The Media – And Sustainability & CR Thought Leadership, For Both Topic-Focused and Mainstream Media Coverage

by Hank Boerner – Chair, G&A Institute

The “media” that we choose to get our news, commentary, research results, even crossword puzzles, movie reviews, the latest scientific papers and maybe information about what our friends are up to (such as “social media”) are usually self-selected.  

We tune in to what we want to read or watch or listen to…for information / education / entertainment…and it also helps to define us in many ways.

So here at G&A Institute as we broadly monitor for content related to both our day-to-day and long-term focus areas (the list of topics and issues is long), when we see these things pop up in “not-the-usual places,” we are cheered.

This weekend, for example, we picked up on the following, which were encouraging in that senior management publications are read beyond the folks involved in sustainable investing and corporate sustainability or ESG issues and topics.

In Focus:   MIT Sloan Management Review

This is the publication of the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s MIT Sloan School of Management.  “Share Your Long-Term Thinking” was one feature article. Companies need to be more forthcoming about their strategies for long-term value creation when they communicate with investors — especially about ESG issues, write authors Tim Youmans and Brian Tomlinson.

Their observation is that over the past five years, CEOs have faced mounting pressure to produce short-term profits. CEOs do think about the long-term, have long-term plans (detailed and extensive) and these typically are closely held.  Result: corporate strategy and practice are not captured in investor communications.

They then offer six reasons why long-term plans should be disclose and how to do that.  One of these is to help investors understand ESG issues through the eyes of management — because a majority of investors see ESG factors as financially material and expect sound management of material ESG factors to deliver better performance over the long-term. 

Tim Youmans is engagement director for Hermes Equity Ownership Services and Brian Tomlinson is research director for the Strategic Investor Initiative at CECP.

They conclude for the magazine’s audience (aimed at corporate executives and senior managements in the main): “The long-term plan is a new tool in the regular sequence of periodic corporate-shareholder communications and represents an unprecedented opportunity for leading companies and investor together to drive sustainable value creation and help to clarify the role of the corporation in a sustainable society.”

That is not all for the MIT Sloan Management Review audience in the Spring 2008 issue.

“Why Companies Should Report Financial Risks From Climate Change” is another feature — this from Robert Eccles and Michael Krzus.  They  focused on the Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate-related Disclosures [recommendations].

“Investors and the rest of the world is watching to see how companies will respond to the TFCD recommendations” — the ask here is that company managements will expand their disclosure to report on the risks and opportunities inherent in climate change in such documents as the 10-k.

Boston Common Asset Management LLC and ShareAction organized a campaign with institutions representing US$1.5 trillion in AUM participating to pressure financial institutions (especially banks) to implement the recommendations.

Companies should follow the recommendations, authors Eccles and Krzus argue, because this could lead to evolving better strategies to adapt to climate change — and be able to explain these strategic moves to the their investors.

They focus on the oil and gas industry, looking at disclosures in 2016 by 15 of the largest industry firms listed on the NYSE.  A few have made good progress in adhering to the TCFD recommendations (so there is not a “blank slate”); there is work to be done by all of the companies in enhancing their disclosures to meet the four top recommendations (in governance, strategy, risk management and metrics and targets areas).

Their article is an excellent summation of the challenges and opportunities presented for such companies as BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Sinopec, Statoil, Total, and others in oil & gas.

Bob Eccles is a well-known expert in corporate sustainability and sustainable investing and is visiting professor at Said Business School at the University of Oxford. Mike Krzus is an independent consultant and researcher and was a Fellow of G&A Institute.

Wait, there’s more!

The magazine’s columnists had important things to say as well.

Kimberly Whitler and Deborah Henretta penned “Why the Influence of Women on Boards Still Lags,” applauding the rise of the number of women on boards and offering two important criticisms — the growth rate is slowing and boards do that do have female members often limit their influence.

Although there are measurable positive results of female board inclusion — they cite Return on Equity averaging 53% higher in the top quartile than in the bottom — women still are not making more rapid inroads with fewer reaching the most influential board leadership positions, even with more women on boards than 10 years ago.

The authors set out ways for making more progress in board rooms.  And they advise: “For real, lasting change that wins companies the full benefits of gender-diverse decision-making, boards need to look beyond inclusion — and toward influence.”

Kimberly Whitler is assistant professor of business adminstration at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business; Deborah Henretta is an independent board director on the boards of Dow Corning, Meritage Homes Corp, NiScource Inc and Staples (she was a Proctor & Gamble executive).

There is much more for executives and board members in the issue, which has the overall theme of: “In Search of Strategic Agility – discover a better way to turn strategy into results.”

The content we outlined here is powerful stuff (our own technical term) to crank into corporate strategy-setting, and savvy execs are doing just that, as we see here at G&A as we pour through the more than 1,500 corporate reports we analyze each year with titles such as Corporate Sustainability, Corporate Responsibility, Corporate Citizenship, Corporate Environmental Sustainability, and more.

And so it is very encouraging when we wander beyond the beaten path of reading the reliable staple of sustainability-oriented and CSR-oriented media to see what the senior management thought leadership media are doing!

We recommend that you read through the Spring 2018 Strategy magazine from MIT Sloan.  Link: https://sloanreview.mit.edu/

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