Here’s the Details on USA Corporate ESG Reporting Trends

December 1, 2022

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

In the early issues of our company’s newsletter (G&A Institute’s Sustainability Updates) more than a decade back, we had a feature that seems quaint today: we published the list of U.S. corporate ESG reports that we had found in manual searching for that issue.

The reports we “captured” required considerable time and effort to find.

You see, most companies would publish their “corporate social responsibility”, “corporate environmental”, and (a few) “sustainability” reports with no fanfare, no announcement, no call to readers to come look at the report.

And so we had to look here, there and everywhere to find a new corporate report to share with our newsletter readers.

The percentage of reports published compared to the total universe of large caps that could have published reports was tiny – very tiny, indeed.

But we noticed in our constant monitoring that the number of such reports published by U.S. headquartered companies while small was steadily increasing.

We wondered then, what was happening in the universe of S&P 500 Index© firms, representing a huge part of the available equity investments on stock exchanges.  The S&P benchmark represented more than 80 percent of large-cap publicly=traded companies (to invite in). 

In those early days of what is now ESG reporting the European peers of U.S. companies published many more reports – so when a US company published a report, that was news we wanted to share!

We began a thorough examination of U.S. corporate ESG disclosure, looking at calendar year 2010 reporting to share in our first trends reports that we published in 2011. We found that just under 20% of U.S. firms included in the S&P 500 Index had published a report. That was encouraging, right?  A good sign for the future!

The following year (for our trends report of 2012, for 2011 corporate reporting) we were quite surprised to find that now more than half of the S&P 500 firms were publishing reports. And that volume rapidly increased to almost three-quarters of the firms by the next trends report (in 2013 for 2012 reporting).

And soon enough we were at nine-out-ten of the index companies were publishing ESG reports (far too many to list in the newsletter!).

Many readers of the annual trends report began to regularly ask us about the reporting activities of the next batch of publicly-traded companies large caps – those companies included in the Russell 1000 Index®.

We expanded the S&P 500 research four years ago to all of the R-1000 companies. Over the years we’ve seen U.S. corporate ESG/sustainability reporting become more sophisticated, more in-depth, and the content more valuable to stakeholders seeking ESG data sets and other information.

Today we devote many months of the year to in-depth research and analysis on corporate ESG reporting for these trends reports. This has become our signature research effort.

A talented team of G&A team members work with a highly-qualified team of analyst-interns (most of them participating in Master’s degree studies in sustainability topics) who scour corporate reports for details that we share in the trends report. You’ll see their names and backgrounds in the trends report.

From the beginning of this exercise in 2010 we have invited the best-of-the best of advanced sustainability academicians to be part of the journey. (We started with two outstanding analyst-interns that year for the first trends report – Dr. Michelle Thompson and Natalia Valencia).

Over the following years we’ve had an outstanding team each year to develop the contents of the trend report – and they’ve gone on from G&A internships to great careers in various sectors, we’re proud to say.

We always made the trends report available to all (at no cost) in the belief that the more information and intelligence on corporate ESG reporting that is available the more that stakeholders will use the information — and pass on their expectations to companies to provide more details in their periodic ESG disclosures.

That has worked, we’re told by a number of experts, to help encourage still more ESG disclosures by U.S. companies and to encourage asset owners and managers to look closely at the data and narratives disclosed by publicly-traded enterprises.

Over time, the content examined and data/narrative captured has become a powerful resource for the G&A team as they assist publicly-traded and privately managed firms with their ESG disclosure and reporting.

We have more to say about the trends report project in the 2022 edition.for 2021 reporting).  Here’s the link to the Trends report if you have not read it yet: https://www.ga-institute.com/research/ga-research-directory/sustainability-reporting-trends/2022-sustainability-reporting-in-focus.html

Our Honor Roll of present and past analyst-interns is here: https://www.ga-institute.com/about/careers/internship-honor-roll.html

Sustainability is a Talent Issue

Guest Comments from Katheryn Brekken, Ph.D., Senior Research Analyst, Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp)

G&A Institute is a partner of i4cp, a global human capital research firm. We are pleased to share a post from Dr. Katheryn Brekken explaining the findings of a recent study by i4cp on the impact of human resources on sustainability.

Leaders wanting to make progress on their organization’s sustainability goals should look to human resources.

Research by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), a global human capital research firm, found that organizations that make progress on their sustainability commitments are far more likely to have HR leaders who are highly involved in designing the strategy for social goals and programs and governance and environmental ones as well.

The study included survey data representing 191 business and HR leaders from 20 countries and explored HR’s role in organizations’ environmental, social, and governance (ESG) programs.

Among those reporting that their organizations are making progress on ESG goals, 79% said HR is highly involved in designing strategy for social goals and programs, 29% reported HR is highly involved in governance goals and programs, and 18% said HR is highly involved in environmental goals and programs.

The data found that organizations with solid market performance were far more likely to have a cross-functional team or group overseeing ESG and HR. Most respondents who reported that their organizations have been making major progress on their ESG commitments in the past two years have cross-functional teams that include HR, sustainability officers, legal counsel, and public or corporate affairs. For example, at Citi, the head of HR is part of an executive leadership team that drives the company’s ESG strategy.

“Given the labor market, and being the global bank that we are, it’s really important for us to think about human capital interests as part of our ESG strategy,” said Sam Santos, Citi’s Head of Diversity and Inclusion Strategy.

Having a diverse and inclusive global workforce is an important goal for Citi, so much so that they met their three-year aspirational representation goals and recently announced new ones.

And ESG goals are intertwined throughout other HR functions. For example, diversity, equity, and inclusion, including representation of women and racial and ethnic minorities at the managing director level, are part of senior executive performance management scorecards. This ensures that leaders are held accountable for making efforts toward diversity, equity, and inclusion, and other related ESG goals.

i4cp’s research identified specific workforce strategies that were significantly more likely to be adopted by organizations reporting making major progress on their ESG goals. These involve:

  • Including information about ESG commitments in onboarding materials
  • Providing compensation programs that incentivize progress on ESG commitments
  • Offering trainings to reduce waste and /or save energy and resources
  • Providing training to employees about policies such as anti-corruption or anti-harassment
  • Providing training to employees to reduce bias and microaggressions
  • Supporting employee resource groups/business resource groups) related to ESG
  • Offering elective discounts or benefits that promote certain ESG-supporting behaviors, such as subsidies to purchase electric cars, or paid leave to volunteer in the community
  • Organizing volunteer events that support ESG goals
  • Providing leadership development that promotes behaviors aligned to ESG goals

Among these strategies, involvement on the part of the learning and development team is clearly critical to help organizations make progress on their sustainability commitments.

An example of this from Citi is its Owning My Success (OMS) program, which provides mentoring and development to Black colleagues. The program provides participants with exposure to Citi’s senior leadership and supports professional and personal development. Over the course of several months, participants join group coaching circles, led by an external executive coach and a senior leader at Citi. Managers also take part in group coach­ing to better understand the experience of Black colleagues in the workplace. More than 700 Black leaders have participated in OMS since the program began in 2018, and the company recently promoted one of the largest and most diverse managing director classes in recent history.

“We have this wide range of stakeholders across the organization involved in our ESG efforts and HR is one of them. We engage our employees as part of this. We use the voice of our employees from surveys and our affinity networks are groups that are heavily involved as well. If you think about social change and how we can improve the environment, it’s through our own employees,” Santos said. “They further these initiatives.”

Click here to read i4cp’s full research paper.

COP 27 in Egypt: The United States Got Back To the Table

November 2022

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

The top stories in ESG and sustainability in November included the coverage of the annual global climate meetings that took place in Egypt – COP 27 (the Conference of Parties), convened by the United Nations.

These meetings of about 200 sovereign nations’ leaders and other global influentials began in Rio de Janiero in 1992 (President George H.W. Bush was in his last year in office).

The position of the United States in the global talks (and the agreements that result) have see-sawed over the years in terms of staying at the table, and exerting leadership or not. The welcome news for 2022 is that the U.S. is back at the table. And at least for now, attempting to lead. 

This year’s meetings saw President Joseph Biden drop in to address the gathering. ormer Secretary of State John Kerry, now the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, appeared to be playing a much more visible role than was the case during prior years (during when the Trump Administration was in charge and moving away from the COP talks and the Paris Agreement of 2015).  

It is fitting for the United States of America attempting to lead in the global efforts to address climate changes and the challenges posed  — the U.S. is the world’s largest economy and the second largest emitter of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Use of oil and natural gas define the American economy and the culture of the nation.  The US is a major producer of and user of fossil fuel products. 

In his remarks at COP 27, President Biden “reclaimed” the country’s role as global leader in climate change actions and committed to help to address global warming at home and abroad.

The Biden Administration’s “Whole of Government” comprehensive approach to climate change was the centerpiece of his commentary to the gathered at COP 27.

Emphasizing the U.S. commitment to address climate change, President Biden told the summit participants: “I introduced the first piece of climate legislation in the United States Senate way back in 1986, 36 years ago. My commitment to this issue has been unwavering.

“And today, finally, thanks to the actions we’ve taken, I can stand here as President of the United States of America and say with confidence: The United States of America will meet our emissions targets by 2030. We are racing forward to do our part to avert the ‘climate hell’ that the U.N. Secretary-General so passionately warned about earlier this week. We’re not ignoring the harbingers that are already here.”

For domestic U.S. audiences, President Biden had this important news: “The United States became the first government to require that our major federal suppliers disclose their emissions and climate risks and set targets for themselves that are aligned with the Paris Agreement.

“As the world’s largest customer, with more than US$630 billion in spending last year, the government of the United States is putting our money where our mouth is to strengthen accountability for climate risk and resilience.”

However, while the U.S. government could leverage almost US$400 billions committed by Congress and the Administration to make investments in climate change solutions, “missing” are major investments to help other less-wealthy nations in climate change mitigation.

Not that President Biden was unsympathetic about helping other nations — . he has pledged to help developing countries with $11 billion each year to 2024 for transitioning to wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources.

Who Will Pay?  A Question Floating Above the Conversations

“Reparations” was the a key word circulating at COP 27 — who will help the less fortunate nations to address climate change issues? The expectations of less developed economies is that the rich peers, who generate the carbon emissions that affect the climate, will come to the aid of the nations they are negatively affecting.

While the U.S. expresses ambitions to help, with a divided U.S. Congress (keepers of the purse strings), the U.S. is not likely near-term to commit funds for other countries to address their climate change challenges.  The present state of affairs in US governance poses the question of whether the nation itself can continue on course to meet the goals of the “whole of government” approach to addressing climate change over changes of administrations. 

The “reparations” are about “loss and damage”. As The New York Times pointed out in its coverage of the COP meetings –  determining “loss and damage” funding is very difficult to define and loaded with potential legal liability for donating nations (such as for the U.S. and European powers).

Not that President Biden was unsympathetic about helping other nations. He has pledged to help developing countries with $11 billion each year to 2024 for transitioning to wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources.

One of continuing stories we see as this conference (COP 27) ends and the almost 200 nations that participate in the Conference of Parties are back at home dealing with climate change will be increasing focus among the participants on the “who pays” question going forward. The G&A team will be being staying tuned and will keep you updated as we move toward COP 28.

President Biden’s Comments at COP 27:
https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2022/11/11/remarks-by-president-biden-at-the-27th-conference-of-the-parties-to-the-framework-convention-on-climate-change-cop27-sharm-el-sheikh-egypt/

The Domestic Agenda To Renew and Strengthen the U.S. from Council on Foreign Relations –

November 4, 2022

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

How about attending to some critical domestic issues that could help to determine the USA’s Global Influence

The United States of America “in” the world and “of” the world. Where do we as a nation and where do our people stand on domestic and global issues? Where should we stand on policies and practices (and what should the U.S. “stand for”)?

We monitor the work of, and the shared perspectives of a good number of organizations here at G&A Institute, including the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

As the COP 27 gathering nears (the Conference on Parties / UN climate talks), what are the concerns of the citizens of the U.S. – and what are the concerns of citizens of other nations about the U.S.?

Most important, what should our top line domestic concerns be so that the United States is well positioned to continue to lead as the world’s largest economy? And project influence abroad?

The Council set out its “Renewing America” agenda recently, with the noble aims of “fortifying the political, economic, and societal foundations fundamental to national security and international influence” (it’s our Top Story selection for you).

Nine critical domestic issues are on the agenda.

The CFR concerns address issues that likely keep CEOs and board rooms up at night as they strategize and chart the way forward for their company:

• Energy and climate change [the concerns about the effects of domestic wildfires, severe storms, other extreme events, transitions/shifting to cleaner energy and energy efficiency];
• the future of the world of work;
• trade and finance [needed sensible policies, fixing the supply chain];
• democracy and [public sector] governance [ability to project power in the world];
• education [and the need for skilled workers, the long-term need for educated workforce];
• immigration (and attracting talent for the American workforce);
• infrastructure (investment to address crumbling infrastructure);
• innovation (R&D, China posing challenges to U.S. technology]:
• and, social justice and equity (think: long-term injustices to be considered).

On Energy and Climate Change: the Council experts share a “filter” of perspectives on the topics, including the perspectives of the U.S. ambassador on climate, Secretary of State John Kerry (“COP 27 and International Climate Action – a Conversation”).

Other “filtered” perspectives include “How the Inflation Reduction Act Will Help the U.S. to Lead in Clean Energy Economy”; “California Capitalism’s Successes and Challenges:, and, a webinar on “Climate Justice.”

If you have not followed the Council on Foreign Relations, the web link we provide will help you to learn more about the topics that we headline above.




Top Story:  https://www.cfr.org/programs/renewing-america


Going Green and Still Pumping Oil? The Challenges of Climate Change and Potential “Solutions” For Fossil Fuel Producers

October 19, 2022
by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

We were thinking the other day about the enormous challenges posed by climate change to our global society — and therein of the challenges of meeting the ambitious goals being set by governments, the private sector, and investors to achieve “a net zero economy” by mid-century. That’s not so far away.

And so the pumping of tens of millions of gallons of crude oil every day by OPEC countries and other nations (like the U.S.A.) to meet the insatiable demands of society is not helping in the short term.  But we need the oil!

Not so far back the United States was a very different country (meaning, at the end of the 19th Century). Not so dependent on “oil” from below the ground (yes, we did rely on kerosene lamps and before that whale oil!)

The majority of people lived outside of cities, mostly on farmlands and ranches and wilderness places. Horses and boats provided the main means for transport of people and goods. (Remember stage coaches and canal boats towed by mules?) Homes were heated by wood and coal fuels.

Coming into their own in the early 20th Century: miracle developments like electric power, telephony, radio, gasoline-powered cars & trucks, powered flight, modern chemicals, modern medicines. And people were moving en masse to rapidly-expanding cities and the newly-identified “sub-urban” communities.

One such place was Queens County, New York, where some of the G&A team live and work or grew up in (today home of JFK International).  After World War One ended, 100,000 people a year (!) moved in to the new suburbs, rapidly replacing farms that dated back to Dutch settlement in the 1600s.

After World War Two ended, neighboring Nassau County (where some of us live and work today) saw the same growth pattern – in just four years “Levittown” replaced the sprawling farmlands of the former Island Trees (NY) on the largest prairie in the Eastern U.S.. (That was the Hempstead Plains.)

Which required more railroads and roads for autos & trucks to move commuters to city-center offices and factories. And so, more more more drilling for oil & gas and mining of coal.

All of this dramatically changed how Americans today live, work, and play, and s0 many aspects of our family and business lives. The same things were happening in Europe, the British Isles, Japan, and many other places.

And here we are in the 21st Century enjoying the fruits of all of this progress and at the same time trying to undo the negative sides of the sweeping progress made over the past 125 years or so.

To put some of this change and resulting challenges in perspective: TIME magazine had an essay recently about Saudi Arabia, its state-owned oil company (Saudi Aramco) and the ambitions of the world’s leading oil exporting sovereignty to lean toward green while still pumping 12 or more millions of gallons of oil per day (to help meet global demand of 100 million BBLs a day!).

Today, Saudis talk of the dreams of carbon capture, of moving to hydrogen power for autos, of building a new “green” city (NOEM) from scratch.  The Saudi goal is Net Zero emissions) by 2060!

The dreams include the desert blooming with new green (cities)…and yet that Saudi oil keeps moving to distant points on Earth through pipelines and on oil tankers. Missing: the plan to reduce oil & gas production by 2030.

To help companies around the globe to meet ambitious 2030, 2040, and 2050 (net zero!) goals. Challenging. 

To contrast the astonishing changes of the recent decades: The Saudi Arabia we know today as a top oil & gas producer was a desert kingdom populated by Bedouin tribes and often shown on maps as “the Empty Quarter”.

Discovery of oil reservoirs changed all of that – today the kingdom has a Sovereign Wealth Fund (the SWF is the Public Investment Fund) with US$600+ billion and more in treasury thanks to oil & gas pumping and invests in many publicly -traded companies like Netflix (so dependent on fossil fuels to ever more power servers!).

About the impacts of climate change and the inherent challenges of our present society to achieve solutions – we see the story-telling of this everyday now in our favorite media!

Our editors and G&A team members carefully track and curate the coverage for you in the issues of our Highlights newsletter and here in our G&A Institute Sustainability Updates blog.

In our newsletter we regularly feature many news and feature stories about the efforts of public and private sector organizations taking actions to protect the planet and help the global society achieve a sustainable (and livable) planet in the decades ahead.

That’s the good news we try to share.  At the same time, as we think about the world’s progress from wilderness1800s to dramatic changes of the 1900s and into challenges of the 2000s and the negative aspects of progress…we cheer on the strategies, policies, actions, actions of leaders of organizations in the capital markets, corporate community, activist organizations, multilateral organizations, and more to address climate change challenges.. 

Ah, to save the planet while still making progress – that’s the ambitious goal of so many now.  After all, there is no Planet B for we, the billions on Earth (at least not yet).  

Top Story:

We bring you the fascinating story of Saudi Arabia and its plan to go green while remaining the world’s number one oil exporter over the coming years: https://time.com/6210210/saudi-arabia-aramco-climate-oil/

And a personal note:  A  durable book that has been around telling the story of the first half of the 20th Century (since 1952) may be of interest to you. This is “The Big Change, American Transforms Itself, 1900-1950” by Frederick Lewis Allen. He was the long time editor of Harper’s Magazine and authored such books as “The Lords of Creation” (about key capitalists like the Rockefellers, Morgans, Vanderbilts, and other of the Gilded Age wealthy). 

Highlights of Climate Week NYC 2022

by Lauren Snyder, Ph.D., Sustainability Analyst at G&A Institute

Global Citizen Festival NYC” featured big-name musical artists to cap the 14th annual Climate Week NYC, a week of multi-stakeholder events focused on climate change in New York City.

Climate Week NYC brought together leaders, decision-makers and activists from government, civil society, and the private sector for discussions, encouragement and collaboration on how to keep the climate issue at the top of political and business priorities.

Organized by Climate Group, the week featured a variety of in-person, hybrid and virtual events all focused on a call-to-action of “getting it done.”  The opening ceremony, began by setting the current geopolitical contexts for the need to deliver on promises made, which was followed by Hub Live, bringing together over 1,000 voices in the climate space to collaborate, share ideas and promote workable solutions.

This year’s Climate Week revolved around ten themes: the built environment, energy, environmental justice, transport, sustainable living, finance, industry, nature, policy, and food.

Beyond these events, many others were held alongside the main New York City-based events. Climate Week NYC is scheduled each year to run concurrent with the opening week of the UN General Assembly. This year Climate Week included a 90-minute, high-level “SDG Moment” session, designed to keep focus on the 17 SDGS.

For those unable to attend the in-person events, the hybrid and virtual ones emphasized two key themes. A panel of journalists on the second day focused on the question:  “Are we looking up? Climate communications at a pivotal moment”, highlighting the need to move away from the alarmist nature of climate communications to one that focuses on “co-benefits.”

Rather than storytelling, for example, one presenter noted the need to shape climate change conversations to reach as many people as possible. In this example, energy opportunities that advance cheaper, reliable fuel supply can help to convince even climate skeptics who might oppose the usual climate-speak ideas.

The theme of spelling out the “co-benefits” also percolated in a public sector-oriented session: “The Paris Agreement and the Ambition We Need.” This session included Environment ministers from various countries such as Canada and the Maldives.

The Minister from Canada stated it is “vital to sell the dream,” to show that current solutions and technologies are available to make a difference in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

The ministers presenting also emphasized the need for granular data and transparency – a theme that also could be found in the two opening ceremony  events – “Climate in the Geopolitical Context of Todayand “The cold truths for a warming world: what’s stopping us from ‘Getting It Done”?

Some of the more promising events for businesses were held in-person, including “Corporate Disclosure: Understanding Investor Perspective on Climate Risk sponsored by Agendi; others were organized by Morningstar, Sustainalytics, and The Wall Street. Journal.

The panel on “Preparing for the SEC’s Climate Disclosure Rule” provided interesting comparisons between the TCFD-based rules already implemented in the United Kingdom and the proposed SEC rule that will require companies to disclose climate-related risks and actions they will take to mitigate them.

While the multitude of events was overwhelming for some, everyone could find a topic of interest during the week-long series of sessions. While there was a lot of talking, presenting and chatter, these events do inevitably excite, encourage stimulating debates, and allow for exchange of ideas. The true test in the end for actions to be taken will be judged in the weeks and months to come.

The next climate summit (COP27) gathering is less than two months away, where world leaders, NGOs and private business decision-makers will gather for further climate action. The goal of keeping the 1.5C limit “alive” – this, the temperature threshold needed to avoid the worst climate catastrophe — does at times seem like a dream. The act of making that dream a reality depends on all of us — and perhaps was the most salient point of Climate week NYC 2022.

About the Author

Dr. Lauren Snyder joined G&A Institute in May 2022 as a Sustainability Analyst. She previously worked at the United Nations Global Compact Environment and Climate team where she launched a high-level external newsletter to promote corporate engagement on all aspects of climate change. Dr. Snyder also co-led with Accenture on the CEO Study on Sustainability “Climate Leadership in the Eleventh Hour.

A native of South Korea, Dr. Snyder came to the U.S. as a child. She obtained her B.A. in German Literature and Linguistics from New York University and lived in Germany and Sweden for two years as a part of her undergraduate studies. Lauren also holds a master’s and Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics.

Dr. Snyder also holds a master’s degree in Public Administration and Sustainability from the Marxe School of International Affairs and Public Administration at Baruch College.

Dr. Snyder resides in New York City and enjoys time spending with her daughter. She also enjoys singing, theater and tennis. Although Dr. Snyder is legally blind, her disability does not stop her from achieving her goals.

Systemic Racism in Corporate America

by Janis Arrojado, G&A Institute Analyst-Intern
Note: This is the third post in the blog series by Janis:

In the wake of George Floyd’s tragic murder in May 2020, corporate America took action to fight racism. Collectively, by August 2021, America’s 50 largest public companies and their foundations committed at least $49.5 billion to causes and initiatives that advance racial equity. However, 90% of that amount is apportioned as loans or investments that these companies can earn profits from. A total of $4.2 billion pledged is in the form of grants, which represents less than 1% of the profits earned by those companies in the most recent year. Although it is good to see that corporate America is taking strides to address racism, these numbers show how companies run the risk of performative activism, and raises questions of whether companies are making efforts internally in their workplaces to address issues of racism and inequity.

Systemic Racism

Issues of racial inequity are not new to the workplace. Corporate America operates under systemic racism, which is defined as referring to: “the complex interactions of large scale societal systems, practices, ideologies, and programs that produce and perpetuate inequities for racial minorities.” The most important component of systemic racism is that it operates on a large scale independent of individuals, meaning inequality can persist for racial minorities even if individual racism is not occurring. In the workforce, this may manifest itself in racial bias leading to discriminatory policies that impact hiring, starting pay, and professional upward mobility for people of color, especially Black Americans. People of color may face microaggressions, which are subtle behaviors impacting marginalized groups. Professional standards relating to language, dress code, and communication are rooted in white and Western ideals. People of color can face isolation and a lack of support in their workplace.

Representation Gap

Discriminatory policies contribute to a racial representation gap in the workforce. There is an underrepresentation of Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino workers at every career level above the support staff level when comparing representation in the general population. There is a general pattern showing that representation of people of color decreases as career levels rise, with Asians/Pacific Islanders being an exception, as shown in a global equality report released by Mercer in 2020.  In addition to impacting representation, racial bias impacts the advancement and experience of people of color in the workforce.

Benefits of Racial Diversity

Changing the norm of systemic racism is integral for minorities to feel welcomed and included in their workplace. Having a diverse workplace offers different cultural perspectives that can inspire innovation and foster collaboration. Additionally, cultural insight and local knowledge can create more informed and targeted marketing and production of products. Addressing the gap in racial representation is also financially beneficial, as companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns higher than their competitors.

What Companies Can Do

Corporations have power in fighting systemic racism in their workplaces. Devoting resources toward enhancing the experience of minorities through training in topics such as racial equity, unconscious bias, and microaggressions is a start. Inclusion is an integral component for minorities to feel a sense of belonging in the workplace. Through initiatives such as employee resource groups (ERGs) for different identity groups, employers can create a space for employees to feel supported and raise issues with work environments. Incorporating more equitable hiring processes is also important, which can look like asking all prospective employees the same exact set of questions in the same order. Corporations can also recruit candidates from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and minority-serving institutions (MSIs) to gain diverse talent.

Conclusion

Although discussing racism outright may be a taboo topic, it is important to understand how companies operate within systemic racism and how systems of racial inequity negatively impact workers of color. Being proactive in addressing systemic racism can improve the experience and livelihood of people of color and is integral to creating a more diverse and equitable workforce.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Janis Arrojado is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, studying Environmental Science and Geography.  Her interests include corporate sustainability, environmental justice, and sustainable development. She currently is an analyst-intern at G&A Institute.

 

 

Sources

Sustainability Challenges and Reporting Frameworks in the Chemical Industry

Chemical Industry Challenges

By Lauryn Power, G&A Institute Analyst-Intern

Overview:

The chemical sector faces the third-highest number of environmental and social risks of all sectors, based on a 2020 analysis published by S&P Global. In the U.S., the chemical sector generates around $758 billion annually, contributing 25% of the U.S. GDP and providing many raw materials for industries including agriculture, consumer goods, and pharmaceuticals.

Major Sustainability Challenges:

According to a report from Ecovadis partner DFGE, the chemical sector faces a large number of sustainability challenges including scrutiny over impacts on water quality and discharge of effluents. It can be very costly to remove impurities from wastewater.

Chemical production is often energy intensive and leads to significant GHG emissions. There are many chemical processes which require high temperatures often generated by fossil fuels.

There is major concern over worker and consumer health and safety in producing and using the products. There are chemicals which are still being used despite being hazardous. These chemicals are often supplied to other industries and can be polluted into water streams, causing health problems for workers, local residents, and ecosystems. The products themselves can remain in the environment for centuries, possibly forever.

In 1985, the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICAA) created the Responsible Care program. This initiative’s main goals are to promote safe chemical management, promote environmental health and safety, and contribute to sustainable development. By 2021, 580 chemical companies (96% of the industry) had committed to the program globally. Many of the Council’s sustainability recommendations align with chemical companies’ plans. They are often focused on prevention rather than mitigation. They have extensive plans for spills, contaminations, and waste disposal which are all regulated in the United States. These plans also include details for worker health and safety, which require hours of training before workers can perform hazardous work.

Many chemical companies are working towards improving the composition of plastics so they are more readily recyclable, as well as developing more accessible methods of recycling to more efficiently recycle the plastics that already exist. They are pushing to use renewable energy in as many operations as possible and to continue innovating in that sector. Additionally, they are focusing on creating strong plans for wastewater disposal, whether it is disposed carefully or if it is treated to be reused.

ESG Reporting:

All chemical manufacturers in the U.S. are required to report certain practices and metrics to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, including the types of chemicals they are producing.

In terms of voluntary ESG reporting, there are many different frameworks chemical companies can use to build their reports.

Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB):

SASB provides sector-specific recommendations for disclosures on ESG metrics for chemical companies. These disclosures are what SASB considers to be financially material topics to the industry. They require disclosure of global Scope 1 greenhouse gas emissions and a discussion on plans to manage emissions both short-term and long-term. Air quality emissions of key hazardous air pollutants should be disclosed. Energy, water, and hazardous waste management require the specification of the amount used/generated. The water disclosure requires a further discussion of the company’s strategy to reduce potential damages from wastewater.

Global Reporting Initiative (GRI):

GRI is the most common sustainability reporting framework. While it does not currently provide specific chemical sector disclosures, it is planning on expanding the list of sector specific disclosures to include chemicals in the next few years. Still, many of the general disclosures are applicable to chemical companies and touch on some of their most critical issues. Chemical companies should first perform the GRI’s materiality assessment to help them determine which disclosures are most impactful to their business.

Some general disclosures chemical companies may report on are: GRI 303: Water and Effluents requiring companies to state the amount of water withdrawn, by source and the amount discharged; and GRI 403: Occupational Health and Safety requiring companies to state the type of required trainings for workers to do certain hazardous work, the number of work-related injuries, a description of the company’s strategy for managing worker health and safety, and other key information/metrics on this topic.

Other potentially important disclosures include: GRI 306: Waste which covers hazardous waste disposal methods; and GRI 307: Environmental Compliance which would involve chemical companies required disclosures by the EPA and other actions taken to keep operations within legal standards. Note: The updated 2021 GRI Standards, officially in effect in 2023, include environmental compliance as a general disclosure, meaning reporting on this topic will be required for accordance with the Standards.

Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD):

While TCFD does not provide chemical-specific disclosures, the general disclosures about climate-related risks and opportunities are applicable to chemical companies. The TCFD framework as a whole approaches sustainability from a risk perspective, which helps chemical companies directly state the most critical components of their businesses and their action plans to mitigate that risk.

In 2019, TCFD held a forum with five major chemicals companies to discuss how to improve sustainability reporting in the chemical sector. One finding was that disclosures should include more specific metrics to measure sustainable development and that companies need a stronger approach to governance with sustainability in mind. For example, given that TCFD is focused on financial risk disclosures, the forum suggested adding metrics such as revenues from low-carbon products and low-carbon solution R&D expenditures. For strategy disclosures, the forum recommended having more scenario analysis to better understand the impact of different climate-change strategies.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

Chemical companies can play a major role in contributing to the success of the UN SDGs. The goals that the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) has identified as most critical for the chemicals sector are shown here.

How can the sector impact these goals? For Goal 2 – Zero Hunger, the chemical sector can make a huge impact on sustainable food development by producing more efficient fertilizers to boost crop yields. For Goal 7 – Affordable and Clean Energy, the sector can develop important materials used for solar panels, wind turbines, and carbon capture technology. More information on how the sector can support the SDGs can be found here.

Lauryn PowerABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lauryn Power is a G&A Institute Analyst-Intern, currently pursuing a MS in Sustainability in the Urban and Environmental Planning department at Tufts University. She has a BS in Chemistry from the University of Virginia where she also earned a minor in Mathematics. She also received a certificate in Business Fundamentals at the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia.

She has worked in various chemistry research labs and has a scientific background on climate change. She also has experience in sustainable fashion. She interned for the U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce doing research on current issues with fast fashion globally.

Through her educational background and experiences in the industry, she hopes to work in the intersection of sustainability and business, helping corporations to improve their practices and find ways to make their business more sustainable.

Is Your Mutual Fund or ETF Really “Green” or “Sustainable”? How Do You Know? More Disclosure by Fund Managers and Advisors May Be Coming…

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

What is it about an investable product – a mutual fund, an exchange traded fund (ETF) – that would qualify it as an “ESG” or “sustainable investment” offering to the retail or institutional investor?

That’s a question getting more attention recently.

S&P Global has issued a report that says only 12 percent of so-called “green” or “environmental” investment funds are on track to meet the global climate goals agreed to at the Paris Agreement / COP 21 meetings in 2015.

The goals agreed to by the community of almost 200 nations at that time: try to limit the global temperature to below 2 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial levels and aim for limiting the increase to 1.5C.

We are sharing some analysis of the S&P report by Mark Segal as published in ESG Today (he’s the founder of the web site).

He explains: S&P Global looked at about 12,000 equity funds and ETFs with US$20 trillion in total market value. Findings: about 300 funds (with $350 billion total valuation) used “green” in their name or investment objectives.

Looking then at the holdings (equities of corporations) using the S&P Global Trucost Paris Alignment Data for 17,000 companies in the universe of 12,000 funds, only 11% were really aligned with the Paris Agreement goals.

What about the smaller universe of 300 (the “green” funds)? Only about 12% were on track to meet Paris goals.

S&P Global noted that some funds are screening out publicly-traded fossil fuel companies for portfolios, including renewable energy companies, and some are engaging with portfolio companies to urge the firms de-carbonize their operations.

Conclusion: “Our analysis,” reports S&P, “points to a systemic issue. Few funds, even those that describe themselves as using green or climate-specific language, are on track to meet the goal of the Paris Agreement. Understanding the trajectory is an important step toward planning for a low-carbon future.”

The marketing of mutual funds and ETFs as “green” is being closely looked at by the Securities & Exchange Commission. SEC is focused on “enhancing ESG investment practices” of certain capital market players.

The agency in May proposed amendments to rules and reporting requirements of investment advisors and investment companies (that manage mutual funds and ETFs) to “promote consistent, comparable, and reliable information for investors” about funds’ and advisors’ incorporation of ESG factors.

The proposed rule would aim to categorize types of ESG investment strategies and require funds and advisors to be more specific in disclosures (such as in prospectuses, annual reports, brochures) to inform investors about ESG strategies being pursued.

Funds with strategies focused on the consideration of environmental factors would be required to disclose the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their portfolios. (That is, the GHG emissions of companies in the assembled portfolios of the mutual funds or ETFs.)

And, funds that use proxy voting and engagement with corporate issuers would be required to disclose their voting and engagement with companies on ESG-related matters.

Morningstar rates “sustainable mutual funds” among the thousands of funds rated by the firm’s analysts and its Sustainalytics unit.

Here’s a look into the challenges fund companies may face if the SEC rules are adopted: “This year has been difficult for many ESG funds,” writes Morningstar’s Katherine Lynch. “After years of solid performance, sustainable investing mutual funds have been roughed up, but a handful of strategies have been able to outperform.”

Which ones? Those holding energy stocks, which some investors in ESG try to avoid. Energy stocks are now outperforming, and most sustainable funds hold little or no oil companies in portfolio because of the connection of oil and gas consumption and climate change.

The conversation about “sustainable investing” and the criteria used by mutual fund management companies is sure to get more complicated in the days ahead.

Our G&A Institute team will continue to monitor developments and keep you updated on the changes to the mutual fund / ETF disclosure requirements.

Here are Top Stories for you to learn more:

  1. Less Than 10% of Climate Funds are Aligned with Global Decarbonization Goals: S&P (ESG Today )https://www.esgtoday.com/nearly-90-of-green-funds-are-not-aligned-with-global-climate-goals-sp/
  2. SEC Proposed to Enhance Disclosures by Investment Advisors and Investment Companies About ESG Investment Practices: https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2022-92
  3. 2022’s Top Sustainable Fund Weather a Tough Market: https://www.morningstar.com/articles/1097780/2022s-top-sustainable-funds-weather-a-tough-market



ESG from a Corporate Vantage Point – Anniversary Update

Important Perspectives shared by Pamela Styles, Fellow G&A Institute

Foreword by Hank Boerner, Chairman & Chief Strategist, G&A Institute
One year ago, the National Investor Relations Institute (NIRI) IRUpdate quarterly magazine published its Winter 2021 edition that was dedicated to ESG topics and issues — which G&A Institute shared with publishers’ permission.  G&A’s executive leaders and IR professional and G&A Fellow Pam Styles each contributed an article to the edition to provide three different perspectives and vantage points.

It is with great pride that we congratulate our IR Fellow, Pam Styles, for being named Gold Winner of the DeWitt C. Morrill Editorial Excellence Awards for her article in that magazine, titled: “A Practical Approach to ESG From a Corporate Vantage Point”.

She was be honored by NIRI and presented the award in-person at the NIRI Annual Conference which held June 5-7 in Boston, MA.

G&A Institute coverage of many rapid changes across ESG-related issues bridges two important spheres of influence in our modern economy – the corporate sector and capital markets.  

To that end, Pam has taken time to summarize and briefly update three topics touched on in her original article – SEC, ESG Raters and Voluntary Frameworks – to highlight some major announcements and trends in the last year that should be useful to corporate executive and investor relations perspective.  Here is Pam’s April 2022 award-winning commentary:

Anniversary Update
The full title of my original article one year ago, “A Practical Approach to ESG from a Corporate Vantage Point”, started with “A Practical Approach…” and continued with “…to ESG from a Corporate Vantage Point”.

The reason for this was and still is that the ESG landscape has been changing so rapidly as to be humanly impossible for any one person or company to stay on top of without practical focus and strategy of approach.

Much of that article about launching and maintaining a successful company ESG reporting program, including supporting strategies and resources, remains relevant today.  The most important thing is for companies to be organized and deliberate to make sure that, no matter how much or how little ESG-related policies, disclosure or other communications they can provide, it all can be easily found via the company’s website by human stakeholders and AI research tools alike.  This is to make sure that the company is getting as full credit as possible for all it is doing and communicating with regard to ESG matters.

The article goes into far greater specifics and, even one year later, is worth the (re)read.

Three topics warrant brief update to highlight some of the major announcements that have occurred just in the one year since the article was published – as listed in the table below.

Major Announcements in One Year
Roughly Spanning Winter 2021 to Winter 2022
(Partial list only)

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Major ESG Raters and Rankers1 Voluntary Reporting Frameworks1
May 20, 2022 – deadline for comment letters on Pending rule proposal on climate risk and GHG disclosure.  Proposes TCFD-like reporting requirements within Reg S-K and financial metrics within Reg S-X, with phase-in 2023-2026 based on registrant filer status. Additional Highlights. April 24, 2022Crowded ESG Ratings Landscape Sows Confusion for Investors, the days of largely unregulated ESG ratings providers may be numbered. January 2023 – GRI “Universal Standards” will go into effect, which will include supply chain. Additional Highlights.
March 9, 2022 – Pending rule proposal on cybersecurity. Summary sheet.  (Data Security and Privacy falls under “S” of ESG) February 2022 – call for ESG ratings regulation in ESG Ratings and ESG Data published by Accenture UK and the International Regulatory Strategy Group (IRSG).  Reason: due to huge variation and significant inconsistencies, lack of transparency, frustration and confusion for reporting companies, conflicts of interest with fee models, and a low correlation for ESG ratings (as low as 0.38) compared to credit ratings (as high as 0.99), all which impact investment decisions. March 24, 2022 – The IFRS Foundation and GRI announce they are taking the latest step toward a more closely aligned set of global ESG reporting frameworks.  Part of global moves toward consolidation.
July 26, 2021 – earlier call by International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) initiate for ESG ratings regulation. GRI and IFRS are just one example of multiple frameworks that have been announcing collaborations and harmonization efforts.  A common reporting standard may not happen for a while.  Additional Highlights.

1 As defined in “The Complexity of ESG Reporting and Emerging Convergence Trends”, by Louis Coppola, EVP & Co-Founder, Governance & Accountability Institute

Rapid Changes
The U.S. has been rapidly catching-up with the UK and EU in terms of ESG public discourse in general.  As simplified in his article “The Surging Volume and Velocity of ESG Investing”, Hank Boerner, Chairman & Chief Strategist of Governance & Accountability Institute, indicated 2020 was the year of Human Capital Management focus and 2021 would be the year of Climate Change/ Climate Crisis focus.

Looking ahead, I predict that 2022 may end up being a year of Practical Stress Testing. Global dislocation (economic, human, energy, security, etc.) brought on by protracted pandemic conditions in China and the Russia-Ukraine military conflict with implications to energy, natural and agricultural resources, are both critically affecting the global supply chain and have opened a lot of eyes as to the speed at which ESG net-global progress may actually be being made.

Certain realities and practicalities seem to have been missed in haste to press ESG initiatives that need to be addressed.  Here’s to hoping honest brokers can be up to the task.

In the meantime, a lot of companies are still in ESG journey catch-up mode, especially in the U.S.  With ESG here to stay, it is important for companies to make as much progress as they can in areas of ESG strategy, execution and disclosure that make sense to address at this time.  But keep an eye on major announcements and build flexibility into your company’s ESG communications and disclosure capabilities – as a lot of changes are yet to come.

About the Author
Pamela Styles is long-time Fellow of G&A Institute and principal of Next Level Investor Relations LLC, a strategic consultancy with dual Investor Relations and ESG / Sustainability specialties.