Davos 2019: The Conversation in Switzerland Ripples Out to The Rest of the World – News, Commentaries, Reports, Initiatives, For Your Consideration

Davos, Switzerland –  January 2019: The Conversation in Switzerland Ripples Out to The Rest of the World – News, Commentaries, Reports, Initiatives, For Your Consideration

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

The world leadership gathering in Switzerland in winter every year – we see this in the “Davos meetings” in the news report datelines – are part of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) broad thought leadership activities.  This gathering is the WEF’s annual meeting (there are regional meetings as well).

Heads of state, CEOs, invited societal thought leaders, leading academics and journalists, politicians of all persuasions, NGOs, heads of multilateral heads (Christina Lagarde, International Monetary Fund)…they were all gathered there again this year.

WEF bills itself as “the international organization for public-private cooperation”; it was created in 1971 as a not-for-profit, to operate in a non-partisan, independent forum for leaders of society.  The annual meeting provides the opportunity for sharing ideas on a wide range of issues and topics. And then the broadcast of these out to the world.
This year, the broad themes of discussion included “4th Industrial Revolution”, “Geostrategy”, “Environment”, and “Economics”.

“Shaping” (taking actions as private-public partnerships) was the theme of numerous initiatives such as “Shaping The Future of Environment and Natural Resource Security”.

A slew of reports are typically issued each year; in 2019 one was “Seeking a Return on ESG: Advancing the Reporting Ecosystem to Unlock Impact for Business and Society”.

These reports and other information are available for you on-line at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda

Naturally, with the wise men and women of our global society gathered in the snowy reaches of Davos and presenting their views over several days, there was the usual flow of headlines and news stories out to the rest of the world.

Our team, led by Editor-in-Chief Ken Cynar closely monitors the Davos and other WEF meetings (the annual and regionals) to bring you relevant highlights. This week after the conference wrapped up, Ken Cynar selected this week’s Top Story pick.

That selection presents the comments of Hans Vestburg, CEO, Verizon Communications, on the theme of The Fourth Industrial Revolution and a Sustainable Earth.  CEO Vestburg (he’s originally from “high latitudes” Sweden and became CEO in August 2018) is strategically positioning his giant telecomm enterprise to balance market leadership, promising advances in technology (such as 5G networks) and challenges presented by climate change, population growth — and helping society achieve a sustainable and equitable future.

Hans Vestburg said at Davos: “Perhaps it because of my roots in a land so beautiful (Sweden) and yet so vulnerable…I’ve long had an interest in the potential link between technological advancement and environmental sustainability.”  CEO Vestberg helped to lead the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network, as example.

He sees the coming generation of high speed, highly-interactive technologies as a possible resource to help society buy time against catastrophic worldwide climate change (think of 3D printing, 5G networks, the Internet of Things, 4IR networks, autonomous devices).

Consider this, said the CEO of Verizon to the Davos leadership gathering:  “If we and our partners throughout industry, government and academia can collaborate imaginatively on way to maximize the sustainability benefits of these emergent technologies from the very start, the next few crucial decades could see cascading gains in momentum against both materials wastage and emissions.”

We think you’ll find his comments intriguing – and most welcome from the CEO of a prominent U.S. corporation with commitment to address critical issues related to climate change, and willing to speak up!

This Week’s Top Story

Want a Sustainable Earth? Bring on the Fourth Industrial Revolution
(Wednesday – January 23, 2019) Source: World Economic Forum – When I became CEO of Verizon back in August, one of my commitments was to accelerate our company’s progress in Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies, drawing upon our longstanding role as a world leading…

Focus On The Corporate Sustainability Journey This Week – News & Opinion All Around the Topic in Various Communications Channels…

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

Remember the great Beatles’ song…Here, There and Everywhere?  That’s what seems to be happening with “Corporate Sustainability” these days.

The news and commentary seem to be everywhere now, with an examination of how the corporate sector is embracing the concept and developing strategies, action plans, assigning teams and moving forward to address ESG issues.

When we began our sustainability news, commentary and research sharing at Governance & Accountability Institute more than a decade ago, the items were few and far between, skimpy and more periodic than regularly appearing.

Today, a widening range of media and communications channels bring us the news of what the players in the corporate sector are doing — and how institutional investors and other key stakeholders are responding to same.

We see numerous news stories and commentary about what companies are doing in their sustainability journey…and how this matters in so many ways for the issuer (such as improved risk management, more effective investor relations, greater access to capital, enhanced reputation for recruiting and retaining human capital, preferred supplier status, and more).

G&A Institute is the data partner for the USA, UK and Republic of Ireland for the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and in this role, we gather and analyze (and then database) the corporate sustainability and CR reports of literally hundreds upon hundreds of companies.

The progress we’ve seen companies making in their journeys is encouraging and pretty astounding if you think back just 10 years or so (to the dark days of 2008).

And so as companies move ahead in the journey and greatly expand their disclosure and reporting, the communication channels light up with the “sustainability” news, commentary and research focused on a company, a group of peers, investors, an industry or a sector.

We selected a few examples for you this week.  First, from the food processing industry, an examination by Kevin Piccione (he describes his company’s effort – Sealed Air, an early sustainability adopter).

He cites the World Economic Forum finding that most “sustainable companies” outperform their peers by a third – but only 2% actually achieve or exceed their sustainability goals. So why do they succeed?  A brief review for you.

The second article for you is Harry Menear’s more in-depth piece from Energy Digital, examining which companies stand out for “green credentials”.

His focus is on the Corporate Knight’s “Top 10 Sustainable Companies” roster, which is drawn from comprehensive research on 6,000 companies worldwide across all industries (for companies with US$1 billion revenues).

The companies were scored on energy use, carbon, waste and clean air production, innovation expenditures, taxes paid, diversity of leadership, supply chain management, and other elements of the sustainability journey.  Which companies made the Top 10?  The link is below for your reading.

The third item is a note of caution from Bloomberg by Emily Chasan and Chris Martin — who point out that in the midst of the growing enthusiasm about corporate sustainability, there are some companies that investors call out for their “corporate greenwashing” (and they name names).  The authors cite the recent Ceres report on this (500 companies were analyzed).

They write:  Companies are still making questionable claims but accountability is rising.

Emily and Chris tell us companies (and their executives) are being forced now to admit to greenwashing (that is, “gushing” sustainability claims with a tenuous grip on reality).

Examined:  Mid-American; VW; Wal-Mart; Amazon; AB InBev SA.  There are perspectives shared on this by Calvert,  CalSTRS, BlackRock, Neuberger Berman, DWS Group, UBS.

And there are as always many items that our editors share this week in the Highlights, as we say, drawn for you from the many communications channels that our team monitors every day.  Let us know your thoughts as to how we are doing and what you would like to see!

This Week’s Top Stories

Achieving your sustainability goals does not mean sacrificing profits
(Thursday – August 16, 2018) Source: Food Processing – Nearly 90% of business leaders believe that sustainability is essential to remaining competitive and despite the clear link between sustainability and profit, only 2% of companies either achieve or exceed their sustainability…

Top 10 Sustainable Companies
(Monday – August 13, 2018) Source: Energy Digital – Which companies stand out for their green credentials? Energy Digital finds out.

Investors Are Increasingly Calling Out Corporate Greenwashing
(August 20, 2018) Source: Bloomberg – Corporate sustainability reporting has risen dramatically over the last few years, with 85 percent of the S&P 500 index producing annual corporate responsibility documents in 2018, up from just 20 percent in 2011, according to the Governance & Accountability Institute. That’s partially due to investor demand. Assets in sustainable investment funds grew 37 percent last year, according to data tracked by Bloomberg.

The Words From Davos In 2018: Sustainability, Responsibility…And More In This, The Fourth Industrial Revolution

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

The World Economic Forum (WEF) annually convenes business leaders, government officials, celebrities and other luminaries in the Swiss village of Davos-Klosters to explore societal issues and develop or work to advance solutions to same.

This year’s convocation was staged over four days n late-January. Some of the highlights for you:

UN Sustainable Development Goals in Focus
The Government of Denmark and the WEF signed a memorandum of understanding to move ahead with a partnership to improve the state of the world through a public-private cooperation. The agreement provides a model framework that could lead to improvement over the long-term.

And, adoption of the approach by other nations. Consider what this European nation and the WEF have in mind:

  • They will pursue public-private partnership to promote green growth.
  • Develop a technology and innovation partnership.
  • Work together to encourage greater adoption of the SDGs.
  • Support the mobilization of private capital for infrastructure through the WEF-led initiative, the Sustainable Development Investment Partnership.
  • Support trade and investment through the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation (a multi-stakeholder initiative).
  • Work to implement the WEF’s System Initiative on Education, Gender and Work.
  • Denmark will assign a Ministry of Foreign Affairs senior advisor to the WEF New York City office (a second such WEF appointment for Denmark).

Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said: “Denmark has an ambitious agenda to promote public-private partnerships…in terms of sustainable growth, social cohesion and technological skills. We are delighted to team with WEF to create concrete progress on these agendas…to create better lives for more people and sole the urgent climate crisis. We must build bridges across sectors, borders and old divisions…”

Addressing Modern Slavery
Influentials addressed the need for coordinated global action to end modern slavery – that was championed by US Senator Bob Corker (R-Tennessee); Monique Villa, CEO of Thomson Reuters Foundation; and, Gary Haugen, CEO of the International Justice Mission.

Senator Corker drew attention to the new Global Fund to End Modern Slavery (“GFEMS”), a public-private partnership to fund programs in countries where such practices are prevalent.

The initial funding is from the United States and United Kingdom; the goal is to raise US$1.5 billion-plus and develop a global strategy to address modern slavery. (It’s estimated that as many as 40 million people now live in modern slavery conditions. This is said to be a $150 billion global business.)

There are three pillars adopted by GFEMS: (1) leverage the rule of law; (2) “energized” engagement with business sector (3) work to sustain freedom.

Jean Baderschneider is CEO of the new Global Fund. The fund’s work will be modeled on the global effort to fight AIDS, TB and malarial infections, bringing together governments, the private sector and NGOs.

Tech-Reskilling Drive Announced
The Information Technology industry is going to work to target 1 million people to offer resources (such as on-line tools) and training opportunities to “re-skill” adults to help them meet the requirements of the tech industry for employment, as well as continue their education and learn more about today’s technology.

Big names in tech are signed on: Accenture, CA Technologies, Cisco, Cognizant, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Infosys, Pegasystems, PwC, Salesforce, SAP, and Tata Consultancy Services. The coalition is seeking more members to help develop tools and processes to address the “barriers preventing adults from re-skilling or successfully completing training, initially in the United States. There are plans to scale to other geographies.

The coalition’s “SkillSET” is hosted on the EdCas AI-powered Knowledge Cloud Platform, accessible to all.

ISO 20121:2012 Certification for Davos
The conference was awarded the ISO certification for “sustainable event planning and operation” by DNVGL (a certifying body). ISO 20121 is a framework for identifying and managing key social, economic and environmental impacts of an event.

Sustainability measures implement by the Forum included carbon compensation for all air travel by the staff, media and participants; promotion of “sustainable transport” in Davos (walk don’t ride); energy efficiency; water management; sourcing of renewable energy; reduction of waste and recycling.

Ending With A Call to Action
The 2018 Forum closed with a call to action to “globalize compassion” and “leave no one behind.” This, the 48th WEF Annual Meeting, closed on a creative note with four artists sharing visions of how painting, photography, film and dance can inspire empathy with other people’s stories.

Across all of the 400 sessions, the Davos organizers said, “…one key theme kept emerging, the need to embrace our common humanity in the face of rapid technological changes ushered in by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

And so the call for a spirit of inclusion, diversity and respect for human rights…this characterized the 2018 gathering, said Sharon Burrow, one of the seven female co-chairs of the meeting (she is General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation).

Important outcomes of the meeting included these developments, on the theme of “mending our fractured world”:

  • Preparing workers for the future.
  • Safeguarding our oceans.
  • Closing the gender gap.
  • Tackling waste and pollution.
  • Unlocking nature’s value.
  • Making meat sustainable.
  • Bridging the digital divide.
  • Fighting financial crime and modern slavery.
  • Taking on fake news.
  • Securing air travel.

And…advancing the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which includes Forum centers at work with social, public and private sector partners in numerous countries.

As Oliver Baitch writing in Ethical Corp observed, having spent four days at the conference:

“First, and foremost, sustainability is here to stay. Long gone are the denials or debates as to whether “non-financial” or “soft” issues are the preserve of global business. Themes such as citizenship-centred science, a post-oil energy matrix and tax transparency have shifted from side-room workshops to the main stage.

“Second, companies are beginning to put their money where their mouths are. Davos 2018 saw a litany of firm, measureable corporate commitments – professional services firm PwC promising to cut its carbon emissions by 40% by 2022 (having cut them by 29% since 2007) through to Coca-Cola pledging to collect and recycle the equivalent of every bottle or can it sells globally by 2030.”

You can read his summary of the 2018 confab at: http://www.ethicalcorp.com/will-sustainability-be-ceos-trays-after-davos

And, of course, there is a significant amount of related information at the WEF web site:  https://www.weforum.org/

Cradle-to-Cradle Case History: Shaw Industries

Guest Commentary by Jennifer Moore – at the Conference Board

Content originally prepared for Certification in Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability Strategies – on-line courseware by G&A Institute **

The early 21st century ushered in a new wave of heightened concern about resource scarcity and climate change. Consequently, consumers have been more concerned about the sustainability of the products they purchase and the effects they are having on the environment.

Businesses have also taken on the challenge of incorporating sustainability strategies into their business models. Many more companies are now integrating sustainability practices through product stewardship and their R&D activities.

These companies are focusing on life cycle assessments of their products and are aiming to achieve Cradle-to-Cradle status. As defined by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the Cradle-to- Cradle school of thought is an important branch within the circular economy concept.

Cradle-to-Cradle focuses on products that have a positive impact and reduce the negative impacts on commerce through production efficiency (see footnote 1).

Cradle-to-Cradle and circular economy goes beyond the “reduce, reuse, recycle” campaign of the late Twentieth Century to focus more on the design and production of products, rather than on consumption by the consumer.

The authoritative work, “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things”,  authored by Michael Braungart and William McDonough called for a new era of production, wherein, companies should be focusing more on “doing more good,” rather than “doing less bad.”

The goal and focus should be on the end of the product’s lifecycle, and whether it will either be safely re-entered into the environment — or be recycled back into production.

Cradle-to-Cradle aims to achieve three things: (1) eliminate the concept of waste, (2) power with renewable energy, and (3) respect human and natural systems. (2)

This concept argues that resource consumption and economic growth should not be isolated from each other. In fact, they often go hand-in-hand. (3)

The private sector is not siloed; it has been highly influenced by the public sector and discussion forums. Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs), driven by public demand, have advocated for the advancement of a circular economy. The World Economic Forum, Oxfam International and the United Nations in particular have been vocal about transitioning to a circular economy.

Also, the emphasis of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) released in 2016 by the United Nations is on developing a more circular economy and seeking to implement sustainable development across the UN member states. (4)

While the SDGs are driven by politics and protecting human rights, the goals cannot be achieved without businesses and were developed with input from the private sector. There is business value for companies to align their strategy with the SDGs. (5)

Many companies have recognized the benefits of aligning their goals with the SGDs and the relationship between resource consumption and economic growth.

Consumers are now expecting companies to provide products that are eco-friendly and reduce resource waste. According to a survey conducted by Nielsen in 2014, “55 percent of on-line consumers indicated they were willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact, an increase from 50% in 2010 and 45% in 2011.” (6)

The Business Community’s Embrace of Cradle-to-Cradle

Businesses across all industries are now developing their product stewardship products to meet these consumer demands. Companies cite “customer demand for solutions that address global sustainability challenges, such as climate change and resource scarcity” as primary drivers of sustainable product initiatives. (7)

For example, 3M is striving for 40 per cent of their new products to be sustainable and Kimberly-Clark is developing solutions for used diapers. One exemplary model of sustainable product stewardship is Shaw Industries’ dedication to Cradle-to-Cradle.

The Shaw Industry Model

Shaw Industries is the largest producer of carpet tile in North America. While carpet tiles can have a lifespan of 10-to-25 years, commercial owners and tenants often update their facilities more frequently than that to reflect contemporary trends, resulting in a high-waste industry.

Historically, when the time came for flooring to be removed from businesses, schools, retailers, hospitals and other properties – whether for wear-and-tear or aesthetics, it was sent to landfills.

Recognizing the opportunity to create a better solution for customers and to create a product that would help advance toward a more circular economy, Shaw developed EcoWorx-backed carpet tile, which it introduced in 2008 and continues to optimize for sustainability performance.

The world’s first Cradle-to-Cradle Certified carpet tile — EcoWorx — was designed for reuse. To create a carpet tile that could be infinitely recycled with no loss of quality meant removing PVC, phthalates and other chemicals. As a result of its meticulous design process, Shaw understands what’s in its EcoWorx products and, therefore, what’s going into the next generation of its products.

Today, with 16 years and more than 3 billion square feet of EcoWorx installed, Shaw continues to optimize the product’s performance in alignment with Cradle-to-Cradle criteria – material health, material reutilization, energy, water and social responsibility.

Most recently, Shaw worked with one of its suppliers to remove an ingredient from its latex that was added to the list of banned chemicals within version 3 of the Cradle-to-Cradle Certified Products Program Standard.

Further, the company employs sustainable manufacturing practices – making efficient use of materials and natural resources, using alternative and renewable energy sources when possible, and designing and operating its facilities and manufacturing processes in accordance with widely recognized sustainability and safety standards.

It completes the sustainable manufacturing process by delivering its products using the most efficient mode of transportation feasible while meeting customer deadlines.

Shaw has committed itself to embracing Cradle-to-Cradle practices and has lead the way in carpet reclamation in the flooring industry. Today, 65 percent of its products – commercial and residential – are Cradle-to-Cradle Certified, with a goal of designing 100% to Cradle-to-Cradle principles by 2030.

Not only is Shaw committed to upcycling within its own operations, it also looks for opportunities in other industries.

For example, the company converts plastic drink bottles into residential carpet through a joint venture with DAK Americas: The Clear Path Recycling Center in Fayetteville, NC produces 100 million pounds of clear flake each year, recycling approximately three billion plastic drink bottles annually.

Furthermore, in 2016 alone, Shaw supplied more than 200 million pounds of post-industrial waste to other businesses for a variety of recycled content needs. For instance, the wood flour – waste fiber from hardwood flooring operations – is used by a major producer of composite decking and the minimal waste from its resilient manufacturing facility is used to make garden hoses.

The Future for Cradle-to-Cradle in Industry

Today, sustainable leadership companies, like Shaw, can strive to achieve cradle-to-cradle production through the certified program by the Cradle-to-Cradle Products Innovation Institute.

The Institute examines certifiable products in five (5) quality categories – (1) material health, (2) material reutilization, (3) renewable energy and carbon management, (4) water stewardship, and (5) social fairness. (Footnote 8)

Sustainability managers must partner with their design and strategy teams to develop sustainable solutions to the products and services their company offers. Not only are these products essential ecologically and socially, they are also drivers of revenue growth.

If managers are concerned about getting [internal] corporate buy-in to fund ESG R&D, they are able to present the business case of how other companies — especially like Shaw Industries with the illustrations here in this case study — have seen Cradle-to-Cradle’s positive impact on their revenue. (9)

According to The Conference Board, “revenues from sustainable products and services grew at six times the rate of overall company revenues.”

In order to address Earth’s ecological crisis, companies must lead the way by ensuring they are designing eco-friendly products and services that respects the finite resources available on the planet. Sustainability managers can look to Shaw as one company that is leading by example.

# # #

Jennifer Moore is Manager, Executive Programs, Sustainability & EHS at the Conference Board. She engages with senior executives from Fortune 250 companies to understand their needs and help solve their business issues. She oversees and executes all aspects of 15 roundtables per year.

# # #

**  Information about the G&A Institute on-line course:

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

# # #

Footnotes:

(1) Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Cradle to Cradle in a Circular Economy – Products and Systems. Retrieved March 5, 2017. https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/schools-of-thought/cradle2cradle

(2)  Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Cradle to Cradle in a Circular Economy – Products and Systems. Retrieved March 5, 2017. https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/schools-of-thought/cradle2cradle

(3) Strahel, W. (2015). The Performance Economy. Palgrave MacMillan: 2006

(4) United Nations. United Nations Economic and Social Council. Millennium Development Goals and post-2015. Development Agenda. Retrieved March 5, 2017. http://www.un.org/en/ecosoc/about/mdg.shtml.

(5)  Yosie, T. Is There Business Value in the UN Sustainable Development Goals? Retrieved March 5, 2017. http://tcbblogs.org/givingthoughts/2017/02/07/is-there-business-value-in-the-un-sustainable-development-goals/#sthash.L0MLUAN7.xHIHNvHZ.dpbs

(6) Singer, T. Driving Revenue Growth Through Sustainable Products and Services. New York: The Conference Board, 2015. p. 17.

(7) Singer, T. Driving Revenue Growth Through Sustainable Products and Services. New York: The Conference Board, 2015. p. 8.

(8)  C2C Product Certification Overview – Get Certified – Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute. Retrieved March 5, 2017. http://www.c2ccertified.org/get-certified/product-certification

(9)  Singer, T. Driving Revenue Growth Through Sustainable Products and Services. New York: The Conference Board, 2015. p. 6.

# # #