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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Company Boards and Executives – for 2017

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

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

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

Other Investment Management Peers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s more information for you here:

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

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

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

Tim Smith / Walden Asset Management:

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

 

 

“Trust” — Think About How Important It Is in Our Personal and Business Lives

by Hank Boerner – G&A Institute

This week I was among the fortunate to be named to the Trust Across America / Trust Around the World organization’s annual recognitions of respected thought leaders who advance arguments about the importance of building / protecting / enhancing / projecting “trust” in our personal, business and organizational lives.

I was named to the thought leader award roster in 2011, 2012, 2013, 20i4, and this year — and so, with 14 other thought leaders, I’ve also been named to the first “Lifetime Achievement Award” by TAA.  This is a great honor for me, and also humbling.

I’m honored to be among such distinguished colleagues, leading thought leaders on trust , including author: Patricia Aburdene (Megatrends); Steven Covey (prominent “trust” author); Medtronic’s former CEO Bill George; Leslie Gaines Ross (Weber Shandwick); trust coach Charles Green; and others of similar stature — the list is at: http://www.trustacrossamerica.com/offerings-thought-leaders-2015.shtml

As a journalist, writer on societal issues, corporate manager, and then consultant to managements and boards, throughout my career I’ve been sharing knowledge of the importance of Trust.

Trust in the leader, trust in the organization, trust in products — these are important resources that can bring the enterprise through a crisis situation.  This applies to both organizations and leaders in the private, public and social sectors — think about the busting-of-trust by brand name leaders who quickly fall from grace; of government officials who in an instant achieved infamy; of not-for-profit or public institutional leadership who squandered trust and good will.  (They, unfortunately, can seem to be legion!)

I’ve had the good fortune to work for and with, outstanding men and women in leadership roles who first built trust as the foundation for the enterprises that they would then build and manage.  I’ve written about them in other places.

“TRUST” in an ancient concept coming down to us through such languages as Old Norse (think: Vikings and the civilizations of Scandinavia); various Old English roots; Dutch; German; and even more ancient languages).  The term conveyed (and I think still conveys) important [modern & ancient] human concepts:  faith/faithful; agreement or covenant; comfort; true/truthful…)

“Trust” if you think about it is at its core a bargain that we make with others, and really with ourselves as well, to keep the faith / to be true (to our words and in our actions) / to keep the agreement with others to live up to theirs and our expectations regarding “trust.”

This Week’s Headlines – and Broken Trust

As I learned of my award, I was humbled, and proud, and reflective.  I thought about my work over the decades in helping others to understand and build trust; of leaders and enterprises who broke the trust with stakeholders; and of leaders who leveraged the valuable treasure (trust they built over time) to gain competitive advantage, to offset the effects of critical issues or crisis events; and I thought about leaders that I admired who conveyed trust as the most important message in their inventory of possible “key messages.”

And then I turned to the morning news and the headlines about trust leaped from the pages – such as those of  The New York Times.

There was one story focused on one of our leading “anchormen” on the NBC News Network, Brian Williams, he is backtracking from and apologizing for telling a story of surviving an attack on the helicopter he was traveling in (in the Iraq war).  The most prominent of our national storytellers (and managing editor of the NBC Nightly News) quickly was engulfed in a crisis — and stepped aside from his duties.

I was impressed by his recognition of what is at stake for him, the network and the news program when he said:  “…I will continue my career-long effort to be worthy of the trust of those who place their trust in us…”

Another story was about our healthcare records, entrusted by us to third parties, and what healthcare and other enterprises do ./ don’t do  — and what might happen to our most personal & private information.  The upsetting headline was about Anthem’s databases of patient information being hacked. This company is one of the nation’s leading healthcare organizations and as many at 80 millions of us doing business with Anthem may have had our information stolen.

This is on the heels of retailers’ records being hacked. (reflecting on the “invasion” of our financial and credit privacy through the Target data hacking).

Trust — do we have it today / will we have it tomorrow when we visit a retail store and are invited to swipe our credit card in the counter terminal? That’s an important question for retailers in fixed locations and those merchandising goods & services in the digital space.  Lack of trust (in the protection of our information) could cost retailers billions’ in lost customers and sales.

And then there is personal trust embodied in our own views and bow we might communicate those views and opinions.  Consider this:  If you think it, and don’t say or write or otherwise share it, you can think really terrible things about that bullying boss, irritating co worker, nagging family member, callous or un-trustworthy business colleague.

But if you say it…write it…email it…  in today’s “ultra-communicative” world, what is “out there” can easily come back to haunt. And so another headline was about one of the leaders of Sony’s movie studio (Amy Pascal) stepping down after her emails were hacked and made public. (The Times played this up with a cute headline: “Pascal Lands in Sony’s Outbox.”)

Can we trust our in-house emails to be protected and kept private — or should we expect something we say, or write (even of sort of to ourselves as a joke or “relief valve”) to then have “it” \splashed across media. (This episode was costly: She was co-chair of Sony Picture Entertainment.)

With thoughts of Florida – the Sunshine State – on the minds of some of us northerners during this wintery season, a story out of Tallahassee, the capital, caught national attention.  (Especially since “trust” in Florida’s governmental institutions may again be critical in the Presidential election of 2016.)

Florida Governor Rick Scott fired a law enforcement official. Florida has some unusual methods of governance; one is the “cabinet” approach, with the [separately elected statewide] Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, and Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam — who, with the Governor, oversee state agencies. Together they decide on hiring and firing in the state agencies.  (All are Republicans – could their actions or lack of action impact on trust in the party?)

The question of trust comes to mind as the governor apparently sidesteps answering his cabinet colleagues’ questions on about the method of the official’s “leaving” — the governor said he resigned, the official said (no) he was fired.

The high-ranking law enforcement official told reporters that he was forced out because he would not do certain things – like bring charges against political opponents (thereby politicizing the office and the criminal justice system).

Also catching my attention was the sudden “explosion” of news & commentary around something that Americans have long taken for granted”  vaccinating against serious diseases. (There is an epidemic of measles cases in a number of states.)

I remember from my childhood getting measles, mumps, whooping cough, and other vaccinations.  Everyone got the shots. As a young adult I was first on line to get (first) the sugar tablet and then the needle containing polio vaccinations.

Now we have the spectacle of political leaders jumping into an important  public health discussion to crassly try to leverage parental fears and anxiety into personal political advantage as they eye upcoming primary campaigns.

Of course, we have the right to have our own opinions and to express these; for the common good, we also have the responsibility to do our part to protect the public health.  My child should not infect your child if that is possible to avoid (say, through community-wide vaccinations).

But, but – there is always a but.  Some people in this debate ask…what about our trust in the vaccination process…in the methodology behind the vaccination…in the drug manufacturer creating the product that we will accept into our bodies…what about the public sector officials who tell us of the necessity and safety of the vaccine?  Trust — or lack of — that is what is on the table here!

Finally for this round, I see the headline of Standard & Poor’s organization paying US$1.3 billion in penalties for its role in putting favorable ratings on subprime mortgage package offerings to institutional investors — that helped to bring about the 2007-2008 global crisis in the financial markets.  Trust — that is what investors had in mind when they looked at the S&P ratings.  Will they trust S&P ratings again in the future?

Trust, we can conclude, is a concept important to our enjoying an orderly society, to our personal well-being, and to getting to the facts and the truth in matters of importance to us. Trust is worth thinking about — every day, in all of our relationships!

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For information about my awards and Trust Across America, you can check these links:

http://www.justmeans.com/press-release/top-thought-leaders-in-trust-2015-awards-gai-chairman-hank-boerner-named-lifetime

TAA: http://www.trustacrossamerica.com/