Boston Common Asset Management – Staying the Course, With Adjustments

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

Boston Common Asset Management with offices in Boston and San Francisco has been a sustainable and responsible investor since its founding in 2003.  The clients served are endowments, foundations, religious/faith-based groups, pension funds, family offices, and mission-driven organizations.

Part of its mission is to strive to improve corporate behaviors and responsibilities through engagement with corporate boards and executives and being active in proxy season with filing of resolutions, supporting other institutions doing the filing (often through collective actions) and voting practices.   Of course, like other asset managers, Boston Common is challenged as well by the changes brought about by the spreading coronavirus.

The Earth Day message from Lauren Compere, Managing Director of Boston Common included these points:

  • The firm’s focus is on both local and global issues – such as the health and safety of our community, planet and Boston Common’s impact as an active, engaged investor. Even as the impacts of COVID-19 are addressed, the work must go on in addressing systemic risk, especially the climate crisis.
  • Engagements (with companies) have not changed, but the tenor and lens through which public companies are evaluated and act will change.
  • Boston Common feels it is important in the crisis for portfolio companies to prioritize stakeholder well-being and the firm commends those companies that step up to show leadership.
  • At the same time, some companies are being called out – those firms that are price gouging, firing employees who are concerned about their health, and limiting access to much-needed products on the front lines.

What Boston Common is doing:

  • Having direct dialogue with company managements.
  • Working with investor networks and partners.
  • Looking at its own “responsible business” practices.
  • Planning and re thinking its future work.

Some specifics:

Company Engagements — Issues include human rights, eco-efficiency, climate risk. The changed tone is having more empathy, with more personal tone in these engagements.  Company responses are applauded and accountability is discussed – balancing interests of shareholders and stakeholders.

Working in Partnerships and Coalitions — The ICCR is a key partner of Boston Common, which is a signatory of the “ICCR Coronavirus Investment Statement” on workplace and supplier practices, and engagement of pharma companies to coordinate & collaborate on urgent medical needs. Link: http://ga-institute.com/Sustainability-Update/watching-the-watchers-what-investors-esg-raters-are-doing-in-the-virus-crisis/

PRI:  The firm joined the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), which has awarded Boston Common an A+ rating for our consecutive years.

Boston Common itself, a B-Corporation, is taking these actions:

  • Continuing to pay composting, cleaners, other contract vendors who rely on the income.
  • Supporting local food banks and social agencies addressing urgent community needs in Boston and San Francisco, contributing to date $26,630 in firm and employee-donated funds.
  • Future Focus” includes a “refresh” of engagement priorities and investor and private sector actions.  A range of societal issues that have been in the spotlight during the crisis must be addressed:  how work is valued; the need for a sustainable living wage; public health risks posed by industrial agriculture and food insecurity; unequal healthcare access and outcomes for low-income and communities of color; corporate tax practices, need for investment in healthcare infrastructure, social safety nets…and more.
  • Boston Common is adjusting the lens through which the firm examines its “asks” of companies and actions, and keeping systemic risk in focus (such as for issues like climate change, digital human rights, environmental protections as EPA rolls back the regs, controversial energy projects.)

Much will change with the virus crisis, MD Lauren Compere points out. “We must ensure that as investors we memorialize the lessons learned in this crisis, empowering companies to manage for the long-term, with a focus on joint recovery and prosperity as the world emerges from lockdown.”

Boston Common has long been a proponent for responsible behavior of corporations and investors and regularly joins with other asset managers in initiatives to drive change.

The issues involved include Amazon de-forestation, climate change and the portfolio risk posed by fossil fuel, urging the Detroit Big 3 (GM, Ford, Fiat-Chrysler) to drop opposition to California’s waiver authority on auto emissions standards, encouraging boards to include more diversity in director choices, and bank financing of controversial projects such as the Dakota Access Pipeline.

About the name:  Many people have visited the beautiful Boston Commons in the middle of this New England city.  The firm’s name comes from the concept of standing at the intersection of the economic and social lives of the community; the “universal commons” is the firm’s shared mission and vision.

Information: https://bostoncommonasset.com/Membership/Apps/Boston_HP_Input_App.aspx 

 

Watching the Watchers – What Investors & ESG Raters Are Doing in the Virus Crisis

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

As we have numerous times in this space commented about the dramatic shift from a shareholder primacy focus (for public companies and investors) to today’s stakeholder primacy operating environment, the views of key stakeholders – investors, and their service providers – are critical during the virus crisis.

Today we’re sharing the actions and perspectives of the investor-stakeholders…as the investor coalition in our first item notes…

“…the long-term viability of the companies in which we invest is inextricably tied to the welfare of their stakeholders, including employees, suppliers, customers and communities…”


Investor Coalition Focuses on Corporate Response to the Crisis

The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, a coalition of 300 institutional investors long focused on corporate responsibility and sustainability, joined forces with the Office of New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer and Domini Impact Investments LLC to develop an “Investment Statement on Coronavirus Response” — to urge the business community to take what steps they can and offered five (5) steps for corporate managements to consider.

These include:

  • Providing paid leave – emergency leave for all employees, including temps, part-timers, and subcontracted workers.
  • Prioritizing health and safety – limiting exposure to COVID-19, rotating shifts, enhancing protective measures, closing locations, setting up remote work, additional training where appropriate.
  • Maintaining employment – retain workers as much as possible; a well-trained and committed workforce will help companies resume operations quickly; also, companies should watch for potential discriminatory impact during and after the crisis.
  • Maintaining supplier/customer relationships – As much as is possible, companies should maintain timely or prompt payments to suppliers and work with customers facing financial challenges to help stabilize the economy, protect communities and small businesses, and ensure a stable supply chain will be in place when operations return to normal.
  • Practice financial prudence – the investors state they expect the highest level of ethical financial management and responsibility in the period of (acknowledged) financial stress. As “responsible investors” (the signatories) the expectation is that companies will suspend share buybacks, and limit executive and senior management compensation for the duration of the crisis.

Beyond these, the investors urged companies to consider such measures as childcare assistance, hazard pay, assistance in obtaining government aid for suppliers, paying employee health insurance for laid off/furloughed workers, and deploying resources to meet societal needs related to the pandemic.

Over the past few years, the investor coalition points out, corporations have shown leadership by using their power as a force for tremendous good. This kind of leadership if critically needed now. And, business reputation and social license to operate is at stake.

As we prepare this about 200 long-term institutional investors with AUM of US$5 trillion had signed on to the effort, including: the AFL-CIO funds, American Federation of Teachers, Aviva Investors, Boston Common Asset Management, the Chicago City Treasurer, Communications Workers of America, Connecticut State Treasurer Shawn T. Wooden, Delaware State Treasurer, Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Investor Environmental Health Network, Office of Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Oregon State Treasurer, Robeco, SEIU, UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust, Treasurer of the State of Maryland, Vermont State Treasurer, and a large roster of faith-based institutions and religious denomination funds.

#  #  #

Walking-the-Talk of Corporate Responsibility

Refinitiv provides investors with ESG ratings and perspectives on corporate ESG performance and builds ESG / sustainability considerations into products and services for investor clients. The company announced what it is doing to maintain its forward ESG momentum during the crisis.   And the changes will over time affect the public companies that are rated and ESG news distributed worldwide by Refinitiv. 

On Earth Day 2020, the folks at Refinitiv – this is one of the world’s largest providers of financial information – announced the beefing up of their own operations…walking the talk of what they provide to investor clients in terms of ESG Data and solutions for evaluating public companies’ ESG performance.

Refinitiv is putting in place for itself more stringent, science-based emissions targets, climate change reporting standards to meet the TCFD’s recommendations, and is joining the RE100 initiative to source 100% of its electricity from renewables.

Refinitiv had made three core pledges on the environment, social impact and sustainable solutions to support the UN SDGs. Part of this was a goal of achieving carbon neutrality before the end of 2020. The company is joining the Business Ambition For 1.5C commitment; aligning its own corporate reporting with the Task Force for Climate-Related Disclosures (the TCFD); and by this coming summer should be 100% in terms of how they source energy from renewables.

Refinitiv recently launched “The Future of Sustainable Data Alliance” to accelerate the mobilization of capital into sustainable finance, and will work to sustainability “at the core of product offerings”. Refinitiv serves more than 40,000 institutions in 190 countries, providing ESG data for 15+ years.

We can expect that these moves will result in the intensifying of the evaluation of corporate sustainability efforts by this major financial information provider. As the Refinitiv CEO David Craig comments:

The pandemic is clearly providing humanity with a re-set moment: a stark reminder about our fragility as a species and a sharp lesson about what happens when we mess with nature. It is also a moment when the old rules about the role of the state no longer apply. We can therefore attack the twin challenges of COVID-19 and climate change simultaneously, not sequentially. After all, when again will we be at a moment when governments are injecting such unprecedented sums into the economy just as the world needs up to $7 trillion a year of renewable investments to hit 2030 development and climate targets.”

Luke Manning, Global Head of Sustainability and Risk Enterprise at Refinitiv, adds:

Our commitment is going further than before and aiming for more ambitious emissions reductions that – if repeated by businesses across the world – should limit atmospheric warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. If we want to truly progress the climate agenda we need to help everyone understand that tackling it is in all our personal and financial self-interest. It’s not just about the impact we are having on the environment, but the impact the environment is having on us.

# # #

Morningstar Acquires Full Ownership in Sustainalytics

Morningstar, a leading firm in providing investment research to individual and institutional investors in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia-Pacific region, began measuring the performance of ESG-focused mutual funds and ETFs three years ago. As part of the initiative, Morningstar acquired a 40% interest in the ESG ratings organization, Sustainalytics.

Now, that interest will be 100% as Morningstar solidifies its competitive advantage in measuring the performance of ESG investable products. Says CEO Kamal Kapoor:

“Modern investors in public and private markets are demanding ESG data, research, ratings, and solutions in order to make informed, meaningful investing decisions. From climate change to supply-chain practices, the nature of the investment process is evolving and shining a spotlight on demand for stakeholder capitalism. Whether assessing the durability of a company’s economic moat or the stability of its credit rating, this is the future of long-term investing.

“By coming together, Morningstar and Sustainalytics will fast track our ability to put independent, sustainable investing analytics at every level – from a single security through to a portfolio view – in the hands of all investors. Morningstar helped democratize investing, and we will do even more to extend Sustainalytics’ mission of contributing to a more just and sustainable global economy.”

#  #  #

As companies large and small, public and private, step up to help society during the virus crisis, they burnish their reputation and social license to operate.And help society cope with the impact of the crisis on individuals, families, communities and institutions. 

We’re bringing you the news of those corporate actions.  And, we’re watching the investment community for their reactions, and their intention to encourage public companies to stay the course of their sustainability journey during the virus crisis.  Stay Tuned to this blog. 

Perspectives – Bloomberg, McKinsey, Leading ESG Investors, Mark Cuban – on Corporate Purpose and the Virus Crisis

Excellence in Corporate Citizenship on Display in the Coronavirus Crisis – Post #8   

“Corporate Purpose – Virus Crisis”   #WeRise2FightCOVID-19

April 1, 2020

By Hank Boerner, Chair & Chief Strategist, and the G&A Institute team members

On Corporate Purpose – Words and Actions – Thoughts From Influentials As The Virus Crisis Deepens Worldwide — the Focus on Purpose Can Help Corporate Generals Lead From the Front

In summer 2019, The Business Roundtable (BRT), the association of the CEOs of 200 firms, revamped the organization’s mission statement to read…

…“as leaders of America’s largest corporations, BRT CEOs believe we have a responsibility to help build a strong and sustainable economic future in the United States.”

This followed the publication of the January 2019 CEO-to-CEO letter of Larry Fink, who heads BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager (and therefore a major fiduciary investing in the BRT companies). He regularly writes to the CEOs of companies that BlackRock invests in to let them know where of the major investors stands.

He wrote at the start of 2019…

…Purpose is not the sole pursuit of profits but the animating force for achieving them. And, profits are in no way inconsistent with purpose; in fact, profits and purpose are inextricably linked.

And again in his January 2020 letter to CEOs, Chair & CEO Larry Fink said:

…“As I have written in past letters [to CEOs in 2019, 2018] a company cannot achieve long-term profits without embracing purpose and considering the needs of considering the needs of a broad range of stakeholders. Ultimately, purpose is the engine of long-term profitability.”

Fast forward to March 2020 and now into April. What is the walk-of-the-talk of the CEOs (181 of them) who were signatories as the coronavirus crisis grips the U.S. and the world — and the actions of the signatories’ firms as stakeholders look for aid, comfort, security, payroll, taxes paid, and more?

And what other companies not necessarily in the Roundtable? What actions are taken leveraging corporate power to help society?

The stakeholders are watching. And a good number of the Business Roundtable companies are responding to address societal needs.

And what are the perspectives shared about all of this? We bring you some of these today. Here are some of the views and advice of experts and  influentials.

McKinsey Speaks – On How to Demonstrate Corporate Purpose

Says the influential management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company: Companies will define what they do in the crucible of COVID-19 response – or be defined by it.

So what could company managements be doing when the primary purpose of their efforts is to help the enterprise survive? McKinsey acknowledges this — and provides some advice. This is from their bulletin today.

Questions are being asked, of course, related to survival. How long will the crisis last? What are peers doing? How do we pay our people?

“WIN” – what is important now? (The G&A team has asked and helped to answer that question many times in our three decades of crisis management support for client companies over the years.)

First up, advises the McKinsey team members — understand your stakeholder needs and then with the understanding gained, prioritize your response. There will be tradeoffs among stakeholders – prepare for that.

Then, bring the greatest strengths of the organization to bear – consider, how can you make a difference?

McKinsey advises “collaborate with suppliers and customers and they may identify strengths you didn’t know you had”.

Examples offered:  Car makers can make ventilators (GM, Ford etc). Perfume companies can rapidly turn to manufacture hand sanitizer (LVMH and Estee Lauder are doing that today as we’ve reported in these briefs).

As you move forward, test the assumption and decisions you are taking against your stated purpose – communicate – explain (how and why).

Banks have a commitment to lend money in their community. If the bank pulls away – why? The action could help to define that institution in and after the crisis.

Give people something to do! (We also shared this advice a number of times early in the crisis.)

Involve employees in solutions. Give them a sense of purpose. Your team is looking for signals of leadership. And how to help.

And McKinsey says, the positive is that you may in the process be identifying the next generation of your company’s leadership!

Try new ways. Try using “cross-cutting” teams to develop new solutions, new ways to do things.

When in 2005 Hurricane Katrina hit, Wal-Mart Stores asked employees to deliver supplies to areas that were hard to reach. And we remember that the company’s store managers on their own ordered extra supplies and kept the stores open – even as their own homes were being destroyed.

That led to the CEO embarking on a strategic sustainability journey that revolutionized the whole company and in the process formed the Sustainability Consortium!

And like the best of the military leaders, you should yourself lead from the front. Communicate – often, early. Don’t sugarcoat the news. Adapt to changing conditions (and then communicate again). Your enterprise looks to its leaders for guidance.

Things that stand out for us that McKinsey explains:

  • Executives are uniquely poised now to bring corporate power, guided by social purpose to aid millions of dislodged and vulnerable lives. Done well, your actions can bridge the divide between shareholders and stakeholders. And leave a lasting, positive legacy.
  • Credibility is both essential and fragile element of executive leadership. Authentic actions demonstrate the company’s genuine commitment to social purpose.

Thanks to McKinsey’s Bill Schaninger, senior partner in Philadelphia, and Bruce Simpson, senior partner in Toronto, and their colleagues Han Zhang and Chris Zhu, for the valuable insights and guidance offered to corporate leaders.

* * * * * * * *

Mark Cuban on COVID-19 – Words & Action

We are often entertained by the antics of Mark Cuban on the courts (he’s owner of the Dallas Mavericks NBA team) and appearances on the hit TV show, “Shark Tank”. He was serious this week in addressing the virus crisis.

On Twitter he advised the federal policymakers: “Dear government, here is why you require companies that receive bailouts to retain 100% of their employees. The cost of the bailout loan – eventual payments will cost taxpayers less than the cost of government assistance programs for fired employees. Case closed.”

And…

“If you run a business, BEFORE YOUR FIRE ANYONE (or any more), you have an obligation to yourself/employees to find every gov loan option available today and those soon to come. Find the time. When the gov loans start you want to be already an expert and in line.”

Mark Cuban then walked-the-talk, setting up a way to pay his team’s venue employees (American Airlines Arena) even though games are cancelled and no one is coming. Then sent $100,000+ to the area’s not-for-profits aiding the Big D residents.

* * * * * * * *

Investor Coalition Speaks Its Mind on Corporate Purpose

Nearly 200 long-term institutional investors (with AUM of US$4.7 trillion) called on company managements to protect their workers – difficult to do, the investors acknowledge. Board directors are accountable for long-term Human Capital Management strategies (they remind board members on both domestic U.S. and global companies).

The steps companies could take, says the investor group:

  • Provide paid leave – including emergency leave) for full-time, part-time and subcontracted workers.
  • Prioritize health and safety – meaning, worker and public health safety, and to protect social license to operate. That may include closing facilities as precautionary step.
  • Maintain employment levels – your workers are well-trained (we hope!) and will enable the company to ramp up quickly once the crisis is resolved.
  • And be on the watch for any moves that may be discriminatory.
  • Maintain customer – and supplier — relationships to ensure that you can help stabilize them if necessary (such as financial challenges to suppliers) and to protect your own and other communities and businesses.
  • Practice financial prudence – demonstrate, the advisors strongly urge, the highest levels of ethical financial management and responsibility. And, limit executive and senior management compensation during the crisis (not repeating the practices of companies in the 2008 financial practices with money provided by the taxpayer).

Corporate leadership is critically-needed, the coalition stresses, to help society get through the crisis.

Among the investors in the coalition issuing the advice to public company managements: the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) coalition (with 300 institutional members); the New York City public employees pension fund, led by Comptroller Scott Stringer; AFL-CIO fund; the state treasurers of Connecticut, Maryland, Rhode Island, Oregon, Vermont; American Federation of Teachers (AFT); the British Columbia Government and Services Employees Union; Aviva Investors; APG; Boston Common Asset Management; Coalition on Corporate Responsibility in Indiana & Michigan; Cornerstone Capital Group; Communications Workers of America (CWA); Robeco Asset Management; numerous foundations and religious orders and denominations.

Information: https://www.iccr.org/program-areas/human-rights/investor-action-coronavirus

All of this is spelled out in the “Investor Statement on Coronavirus Response” being circulated among fiduciaries.

* * * * * * * *

Believe the Investor’s Urging Will Pay Off?

Bloomberg LP provides us with some of the early answers.  Bloomberg Intelligence’s (BI) Shaheen Contractor (ESG Team BI Industry Analyst) in a brief for terminal users noted that an analysis of ESG Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) during the selloff for the week ending February 28 provided a buffer for their investors and outperformed their benchmarks. The data: only 8% of ESG ETFs had outflows while 22% of all U.S. ETFs saw outflows.

This, she writes, suggests ESG is seen by investors as a long-term investment and not a trading strategy.

And the flow to ESG ETF’s suggests that these instruments are “sticky” and less cyclical. Where where the flows to ESG ETFs? BlackRock, JPMorgan, BNP Paribas, Societe Generale, DWS, State Street, and Vanguard all saw inflows during the drawdown.

Good news for investors looking for “proof of concept” of ESG/sustainable investing from Shaheen Contractor – thanks to her and Bloomberg for sharing this good news.

Her email is: scontractor2@bloomberg.net

The brief: “ESG ETFs See Relative Outperformance, Inflows During Drawdown”

For information, it is on the Bloomberg: https://blinks.bloomberg.com/news/stories/Q6RT29T0G1L2

* * * * * * * *

Lead from the front.  The general who led the effort to win WW II for the U.S.A. and the democracies, General Dwight D. Eisenhower (President, 1953-1961) observed:   “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.  You don’t lead by hitting people over the head–that’s assault, not leadership.”

* * * * * * * *

G&A Institute Team Note
We continue to bring you news of private (corporate and business), public and social sector developments as organizations in the three societal sectors adjust to the emergency.

The new items will be posted at the top of the blog post and the items today will move down the queue.

We created the tag Corporate Purpose – Virus Crisis” for this continuing series – and the hashtag WeRise2FightCOVID-19 for our Twitter posts.  Do join the conversation and contribute your views and news.

Send us news about your organization – info@ga-institute.com so we can share.   Stay safe – be well — keep in touch!

Which Are the “Best Of” Sustainable Companies in the Important Annual Rankings? Mirror, Mirror on the Wall – What Reflection for Our Company?

February 7 2020

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

Mirror, mirror on the wall – who is the most sustainable company of them all?  (Paraphrasing that most memorable line from the Queen in the Walt Disney Studios’ 1930s big screen classic, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,)

“Best Of” is being regularly applied now by a ever-widening range of third party players in examining the performance and achievements of U.S., North American and global companies’ sustainability efforts (and applying their methodologies to focus on an ever-widening list of ESG criteria for users of the lists, rankings and so on). 

The results are published for many or all to see – such as this week’s Corporate Knights’ “2020 Global 100” unveiling at the World Economic Forum in Davos — which we are sharing in our Top Stories of the week.

Looking at (or for) the “fairest” of them all, or the best-in-class, or most sustainable, or leading in corporate citizenship rankings, et al — there are now many more ESG ratings organizations, publishers, NGOs, investor coalitions, trade / professional associations, and others in the “ratings, rankings, scores and other recognitions” arena.

And these ratings, rankings, scores, best-of lists are published in many more forms and value-added variations.  Keeping current and in the ESG ratings & rankings game is a full-time job at many companies today.

The third party evaluation approach can be better understood in how they apply their research to arrive at rankings and ratings, and assigning scores, with shared (privately or publicly) rationale to explain the selections of the individual company for benchmark, or the rankings assigned. 

Therein, important stories are being told about companies on the list or assigned a high ranking or in an index. Investors can better understand the why and how of the selection.

(And, we should say, stories are told in the ratings & rankings et al processes about those companies that are omitted or not selected or having a lower rating compared to peers).

For example, look at investable products. S&P Global recently launched an index based on the widely-used benchmark, the S&P 500(R), focused on ESG performance. The bottom 25% — 100 companies! — were not included in the first go-round. Story subtly told – company is in or out.

Besides the welcomed opportunity for corporate leaders to bask in the sunshine of the valued third party recognitions (“look, we got in this year’s best companies list focused on…”), and to admire the reflection in the “best of mirror mirror” on the board room or C-Suite wall, there are very practical aspects to these things.

Such as: As explained, the inclusion of a corporation in a key ESG equity index / investing benchmark or investable product offering and more recently, reflections of the company in the mirror mirror of credit risk ratings and ratings opinions on fixed-income instruments.  

The decision to issue a “green” bond to the market may or will be affected by third party views of the planned issue – green enough or not! That’s beginning to happen in the EU markets.

The Positives

With the many in-depth third party examinations of companies’ ESG strategies and resulting outcomes (considering company’s actions, performance, achievements) now taking place, and with the results becoming more transparent, some of the scoring / ranking / etc results have the effect of enabling a more complete, accurate and comparable corporate ESG profile to be developed by the company.

With better understanding of the ranking & rating etc the issuer’s leadership can assign more resources to improve their public ESG profile, especially those developed by the key ESG rating agencies for their investor clients.

Important to understand in 2020: These close examinations of companies’ ESG performance are becoming more and more decision-useful for portfolio management for asset owners and managers.

And lenders, And bankers. And the company’s insurers. And business partners. And customers. And present and future employees wanting to work for a more sustainable, doing-the-right-thing company.

As board room top leaders better understand the importance of these ratings, rankings etc. exercises (and the importance of engaging with raters & rankers & list makers), with more internal resources allocated to the task of improving the profile — the company will tend to make more information publicly-available for the third party examinations.

The virtuous cycle continues — more information disclosed and explained, better ratings could result, year-after-year. As we always say, it is a sustainability journey.

More ESG information is now being made public by companies for delivery on critical ESG delivery platforms (such as on “the Bloomberg” and the Refinitiv Eikon platforms, in S&P Global platforms).

This in turn leads to better packaging of ESG data and narrative to inform and influence investors; and, leads to improved investment opportunity for being recognized as a leader in a particular space by key investor coalitions (ICCR, INCR, Investor Alliance on Human Rights, Climate Action 100+, and other).

The latter means a multiplier effect — quickly bringing the company’s sustainability news to more investors gathered in a community-of-interest on a topic.

(Think of the volumes of information now being made available by companies focused on GHG emissions, climate change risk, diversity & inclusion, labor rights, human rights, reducing ESG impacts on communities, greater supply chain accountability, use of renewable energy, water conservation, and more,)

Mirror, Mirror 2020: At the recent World Economic Forum meeting Davos, Switzerland, the “100 most sustainable companies of 2020” report was announced. 

Publisher Corporate Knights’ much-anticipated annual ranking of “most sustainable companies in the world” was the basis of the announcement. 

That annual survey looks at 7,400 companies having more than US$1 Billion in revenues, examining 21 KPIs. The stories of the companies from Fast Company and The Hill provide the details for you.  (This is the 17th year of the survey.)

At the Davos gathering this year, participants learned that almost half of the most sustainable companies were based in Europe (49); 17 were HQ in the U.S.A; 12 in Canada; 3 in Latin America, 18 in Asia, and one company in Africa.

For the U.S.A., Cisco Systems is highest ranked (at #4, thanks to $25 billion generated for “clean revenues” from products with “environmental core attributes”). The #1 company is worldwide is Orsted of Denmark (renewable energy).

Our G&A Institute team closely monitors these and many other third party rankings, ratings, scores, corporate ESG profiles, and other critical evaluations of companies. 

This is an example of the knowledge we gain in this [ratings/rankings] arena, which becomes a vital part of the various tools and resources we’ve created to help our corporate clients qualify for, get selected for, and lead in the various “best of lists”.

In sum, achieving better rankings, ratings, scores — so their mirror mirror on the wall question reflects back a very welcoming image! 

In these newsletters, we work to regularly share with you the relevant news items and other content that helps to tell the story of the dramatic changes taking place in both the corporate community and in the capital markets as as the focus on corporate ESG sharpens. Like this week’s Top Stories.

Top Stories for This Week

The 100 most sustainable companies of 2020   
Source: The Hill – A ranking of the most sustainable organizations was unveiled at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Tuesday. 

These are the most sustainable corporations in the world   
Source: Fast Company – Canadian research firm Corporate Knights releases its annual list of most sustainable corporations in the world, with some new entries in the top 10. 

For a the complete list and important background, go to:
Corporate Kings’ 2020 Global Ranking 

And also from Davos:
World Economic Forum calls on business chiefs to set net-zero targets   
Source: Edie.com – In a letter from the Forum’s Founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab and the heads of Bank of America and Royal DSM Brian Moynihan and Feike Sijbesma, businesses have been urged to respond to climate science through the… 

INSTITUTIONAL INVESTORS LAUNCH ALLIANCE FOCUSED ON HUMAN RIGHTS

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

ICCR Provides Leadership for Investor Collaboration To Advance Corporate Sector and Investor Action on Human Rights Issues

The recently-launched Investor Alliance for Human Rights provides a collective action platform to consolidate and increase institutional investor influence on key business and human rights issues.

For nearly 50 years, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) has been engaging with corporate managements and boards, coalescing with asset owners and managers and waging campaigns on key E, S and G issues.

ICCR has become a major influence for investors at corporate proxy voting time, and in ongoing investor-corporate engagements.

Consider:  The member institutions have AUM of US$400 billion and influence many other investors (depending on the issue in focus at the time).

ICCR has 300-plus institutional investor members, many (but not all) are faith-based organizations. A good number of member institutions are leaders in making available sustainable & responsible investment products and services. (See representative names in references at end.)

Key issues in focus for ICC members include:

  • Human Rights (key: human trafficking, forced labor, fair hiring practices)
  • Corporate Governance (board independence, CEO comp, lobbying)
  • Health (pharma pricing, global health challenges)
  • Climate Change (science-based GhG reduction targets)
  • Financial Services (risk management for financial institutions, responsible lending)
  • Food (antibiotics in food production, food waste, labor)
  • Water (access, corporate use of water and pollution)

HUMAN RIGHTS IN FOCUS FOR NEW ALLIANCE

On the last issue – Human Rights – ICCR has long been involved in various Human Rights issues back to its founding in 1971 and has been organizing the Investor Alliance for Human Rights since late-fall 2017.  Here are the essentials:

  • Investor Alliance participants will have an effective “Collective Action Platform” for convening, information sharing, and organizing collaboration on action to make the case to corporate decision-makers and public sector policymakers (and other stakeholders) on the need for urgency in addressing human rights issues.
  • The umbrella of a formal alliance will help individual participants to build partnerships and develop collaboration within their own universes of connections (such as NGOs, other investors, community-based organizations, trade groups, corporate leaders, multi-lateral organizations, and other institutions and enterprises).
  • Among the work to be done is the encouragement and support of building Human Rights criteria and methodology into asset owner and manager guidelines, investing protocols, models, and to integrate these in corporate engagements and proxy campaigns, as well as to guide portfolio management. (Buy/sell/hold decision-making.)
  • All of this will help to expand investor reach and influence and strengthen advocacy for best practices in Human Rights by both companies and investors. Leveraging of broader investor influence is key in this regard.

The Alliance will provide participants with a “rapid response” resource to assure that the “investor voices” are clearly heard in corporate board rooms and C-suites, in public sector leadership offices, and in media circles when there are threats posed to effective actions and reforms in Human Rights issues.

The Alliance is outreaching to NGOs, faith-based institutions, academics, media, labor unions, multi-lateral global institutions, trade and professional associations, corporate managements and boards, and of course to a wide range of asset owners and managers.

# # #

The key player at ICCR for the Alliance is David Schilling, a veteran staff member who is Senior Program Director – Human Rights & Resources. (email:  dschilling@iccr.org)

David joined ICCR in 1994 and has led initiatives on human rights in corporate operations in Africa, Asia and Latin America, often visiting factories and meeting with workers on the ground.

David is currently Chair, Advisory Board of the Global Social Compliance Program; member, International Advisory Network of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre; member, RFK Center Compass Education Advisory Committee; UNICEF CSR Advisory Group; and, Coordinator (with ICCR member institutions) of the Bangladesh Investor Initiative (a global collaboration in support of the “Accord for Fire and Building Safety”.

# # #

ICCR stresses that it sees its work “through a social justice lens.”  For more than two decades members and staff have worked to eradicate human rights abuses in corporate operations and across global supply chains, such as forced child labor in cotton fields in Uzbekistan.

The organization has an Advisory Committee of Leaders in Business and Human Rights (formed in late-2016).  Members include representatives of Boston Common Asset Management; Shift; Landesa; The Alliance for a Greater New York; Oxfam America; Mercy Investment Services; International Corporate Accountability Roundtable; and Global Witness.

# # #

ICCR has a long history in Human Rights progress.  The organization came together as a committee of the mainstream Protestant denominations under the  umbrella in 1971 to organize opposition to the policies and practices of “Apartheid” in South Africa.

Over time, the U.S. corporations operating in South Africa stopped operations there.  More than 200 cities and municipalities in the United States of America adopted anti-Apartheid policies, many ending their business with companies operating in South Africa.

Protests were staged in many cities and on many college & university campuses, and U.S. and European media presented numerous news and feature presentations on the issue.

In time, the government of South Africa dismantled Apartheid and the country opened the door to broader democratic practices (the majority black population was formerly prohibited to vote).

Over the years since the Apartheid campaign, ICCR broadened its focus to wage campaigns in other societal issues, including:

  • Focus on fair and responsible lending, including sub-prime lending and payroll lending.
  • Putting climate change issues on the agenda for dialogue with corporations, including the demand for action and planning, and then greater disclosure on efforts to curb GHG emissions.
  • Encouraging investment in local communities to create opportunities in affordable housing, job development, training, and related areas.
  • Promoting greater access to medicines, including drugs for treatment of AIDS in Africa, and affordable pricing in the United States.
  • Promoting “Impact Investing” – for reasonable ROI as well as beneficial outcomes for society through investments.
  • Promoting Islamic Finance.
  • On the corporate front, requesting greater transparency around lobbying by companies to influence climate change, healthcare and financial reforms, both directly and through trade associations and other third-party organizations.
  • Opposing “virtual-only” annual corporate meetings that prevent in –person interaction for shareholders.

Proxy Campaigns – Governance in Focus:

ICCR members are very active at proxy voting time.  Among the “wins” in 2017:

  • Getting roles of (combined) Chair & CEO split – 47% support of the votes for that at Express Scripts and 43% at Johnson & Johnson; 39% at Chevron.
  • More disclosure on lobbying expenditures – 42% support at Royal Bank of Canada and 41% at First Energy; 35% at Cisco and 25% at IBM.

# # #

Notes and References:

Information on the new Alliance is at: http://iccr.org/iccr-launches-new-alliance-amplify-global-investor-influence-human-rights

ICCR’s web site is at: www.iccr.org

And at http://iccr.org/our-issues/human-rights/investor-alliance-human-rights

The Alliance initiative is supported with funding from Humanity United and Open Society Foundations.

Influence and Reach:  The ICCR member organizations include the AFSCME union fund, Walden Asset Management, Boston Common Asset Management, Oxfam, The Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, and Maryknoll Sisters, American Baptist Churches, Mercy Investments, Christian Brothers Investment Services (CBIS), Wespath Investment Management, Everence Financial, Domini Social Investments, Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group, Gabelli Funds, Trillium Asset Management, Calvert Group, Clean Yield, The Nathan Cummings Foundation, and other institutional investors.

 

 

 

 

 

Are We Making Progress? Considering Recent News About “Apparel Fashion and Sustainability” — and the Investor Initiative to Help Make East Asian Factory Workers Safer and Better Paid…

by Hank Boerner – Chair, G&A Institute

In monitoring the growing abundance of news stories and commentary about “supply chain,” “globalization” or “trade” topics and issues, our editors often see the focus is on apparel, clothing, textiles, fashionand related topics & issues.

Companies in the developed economies widely source apparel footwear and related items in the developing and under-developed nations – and what happens there can quickly make news that travels around the globe.

Example:  The focus five years ago about this time was on the East Asian nation of Bangladesh and the Rana Plaza vertical factory tragedy in the capital city of Dhaka (or Dacca) that killed more than 1,000 garment industry workers.  The labels of leading western nation marketers were scattered about the debris and ashes — and those familiar brand images as well as images of the collapsed building and details of the tragedy helped to focus attention on worker conditions in the East Asian region in both North America and Europe.

The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) investor coalition is keeping the focus on worker safety as the “Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Safety” is renewed for another three years.

ICCR institutions and their investor allies organized as “The Bangladesh Investor Initiative” (with collective AUM of US$4.5 trillion) on the 5th anniversary are urging a stronger corporate response and demonstrated commitment to local worker safety and adequate wage levels.  The link to our blog commentary on recent developments and background information for companies and investors is below.

Some good news to share is that sustainability is catching on in the fashion industry.  The uber fashion magazine from publishers Conde Nast – Vogue, with more than one million readers — just published a story about the embrace of “eco-friendly” fashion, spotlighting “the best designers of a new generation are stitching sustainability into everything they do…”

“While sustainability has long been considered a “byword for hemp-heavy bohemia,” writer Olivia Singer explains, “a new generation of designers is building brands with a more conscious approach to fashion at their core.”

Fabrics are sourced through collectives in India empowering female weavers as just one example.  In the article designers explain why sustainability is important to their brands (Richard Malone, Le Kilt, Elliss, E.L.V. Denim, Alyx, Marine Serre, Richard Quinn are featured interviews).

A number of creative approaches being adopted by the designers is explained — just think about the contribution to global sustainability of turning recycled plastics and viscose into yarn and fringing, using organic cotton as well as recycled polyester for “new” fashions, creating ECONYL from fishnets to make swimwear, and using recycled cotton and plastics as part of the effort of making sustainability a “pillar of luxury”.

The encouraging details are in our Top Story this week – a cautionary note:  some of the fashion photos are edgy and might offend.

Top Stories

The Young Designers Pioneering A Sustainable Fashion Revolution
(Thursday – April 26, 2018) Source: Vogue – While eco-friendly fashion has never had particularly glamorous connotations, the best designers of a new generation are stitching sustainability into everything they do.

And of interest, our own related content on G&A’s Sustainability Update Blog:  The Bangladesh Garment Factory Workers Tragedy and Investor and Corporate Response Five Years On…

The Bangladesh Garment Factory Workers Tragedy — and Investor and Corporate Response Five Years On

By Hank Boerner – Chair, G&A Institute

We are five years on from the Rana Plaza “Savar” five-story factory building collapse and fire that killed more than 1,000 garment workers in Dhaka (Dacca), the crowded capital city of Bangladesh. (The accident was on April 24, 2013). In the ashes and debris there were the labels of prominent developed nations’ apparel marketers. Reputations were at stake — “Reforms” discussions were immediately underway in Europe and North America.

The Europeans moved on with the “Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Safety” while in North America brand marketers were moving on “The Alliance on Bangladesh Safety.”

Where are we today?

The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) is keeping the accident and aftermath in the focus of the investment community and stakeholders. Yesterday ICCR (a coalition of 300-plus institutional members managing $400 billion AUM) and the group of allied investors issued a statement that helps to explain where we are.

About The Accord

Right after the building collapse, the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety was created as a model for collective action by brand marketers and retailers that source in Bangladesh.

The Accord is now being extended (as the five-year deadline is reached in May) for another three years to complete the remediation of the 1,600 factories and companies that have not signed on (yet) are being invited by the investor coalition to become signatories and to implement the reforms spelled out in the Accord.

The Accord, the investors point out, is still serving as a model that can be adopted and applied to other at-risk countries and sectors.     

The Bangladesh Investor Initiative – led by ICCR – was a catalyst that brought together 250 institutional investors with US$4.5 trillion in AUM in May 2013 to urge a stronger corporate response to the Rana Plaza tragedy, including urging companies to sign on to the Accord.

The coalition invited companies to commit to strengthening local worker trade unions to ensure a “living wage” for all workers, and to engage with the Bangladesh government.

About the Accord:

  • Corporate signatories agree that global and local trade unions and NGOs could be invited to inspect the country’s apparel factories and implement reforms to protect workers.
  • Companies were asked for transparencies in publicly disclosing their suppliers – including those located in the nation of Bangladesh.
  • Worker grievance mechanisms and effective remedies (including compensation) should be put in place for all workers and their families.
  • The investor coalition argued that supply chain transparency is critical to safeguarding workers and employer responsibility – including information on sub-contractors.
  • Note that the Accord is legally-binding for signatories.

Making the Case

Lauren Compere, Managing Director of Boston Common Asset Management makes the case for companies: “Stakeholders, including investors, rely on transparency as a tool for evaluating corporate performance on a range of social, environmental and corporate governance issues. The Accord has been very transparent in requiring disclosure of each of the 1,600 companies it covers, which helps investors track progress. This is a ‘best practice’ that all companies need to implement, beginning with Tier One suppliers, then throughout their supply chain.”

Progress Report – 5 Years On

To date, 220 brands and retailers have signed on to the original Accord. Remediation plans have made 2.5 million workers in “Accord factories” have been made “meaningfully safer”. A steering committee made up of an equal number of brand and union representatives and a neutral chair from the International Labor Organization govern the Accord.

The Accord provided for in-depth health and safety training to personnel in 846 factories, reaching 1.9 million workers. A grievance process is in place; to date, there have been 183 worker complaints investigated and resolved.

Detailed information is required for each factory.

The Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund has been established to compensate workers injured in the collapse and families of workers who were killed (note that Bangladesh has no national employment injury system). $30 million has been raised to date; companies sourcing garment/apparel work in the country were asked to contribute; 30 companies did so, along with several union funds and foundations. The ILO is the trustee and oversees distributions.

The investor coalition is pleased with the progress made to date – but stresses that there is much work still be done (therefore the 3-year extension is necessary). “The job of mediating all of the issue is far from done and we will continue to urge those companies that have not signed on to the 2018 Accord and its three-year extension to do so.”

The New Elements to the Accord

The 2018 Transition Accord has gathered140 signatory companies to date, with 1,332 factories covered. The new elements include:

  • Safety Committee & Safety Training at all covered factories;
  • Training and Complaints Protocol on Freedom of Association;
  • Severance payments for affected workers in factory closures and relocations.
  • Voluntary expansion of the scope to include home textiles; fabric and knit accessories;
  • Transition of Accord functions to a national regulatory body.

We’ll bring you updates as the Transition to the new Accord continues.

About the Nation of Bangladesh

Located in Southeast Asia, the People’s Republic of Bangladesh is the world’s 8th most populous country, according to Wikipedia (163 million estimated). It was once part of “British India” until East Bengal became part of the Dominion of Pakistan, was re-named East Pakistan and then became independent in the early -1970s. It is characterized as a “developing country,” one of the poorest, and trades with the USA, EU, China, Japan, India, and other nations. Per capita income was estimated at US$1,190 in 2014.

The largest industries are textiles and ready-made garments; leather-goods (footwear is the second largest in exports. Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of clothes in the world.

# # #

Notes / Information:

There’s more information for you on the ICCR web site: www.iccr.org

Information about the Accord: http://bangladeshaccord.org/

The Accord Update for April is at: http://bangladeshaccord.org/wp-content/uploads/ACCORD_FACTSHEET_Apr2018.pdf

There’s information for you in G&A Institute’s “To the Point!” management briefing platform:

https://ga-institute.com/to-the-point/a-big-year-2018-for-developments-in-corporate-sustainability-sustainable-investing-the-two-halves-of-the-great-whole-of-the-new-norms-of-capitalism/

CNBC in commenting on the five year anniversary (on April 24) noted the factories still pose a life-threatening risk, with 3,000 of 7,000 factories endangering the lives of low-paid garment workers (according to a New York University Centre for Business and Human Rights Study).

The story is at: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/24/bangladesh-factories-still-pose-life-threatening-risks-five-years-on-from-rana-plaza-disaster.html

The NYU report authored by Paul M. Barrett, Dorothee Baumann-Pauly and April Gu is at: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/547df270e4b0ba184dfc490e/t/5ac9514eaa4a998f3f30ae13/1523143088805/NYU+Bangladesh+Rana+Plaza+Report.pdf

Human Rights Watch also weighed in with “Remember Rana Plaza: https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/04/24/remember-rana-plaza

News From the Sustainability Front as The Trump White House Makes Controversial Moves on ESG Issues — Actions and Reactions

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

February 23, 2017
Forward Momentum! – Sustainability 2017

Are you like many of us having sleepless nights and anxiety spells as you watch the antics of the Trump White House and the creeping (and similarly moving-backwards) effects into the offices of important Federal agencies that the Administration is taking over?

Consider then “other news” — and not fake news, mind you, or alt-news — but encouraging real news that is coming from OTHER THAN the Federal government.

We are on track to continue to move ahead in building a more sustainable nation and world — despite the roadblocks being discussed or erected that are designed to slow the corporate sustainability movement or the steady uptake of sustainable investing in the capital markets.

Consider the Power and Influence of the Shareowner and Asset Managers:

The CEO of the largest asset manager in the world — BlackRock’s Larry Fink — in his annual letters to the CEOs of the S&P 500 (R) companies in January said this: “Environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors relevant to a company’s business can provide essential insights into management effectiveness and thus a company’s long-term prospects. We look to see that a company is attuned to the key factors that contribute to long-term growth:
(1) sustainability of the business model and its operations; (2) attention to external and environmental factors that could impact the company; (3) recognition of the company’s role as a member of the communities in which it operates.

A global company, CEO Fink wrote to the CEOs, needs to be “local” in every single one of its markets. And as BlackRock constructively engages with the S&P 500 corporate CEOs, it will be looking to see how the company’s strategic framework reflects the impact of last year’s changes in the global environment…in the ‘new world’ in which the company is operating.

BlackRock manages US$5.1 trillion in Assets Under Management. The S&P 500 companies represent about 85% of the total market cap of corporate equities.  Heavyweights, we would say, in shaping U.S. sustainability.

* * * * * * * *

As S&R investment pioneer Steve Viederman often wisely notes, “where you sit determines where you stand…” (on the issues of the day).  More and more commercial space users (tenants and owners) want to “sit” in green spaces — which demonstrates where they “stand” on sustainability issues.

Consider:  In the corporate sector, Retail and other tenants are demanding that landlords provide “green buildings,” according to Chris Noon (Builtech Services LLC CEO). The majority of his company’s construction projects today can easily achieve LEED status, he says (depending on whether the tenant wanted to pursue the certification, which has some cost involved). The company is Chicago-based.

This is thanks to advances in materials, local building codes, a range of technology, and rising customer-demand.

End users want to “sit” in “green buildings” — more than 40% of American tenants recently surveyed across property types expect now to have a “sustainable home.” The most common approaches include energy-saving HVAC systems, windows and plumbing. More stringent (local and state) building codes are also an important factor.

Municipalities — not the Federal government — are re-writing building codes, to reflect environmental and safety advances and concerns. Next week (Feb 28) real estatyer industry reps will gather in Chicago for the Bisnow’s 7th Annual Retail Event at the University Club of Chicago to learn more about these trends.

* * * * * * * *

Institutional investors managing US$17 trillion in assets have created a new Corporate Governance framework — this is the Investor Stewardship Group.

The organizers include such investment powerhouses as BlackRock, Fidelity and RBC Global Asset Management (a dozen in all are involved at the start). There are six (6) Principles advanced to companies by the group that including addressing (1) investment stewardship for institutional investors and (2) for public corporation C-suite and board room. These Principles would be effective on January 1 (2018), giving companies and investors time to adjust.

One of the Principles is for majority voting for director elections (no majority, the candidate does not go on board). Another is the right for investors to nominate directors with information posted on the candidate in the proxy materials.

Both of these moves when adopted by public companies would greatly enhance the activism of sustainable & responsible investors, such as those in key coalitions active in the proxy season, and year-round in engagements with companies (such as ICCR, INCR).

No waiting for SEC action here, if the Commission moves away from investor-friendly policies and practices as signaled so far. And perhaps – this activism will send strong messages to the SEC Commissioners on both sides of the aisle.

Remember:  $17 trillion in AUM at the start of the initiative — stay tuned to the new Investor Stewardship Group.  These are more “Universal Owners” with clout.

* * * * * * * *

Not really unexpected but disappointing nevertheless:  The Trump Administration made its moves on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), part of the Bakken Field project work, carrying out a campaign promise that caters to the project’s primary owners (Energy Transfer Partners**) and other industry interests, S&R investors are acting rapidly in response.

The company needed a key easement to complete construction across a comparatively small distance. Except that…

  • The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe says the route would cross their drinking water source, impact their sacred sites, and threaten environmentally-sensitive areas;
  • would violate treaty territory without meeting international standards for their consent; (this is the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, which according to the U.S. Constitution, should be the supreme law of the land);
  • and ignore alleged shortcomings in the required environmental review (under the National Environmental Policy Act – NEPA).

These are “abuses”, and banks and financial services firms involved may be complicit in these violations by the nature of their financing, S&R investors note. Their involvement in the project financing could impact their brands and reputations and relationships with society. And so S&R shareholders are taking action.

Boston Common Asset Management, Storebrand Asset Management (in Norway) and First Peoples Worldwide developed an Investor Statement to Banks Financing the DAPL. The statement — being signed on to by other investors — is intended to encourage banks and lenders to support the Rock Sioux Tribe’s request for re-routing the pipeline to not violate — “invade” — their treaty-protected territory. The violations pose a clear risk, SRI shareholders are saying.

The banks involved include American, Dutch, German, Chinese, Japanese, and Canadian institutions.  They in turn are owned by shareholders, public sector agencies, and various fiduciaries — “Universal Owners,” we would say.

The banks include: Bayerische Landesbank (Germany); BBVA (Argentina); Credit Agricole (France); TD Securities (Canada); Wells Fargo; ABN AMRO (The Netherlands); Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ; and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, and others.

The shareholders utilizing the Investor Statement say they recognize that banks have a contractual obligation with the respect to their transactions — but — they could use their influence to support the Tribe’s request for a re-route…and reach a “peaceful solution” acceptable to all parties.

As The Washington Post reported on January 24th, soon after the Trump Administration settled in, President Trump signed Executive Orders to revive the DAPL and the Keystone XL pipelines. “Another step in his effort to dismantle former President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy,” as the Post put it.

One Executive Order directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to “review and approve in an expedited manner” the DAPL. Days later the Corps made their controversial decision, on February 7th reversing course granting Energy Transfer Partners their easement. This week the remaining protestors were removed from the site (some being arrested).

The sustainable & responsible & impact investment community is not sitting by to watch these egregious events, as we see in the Investor Statements to the banks involved. The banks are on notice — there are risks here for you.

* * * * * * * *

May be what is happening in the asset management and project lending activities related to the project is the IBG / YBG worldview of some in the financial services world:  I’ll Be Gone / You’ll Be Gone when all of this hits the fan one day.  (Like the massive Ogalala Aquifer being contaminated by a pipeline break. The route of the extension is on the ground above and on the reservation’s lake bed.  Not to mention the threats to the above ground Missouri River, providing water downstream to U.S. states and cities.)

* * * * * * * *

Energy Transfer Partners, L.P:  (NYSE:ETP)  This is a Master Limited Partnership based in Texas.  Founded in 1995, the company has 71,000 miles of pipelines carrying various products. The company plans to build other major pipelines — the Rover Project — to carry product from the shale regions (Marcellus and Utica) across the Northern U.S. state east of the Mississippi.  ETP LP acquired Sunoco (remember them?).

Mutual Funds – Bond Holders – other key fiduciaries with brands of their own to protect — are funding the operations of ETP LP.

Brand names of equity holders include Oppenheimer; Goldman Sachs Asset Management; CalPERS; JPMorgan Chase.  Bond holders include Lord Abbett, PIMCO, Vanguard.  There are 567 institutional owners — fiduciaries — with some 45% of ownership, according to Morningstar. Partners include Marathon Petroleum Company (NYSE:MPC) and Enbridge (NYSE:ENB). (Bloomberg News – August 2, 2016 – both firms put $2 billion in the project and related work.)

The Partnership used to have an “Ownership” explanation on its web site — now it’s disappeared. But you can review some of it in Google’s archived web site pages here: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://www.energytransfer.com/ownership_overview.aspx&num=1&strip=1&vwsrc=0

* * * * * * * *

We are seeing in developments every day (like these above with non-governmental strategies and actions) that hold out promise for corporate and societal sustainability advocates and sustainable investment professionals that with — or without — public sector support, the Forward Momentum continue to build.

We’ll share news and opinion with you — let us know your thoughts, and the actions that you / your organization is taking, to continue the momentum toward building a better future…a more sustainable nation and world.

Out the Seventh Generation, as the Native American tribes are doing out in the American West in protecting their Treaty lands.  In that regard we could say, a promise is a promise — the Federal and state governments should uphold promises made in treaties.  Which are covered as a “guarantee” by the U.S. Constitution that some folk in politics like to wave around for effect.

FYI — this is Article VI:  “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land, and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby…”

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.

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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.

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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!

 

 

Will We See Mandated Corporate Reporting on ESG / Sustainability Issues in the USA?

by Hank Boerner – Chairman – G&A Institute

Maybe…U.S. Companies Will Be Required…or Strongly Advised… to Disclose ESG Data & Related Business Information

Big changes in mandated US corporate disclosure and reporting on ESG factors may be just over the horizon — perhaps later this year? Or perhaps not…

Sustainable & responsible investing advocates have long called for greater disclosure on environmental and social issues that affect corporate financial performance (near and long-term). Their sustained campaigning may soon result in dramatic changes in the information investors and stakeholders will have available from mandated corporate filings.

We are in countdown mode — in mid-April the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), the agency that regulates many parts of the capital market operations and especially corporate disclosure and reporting for investors issued a Concept Release with a call for public comments.

Among the issues In focus are potential adjustments, expansions and updating of mandated corporate financial reporting. One of these involves corporate ESG disclosure. The issue of “materiality” is weaved throughout the release.

Among the many considerations put forth by SEC: expanding corporate disclosure requirements for corporate financial and business information to include ESG factors, and to further define “materiality.” Especially the materiality of ESG factors.

The comment period is open for you to weigh in with your opinion on corporate ESG disclosure and reporting rules — or at least strong SEC guidance on the matter.

SEC has been conducting a “Disclosure Effectiveness Initiative,” which includes looking at corporate disclosure and reporting requirements, as well as the forms of presentation and methods of delivery of corporate information made available to investors. (Such as corporate web site content, which most feel needs to be updated as to SEC guidance.)

The umbrella regulatory framework — “Regulation S-K” — has been the dominant approach for corporate reporting since 1977 has been the principal repository (in SEC lingo) for filing corporate financial and business information (such as the familiar 10-K, 10-Q, 8-K, etc.).

Investors Want More Corporate ESG Information

For a number of years now, investment community players have urged SEC to look at mandating or offering strong guidance to public company managements to expand disclosure and reporting to substantially address what some opponents conveniently call “non-financial,” or “intangible” information. An expanding base of investors feel just the opposite — ESG information is quite tangible and has definite financial implications and results for the investor. The key question is but how to do this?

Reforming and Updating Reg S-K

In December 2013 when the JOBS Act (“Jumpstart Our Business Startups”) was passed by Congress, SEC was charged with issuing a report [to Congress] on the state of corporate disclosure rules. The goal of the initiative is to improve corporate disclosure and shareholders’ access to that information.

The Spring 2016 Concept Release is part of that effort. The SEC wants to “comprehensively review” and “facilitate” timely, material disclosure by registrants and improve distribution of that information to investors. Initially, the focus is on Reg S-K requirements. Future efforts will focus on disclosure related to disclosure of compensation and governance information in proxy statements.

Asset managers utilizing ESG analytics and portfolio management tools cheered the SEC move. In the very long Concept Release – Business and Financial Disclosure Required by Regulation S-K, at 341 pages — there is an important section devoted to “public policy and sustainability” topics. (Pages 204-215).

ESG / Sustainability in Focus For Review and Action

In the Concept Release  SEC states: In seeking public input on sustainability and public policy disclosures (such as related to climate change) we recognize that some registrants (public companies) have not considered this information material.

Some observers continue to share this view.

The Concept Release poses these questions as part of the consideration of balancing those views with those of proponents of greater disclosure including ESG information:

• Are there specific public policy issues important to informed voting and investment decisions?

• If the SEC adopted rules for sustainability and public policy disclosure, how could the rules result in meaningful disclosures (for investors)?

• Would line items about sustainability or public policy issues cause registrations to disclose information that is not material to investors?

• There is already sustainability and ESG information available outside of Commission (S-K) filings — why do some companies publish sustainability, citizenship, CSR reports…and is the information sufficient to address investor needs? What are the advantages and disadvantages of these types of reports (such as being available on corporate web sites)?

• What challenges would corporate reporters face if ESG / sustaianbility / public policy reporting were mandated — what would the additional costs be? (Federal rule making agencies must balance cost-benefit.)

• Third party organizations — such as GRI and SASB for U.S. company reporting — offer frameworks for this type of reporting. If ESG reporting is mandated, should existing standards or frameworks be considered? Which standards?

The Commission has received numerous comments about the inadequacy of current disclosure regarding climate change matters. And so the Concept Release asks: Are existing disclosure requirements adequate to elicit the information that would permit investors to evaluate material climate change risk? Why — or why not? What additional disclosure requirements– or SEC guidance — would be appropriate?

Influential Voices Added to the Debate

The subject of expanded disclosure of corporate ESG, sustainability, responsibility, citizenship, and related information has a number of voices weighing in. Among those organizations contributing information and commentary to the SEC are these: GRI; SASB; Ceres; IEHN; ICCR; PRI; CFA Institute; PWC; E&Y; ISS; IIRC; BlackRock Institute; Bloomberg; World Federation of Exchanges; US SIF.

The overwhelming view on record now with SEC is that investor consideration of ESG matters is important and that change is needed in the existing corporate reporting and disclosure requirements. You can add your voice to the debate.

For Your Action:

I urge your reading of the Concept Release, particularly the pages 204 through 215, to get a better understanding of what is being considered, especially as proposed by proponents; and, I encourage you to weigh in during the open public comment period with your views.

You can help to ensure the SEC commissioners, staff and related stakeholders understand the issues involved in expanding corporate disclosure on ESG matters and how to change the rules — or offer strong SEC guidance. Let the SEC know that ESG information is needed to help investors better understand the risks and opportunities inherent in the ESG profiles of companies they do or might invest in.

SEC rules or strong guidance on ESG disclosure would be a huge step forward in advancing sustainability and ESG consideration by mainstream capital market players.

Information sources:

The SEC release was on 13 April 2016; this means the comment period is open for 90 days, to mid-July.

Helpful Background For You

Back in 1975 as the public focus on environmental matters continued to increase (all kinds of federal “E” laws were being passed, such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act), stakeholders asked SEC to address the disclosure aspects of corporate environmental matters.

The initial proposal was deemed to have exceeded the commission’s statutory authority.

In 1974 the ERISA legislation had been passed by Congress, and pension funds, foundations and other fiduciaries were dramatically changing the makeup of the investor community, dwarfing the influence of one once-dominant individual investor. After ERISA and the easing of “prudent man” guidelines for fiduciaries, institutional investors rapidly expanded their asset holdings to include many more corporate equities.

And the institutions were increasingly focused on the “E,” “S” and :”G” aspects of corporate operations — and the real or potential influence of ESG performance on the financials. Over time, asset owners began to view the company’s ESG factors as a proxy for (effective or not) management.

While the 1975 draft requirements for companies to expand “E” and “S” information was eventually shelved by SEC, over the years there was a steady series of advances in accounting rules that did address especially “E” and some “S” matters.

FAS 5 issued by FASB in March 1975 addressed the “Accounting for Contingency” costs of corporate environmental liability FASB Interpretation FIN 14 regarding FAS 5 a year later (September 1976) addressed interpretations of “reasonable estimations of losses.” SEC Staff Bulletins helped to move the needle in the direction of what sustainable & responsible investors were demanding. Passage of Sarbanes-Oxley statutes in July 2002 with emphasis on greater transparency moved the needle some more.

But there was always a lag in the regulatory structure that enables SEC to keep up with the changes in investment expectations that public companies would be more forthcoming with ESG data and other information. And there was of course organized corporate opposition.

(SEC must derive its authority from landmark 1933 and 1934 legislation, expansions and updates in 1940, 2002, 2010 legislation, and so on. Rules must reflect what is intended in the statutes passed by Congress and signed into law by the President. And opponents of proposals can leverage what is/is not in the laws to push back on SEC proposals.)

There is an informative CFO magazine article on the subject of corporate environmental disclosure, published September 9, 2004, after the Enron collapse, two years after Sarbanes-Oxley became the law of the land, and 15+ years after the SEC focused on environmental disclosure enhancements. Author Marie Leone set out to answer the question, “are companies being forthright about their environmental liabilities?” Check out “The Greening of GAAP” at: http://ww2.cfo.com/accounting-tax/2004/09/the-greening-of-gaap/

And we add this important aspect to corporate ESG disclosure: Beginning in 1990 and in the years that followed, the G1 through G4 frameworks provided to corporate reporters by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) helped to address the investor-side demand for more ESG information and the corporate side challenge of providing material information related to their ESG strategies, programs, actions and achievements.

The G&A Institute team sees the significant progress made by public companies in the volume of data and narratives related to corporate ESG performance and achievements in the 1,500 and more reports that we analyze each year as the exclusive data partner for The GRI in the United States, United Kingdom, and The Republic of Ireland.

We have come a very long way since the 1970s and the SEC Concept Release provides a very comprehensive foundation for dialogue and action — soon!

Please remember to take action and leave your comments here:
http://www.sec.gov/rules/concept.shtml