  Formerly used exclusively to screen out companies in “bad” or sinful industries, this now also applies to investment strategies incorporating a best-of-breed approach.

Proxy Activism – Actively voting on shareholder resolutions affecting environmental, social, and governance issues of a corporation.

Positive Screening - Screening may involve including strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) performers, or otherwise incorporating CSR factors into the process of investment analysis and management. This starts with a best-of-breed approach and then may overlay more traditional fundamental and price-based factors to create and maintain investment portfolios

Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) -The United Nations-backed Principles for Responsible Investment Initiative (PRI) is a network of international investors working together to put the six Principles for Responsible Investment into practice. The Principles were devised with input from the global community of responsible investors. They reflect the view that environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) issues can affect the performance of investment portfolios and therefore must be given appropriate consideration by investors if they are to fulfill their fiduciary (or equivalent) duty. The Principles provide a voluntary framework by which all investors can incorporate ESG issues into their decision-making and ownership practices and so better align their objectives with those of society at large.

Responsible Investing (RI) -This is the process of integrating data on environmental, social, and corporate governance performance and risk exposures into investment decision-making

Shareholder Activism - Actively voting on shareholder resolutions affecting environmental, social, and governance issues of a corporation

Social Performance – The social performance of a company involves its corporate citizenship and how it benefits or impacts negatively on the areas in which it operates.  Issues include: product responsibility; health and safety; training and development; employment quality; diversity issues; and human rights issues

Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) – This is the process of coordinating investment policies and strategies  with  shared  viewpoints  as  to  what  constitutes  socially  responsible  corporate  behaviors. Today’s SRI investor frequently combines an RI approach with additional screens to eliminate companies in objectionable industries or with “anti-societal” practices.

Sustainability –  Responsible, Impact investing (SRI) is  the process of  integrating personal values, societal concerns, and/or institutional mission into investment decision-making. SRI is an investment process that considers the social and environmental consequences of investments, both positive and negative, within the context of rigorous financial analysis. SRI portfolios seek to invest in companies with the strongest demonstrated performance in the areas of environmental, social, and corporate governance issues (commonly referred to as “ESG”)—in both the public and private markets. SRI is also known as “green” or “values-based” or “impact” investing, or simply as “responsible” investing.

Triple Bottom Line – A holistic approach to measuring a company’s performance on environmental, social, and economic issues. The triple bottom line approach to management focuses companies not just on the economic value they add, but also on their exposures to potential positive and negative environmental and social effects and controversies


Bibliography

1.   Bauer, Rob; Derwall, Jeroen; Guenster, Nadja; Koedijk, Kees, “The Economic Value of Corporate Eco-Efficiency,” Academy of Management Research Paper, 25 July 2005

2.   Burnett, Royce; Skousen, Christopher; Wright, Charlotte; “Eco-Effective Management: An Empirical Link between Firm Value and Corporate Sustainability.” Accounting and the Public Interest:” December 2011, Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 1-15.

3.   Copp, Richard; Kremmer, Michael; and Roca Eduardo, “Socially Responsible Investments in Market Downturns”, Griffith Law Review 2010. Vol 19 no 1

4.   Davis,  Stephen;  Lukomnik, Jon;  and  Pitt-Watson,  David,  “Active  Shareowner  Stewardship:  A  New Paradigm for Capitalism,” Rotman International Journal of Pension Management, Vol. 2, No. 2, Fall 2009

5.   Global Reporting Initiative, “G4 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines”, Pamphlet, 2013

6.   Karnarni, Aneel and Ross, Stephen, “The Case Against Corporate and Social Responsibility”. California Management Review, Vol. 53 (2), Winter 2011

7.   Ribando, Jason and Bonne, George, “A New Quality Factor: Finding Alpha with Asset4 ESG Data,” Starmine Research Note, Thomson Reuters, 2010

8.   Ross,  Stephen,  “Endowment  Portfolios:  Objectives  and  Constraints,”  Financial  Economics  Essays (Prentice-Hall, Inc.), 1982

9.   Wheeler, David; Colbert, Barry; and Freeman, R. Edward, ‘Focusing on Value: Reconciling Corporate Social Responsibility, Sustainability, and a Stakeholder Approach in a Network World”, Journal of General Management, Volume 28, No.3, Spring 2003

 

New E, S & G And ESG Benchmarks – TRCRI – For Investors, Corporate Managers and Consultants from Thomson Reuters and S Network Indexes


tr_logo_twitter_wht[1]
Interview by Hank Boerner – Chairman, G&A Institute

Thomson Reuters is a global media and information services company, and one of the largest providers of capital markets information.  In 2009, T-R acquired ASSET4, a longtime ESG performance information service for investors. The ASSET4 methodology is being used for a new family of ESG benchmarks for investors and companies – the Thomson Reuters TR CR indices (TRCRI).  The managers of the indices is S Network Global Indexes LC,  providers of indexes that measure the performance of discrete segments of the global economy.   We spoke with Herbert Blank,  at S Network Global Indexes regarding the new TRCRI

G&A Institute Question:  Tell us about the new TR CR Indexes and Ratings from Thomson Reuters in partnership with S-Network Global Indexes LLC.  What are the first products coming to market – and what need do they fill?

Answer – Herb Blank: The Thomson Reuters Corporate Responsibility Indices (TRCRI) are a suite of benchmarks designed to measure the performance of companies with superior ratings for Environmental, Social and Governance practices (ESG).  Historical data and constituents are available on a rolling basis beginning January 1, 2007.

The Thomson Reuters Corporate Responsibility Ratings (TRCRR) apply extensive quantitative modeling to more than 500 data elements to score more than 4600 companies from 0 to 100 on Environmental, Social, Corporate Governance, and ESG Performance.   The indices and ratings were launched in April 2013.  They democratize ESG Ratings and indices by creating transparent and publicly available methodological standards that can be used for comparisons between global regions and industry groups.

G&A Institute:  What are the key characteristics of the rating process?

Herb Blank: The characteristics of the ratings process are:

  • Baseline Simplicity — Just one number between 0 and 100 on an approximated normal distribution characterizes performance on each dimension.
  • Comparability and Consistency — Data framework is identical for all companies within each industry and region allowing for the generation of comparable statistics over time.  Scoring and benchmarking relative to disclosure practices in industry and by region makes every score comparable in “E”, “S”, “G”,  and “ESG.”
  • Deterministic — Ratings are completely formula-driven and derived from publicly-available data.
  • Emphasis on Materiality — Analytical frameworks emphasize criteria most material to ESG performance and risk in each industry by region.
  • Transparency — Methodology including weights, dynamic scaling, peer groups, and adjustments 100% disclosed and available on spreadsheets via website.

G&A Institute:  When will the indices and ratings be available for users?

Herb Blank: Four indices apiece for the US Large Cap stock market and global ex-US developed stock markets have been available since April 2013.   Four stock indices for Emerging Markets are under development with an expected release date of April 1, 2014.  We also expect to be releasing fixed-income indices for TRCRI sometime during the second half of 2014.

The ratings are available and being utilized now through Thomson Reuters Enterprise Solutions.  The big change in the early part of 2014 is that Registered Investment Advisers (RIA’s), Corporate Users, and individuals will have the ability to purchase to ratings data directly from www.trcri.com via all major credit cards at surprisingly affordable prices.

G&A Institute:  How do you see asset managers, owners, and consultants using the products?

Herb Blank: The fact that the ratings have normal distribution curve properties facilitate their usage by asset managers as screening tools or as additional variables for existing portfolio universe scoring systems.   Since 500 data elements are engineered to create just four ratings per company, pricing is substantially less that the norm for existing ESG database products.  The news is even better for asset owners and their consultants who use the data for benchmarking, universe screening, and research; those who qualify will receive complimentary subscriptions to the ratings and the indices.

Asset managers and financial markets consultants can compare companies and portfolios against peer groups in these areas of corporate responsibility. Companies that are highly-rated in ESG metrics have been intuitively characterized as top performing companies. Now the TR ratings and indices present quantitative evidence to verify this assumption.

G&A  Institute:  How will corporate managers be able to use the products?

Herb Blank: Corporate managers will find it easy to compare themselves with their peers, both domestic and foreign.   Beyond that, the transparency of the ratings facilitates the ability of expert consultants such as G & A Institute to coach such clients on what things they could do to improve their ratings relative to their peers.  Also, corporate executives and financial leaders can highlight their company’s progress in ESG issues in quantitative terms that financial analysts must consider to be material. Strong performance in the ratings will give investors an inspective look into the companies.

G&A Question:  Can you fill us in on the background of the partnership with Thomson Reuters?

Herb Blank: Prior to launching the TRCRI and TRCRR, Thomson Reuters and S-Network have collaborated on the CRB Equity Indexes and have explored other joint ventures. S-Network Global Indexes’ historic expertise is as an architect, developer, and provider of specialty indices that can easily be attached to investment management products such as exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and separately managed accounts.  A key impetus for the TRCRI venture was to create investible ESG indices utilizing the vast corporate responsibility data collected and analyzed by Thomson Reuters Asset4.  In terms of the partnership, the TRCRI are compiled and published by S-Network Global Indexes and calculated using T-R data.