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.

Role of Green Building Certifications in Telling Your ESG Story

By Kavya Dhir, G&A Institute Sustainability Analyst

With climate change at the forefront of today’s environmental, social, and governance (ESG) discussion, and corporate ESG disclosures in focus, companies are being held more accountable for their overall environmental impact.

These impacts include the carbon footprint of their operations — such as office space, business travel, and packaging of consumer goods.

For office buildings, third-party certifications such as the WELL Building Standard (WELL) managed by the International Well Building Institute (IWBI), and, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) managed through the US Green Building Council (USGBC), have ushered in a new era of sustainability transparency and accountability.

Green building standards have served as a foundation for more than two decades to make buildings become more energy efficient, less polluting, and healthier for their inhabitants. The USGBC was created in 1993 in the boardroom of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), with representatives from over 60 corporations and organizations.

Today, investment firms and property businesses are raising the bar for “green.” This includes increased greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and supply chain management regulations. Further, these organizations and individual assets are being expected to back up their ambitions with real-world performance data.

Green building standards should be promoted by real estate professionals to work to ensure that the advantages are widely recognized and implemented.

What is a Green Building?
According to the World Green Building Council (WGBC), the definition of a green building is: “a building that, in its design, construction or operation, reduces or eliminates negative impacts, and can create positive impacts, on our climate and natural environment.”

Here is a brief overview of the ESG issues that are involved:

Environmental – Energy, water, and material are three essential environmental components that have a significant influence on the natural environment over the lifespan of any construction.

According to the WGBC definition, the ultimate goal is not just to optimize resource use so that harmful impacts are reduced, but also to ensure that the building itself contributes positively to the natural environment.

Examples of positive impacts are if a building use recycled and reusable materials, has a greywater system that collects and uses rainwater, or has solar panels which feed excess energy back to the grid.

The societal pressure to adapt to meet the goals of The Paris Agreement on climate change has grown considerably. There is also pressure on the construction and real estate sectors to contribute significantly. In the future, making a good contribution to climate protection would include adhering to tight requirements including reducing the net primary energy need in the planning and construction of new buildings by 20% as compared to the ‘lowest energy level.’

Social A building is designed for occupants; therefore, it must consider their health, comfort, and safety. In office buildings, asking building management if they have engaged in any Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) certifications is a simple way to determine whether the facility has inadequate air quality which may trigger headaches, respiratory irritation, nausea, and allergies. Natural lighting has physiological effects that may be measured. The synchronization of the body’s internal clock – known as circadian rhythm, can be aided by exposure to adequate quantities of natural sunshine.

Governance – Facility managers must design metrics to monitor the health of a building in order to demonstrate effective governance in building operations, maintenance, and management. Furthermore, construction companies and operational managers should be obliged to set quantifiable objectives and demonstrate efforts in advancing the industry toward a beneficial influence on the environment to quantify how a building may do better.

To be considered to be really “green,” a building must serve as a link between people and nature. The ESG of buildings described above aren’t designed to oversimplify the industry’s complexity; rather, they’re meant to raise awareness and start dialogues about acceptable reporting standards. Investors are becoming more demanding in terms of accurate, transparent, and timely account of asset-level performance. The future of ESG reporting in real estate development will move far above entity-level disclosures.

About the Author

Kavya Dhir is a G&A Institute Sustainability Analyst.  Her role consists of conducting materiality assessments, gap analysis and benchmarking research. A researcher and a lifelong learner at heart, Kavya is a LEED GA, WELL AP and holds a bachelor’s degree in Civil engineering and a MSc. In Design and Energy Conservation.

She is involved with many organizations, including ASHRAE, U.S Green Building Council, UN Green (R)evolution and ISHRAE.

She is an optimist who looks towards a future in which our built-environment and energy production exist in harmony with us and the natural world.  Kavya has experience with projects which integrate concepts of net-zero energy and carbon, high performance HVAC and healthy buildings, and general sustainability early in the building design process.

Kavya is committed to accelerating the transition to a more sustainable environment with a continual focus on establishing the integrated bottom line: environmental stewardship, economic inclusion, and social equity.

REFERENCES

Contributor, G. (2021, June 21). Synergies Between LEED, WELL Certifications And ESG Programs. Facility Executive Magazine. https://facilityexecutive.com/2021/06/synergies-between-leed-well-certifications-and-esg-programs/

Dolya, A., Romanin, P., Weise, D., Lupia, F. P., Villani, L. A., & Hemmige, H. (2022, January 11). Boosting ESG Performance in Today’s Energy Supply Chains. BCG Global. https://www.bcg.com/publications/2022/boosting-esg-performance-framework

A Performance-Based Future for Real Asset ESG Reporting. (2019, February 28). GRESB. https://gresb.com/nl-en/2019/02/28/a-performance-based-future-for-real-asset-esg-reporting/

What is green building? (2020). World Green Building Council. https://www.worldgbc.org/what-green-building

Corporate Sustainability – A Converging Opportunity to Simultaneously Reduce Carbon Emissions and Optimize Multi-Tier Supply Chain Risk?

April 2021

by Pam Styles – Fellow, G&A Institute and Principal & Founder of Next Level Investor Relations LLC

There may be a converging opportunity for companies to accelerate total carbon emissions reductions (Scopes 1, 2 and 3) in collaboration with critical efforts to better understand and mitigate multi-tier supply chain risks that were revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Expansive coverage of emerging trends supporting this thesis is presented in the Resource Paper, The Carbon Key: Transcending ESG Disclosure Frameworks Consolidation and Accelerating Supply Chain Awareness, newly published on the Governance & Accountability Institute website.

HIGHTLIGHTS

✔  A noticeable increase in the number of new articles combining observations about CO2 and supply chain, including articles from the World Economic Forum, The Wall Street Journal and CDP, formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project.

✔  Articles supporting the idea that conditions may already exist for the commercial business sector to make real and lasting emissions reductions on its own – sooner and better – than to wait for geo-political negotiations and distant reduction target dates.

✔  Introduction to complementary opportunities for individual companies and the commercial business sector to focus on supply chain CO2 contributors and reductions that are material.

✔  A challenge to imagine if carbon emissions disclosure and performance tracking were prerequisites to resume sourcing from pre-Covid suppliers.

Thinking of these trends from an Investor Relations and ESG communications vantage, with some rudimentary optimization modeling exposure, it is suddenly compelling to take a look at Scope 3.

SCOPE 3 – “THE CARBON KEY”

Scope 3 CO2 emissions include both upstream and downstream categories.

Using guidelines published by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) for layman’s interpretation, Scope 1 (direct) and Scope 2 (indirect) CO2 emissions are defined as coming from sources owned or controlled by an organization; Scope 3 CO2 emissions are a consequence of an organization’s activities, but occur from sources not owned or controlled by the organization.

An excerpt from the Scope 3 guidelines points to, “The reporting organization can identify other indirect (Scope 3) emissions by assessing which of its activities’ emissions… contribute to climate change-related risks, such as financial, regulatory, supply chain, product and customer … “

Upstream categories, at least the first four listed below, could be constructive additions to supply chain optimization models. In this way, companies could assess Scope 3 emissions improvement performance indicators for each potential supplier in a similar way as cost inputs are compared for low-cost sourcing optimization in supply chain modeling and actual procurement decision-making.

SCOPE 3 – CO2 EMISSIONS

Upstream categories

Downstream categories

1. Purchased goods and services

1. Downstream transportation and distribution

2. Capital goods

2. Processing of sold products

3. Fuel- and energy-related activities (not included in Scope 1 or Scope 2)

3. Use of sold products

4. Upstream transportation and distribution

4. End-of-life treatment of sold products

5. Waste generated in operations

5. Downstream leased assets

6. Business travel

6. Franchises

7. Employee commuting

7. Investments

8. Upstream leased assets

Other downstream

Other upstream

 

Source: Global Reporting Initiative Standards GRI KPI 305 – Emissions

CONTEMPLATE & CONSIDER
The Carbon Key article introduces several questions and things to contemplate:

  1. How might companies quickly re-evaluate their supply chain optimization decisions in the immediate post-Covid recovery?

  2. Imagine how different management decisions might be if all layers of CO2 emissions were factored into the total cost of ownership (TCO) in supply chain decisions and risk mitigation.

  3. Notice similarities between companies’ struggle to capture and report Scope 3 CO2 emissions and of supply chain tiers mapping challenges.

    A recent study found, that while 91% of companies can identify the physical location of most or all of their Tier 1 supplier facilities, only 17% could do so of their Tier 3 supplier facilities.

  4. Companies’ leadership and understanding of its complete carbon footprint may be rapidly put to the test as capital markets and respective raters’ increase their attention on this issue.


The ESG/Sustainability field has been quietly maturing in the business sector, while the U.S. and global government sector has been distracted by the pandemic.

✔  The latest annual trends tracking conducted by the Governance & Accountability Institute shows 90% of S&P 500 and 65% of Russell 1000 companies produced sustainability reports as of 2019.

✔  In September 2020, five of the most globally recognized ESG voluntary reporting frameworks – GRI – CDP – SASB – IIRC – TCFD – announced they have pledged to work together in harmonizing ESG framework guidelines.

✔  As these five entities attempt to harmonize guidelines, other entities and collaborations have recently announced development of new ESG disclosure frameworks, i.e., CFA, the Big Four accounting firms, International Business Council (IBC).

✔  ESG-related data suppliers and aggregators continue to assert influence with frequent announcements of new ESG ratings and syndication arrangements to meet the growing information demand.

✔  Carbon emissions is one topic that transcends differences across most of the major voluntary ESG reporting frameworks. No matter which framework guideline(s) a company chooses to use, Scope 1, 2, or 3 CO2 emissions guidelines generally refer to the globally accepted methodology referred to as the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol. The carbon key can unlock interconnections to aid ESG framework harmonization.

CLOSING THOUGHTS
Talk to each other! Forget about internal silos and collaborate between teams.

There is every reason to believe that company experts can look at the carbon key to find faster, focused and efficient ways to mesh two seemingly different challenges – supply chain tiers risk and Scope 3 CO2 emissions reduction – for optimization that delivers real return on investment.


Pamela Styles – Fellow, G&A Institute – is Principal and Founder of Next Level Investor Relations LLC, a strategic consultancy with dual Investor Relations and ESG / Sustainability specialties.

 

Pre-crisis, Critical Event(s) / In Crisis! / Prevention, Mitigation – Where Will the World Act in the Context of Climate Change?

March 29  2021

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

At certain times, an unknown unknown may strike, rapidly triggering a serious crisis situation.  Think of a tsunami or earthquake.

Many other times the crisis situation occurs and there are at least a dozen, maybe even dozens of precursor events or activities that over time / if neglected by leadership set up the going over the cliff situation.

The G&A Institute team members have collectively helped to manage literally hundreds of critical events or crisis situations over the years for corporate, fiduciary, social sector and other clients.

Alas, we have seen many critical issues and/or events spin into dramatic crisis situations over time — but none with the scale of the dangers posed to humanity and planet by climate change.  Ignoring this is not an option for humankind.

The crisis situations that can be pretty accurately projected or forecast are often years in the buildup.

Leaders may ignore unpleasant situations until things do spin out of control.  There is the powerful human capacity for denial – this can’t be happening / this won’t happen / there are slim chances that “this” will go wrong, and we will lose control of things.

Until things do go terribly wrong.

Think of the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks – 20 years ago this year.

What could have been to prevent these? Read the many pages of the report on the attacks published by the US government — you will see page-after-page of factors that illustrate the points made here.

Or, the damages of Hurricane Katrina.  Things were going well in New Orleans – until they were not.

There is the unbelievable, tragic opioid epidemic in the USA. Was anyone tuned in to the unbelievable flow of opiods in the State of West Virginia and other locales?  Many many doses per resident – who was consuming them and why?

Right now – there is the still-out-of-control, worldwide Covid pandemic. There will be abundant case histories published on this in the years to come.

Think about the Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill crisis in vulnerable Alaskan waters 30 plus years back — and what could have been addressed in preventative measures. (We did numerous corporate management workshops on this event, walking through two dozen clearly-visible precursor events.  One factor impacted another than another. And another.

Think about what could have been addressed up front to address these situations and other classic crisis situations well ahead of time to prevent or limit the human and physical costs.  The good news?

We have time today to address the unbelievable potential harm to human and widespread physical damages that we will see in the worst cases in global climate changes.

It takes recognition of these serious risks and dangers, the political will to act, widening public support of the leaders’ actions, and considerable financial investment.  So – ask yourself – are we on target with limiting of damages, mitigation for the worse of possible outcomes, and most important, in taking prevention strategies and actions?

Each of us must answer the question and then take action.  The encouraging news is that collective action is now clearly building in volume and momentum – that’s the focus of some of the Top Stories we selected for you in the current newsletter.  There are valuable perspectives shared in these stories.

The world stands at critical point, said UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed to European Parliament Vice President Heidi Hautalan, referencing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The United Nations is working to strengthen its partnership with the EU to deliver on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs – with 169 targets for action). “The work is more urgent than ever” was the message.  This is the decade for multilateral engagement and action – we are but nine years away from a tipping point on climate disasters.

Many companies in North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific and other regions have publicly declared their support of the SDGs – but now how are they doing on the follow up “action steps” – especially concrete strategies and actions to implement their statements (walking-the-talk on SDGs)?

The Visual Capitalist provides answers with a neat infographic from MSCI; the powerhouse ESG ratings & rankings organization sets out the SDG alignment of 8550 companies worldwide.

Are they “strongly aligned” or “aligned” or “misaligned” or “strongly misaligned”?  Looking at this important research effort by MSCI, we learn that 598 companies are “strongly misaligned” on Responsible Consumption and Production” (Goal 12) – the highest of all goals.

Could we as individual consumers and/or investors and/or employees of these firms help to change things in time?  (Back to the proposition — Think about what could have been addressed up front to address these situations and other classic crisis situations well ahead of time to prevent or limit the human and physical costs.)

Are we willing to make tough decisions about these enterprises – about the climate crisis overall?

And this from the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock:  The firm will push companies to step up their efforts to protect the environment from deforestation, biodiversity loss and pollution of the oceans and freshwater resources.  T

his from guidelines recently published by the firm, including the readiness to vote against directors if companies have not effectively managed or disclosed risks related to the depletion of natural capital – the globe’s natural resources.

President Joe Biden, in office now for just over two months, has a full plate of crisis, pre-crisis and post-crisis situations to deal with.

Intervention is key, of course, President Biden and VP Kamala Harris have set out the “Climate Crisis Agenda” for our consideration.  One of the big challenges?  Our oceans – and the incoming head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will be on point for this part of the agenda.

NPR Radio had interesting perspectives to share on the warming of the oceans and what can be done to prevent further damage.

We bring you the details of all the above in our selections of Top Stories for this week’s newsletter.  Of course, there is action being taken.  Is it enough to prevent global disasters as the climate changes?

Your answers and actions (as well as “ours”) can help to determine the answers!

TOP STORIES for you…

Watching the Major Stock Indexes – For Strong ESG Signals from the Corporate Sector

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

October 2020

Indexes – Indices – Benchmarks – these are very important financial analysis and portfolio management tools for asset owners and their internal and external managers.

We can think of them as a sort of report card; fiduciaries can track their performance against the benchmark for the funds they manage; financial sector players can develop products for investment (mutual funds, Exchange Traded Funds, separate accounts and so on) to market to investors using the appropriate benchmark.

If the investable products are focused on the available equities of the largest market cap companies for investment, the most widely-used indexes will likely be the S&P 500®, created back in March 1957 by Standard & Poor’s and the Russell 1000®, created in 1984 by the Frank Russell Company.

Today the S&P 500 Index is managed by the S&P Global organization.  The Russell 1000 is managed by FTSE Russell, a unit of the LSE Group (London Stock Exchange Group).

There are more or less 500 corporate entities in the S&P 500 Index that measures the equity performance of these companies (those listed on major exchanges).

There are other important indexes by S&P for investors to track:  The S&P Global 1200, S&P MidCap 400, and S&P SmallCap 600, and many more.

Russell 1000® is a subset of the Russell 3000®; it is comprised of the 1000 largest market cap companies in the USA. The R1000 represents more than 90% of the USA’s top publicly-traded companies in the large-cap category.  Both indexes are very important tools for professional investment managers and send strong trending signals to the capital markets.

The G&A Institute team closely tracks the ESG and sustainability  disclosure & reporting practices and each year; since 2010 we’ve published research on the trends, first with the S&P 500, and for 2019 and 2020, we expanded our research into to the larger Russell 1000 index. (The top half of the 1000 roughly mirrors the S&P 500.)

The 500 and 1000 companies are important bellwethers in tracking the amazing expansion of corporate sustainability reporting over the past decade.  Yes, there were excellent choices of select benchmarks for sustainable and responsible investors going back several decades – such as the Domini 400, going back to 1990 — and we tracked those as well.  (The “400” was renamed the MSCI KLD 400 Social Index in 2010).

But once major publicly-traded companies in the United States began escalating the pace of sustainability and ESG reporting, many more investors paid attention.  And media tuned in.  And then the ESG indexes proliferated like springtime blooms!

Those bigger customers (the large cap companies) of other firms began expanding their  ESG “footprint” and considering the supply and sourcing partners to be part of their ESG profile.  So, customers are now queried regularly on their ESG performance and outcomes.

Once the critical mass — 90% of large-cap U.S. companies reporting in our latest S&P 500 research – how long will it be for many more mid-caps, small-caps, privately-owned enterprises to follow the example?  Very soon, we think.  And we’re closely watching!  (And will bring the news to you.)

If you have not reviewed the results of the G&A Institute research on the ESG reporting of the S&P 500 and the Russell 1000 for 2019, here are the links:

Note:  Click here for more helpful background on the S&P 500 and the Russell 1000 large equities/stock indexes, here is Investopedia’s explanation.

Excellent Wrap up From GreenBiz:
At last, corporate sustainability reporting is hitting its stride

About “Stakeholder Capitalism”: The Public Debate

Here is the Transition — From the Long-Dominant Worldview of “Stockholder Capitalism” in a Changed World to…Stakeholder Capitalism!

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

October 2020

As readers of of G&A Institute’s weekly Sustainability Highlights newsletter know, the shift from “stockholder” to “stakeholder” capitalism has been underway in earnest for a good while now — and the public dialogue about this “21st Century Sign of Progress” has been quite lively.

What helped to really frame the issue in 2019 were two developments:

  • First, CEO Larry Fink, who heads the world’s largest asset management firm (BlackRock) sent a letter in January 2019 to the CEOs of companies in portfolio to focus on societal purpose (of course, in addition to or alongside of corporate mission, and the reasons for being in business).
  • Then in August, the CEOs of almost 200 of the largest companies in the U.S.A. responded; these were members of influential Business Roundtable (BRT), issuing an update to the organization’s mission statement to embrace the concepts of “purpose” and further cement the foundations of stakeholder capitalism.

These moves helped to accelerate a robust conversation already well underway, then further advanced by the subset discussion of Corporate America’s “walking-the-talk” of purpose et al during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Now we are seeing powerful interests weighing in to further accelerate the move away from stockholder primacy (Professor Milton Friedman’s dominant view for decades) to now a more inclusive stakeholder capitalism.  We bring you a selection of perspectives on the transition.

The annual gathering of elites in Davos, Switzerland this year — labeled the “Sustainable Development Impact Summit” — featured a gaggle of 120 of the world’s largest companies collaborating to develop a core set of common metrics / disclosures on “non-financials” for both investors and stakeholders. (Of course, investors and other providers of capital ARE stakeholders — sometimes still the inhabiting the primacy space on the stakeholder wheel!)

What are the challenges business organizations face in “making business more sustainable”?

That is being further explored months later by the World Economic Forum (WEF-the Davos organizers) — including the demonstration (or not) of excellence in corporate citizenship during the Covid-19 era. The folks at Davos released a “Davos Manifesto” at the January 2020 meetings (well before the worst impacts of the virus pandemic became highly visible around the world).

Now in early autumn 2020 as the effects of the virus, the resulting economic downturn, the rise of civil protests, and other challenges become very clear to C-suite, there is a “Great Reset” underway (says the WEC).

The pandemic represents a rare but narrow window opportunity to “reflect, reimagine, and reset our world to create a healthier, more equitable, and more prosperous future.”

New ESG reporting metrics released in September by the World Economic Forum are designed to help companies report non-financial disclosures as part of the important shift to Stakeholder Capitalism.

There are four pillars to this approach:  People (Human Assets); Planet (the impact on natural environment); Prosperity (employment, wealth generation, community); and Principles of Governance (strategy, measuring risk, accounting and of course, purpose).

The WEF will work with the five global ESG framework and standard-setting organizations as we reported to you recently — CDSB, IIRC, CDP, GRI, SASB plus the IFAC looking at a new standards board (under IFRS).

Keep in mind The Climate Disclosure Standards Board was birthed at Davos back in 2007 to create a new generally-accepted framework for climate risk reporting by companies. The latest CDSB report has 21 core and 34 expanded metrics for sustainability reporting. With the other four collaborating organizations, these “are natural building blocks of a single, coherent, global ESG reporting system.”

The International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC, another of the collaborators) weighed in to welcome the WEF initiative (that is in collaboration with Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PWC) to move toward common ESG metrics. And all of this is moving toward “COP 26” (the global climate talks) which has the stated goal of putting in place reporting frameworks so that every finance decision considers climate change.

“This starts”, says Mark Carney, Governor, Bank of England, and Chair of the Financial Stability Board, “with reporting…this should be integrated reporting”.

Remember, the FSB is the sponsor of the TCFD for climate-related financial disclosure.  FSB is a collaboration of the central banks and treasury ministries of the G-20 nations.

“COP 26 was scheduled for November in Glasgow, Scotland, and was postponed due to the pandemic. We are now looking at plans for a combined 26 and 27 meeting in November 2021.”  Click here for more information.

There is a lot of public dialogue centered on these important moves by influential players shaping and advancing ESG reporting — and we bring you a selection of those shared perspectives in our Top Stories in the Sustainability Highlights newsletter this week.

Top Stories On Davos & More

And then there is this, in the public dialogue on Stakeholder Capitalism, adding a dash of “reality” from The New York Times:

US Banks and Climate Change – What’s the Exposure to Climate Risk?

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

October 27 2020

Banks have long been at the center of the U.S. economy, and federal policies (federal legislation, rules) for the last century have been designed to support, encourage and protect banking institutions, and the customers the banks serve.

The Federal Reserve System – America’s vital central bankers – was one of the last central banks of the industrial nations to be organized (through the 1913 Federal Reserve Act). The Fed plays a critical role in U.S. bank oversight and support.

There is also a robust state-level banking oversight and protection system. Take New York State  — for many years, the state’s bank licensure activities were second only to the Federal governments. Many foreign banks “land” in NY and obtain a state license to begin to operate.

In all this oversight and protection [of the banking system], in all the laws, rules and regulations for the U.S. banking sector, risk is regularly addressed. It is central to bank regulation and the foundation of rules etc.

The questions centered on risk become more critical in this, an era of fast-rising climate change challenges.

What is the broad scope the financial services sectors’ (and the banking industry’s) responsibilities and accountabilities as seas rise, super storms roar ashore, flood waters rise, enormous wildfires occur, and more?

The Ceres organization’s “Ceres Accelerator for Sustainable Capital Markets” looked at the U.S. banking sector’s exposure to climate risk – to ask and try to answer: what are the systemic and financial risks of climate change for stakeholders, for the banking industry, and the broader economy?  That’s our Top Story pick for you this week.

The researchers looked at the risk associated with the syndicated lending of major U.S. banks in climate-relevant sectors of the economy. Key quote: “Our future depends on banks’ understanding of, and disclosure of, their exposure to major risks like climate change” (Steven Rothstein, MD of the accelerator).

The good news is that a growing number of the major U.S. banks have announced moves to look more closely at climate change impacts. Bank of America, for example, joined other big banks in disclosing the “E” effect of its lending practices. The big banks (like Citi Group) have joined forces in the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials Initiative.

Some 70 banks and investors from five continents are involved (with US$9 trillion in AUM). Lots going on in banking circles related to climate change challenges these days!

TOP STORIES

The Ceres Accelerator for Sustainable Capital Markets report on banking:

Something we were pleased to be a part of — WSJ Feature Section on “Leadership and Sustainability”. Journalists Dieter Holger and Fabiana Negrin Ocha interviewed the G&A leadership team in the “Show Us The Numbers” feature:

Celebrating Highlights Issue #500 – And Unveiling a New Design

October 16, 2020

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

Celebrating Highlights issue #500 – this is a landmark achievement, we will say, for this is also the tenth anniversary year of publishing the G&A Institute’s weekly newsletter (G&A Institute’s Sustainability Highlights).  As you will see in reading #500, we are also introducing an enhanced format intended to make the newsletter easier to read or scan as well.

Our G&A Institute’s Sustainability Highlights newsletter is designed to share timely, informative content in topic/issue “buckets” that we think will be of value to you, our reader. So much is happening in the sustainable investing and corporate sustainability spaces these days – and we are working hard to help you keep up to date with the important stuff!

Publishing the Sustainability Highlights newsletter is a team effort here at G&A.

Our company was formed in late 2006 and among our first efforts, Ken Cynar, then and now our Editor-in-Chief, began the daily editing of the then-new “Accountability Central” web site with shared news and opinion. The focus was (and is) on corporate governance, environmental matters, a widening range of societal and corporate-society issues, SRI investing, and more.

Two years later we created the “SustainabilityHQ” web platform – Ken manages content for both platforms today.

Back in those early days there was not the volume of ESG news or opinion pieces that we see today. Whenever we “caught” something of note the rest of the G&A team would quickly share the item with Ken.

Our team had worked together (some for a number of years) at the former Rowan & Blewitt consultancy, specialists in issue management, crisis management and strategic communications for the fortunate Fortune 500s.

That firm was acquired by Interpublic Group of Companies and after 7 years the New York City team created G&A Institute to focus on corporate sustainability, responsibility, citizenship and sustainable & responsible investing.  All of us came equipped with a strong foundation of issue management, risk management, critical issues managements, and corporate communications experience and know-how.

“ESG” had just emerged as a key topic area about the time we began our publishing efforts and soon we saw a steady flow of news, features, research reports, opinions & perspectives that we started sharing.

We had worked on many corporate engagements involving corporate governance, environmental management, a range of societal issues, public policy, and investor activism.  Here it was all coming together and so the G&A enterprise launch to serve corporate clients!

By 2010, as we emerged from the 2007-2008 financial markets debacle, then-still-small-but-solid (and rapidly expanding) areas of focus were becoming more structured for our own information needs and for our intelligence sharing, part of the basic mission of G&A from the start. And so, we created the weekly Highlights newsletter for ease of sharing news, research results, opinion & perspectives, and more.

It is interesting to recall that in the early issues there were scant numbers of corporate CSR or sustainability etc. reports that had been recently published (and so we were able to share the corporate names, brief descriptions of report contents, links of those few reports).  That trickle soon became a flood of reports.

But looking back, it was interesting to see that at the start of the newsletter and our web sites, there were so few corporate sustainability / responsibility reports being published we could actually post them as news for readers. Soon that trickle of corporate reports became a flood.

A few years in, The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) invited G&A to be the data partner for the United States and so our growing team of ESG analysts began to help identify and analyze the rapidly-increasing flow of corporate reports to be processed into the GRI’s global reporting database.

Hank Boerner and Lou Coppola in the early days worked closely with Ken on the capturing and editing of content.  Lou designed the back end infrastructure for formatting and distribution.

Amy Gallagher managed the weekly flow of the newsletter, from drafts, to layout and then final distribution along with the coordination of a growing body of conference promotions with select partner organizations.

And now with a solid stream of content being captured today, all of this is a considerable effort here at G&A Institute.

Ken is at the helm of the editorial ship, managing the “AC” and “SHQ” web platforms where literally thousands of news and opinion are still hosted for easy access. He frames the weekly newsletter.

Today Ken’s effort is supported by our ESG analysts Reilly Sakai and Julia Nehring and senior ESG analyst Elizabeth Peterson — who help to capture original research and other content for the newsletter.

Hank and Lou are overall editors and authors and Amy still manages the weekly flow of activities from draft to distribution.  Our head of design, Lucas Alvarez, working with Amy created this new format. As you see, it is a team effort!

There is a welcome “flood” — no, a tidal wave! — of available news, research and opinion being published around the world that focuses on key topic areas: corporate sustainability, CSR, corporate citizenship, ESG disclosure & reporting, sustainable investing, and more.  We capture the most important to share in the newsletter and on our web sites.

We really are only capturing a very tiny amount of this now-considerable flow of content, of course, and present but a few select items in the categories below for your benefit.  (The target is the three most important stories or items in each category.)

Much more of the ongoing “capture effort” is always available to you immediately on the SustainabilityHQ web platform (see the “more stories” links next to each category of headlines).

We hope that you find Sustainability Highlights newsletter of value. It’s a labor of love for us at G&A, and we would like to get your thoughts and feedback …including how we can continue to improve it. Thanks for tuning in all of these years to our long-term readers!

TOP STORIES

As example of the timely news of interest for this week we offer these (two) commentaries on the Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs).  We are five years in/with 10 years in which to make real progress…where do you think we are headed?

As students and faculty head back to campus – there’s discussion about “sustainability” and “campus”:

 

The Financial Sector and Corporate Universe – the “ESG Factors” Are Now Everywhere When Companies Seek Capital

September 8 2020

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

The roots of today’s “sustainable investing” approaches go back decades; the organizing principle often was often around  what investors viewed as “socially responsible”, “ethical”, “faith-based” and “values” investing, and by other similar titles.

“SRI” over time evolved into the more dominant sustainable or ESG investing in the 21st Century — with many more mainstream investors today embracing the approach.

And busily shaping trends, there is a universe of ESG ratings agencies and information distributors providing volumes of ESG ratings, scores, rankings and opinions to institutional investor clients and a broad base of asset managers, index creators and more.

Recently, the three major credit risk agencies increased their focus on ESG factors for their investor and lending clients.

Access to and cost of capital for companies is a more complicated situation today for financial executives  — and the steady flow of “sustainable investing” products to asset owners and asset managers increases the importance of a publicly-traded firm “being in” the sustainable product for institutional and retail investors.

Such as having the company being present in an ever-wider range of ESG indexes, benchmarks, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, and now even options and futures.

All of this can and does increase pressures on the publicly-traded corporation’s management to develop, or enhance, and more widely promote the company’s “public ESG profile” that financial sector players will consider when investing, lending, insuring, and more.

The latest expansion / adoption of ESG approaches for investable products are from Cboe Global Markets.

The new “Cboe S&P 500 ESG Index”(r) options (trading starts September 21) will align with investor ESG preferences, says the exchange.

The traditional S&P 500 index is a broad-based equity benchmark used by thousands of investment managers and is the leading equities benchmark representing about 85% of total USA publicly-traded equities (all large-cap companies).  Availability to investment managers of the S&P 500 ESG Index is a more recent development.

The S&P 500® Index (equities) measures the stock performance of 500 large-cap companies whose issues are traded on US stock exchanges.  It was created in 1957.

The newer S&P 500 ESG Index targets the top 75% of companies in the 500 universe within their GICS® industry group.(Exclusions include tobacco, controversial weapons and UNGC non-compliance.) Asset managers link sustainability-focused products for investors to this index, including Invesco and State Street (SPDRs) for their ETFs.

Note that the S&P 500 ESG Index uses S&P DJSI ESG scores and other data to select companies for inclusion —  increasing the importance of the Corporate Sustainability Assessment (CSA) that for two decades has been used to create the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes (“DJSI”). (The CSA is managed by SAM, now a unit of S&P Global.)

About Futures:  In November 2019 CME Group launched its CME E-mini S&P 500 ESG Index futures as a risk management tools — aligning, it pointed out, with ESG values.

About the CME Group: You probably know the Chicago-based firm by its units, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, New York Mercantile Exchange, Chicago Board of Trade, Kansas City Board of Trade, and others.  The organization’s roots go back to 1848 as the Chicago Board of Trade was created. This is the world’s largest financial derivatives exchange trading such things as futures for energy, agriculture commodities, metals, interest rates, and stock indexes.

Investors have access to fixed-income instruments and foreign exchange trading (such as Eurodollars).  The “trading pit” with shouted orders and complicated hand signals are features many are familiar with. Of course CME has electronic platforms.

About Cboe Global Markets:  This is one of the world’s largest exchange holding companies (also based in Chicago) and offers options on more than 2,000 companies, almost two dozen exchanges and almost 150 ETFs.  You probably have known it over the years as the Chicago Board Options Exchange, established by the Chicago Board of Trade back in April 1973.  (The exchange is regulated by the SEC.)

The Cboe offers options in US and European debt and equity issues, index options, futures, and more.  The organization itself issued its own first-time ESG report for 2019 performance, “referencing” GRI, SASB, TCFD, SDGs, and the World Federation of Exchanges (WFE), Sustainable Stock Exchanges (SSE) initiatives. Now ESG is part of the mix.

Considering equities, fixed-income, stock indexes, futures, options, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, financial sector lending, “green bonds” and “green financing” – for both publicly-traded and privately-owned companies the ESG trends are today are very much an more important part of the equation when companies are seeking capital, and for the cost of capital raisedl.

And here clearly-demonstrated and communicated corporate ESG leadership is critical to be considered for becoming a preferred ESG issuer for many more investors and lenders.

Top Stories

Who Do the Editors of Harvard Business Review Rank Among the World’s Top 100 Performing CEOs?

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

If you are a regular reader of these commentaries you will know that there are frequent references to the Harvard Business Review, the Harvard B-School, and prominent Harvard-affiliated voices.

The “HBR”, packed with management best practices content, is well-read by U.S. and global corporate leaders (circulation was beyond 300,000 [paid subscribers] in 2018 with more than 7 million unique visitors accessing content each month).

The magazine publishes an annual list of “The World’s Top Chief Executives”. The rankings, HBR editors explain, relies on objective performance measures over the CEO’s entire tenure, and are not rankings relying on short-term metrics or subjective evaluations.

Important:  Since 2015 the rank is based not only on financial performance but also on the CEO’s companies’ ESG ratings.

Weighted ESG scores has accounted for 20% of each of the CEO’s ranking – and for 2019 rankings, this was increased to 30%.

As a result, Jeff Bezos of Amazon — the top CEO in the rankings since 2014 – was dropped in 2019 rankings because of the company’s low ESG scores.

ESG – Sustainability…matters!

The ESG data providers assisting the Harvard Business Review staff with rankings are Sustainalytics, now owned by Morningstar, and CSRHub.

Keep in mind well-regarded ESG / sustainability academics are part of the HBR ecosystem: George Serafeim, Robert Eccles, John Elkington, Andrew Winston, and others.

The 2019 rankings were:

#1 position, Jensen Huang of NVIDIA (classified as an IT firm, U.S.A. headquartered.
#2 – Marc Benioff, Salesforce, IT, U.S.A.
#3 – Francois-Henry Pinault, Kering, Consumer Goods, France.
#4 – Richard Templeton, Texas Instruments, IT, U.S.A.
#5 – Ignacio Galan, Iberdrola, Utilities, Spain

The story and 2019 list are available here: https://hbr.org/2019/11/the-ceo-100-2019-edition

These days we’re watching for the HBR Top 100 CEO list for 2020 – Stay Tuned!