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.

 

Game Changing News on Climate Crisis Actions – President Biden Announces “Whole of Government” Plans

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

What a time to be a sustainability advocate – January 2021 is it!  There was significant news in the USA on matters related to meeting climate change challenges. Start with the Biden-Harris Administration bold moves on addressing the climate crisis…

President Joseph R Biden, in his first days in office signed Executive Orders to commit the “whole of government” to addressing the climate crisis in the USA — and around the world.

The President of the United States of America has broad, sweeping powers as the elected head of the Executive Branch of government.  Presidential EO”s must be anchored in the existing laws of the land (such as the Clean Air Act), be within the powers of the presidency as set out by the Constitution of the United States, and serve as the “directives” and instructions (as well as memoranda and “findings” and more) from the head of the Executive Branch to the organs of the Federal government of the United States of America.

The American Historical Institute explains the EO serves to deliver direct orders, intrepretation of law, provide guidance for future regulatory actions, structure government institutions or processes, and make political statements (foundations of policy). This is an often-used approach creating policy.

American heads of state have used the EO process at least 20,000 times dating back to the days of President George Washington – these orders can be challenged by the other two branches of the U.S. government (Judicial and Legislative).

The Biden Executive Orders are assembled in “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad” – the EOs issued “take bold steps” to combat the climate crisis at home in the USA and throughout the world with many elements included (starting with rejoining the Paris Agreement). Consider:

  • The climate crisis will be “centered” now in U.S. foreign policy and in national security considerations.
  • There will be a climate leaders’ summit in the USA on Earth Day (in April 2021).
  • The Major Economies Forum will be re-convened.
  • A new Special Presidential Envoy is appointed (former Secretary of State John Kerry).
  • The USA’s process to address the “Nationally Determined Contribution” (NDC) called for in the Paris Accord is now underway.
  • The National Intelligence Estimate on security implications of climate change is to be prepared by the Director of National Intelligence for the White House.
  • The White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy is established (headed by former US EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy).
  • Important: the National Climate Task Force is created; this brings the top leaders of the Federal government across 21 agencies (all Cabinet officers) to implement the president’s climate agenda.
  • Clean energy job creation is an important objective – this to be part of the “Build Back Better” initiatives.
  • “Made in America” for manufacturing is a pillar; the Order directs all agencies to buy “carbon-pollution-free” electricity for all government facilities and clean, zero-emission vehicles to help create good paying, union jobs and stimulate clean energy industries.

There’s more – rebuilding infrastructure (focus on “green” here); advancing conservation; reforestation; revitalizing communities left behind as the transition to clean energy displaced workers in fossil fuel extraction and processing; developing approaches to secure “environmental justice” for communities; spurring economic growth; bringing science back into climate change discussions; creating a Presidential Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

The White House is now reviewing more than 100 of the Executive Orders of the prior administration to reinstate protections for air, water, land and communities.

This is sweeping and presents abundant opportunities and risks for both the corporate community and the capital markets. (As the EOs were being announced, General Motors unveiled its plan to “go all electric” in vehicle manufacture by 2035!)

We have prepared a Resource Paper to explain and explore the many implications for the Biden-Harris Administration moves to address the climate crisis. You can download the paper here: https://www.ga-institute.com/research-reports/resource-papers/biden-harris-white-house-actions-a-ga-resource-paper.html

In the days ahead we will be preparing numerous commentaries for this blog on the many (!) developments aligned with, and supporting, the presidential moves of this week. Stay Tuned!

Corporate Sustainability Performance – Setting the Stage for ESG Data Analysis by Humans and AI Bots Alike

By Pam Styles, Principal and Founder, Next Level Investor Relations, and G&A Institute Fellow

There is an expansive reservoir of ESG data – a.k.a. key performance indicators (KPIs) – across growing corporate ESG disclosure and reporting, commercially advertised metrics and/or data sets subscription access, and proprietary third-party rater, ranker and data provider analytical systems.

While voluntary reporting frameworks and the various third parties jockey for dominance and survival, who is using all this data — and how?

Currently, there are too many ESG-related KPIs and data sets for companies and investors to get a handle on, respond or analyze.  It is impossible to predict how many more KPIs will enter the mix or how soon third-party relationships will naturally consolidate the number of KPI expectations, simply driven by necessity for their own business models’ sustainability.

The corporate disclosure side of this issue is explored in:
The End User Side

Just like corporations, investors have to prioritize which KPIs matter and what reporting framework KPIs, public access information sources, licensed and/or proprietary databases they can rationalize for focus.

CFA-PRI recently joined forces to survey 1100 investment professionals.  Survey results show that fixed income inclusion of ESG in investment decision-making is rapidly catching-up with equity investors.

Source: UNPRI

Analogous to portfolio diversification theory, the number of investments (in both time and money) in ESG data sources has got to naturally reach some optimal number needed to optimize risk/return. Beyond that there is an entire sustainable finance ecosystem too large to address in a simple blog post.

Data Use

There is not an honest person alive who can tell you that they can stay on top of all the current and increasing company ESG data they could analyze, germane to their investment decision-making.

Research of Value

In addition to 90% of S&P 500 companies, Governance & Accountability Institute just announced its annual research update that 65% of Russell 1000 companies also published sustainability reports in 2019 (up from 60% in 2018), including 39% by companies in the smallest half of the index (up from 34% in 2018).

Important Perspective

An article highlighting takeaways from the recent NIRI “Big I – Investor & Issuer Invitational Forum”, quoted speaker Dan Romito, SVP of Business Development & Product Strategy at Nasdaq:

“There is an explosion of non-fundamental data…especially in ESG data…The
SEC found that 90% of data now used in the capital markets has been created during the past two years.”

Artificial Intelligence

AI use as a tool to consume, filter and analyze, huge reservoirs of ESG data is increasingly valuable in investment decision-making. AI providers are jockeying for differentiation and capital.  For instance:

  • AI is being used by investors, such as BlackRock, to not only analyze ESG data that companies are disclosing, but to uncover other information, such as ESG impacts from satellite images of pollution to cars in a parking lot, voice inflection and more.
  • FactSet just announced, on October 20th, a definitive agreement to acquire TrueValue Labs. Founded in 2013, TrueValue is a pioneer in AI-driven ESG data. It applies AI-driven technology to over 100,000 unstructured text sources in 13 languages, to identify positive and negative ESG behavior. Its coverage spans over 19,000 public and private companies.
  • TrueValue LabsTM had previously announced on January 23, 2020, that it was introducing its patent-pending concept of Dynamic Materiality, indicating that every company, industry and sector has a unique materiality signature. The company head of research noted that, “Given how central materiality is to ESG investing and fiduciary duty, it is critical to understand the mechanisms by which ESG factors impact the operational and financial performance of companies.”

The Human Element

“While AI can unearth key data for investors seeking sustainable investments, discerning unreliable information will be a key challenge and humans will not be replaced any time soon.” – as stated in the article titled,  How can AI help ESG investing? –  S&P Global, Sept 2020

“AI is not a replacement for human intelligence, but rather a way to further it… The strategic value of alternative datasets, in particular ESG data, in the financial sector is becoming increasingly visible. As only relevant data has decision-making utility, supervised machine learning is emerging as the most effective mechanism to generate strategic value for businesses.” – Cutting through the noise: demystifying the buzz around artificial intelligence in financial decision-makingRepRisk, Sept 2020

The Final Word

In only the last few years, it became obvious that ESG/Sustainability had finally gone mainstream.  It took over twenty years to catch-on, since the first voluntary ESG reporting framework, GRI, was founded in 1997.  Now it is time to buckle-up for the ride… practically everything ESG/Sustainability-related is advancing at orders of magnitude faster pace than anything we’ve experienced thus far!

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

Purpose – This Was the Buzzword of 2019 for The Corporate Sector & Investment Community. The “Purpose” Debate Will Continue in 2020

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

Another in the series about The Corporate Citizen and Society

As 2019 draws to a close — we look back at a year with a lively discussion about The Corporate Citizen and Society…and “Purpose” discussions…

The year 2019 began with an important challenge to corporate leaders from Larry Fink, chairman and CEO of the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock (with more than US$6 trillion in AUM). 

The very influential investor writes each year to the CEOs of companies that his firm invests in on behalf of BlackRock clients. There are literally hundreds of publicly-traded companies in the BlackRock portfolio (managed and indexed funds).

At the start of 2018, CEO Fink wrote that every company needs a framework to navigate difficult landscapes and it must begin with a clear embodiment of the company’s purpose (in the business model and corporate strategy).

He explained to the many CEOs: “Purpose being not a mere tagline or marketing campaign; it is a reason for the company’s being – what is does every day to create value for its stakeholders.”

Then (in January 2019) Larry Fink explained in his start-of-the-year letter to CEOs as he expanded on the theme, Purpose is not the sole pursuit of profits but the animating force for achieving them.  And, profits are in no way inconsistent with purpose; in fact, profits and purpose are inextricably linked.

This 2019 communication to CEOs pointed out that the world needs their leadership (especially) in a polarized environment. Stakeholders are pushing companies to tackle social and political issues as governments fall short of doing that.

And (very important) Millennials, now outnumbering the Baby Boomers in the workforce, represent a new generation’s focus – on various expressions of, and clear demonstrations of corporate purpose.

The January 2019 letter of course created a buzz in the corporate sector and in the capital markets as people thought about the meaning and weighed in on all sides of the issue.  What many agreed with was that there were now clear signals that the half-century doctrine for the corporate sector of “shareholder primacy” was giving way to “stakeholder primacy.”

As the purpose discussion rolled on, in August 2019 the influential Business Roundtable issued a revision of its Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation, signed by 181 of the CEOs of the largest of American companies (firms both publicly-traded and privately-owned). 

Important step forward: the CEOs publicly committed to lead their companies for the benefit of all stakeholders: customers, employees, suppliers, communities, and shareholders.

The Roundtable’s Principles of Corporate Governance has been issued since 1978; from 1997 on this endorsed the principle of shareholder primacy (that corporations existing principally to serve shareholders).  The new statement, said the BRT in summer 2019, outlines a modern standard for corporate responsibility. 

The team at G&A Institute looked at the companies whose CEOs are members of the Business Roundtable (almost 200 in all), examining their public disclosures and structured reporting on “walking-the-talk” of “purpose” and “responsibility to stakeholders” 

What are the companies doing — and how are they telling the story of the doing — the walking the talk?

Our approach was to analyze the means of disclosure and reporting “on corporate purpose” and the focus on any related content of sustainability / responsibility / ESG / corporate citizenship reporting by the BRT member companies.  (The good news to share:  there’s plenty of relevant information on purpose in the leadership corporate reporting. You can read through the respective corporate reports to divine the meaning and expressions of purpose in the pages.)

The analysis is available on the G&A Institute web site – see this week’s Top Story for the headline and link to our Resource Paper. There are relevant links there as well.

What will the purpose of the corporation discussion be in the new year, 2020?  Stay tuned to the perspectives shared that we’ll have in our G&A Institute Sustainability Highlights newsletter and on this blog.

Best wishes to you for the holiday season from all of us at G&A!

BlackRock CEO Larry Fink’s 2019 letter: https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/investor-relations/larry-fink-ceo-letter

G&A Institute Releases Analysis of The Business Roundtable Companies’ ESG Reporting Practices
Source: Governance & Accountability Institute

Highlights:

 Governance & Accountability Institute’s research team examined the ESG / sustainability reporting practices of the BRT signatory corporations to examine trends and create a baseline for tracking progress and actions going  forward.  G&A released these initial benchmark results in a resource paper available on our website.