Economic Growth, Protecting & Preserving Our Ecological Systems – Are These Conflicted, Or Complementary As We Strive For Greater Global Sustainability?

The continued drive toward greater societal sustainability is very encouraging.  The public sector, multilateral organizations, companies, investors, NGOs, and other stakeholders are adopting new strategies and embracing new approaches and best practices.  Picture the installation of the vast array of a desert solar generating “farm” – that’s progress to cheer.

But there are substantial societal challenges that will require much more effort than we see today if we are to achieve greater, widespread sustainability — worldwide.

Growth is good/growth is an issue.  We are on track, demographers tell us, to see the global population grow from today’s 7.6 billion to 9.6 billion by the year 2050.  We recall a description that describes the challenge of meeting this particular situation: It is like changing tires on an automobile that is moving.

The imagery of that is tantalizing to consider.  This could apply to the challenges of developing solutions to vexing social, environmental and governance issues of 2018 as we steadily move towards 2050.  The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (the SDGs) are an excellent roadmap for us to (1) look at the vexing societal issues and (2) collaborate and innovate to develop solutions, even as economic, population, demographic, political, financial, and other issues throw up still more challenges to meet as we strive to meet today’s challenges.  Reality:  We have to continue “growing”, right?

The 17 SDGs include such laudable and aspirational goals as ending poverty (#1), proving education (#4), providing clean water and sanitation (#6), and achieving “zero” hunger (#2).

Governments, industry, investors, civic leadership, NGOs, and other stakeholders are busily trying to figure out the “how” of addressing the challenges.  (And, how to pay for the work to be done.)  This week the UN Secretary General spoke about the lack of progress in general since the goals were structured in 2015.  Only 12 years are left until the 2030 deadline for having solutions in place, observers noted.

So the question:  Can sustainable development logically co-exist with current economic growth?  The Phys.Org organization provides an interesting (brief) exploration of the topic in a feature article in September. There’s an elephant in the room, say the authors, and that is the “trilemma of population growth, economic growth, and environmental sustainability” – which (they say) reveals the vast incompatibility of current models of economic development with environmental sustainability.

These are some of the findings of a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academic of Sciences (USA); the lead author is Professor Graeme Cumming of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.

An example of the research results:  High-income countries often rely more on non-extractive industries, such as manufacturing and services, but consume more per capital and import more raw materials.  In low-income countries, populations depend more on the extractive industries (agriculture, mining, logging), but have lower per capita consumption rates and higher population growth (and will have more mouths to feed).

The world is divided into two distinct groups of national economies, the authors posit in the Proceedings, roughly equated to developed and less developed nations…and both are pushed toward two different equilibrium points that are unsustainable under population growth. (They studied data and models that are described in the Journal report.)

The solution that we can all agree on:  We need to find ways to make economic development and good standards of living compatible with ecological sustainability.  We can use this knowledge to steer economic growth towards win-win outcomes for people and the environment (so say the authors).

The Journal article is available to you at:
Linking Economic Growth Pathways and Environmental Sustainability by Understanding Development as Alternate Social-Ecological Regimes http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2018/09/04/1807026115

Our Top Story provides highlights of the report authored by Professor Cumming and his colleague, Stephan von Cramon-Taubadel); Dr. Cumming presents brief highlights for you.

This Week’s Top Story

Can sustainable development co-exist with current economic growth?
(Thursday – September 06, 2018) Source: Phys.org – New research confronts the elephant in the room—the ‘trilemma’ of population growth, economic growth and environmental sustainability—and reveals the vast incompatibility of current models of economic development with…

Colleges and Universities and Global Sustainability – Many Higher Ed Institutions Are Addressing the 21st Century’s Great Societal Challenges in Many Ways in North America, Asia-Pacific and Europe

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon thinks that institutions of higher learning are “the leading torch bearers for global sustainability.”  The world’s universities, adds the Study International organization team: “…Universities play a vital role in helping us understand climate change…”

The Study International Staff looks at the roles of universities in addressing climate change challenges in the U.S.A., Asia-Pacific and in Europe in a very informative wrap-up that is one of our Top Stories this issue.  Under the Climate Leadership Network, they explain, more than 600 colleges and universities in every U.S. state and the District of Columbia have committed to take action on climate change, preparing students through research and education to solve 21st Century challenges.

The institutions profiled today:  the University of Utah’s College of Mines and Earth Sciences; the University of Queensland in Australia; College of Science and Technology, Temple University (USA); Asian School of Environment, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore.

Our other two relatedTop Stories for you are (1) a feature from Florida by Bakari M. McClendon at the Florida A&M University’s Sustainability Institute (go Rattlers!), about the great work being done at the school to work toward “climate (impact) neutrality”, collaborate with the community and prepare students for the sustainability challenges of the 21st Century. (The school is a public, historically  African-American institution). It’s a fascinating wrap up and FAMU faculty, staff and students are justifiably proud of telling.

And (2) on the other American coastline, far to the west, at the University of California’s Santa Barbara campus, there’s news about the school being named among the top-performing institutions in the 2019 Sustainable Campus Index (did you know there was such an index?).

The index is from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (“ASSHE”) and it annually ranks the nation’s most sustainable colleges and universities in 17 impact areas related to academics, engagement, operations and administration based on it “STARS” methodology.  UCSB is part of the “sustainability revolution” in California that is helping to set the pace for the U.S.A. in addressing climate change challenges.

Here at G&A Institute we have a program for select intern-analysts to assist with ESG / sustainability / corporate disclosure and reporting research projects — which we then share results [of] with you on our G&A web platforms.

We are proud of the men and women who have participated in our rigorous programs over the years since 2010 – they are now influential in helping to advance corporate sustainability and sustainable investing out “in the real world” – you can find their profiles on our Honor Roll at:  https://www.ga-institute.com/about-the-institute/the-honor-roll.html

And the results of their research over the recent years that these outstanding professionals have helped to conduct is found at: https://www.ga-institute.com/research-reports/research-reports-list.html

If you are a college/university student, particularly a grad student, and you would like to be considered for an internship with G&A Institute, please examine this: INTERNSHIP OPPORTUNITIES: SUSTAINABILITY REPORTS DATA ANALYST

P.S.  If you don’t know about The Study International organization, which operates from the UK, Australia and Malaysia, and helps students find educational institutions and graduate employers connect, you can tune in to their web platform: www.studyinternational.com

Perhaps you will find an institution that your organization can collaborate with, or a graduate to fill that sustainability position at your organization.

This Week’s Top Stories

Resilient research hubs that strive for global sustainability
(Thursday – August 30, 2018)
From heads of states to businesses, civil society to Silicon Valley, leaders are not immune to the forces of change before us. Developmental, environmental and other social challenges…

Education is a launch pad for sustainability problem-solvers
(Tuesday – August 28, 2018) Source: Tallahassee Democrat – Colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to build pathways to interdisciplinary, solutions-oriented sustainability education for the thought leaders of tomorrow

Sustainability Strides
(Tuesday – August 28, 2018) Source: The Current – UC Santa Barbara named among top-performing institutions in three key categories in the 2018 Sustainable Campus Index

Calling Your Attention To

The JAMA Network (Journal of the American Medical Association) published an analysis of Health Care Organizations’ sustainability and CSR reporting. We share with you this week a very informative commentary from the JAMA Network (Journal of the American of the American Medical Association -AMA) that should be interesting reading for managers of healthcare facilities. This is an assessment of the sustainability reporting by large health care delivery organizations (HCOs) performed by two medical professional, Emily Senay, M.D., MPH; and, Philip J. Landrigan, M.D. MSC2:

Assessment of Environmental Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility Reporting by Large Health Care Organizations
(Thursday – August 30, 2018) Source: Jame Network, Emily Senay, MD, MPH1; Philip J. Landrigan, MD, MSc2 – Do large health care organizations participate in the business trend to report on sustainability activities?

INTERNSHIP: SUSTAINABILITY REPORTS DATA ANALYST

G&A is offering unpaid internship opportunities for qualified students interested in learning more about corporate sustainability and corporate ESG performance (“Environmental, Social, Governance”) issues. G&A Institute interns learn important elements about the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Standards for sustainability reporting as well as other common frameworks such as CDP, RobecoSAM CSA (DJSI), SASB, IIRC, SDGs, and concepts in sustainability such as materiality, stakeholder engagement, assurance, balance, comparability, and many others that can be used in their future work situations.

The work will support G&A’s pro-bono unpaid relationship as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) data partner for the US, UK, and Ireland, along with contributing to associated research on sustainability reporting trends.

This is a very fast growing area of interest to corporations and Wall Street.  The GRI’s reporting framework and standards are the most widely used in the world for these types of reports.

Opportunity:  Learn to analyze data and interpret content from GRI sustainability reporting

Intern Position:  Sustainability Report Data Analyst (supporting G&A’s GRI Data Partner relationship)

Location: Virtual — Work is done remotely – at your own location with a flexible work schedule.  Initial training via virtual meeting tools. There will be opportunities to attend industry networking and training events with G&A’s network of event and training partners.

Time Requirements: Position requires approximately 10 hours per week and begins ASAP.  The timing of the work is flexible for a majority of the time required and can be done remotely.  The internship will take place starting in September 2018 and ending May 2019.

Compensation: This is an unpaid experience only internship position.

MORE ABOUT THE INTERN POSITION
In this role, you will work as part of a team to analyze sustainability reports for inclusion in the largest global database of sustainability reports, the GRI’s Sustainability Disclosure Database (database.globalreporting.org).

Learning to read, analyze, use and structure data from reports using the GRI Standards, GRI G4, GRI-Reference, as well as NON-GRI corporate and institutional reports, will comprise the majority of this assignment.  The research will also contribute to several published research reports on various trends in sustainability reporting which are widely referenced by media, academics, business, capital markets players and other important sustainability stakeholders.

The student(s) selected will have the opportunity to experience a fast-paced, highly-adaptive (and nurturing) culture in a small but growing company with a unique niche. This is a hands-on position with a considerable learning opportunity for those headed for a career in corporate responsibility, sustainability, citizenship or impact investment.

G&A interns get public recognition for their work in our published reports, on our web platform, and in other ways.

We are proud of our intern alumni and are happy to share their success with the world, as they accomplish great things through their careers navigating the way to sustainability.  To see what other interns have been doing (and their backgrounds) check out G&A’s Intern Honor Roll at http://www.ga-institute.com/about-the-institute/the-honor-roll.html

REQUIREMENTS

  • Must be in senior year of Bachelors program or in a Masters program with major/studies focused on business, capital markets, ESG, environmental and/or sustainability issues and topics.
  • Demonstrate strong background / keen interest or past work experience in ESG and sustainability-related issues / topics.
  • Having a basic understanding of business and the capital markets is mandatory.
  • Must have strong skillsets and experience in independent online research and analysis.
  • Must be excellent at using Excel / Google Sheets and researching on Google.
  • Have strong technical, communication and organizational skills.
  • Must be self-driven and able to work independently to meet expectations and deadlines.
  • Must be fluent in English, additional languages are a plus.
  • Applicants with good writing and editing abilities will have a preference.

APPLICATION PROCESS
Interested students must send:

  • A cover letter outlining why you would be a good fit for this role.
  • Resume including your education, skill sets, and work experience.
  • A one-to-two page introduction essay on what you would like to learn more about (in terms of your career goals), what your interests are, and anything else you feel may be relevant to the job/our organization.
  • Samples of writing or research on sustainability or other topics are also a plus.

Send application materials to Governance & Accountability Institute at:
lcoppola@ga-institute.com & agallagher@ga-institute.com

ABOUT GOVERNANCE & ACCOUNTABILITY INSTITUTE
Founded in 2006, Governance & Accountability Institute is a New York City-based company that specializes in research, communications, strategies and other services focused on corporate sustainability and corporate ESG performance (“Environmental, Social, Governance”) issues.

G&A is the data partner for the United States, United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland for the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).  The Global Reporting Initiative is a non-profit organization that promotes the use of sustainability reporting as a way for organizations to become more sustainable and contribute to sustainable development.

GRI provides all companies and organizations with a comprehensive set of sustainability reporting standards that are the most widely used and respected around the world.  Currently, thousands of global organizations use the GRI to report on their Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) strategies, impacts, opportunities and engagements (www.globalreporting.org).

As the US, UK and Ireland data partner of the GRI, G&A’s role is to collect, organize, and analyze sustainability reports that are issued by corporations, public entities, not-for-profits and other entities in the United States, United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland for the benefit of all stakeholders.

Send application materials to Governance & Accountability Institute at:
lcoppola@ga-institute.com & agallagher@ga-institute.com

Sustainability Over the Next Two Decades – Forward? Backward? Something We Just Take For Granted in Running a Company or Investing In One?

Predicting the way forward (that is, defining the future) is always challenging but pundits do try anyway. One of the most often quoted of such predictions is the 1944 forecast for the computer and copier markets with CEO Thomas Watson of IBM projecting…a market of perhaps five computers and as many as 5,000 copying machines! 
This week we bring you a two-part look at where Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility may be headed over the next 20 years, with 20 business leaders with expertise and experience in sustainability and CR weighing in on Edie.net.

The experts bravely putting forth their views of the future include the John Elkington, well-known author and Co-founder, Volans Ventures; the Director of Sustainability for Carlsberg (Simon Boas-Hoffmeyer); the Managing Director, Energy Services of Renault-Nissan (Francisco Carranza Sierra); Moody’s head of Global CSR, Arlene Isaacs-Lowe; Interface’s Jon Khoo (Innovation Partner); Leonie Schreve, Global Head of Sustainable Finance at ING, Peter Harris, the director of sustainability at UPS…and others.

Among the intriguing perspectives shared in the two-part feature on Edie.net are these brief outtakes:

What is “sustainable” today will be the new normal so we’ll need something transformational.

We are witnessing the design of the future city; it’s an urban design experiment and the future city will need to be cleaner and greener.

The next two decades for sustainability in real estate will be absolutely critical.  The window of opportunity for preventing the worst effects of climate change is fast closing and so meaningful action across all parts of the R.E. value chain is essential.

The sustainability role is going from being executing sustainability-related actions to be a driver of change.  Driving the development through an integration of the sustainability agenda in the different functions of the company…going from doer to change maker.

Companies have always been bottom-line driven but the question now is whether their views will shift from short-term return perspective to long-term sustainability perspective.  The reality is that because of the way we invest, there needs to be a deliberate focus on what the long-term future of a company is going to reveal.

There’s much more for you in the two part feature.  Say – what are your thoughts about the directions of sustainability (forward… back… sideways… really unknown?) for the next 10 or 20 years?  Send us your views and perspectives so we can share them in our newsletter and on the blog!

This Week’s Top Stories

Thinking Forward: 20 Business Leaders Define the Next 20 Years of Sustainability – Part One
Thinking Forward: 20 Business Leaders Define the Next 20 Years of Sustainability – Part Two
(Thursday/Friday – August 23 & 24, 2018)
Source: Edie – we’ve gathered the insights of 20 sustainability experts to give their views on the next 20 years of corporate sustainability, across of range of key areas. From resource efficiency to green finance; board diversity to consumer…

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

Remember the 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 regular.

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% 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 Emily Chasan and Chris Martin at Bloomberg, New Economy Forum — 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.

Global Warming / Climate Change — What Are Current Weather Events and Dramatic Changes Telling Us?

The National Geographic describes “Global Warming” as a set of changes to the Earth’s climate, or long-term weather patterns, varying from place-to-place.  The dramatic changes in the rhythms of climate could affect the face of our planet – coasts, forests, farms, mountains…all hang in the balance.

So, also hanging in the balance:  the fate of humanity!

Explains NatGeo:  “Glaciers are melting, sea levels are rising, cloud forests are dying, and wildlife scrambles to keep pace.  It’s becoming clear that humans have caused most of the past century’s warming by releasing heat-trapping gases as we power our modern lives.  Greenhouse gases (GhGs) are at higher levels now than in the last 650,000 years.” *

“Climate Change” is the less politically-volatile term used by leaders in the public and private sectors (such as in the numerous shareholder-presented proxy resolutions that are on the ballots of public companies for owner voting and in the language of corporate sustainability reporting).

Carbon Dioxide emissions (CO2) released into the atmosphere have increased by a third since the start of the Industrial Revolution, and so addressing this challenge would logically be a prime responsibility of those who benefitted most from the 200-year-plus revolution – pretty much all of us!

The political climate in most of the developed industrial world is mostly reflective of the will to do “something” – witness the almost 200 sovereign nations signing on to the Paris Agreement in 2015 (“COP 21”) to work together and separately to holding the temperature riseto well below 2-degrees Centigrade (3.5F), the pre-industrial levels — and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature rise to 1.5-degrees C above pre-industrial levels. (“As soon as possible.”)

The Agreement also calls for the increasing society’s ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience including low GHG emissions development. **

The outlier nation to the agreement, sad to say, is the world’s largest economy and significant GHG emitter, the United States of America, which has begun the withdrawal process from the Paris Agreement. This week we present a selection of top stories about climate change – and global warming! – to illustrate the effects of a changed climate around the globe.  And to send signals to the doubting policymakers in Washington DC that the threat is real!

The good news is that many corporate managements, powerful institutional investors, and public policy makers in a growing number of cities, states and regions are committed to the goals of the Paris Agreement and working to implement steps to hold the line – to build resilience – that will benefit all of society.

We really do have to hurry — take a look at what is happening around our planet:

This Week’s Top Stories:
Drought, Heat Wave, Wild Fires
— Is the Earth Burning Up?

Earth at risk of becoming ‘hothouse’ if tipping point reached, report warns
(Tuesday – August 07, 2018) Source: CNN – Scientists are warning that a domino effect will kick if global temperatures rise more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, leading to “hothouse” conditions and higher sea levels, making some areas on Earth uninhabitable.

5-year drought raises questions over Israel’s water strategy
(Monday – August 06, 2018) Source: ABC News – For years, public service announcements warned Israelis to save water: Take shorter showers. Plant resilient gardens. Conserve. Then Israel invested heavily in desalination technology and professed to have solved the problem by…

Our climate plans are in pieces as killer summer shreds records
(Monday – August 06, 2018) Source: CNN – Deadly fires have scorched swaths of the Northern Hemisphere this summer, from California to Arctic Sweden and down to Greece on the sunny Mediterranean. Drought in Europe has turned verdant land barren, while people in Japan and…

Are devastating wildfires a new normal? “It’s actually worse than that,” climate scientist says
(Wednesday – August 08, 2018) Source: CBS News – California Gov. Jerry Brown has called the devastating wildfires tearing through Northern California “part of a trend — a new normal.” But one climate scientists says “it’s actually worse than that.”

Europe battles wildfires amid massive heat wave
(Wednesday – August 08, 2018) Source: ABC News – Record-breaking temperatures across Europe have forced people to sleep in a Finnish supermarket, uncovered a piece of World War II history in Ireland and are making it harder to battle the wildfires that have been raging in Spain…

Don’t despair – climate change catastrophe can still be averted
(Wednesday – August 08, 2018) Source: The Guardian – The future looks fiery and dangerous, according to new reports. But political will and grassroots engagement can change this…

Australia’s most populous state now entirely in drought
(Thursday – August 09, 2018) Source: CBS – CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s most populous state was declared entirely in drought on Wednesday and struggling farmers were given new authority to shoot kangaroos that compete with livestock for sparse pasture during the…

Nearly 140 people dead amid Japan heat wave
(Thursday – August 09, 2018) Source: WTNH – Japan is dealing with a heat wave that had killed 138 people. The heat wave started back in May and has been roasting the country ever since…

Europe bakes again in near-record temperatures
(Thursday – August 09, 2018) Source: Phys.org – Europe baked in near-record temperatures on Monday but hopes were for some respite after weeks of non-stop sunshine as people come to terms with what may prove to be the new normal in climate change Europe…

* Greenhouse Gases are defined as a gas trapping heat in the atmosphere, contributing to the “greenhouse effect” by absorbing radiation:  carbon dioxide/CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, and flouorinated gases (such as chlorofluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride).

** The Paris Agreement is at: https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/english_paris_agreement.pdf

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Eco-Efficiency Green Firm-Specific Advantages — L’Oréal Case Study

Guest Post by Laura Malo Yague, Sustainability Reports Data Analyst, G&A Institute

Introduction:

The scope of this case study is the analysis of the sustainability strategy of the French company L’Oréal, focused on the actions taken related to the Eco-Efficiency Green Firm – Specific Advantages.

Eco-Efficiency is a type of operational environmental practices that some companies try to develop and incorporate to their production processes and procedures, in order to mitigate their impact for the planet, the climate, natural resources and human life.

Through these practices, the companies aim to get a closed-loop production, by using innovation and sustainable technology for minimizing the resources and raw material consumption and reducing the carbon footprint.

Companies and firms can improve their products’ design and performance by introducing eco-efficiency advantages in their strategy. One perfect example is the current case of L’Oréal with the official release in 2013 of their Program for sustainability of L’Oréal: ‘Sharing Beauty With All .

Product-related environmental management capabilities and environmental design capabilities under eco-efficiency advantages help firms to integrate environmental concern throughout a product’s life cycle and achieve material eco-efficiency, energy efficiency, and operational efficiency . Following these guidelines, L’Oréal presented its program supported in four basic main pillars:
• Innovating Sustainability
• Producing Sustainability
• Living Sustainability
• Developing sustainability

About L’Oréal and the Eco-efficiency Green Firm-Specific-Advantage: ‘Sharing Beauty With All’

L’Oréal released its first sustainability report in 2006 after acquiring The Body Shop company. The company reports under the GRI Standards and also complies with UNGC guidelines.

It wasn’t until 2013 with the founding of its ambitious sustainability program, ‘Sharing Beauty With All’ — spearheaded by CEO Jean-Paul Argon — that sustainability practices within the company became an important part of the yearly agenda. “We have stepped up our metamorphosis to the new L’Oréal: more universal, more digital and more sustainable,” states Argon.

‘Sharing Beauty With All’ is divided into four pillars of sustainability each with its own particular targets aimed to be achieved by 2020.

L’Oréal has undertaken a profound transformation towards an increasingly sustainable model, to respond to its environmental and social impacts, as well as to the main challenges which the world is facing today.

The company’s strong ethical commitment, its ‘Sharing Beauty With All’ sustainability program, its policy of promoting diversity and the corporate philanthropy actions conducted with the support of the L’Oréal Foundation enables the Group to contribute to 14 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations.

L’Oréal has also been awarded a ‘A’ by the CDP two years in a row and rated 4.2 in FTSE .

Through its company-wide program L’Oréal has successfully proven that economic performance and sustainability practices are not mutually exclusive. The program aims to show that both practices can go hand in hand.

For example, in 2017, L’Oréal reduced its CO2 emissions by 73% while increasing its production by 33%.

The CEO has placed the Sustainability Department directly under his leadership. Previously, the department was within the communications and PR department. Argon has also set up bonus incentives for the managers. Thus, the managers must hit their sustainability targets in order to receive their bonuses. These two facts clearly show how serious Argon and L’Oréal are about becoming more sustainable.

L’Oréal Sustainability Evolution and Development

In 1909, Eugène Schueller founded L’Oréal when he developed the first commercialized hair dye. Although L’Oréal got its start in hair-color products, the company expanded into other beauty sectors. In 1963 the company became publicly-traded on the stock exchange and by 1980 L’Oréal had become world’s largest beauty company.

Through multiple acquisitions, the company has grown to reach 140 countries, catering to the needs of each specific culture. As one of the leaders in Personal & Household Goods products, the group is making tremendous progress towards reaching their 2020 sustainability targets .

The first step in the Corporate Social Responsibility path was taken in 1989. Cosmetics R&D industry implies the use of new chemical reactions and components which can be harmful for human skin. After years of controversial due to their research practices, L’Oréal completely ceased testing its products on animals 14 years before the regulation required, becoming pioneers supporting animal welfare.

L’Oréal has learned how to adapt to the new context with a strong company policy tackling crucial issues for the current society, by promoting diversity and inclusion. Also, to the new scenario that our planet presents, with the increasing danger of a worsen global warming, the already-known marine plastic invasion, the unstoppable fossil fuel combustion and the fear of a world with limited natural resources.

With its 2013 Sustainability Commitment, L’Oréal wants to achieve important goals by 2020. Among other actions completed, the company has contributed to the mitigation of the environmental impact with the implementation of different Eco-Efficiency Operational Green Firm-Specific Advantages .

For example, by reducing the CO2 emissions of its plants and distribution centers by 73%, in absolute terms, compared to 2005, while increasing its production volume by 33% within the same period. The group reinforced its ability to combine economic growth with ambitious climate commitments.

Moreover, the 76% of products launched during the last 2017 improved its environmental or social profile. Every time a new product is created or renovated, the Group considers its contribution to sustainability as well as its performance and profitability.

The number of people from underprivileged communities who gained access to employment through one of L’Oréal’s programmes at the end of 2017 was 53,505. The company’s goal is to reach 100,000 people by 2020.

Furthermore, the company has already conducted an assessment of the environmental and social impact of more than 91% of their brands.

Finally, other important challenge was the complete elimination of PVC its packaging by 2016.

We can see the L’Oréal trends by the development of Eco-efficiency Green FSAs and practices under two main pillars from the company sustainability strategy: ‘Producing Sustainability’ and ‘Innovating Sustainability’.

As explained, L’Oréal adopted 14 of the 17 Sustainable Development goals — most of them aligned with these two pillars (see exhibit 1); this, reinforcing the Company’s Eco-efficiency strategy focused on the development of more sustainable products by using more sustainable processes.

Some of the negative ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) hotspots from L’Oréal that they should take in account for improvement are the product packaging, which they state they are already working on, and the issue ofwater consumption.

Most of L’Oréal products contains many different single-use plastic and paper components, with the implications for the environment, from the extraction of natural resources all the way through to the disposal of the product.

Extracting finite natural resources to produce raw material depletes our resources and requires a significant amount of energy.

In addition, plastic and paper manufacturing process releases an immense amount GHG into the atmosphere.

Regarding the water issue, many of their products also involves water intensive processes along its entire life cycle. Therefore, L’Oréal is trying to reduce water consumption by 60% per finished product unit by 2020. Plastic extraction and cellulose treatment for the paper manufacturing, imply water uptake.
Conclusion

Nowadays, L’Oréal is the biggest beauty brand in the world, generating about 27.2 billion dollars in sales in 2017.

The adoption of this sustainability corporate policy by the company could initially imply big efforts for the group, such as, substantial upfront costs or important changes in the supply chain.

However, due to the important role that L’Oréal plays in the cosmetics industry market, the company can also have a positive and remarkable impact by mitigating CO2 emissions, decreasing fossil fuel use or reducing plastic use and pollution.
Any changes towards sustainability or eco-improvements will directly affect the L’Oréal ecological footprint, bringing great benefits for the environment and for all of us. L’Oréal states that

‘The path from fundamental research to the finished product involves an ultimate challenge, packaging innovation. This is what ensures that the product will be delivered in the best conditions of performance, safety and practicality’.

#  #  #

Author Laura Malo Yague is a full-time candidate in the Master of Science in Sustainability Management at Columbia University. She was graduated with a degree in Industrial Technical Engineering – Industrial Electronics in Spain and has seven years experience in Product and Project Management. She was a valued intern-analyst at G&A Institute in 2017.

From Laura, some additional background: From Spain to New York City — with a professional background of seven years working as an engineer and a great lover of the environment, I arrived in 2016 seeking for a change in my career path. During the last two years I have been training myself in Project Management, focused in monitoring and evaluation, Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability at New York University (NYU).

I collaborated as a volunteer in the NGO ‘Engineering Without Borders’ for eight years participating in sustainability and development projects focused on environmental problems, eco-efficiency climate change and taking responsibility of our planet’s health, trying to do things better.

I love travelling with my ukulele, where I can combine my passions discover new cultures, meet people and enjoy the diversity of our planet. I would like to work in sustainability strategy to improve the accountability of market and industry process and development.

More information is at: https://www.ga-institute.com/about-the-institute/the-honor-roll/laura-malo-yague.html

Note to readers:  This content was prepared for completion of the Certification in Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability Strategies offered by G&A Institute, with dual credentials from the Swain Center for Executive & Professional Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington Certificate. The course work is prepared by Professor Nitish Singh, Ph.D., founder and consultant at IntegTree LLC, and Associate Professor of International Business at St. Louis University, Boeing Institute of International Business. Information: http://learning.ga-institute.com/courses/course-v1:GovernanceandAccountabilityInstitute+CCRSS+2016/about

Critical Development for CDP Responders in 2018 & 19: CDP Introduces Additional Alignment With FSB Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures Recommendations

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

Corporate ESG Data, Data, Data – it’s now everywhere and being digested, analyzed and applied to corporate equity analytics and portfolio decision-making.

Whether your public company participates in the annual round of organizing responses to the ever-more comprehensive queries from leading ESG / sustainability / CR rating agencies or not, there is a public ESG profile of your company that investors (asset owners, managers and analysts) are examining and applying to their work.

If you don’t tell the story of your firm’s progress in its sustainability journey, someone else will (and is).  And if you have not embarked on the journey yet…and there is not much to disclose and report on…you are building the wrong kind of moat for the company.  That is, one that will ever-widen and impair access to capital and affect the cost of capital.  And over time, perhaps put the company’s issues on the divestiture list for key investors.

This sounds a bit dramatic, but what is happening in the capital markets these days can be well described as a dramatic shift in focus and actions, with corporate ESG strategies, actions, programs, achievements, and disclosure becoming of paramount importance to a growing body of institutional and retail investors.

Consider these important developments:

  • The influential Barron’s editors, reaching hundreds of thousands of investors every week, beginning in Fall 2017 made coverage of corporate sustainability and sustainable investing a mainstay of the magazine’s editorial content.
  • Morningstar, the premier ranker of mutual fund performance, added sustainability to the analysis of funds and ETFs with guidance from Sustainalytics, one of the major ESG rating firms (and Morningstar made a significant investment in the firm).
  • SustainableInvest, headed  by Henry Shilling, former leader on sustainability matters for Moody’s Investor Service, noted that in 2Q 2018 as the proxy season was ending, 2018 voting was notable for the high level of “E” and “S” proposals, some achieving majority votes in shareholder voting at such firms as Anadarko Petroleum, Kinder Morgan and Range Resources.  Assets in 1,025 sustainable funds analyzed added $14 billion during 2Q and ended in June at US$286 billion; more than $1 billion was new net cash inflows, demonstrating investor interest in the products.

Significant:  according to the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulations, two-thirds of investor-submitted proxy resolutions focused on having the company follow through on the 2-degrees scenario (testing) were withdrawn and company boards and managements agreed to the demand for climate risk reporting.

The FSB TCFD Impact on Corporate Sector and Financial Services Sector

The Financial Stability Board, an organization founded by the central bankers and financial leaders of the G-20 nations, created a Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (“TCFD”) to develop climate-related financial disclosures for adoption by financial services sector firms and by publicly-traded companies in general.

The 32-member Task Force, headed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, announced financial recommendations for companies and investors in June 2017.

The essence of the recommendations:

  • Corporate boards and managements should focus on the risks and opportunities present and in the future taking into account a global temperature risk of 2-degrees Centigrade (3.5-F), and in the future, 4-C and even 6-C global temperature rises.

The risks (presented are not just to the affected companies but to the financial sector institutions investing in the company, institutions lending funds to the company, carriers insuring the company, etc.).

The risks and opportunities related to climate change should be thoroughly analyzed using the scenario testing that the company uses (an example would be projecting future pricing, regulations, technologies, and “what ifs” for an oil and gas industry company).

The company should consider in doing the scenario testing and analyzing outcomes the firm’s corporate governance policies and practices; strategies for the long-term; risk management policies and resources; establishing targets; and, putting metrics in place for measuring and managing climate risk.  Then, the next step is disclosing this to investors and other stakeholders.

Key Player:  CDP and its Wealth of Corporate, Institutional and Public Sector Data

The CDP – formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project – was founded almost two decades ago (2000) as a United Kingdom-based not-for-profit charity at the urging of the investment community, to gather corporate “carbon” data.

Timing:  soon after the start of meetings of the “Conference of the Parties” (or “COP”), organized by the United Nations as the Climate Change Conferences. (The “UNFCCC”.)

In the mid-1990s, the Kyoto Protocol emerged that legally-bound nations to their pledge to reduce Greenhouse Emissions (GHGs).  The U.S.A. did not sign on to the global protocol during the tenure of President George W. Bush, and the agreement reached in Paris at the COP meeting in 2015 was finally agreed to by President Barack Obama.

And then began the process of withdrawal under President Donald Trump.  The U.S.A. is now the prominent holdout (among the community of 197 nations signed on) in the global effort to address global warming before the danger point is passed.  In Paris, the COP agreed that the threshold was 2-degrees Centigrade.

Today, a growing universe of investors and many other stakeholders are increasingly focused on the role of carbon emissions in the framing of questions about what to do as scientists charted the warming of Earth’s climate.

And so — ESG / environmental data is critical to the mission of determining “what to do” and then implementing measures to address climate change challenges.

The Critical Role of CDP 

CDP over almost two decades since its founding has become the premier repository of corporate data related to climate change – with more than 6,000 companies’ data collected and shared in organized ways with the investment community.  (That includes the ESG data of half of the world’s public companies by market cap.)

The CDP emissions data focused has broadened over 16 years to now include water, supply chain, forestry (for corporates) and environmental data from more than 500 cities and some 100 states and regions available to investors.

Key user base:

  • 650-plus institutional investors with US$87 trillion in Assets Under Management.
  • Corporate Supply Chain members (such as Wal-Mart Stores) that collect data from their suppliers through CDP—a universe of 115 companies with over $3.3 trillion in combined purchasing power.

When the TCFD recommendations were being developed, CDP announced a firm commitment to align with the task force recommendations.

Following their release of the Task Force recommendations in July 2017, CDP held public consultations on a draft version of the TCFD-aligned framework. The current 2018 Climate Change questionnaire that corporations received from CDP is fully aligned with the TCFD recommendations on climate-related disclosures related to governance, risk management, strategy, and metrics and targets.

The TCFD recommendations are already aligned with the majority of CDP’s longstanding approach to climate change disclosure, including most of the recommendations for climate-related governance, strategy, risk management as well as metrics and target disclosure.

However, this year CDP has modified some questions and added new ones — the most impactful being on climate-related scenario analysis to ensure complete alignment.

Some modifications include:

The Governance section now asks for more information about oversight of climate change issues and why a company doesn’t have board-level oversight (if applicable). CDP also requests information about the main individual below the board level with the highest responsibility — and how frequently they report up to the board.

Next, in the risks and opportunities section, CDP now asks for the climate-related risk & opportunity identification, and assessment process.

As in past years, questions are posed in the Business Strategy module to allow companies to disclose whether they have acted upon integrating climate-related issues into their strategy, financial planning, and businesses.

CDP has also added a question for high impact sectors on their low carbon transition plans, so data users can gauge and further understand the sustainable and strategic foresight that these companies aim to achieve.

CDP also added a new question on scenario analysis, explaining that scenario analysis is a strategic planning tool to help an organization understand how it might perform in different future states.

A core aim of the TCFD recommendations is for companies to improve their understanding of future risks and develop suitable resilience strategies.

Finally, the TCFD recommendations highlighted five (5) sectors as the most important. In 2018, CDP rolled out sector-specific questions for the four non-financial sectors that the TCFD highlighted (they are energy, transport, materials, and agriculture).

TCFD also highlighted the financial sector – looking forward, in 2019, CDP is planning to release a financial sector-specific climate change questionnaire.

The TCFD resources for investors and corporate managers are embodied in three documents – (1) the Main Report; (2) an Implementation Annex; (3) the Technical Supplement for Scenario Analysis.  These are available at:  www.fsb-tcfd.org

G&A Institute Perspectives:

Our team has been assisting corporate managers in organizing the response to the CDP annual survey and we’ve tracked over the years the steady expansion of information requested of companies.

Our advice to companies not reporting yet:  get started!  The CDP staff members are very cooperative in assisting new corporate reporters in understanding what data are being sought (and why) and providing answers to questions.

CDP’s founding CEO Paul Simpson cautions:  “Big companies:  get better at telling those who hold the purse strings how climate risks could affect your bottom line.”

And so, our mission at G&A includes helping corporate issuers tell a better sustainability and ESG story, including the story told in the data sets communicated to 650-plus institutional investors by CDP!

CDP data is everywhere, we advise clients, including for example being part of the volumes of ESG data sets that Bloomberg LP shares on its terminals (through the terminal ESG Dashboard).

On the supply chain side, we point out that more than US$3 trillion is the collective spend of companies now addressing their supply chain sustainability factors and environmental impacts (customers see suppliers as part of their own CDP footprint).  Corporate leaders in this effort include Apple, Honda and Microsoft, CDP points out.

Resources:

CDP’s Technical Notes on the TCFD are available at: https://b8f65cb373b1b7b15feb-c70d8ead6ced550b4d987d7c03fcdd1d.ssl.cf3.rackcdn.com/cms/guidance_docs/pdfs/000/001/429/original/CDP-TCFD-technical-note.pdf?1512736184

The “A” List of CDP naming the world’s business leaders on environmental performance (160 firms) is at: https://www.cdp.net/en/scores-2017

The CDP USA Report 2017, focused on key findings on Governance, ESG and the Role of the Board of Directors is available at: https://b8f65cb373b1b7b15feb-c70d8ead6ced550b4d987d7c03fcdd1d.ssl.cf3.rackcdn.com/cms/reports/documents/000/002/891/original/CDP-US-Report-2017.pdf?1512733010

There’s an excellent interview with CDP CEO/Founder Paul Simpson at: http://www.ethicalcorp.com/disruptors-paul-simpson-atypical-activist-who-woke-c-suites-climate-risk

You can check out Henry Shilling’s SustainableInvest.com at: https://www.sustainableinvest.com/second-quarter-2018-sustainable-funds-investing-review/

 

There’s a new way for Delaware companies to highlight their sustainability chops. Will it be meaningful?

By Lois Yurow – Fellow, G&A Institute

Delaware companies that are focused on sustainability will soon have a new way to demonstrate their dedication.

Effective October 1, any Delaware “entity”—a term that encompasses corporations, partnerships, limited liability companies, statutory trusts, and certain associations—may elect to apply for a so-called “certificate of adoption of transparency and sustainability standards.”

The newly enacted Certification of Adoption of Transparency and Sustainability Standards Act is designed to give Delaware companies a platform for signaling their “commitment to global sustainability.” Since this is the first statute of its kind in the United States, and Delaware is home to a disproportionate number of U.S. companies, it’s worth looking at how the Certification Act is intended to work.

The statute at a glance

On its face, it looks like the Certification Act offers a formal seal of approval — a certificate from the Secretary of State to any entity that commits to publish an annual sustainability report. No big deal, right? But if you look deeper, it becomes clear that a certificate will represent both significant board-level involvement and greater corporate transparency.

Let’s start with key terms

Several definitions in the Certification Act are substantive and intertwined. It will be easier to appreciate what it means to get a certificate if you first understand some terminology.

Standards—the “governing body” (such as the board of directors, general partner, or a “duly authorized and empowered committee”) of a “reporting entity” (one that has or wants a certificate) must adopt “principles, guidelines or standards” against which the entity will measure “the impacts of its activities on society and the environment.” Standards must be “based on or derived from third-party criteria.”

Third-party criteria are “principles, guidelines or standards developed and maintained by” someone unaffiliated with the reporting entity — such as a government unit, an NGO, or an independent consultant—for the purpose of “measuring, managing or reporting the social and environmental impact of businesses or other entities.”

Presumably, the requirement that standards have some relationship to third-party criteria will improve the odds that companies will select credible standards that are tangible and objective. This requirement also may accelerate the movement toward uniform disclosure and reporting standards — such as those developed by GRI or SASB.

Assessment measures—the governing body of a reporting entity must adopt “policies, procedures or practices” that will generate “objective factual information” about how well the entity is performing against the standards it adopted. (In other words, performance metrics.) This includes deciding whether to provide for “internal or external verification” of performance results.

Standards statement—the first step to getting a certificate is filing a standards statement. The most important things a standards statement must do are:

  • affirm that the entity’s governing body adopted resolutions that enumerate standards and assessment measures;
  • affirm that the entity will use those assessment measures to evaluate the entity’s performance in relation to those standards;
  • affirm that the entity will periodically revisit its standards and assessment measures and adjust them if the governing body thinks changes are appropriate;
  • affirm that the entity will publish a report (described below) every year; and
  • indicate where on the reporting entity’s principal website a visitor can (without paying a fee or providing any information) find a discussion of the entity’s “standards and assessment measures, the third-party criteria used . . .[and] the process by which such standards were identified, developed and approved,” as well as all of the entity’s reports.

Report—in order to maintain its certificate, a reporting entity will need to publish on its primary website comprehensive annual performance reports covering these topics:

  • “the standards and assessment measures in effect” over the past year, “the third-party criteria and any other source used to develop [those] standards and assessment measures,” and how the entity identified, developed and approved its standards and assessment measures;
  • the type of information described above regarding any standards or assessment measures the entity changed;
  • how the reporting entity has endeavored to satisfy its standards and whether those efforts included any interaction with stakeholders;
  • current “objective and factual information developed pursuant to the assessment measures” to gauge how the entity performed in relation to its standards;
  • the governing body’s view of “whether the entity has been successful in meeting the standards”;
  • if the entity was not successful, whether the governing body has ordered “additional efforts” to improve performance, and if not, why not;
  • whether the entity retained an independent consultant to help measure, manage, or report on its performance, and if so, whom; and if “materially different,” how the entity intends measure, manage, and report its performance in the next annual reporting period.

With these definitions under our belt, the statute is pretty straightforward.

Putting it all together

Any Delaware entity in good standing will be able to apply to the Secretary of State for a certificate of adoption of transparency and sustainability standards by delivering a standards statement and paying the prescribed fees ($200 to file and $50 for the certificate).

All the certificate will do is attest that the named entity filed a standards statement. The Secretary of State will not even confirm that the entity actually implemented the standards and assessment measures it purports to have adopted. Certificates are renewable every year, also with an application and a fee.

It looks so easy—until you return to the definition of “standards statement.” The seemingly simple application process belies the two rigorous obligations at the core of the statute: board-level involvement and complete transparency around standards, metrics, and results.

Again, the standards statement must affirm that the decision to adopt particular standards and assessment measures was made by formal action at the entity’s highest levels. The standards statement also must promise that the entity will issue an annual report. The prescribed content of that report—standards, metrics, results, and the governing body‘s reaction to it all—suggests this will not be a simple undertaking.

So why would a company bother getting a certificate (and paying fees, and assuming a disclosure obligation)?

Every company is at liberty now, certificate or no certificate, to voluntarily issue a sustainability report. Indeed, 85% of the Fortune 500 published a sustainability report in 2017. No doubt those reports represent a genuine commitment on the part of the issuing companies. Still, it pays to consider who chooses what a given company reports on: what goals it adopts, what metrics it uses to gauge progress, who measures that progress, and what specific information will be shared. With voluntary reporting, companies have almost infinite flexibility.

Under the Certification Act, reporting entities will need to disclose “objective and factual” performance results, and each entity’s governing body will be required to specifically address those results, offering its view of whether they represent success. By imposing these rules, the statute responds to the ever lingering concern that at least some sustainability reports are as much about marketing as they are about real change. The public in general, and investors in particular, may find the Certification Act’s data-heavy reports more valuable.

Liability concerns

Any company thinking about assuming the obligations of a reporting entity will want to consider whether there are any risks. The Certification Act explicitly eliminates two.

First, there is no audit or merit review required. The statute expressly does not prescribe particular sustainability standards. Moreover, every certificate will state that the Secretary of State does not verify standards statements or annual performance reports.

Second, no one will have a cause of action against a Delaware entity because of anything the entity does (such as choosing particular standards and assessment measures) or fails to do (such as falling short of a standard, or refusing to become a reporting entity at all).

Reporting entities may suffer reputational harm if their goals are unrealistically ambitious or easy, or if their disclosure seems inadequate, but these risks are largely controllable. In addition, the standards statement, the annual performance report, and every application to renew a certificate must be “acknowledged.” That means an “authorized person” of the reporting entity must “certif[y], under penalty of perjury, that the information [provided] is accurate and complete to the best of such authorized person’s actual knowledge after due inquiry.” This too presents a largely controllable potential risk.

Conclusion

A few Delaware companies reportedly are mulling whether they want to be the pioneer reporting entities. Many organizations already have the requisite governance and data-gathering processes in place, so applying for a certificate would be a relatively uncomplicated—and possibly logical—next step. For those companies that have not fully implemented sustainability practices and reporting protocols, the Certification Act may serve as another nudge.

Contents Copyright © by Lois Yurow, All Rights Reserved

Guest Commentator Lois Yurow is founder and president of Investor Communications Services, LLC, where she specializes in converting complex legal, business, and financial documents into plain English. Mutual Fund Regulation and Compliance Handbook, a book she co-authored and updates annually, is published by Thomson West. Lois writes and speaks frequently about plain English, disclosure, and other securities law matters. Before forming Investor Communications Services, Lois practiced corporate and securities law, first in Chicago and then in New Jersey. Email: lois@securitieseditor.com

Lois Yurow is a Fellow the Governance & Accountability Institute