The Private Equity World: Broadening Focus on Sustainability – The Blackstone Group is All In

May 17 2021

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

The P/E world:  Private equity firms often have a pool of companies wholly owned or invested in and managed and advised by them in portfolio …this is the ambitious domain of the private equity (P/E) universe.

The leading publicly-traded P/E leaders are familiar names to institutional investors:

  • Blackstone (NYSE:BX),
  • The Carlyle Group (NASDAQ:CG),
  • Apollo Global Management (NYSE:APO),
  • Kohlberg, Kravis Roberts (NYSE:KKR).

There also well-known P/E companies not publicly-traded such as TPG Capital and Bain Capital (which owns, invests in and advises portfolio entities).

Focusing on one major P/E firm today – Blackstone Group – we see how sustainability is now being driven across the alternative investment of P/E enterprises.

Blackstone owns and manages key asset categories such real estate (owning the huge Stuyvesant Town complex in NYC), hedge funds, credit & insurance, financial advice, investment (partnering for example with Pfizer and SFJ Pharmaceuticals for therapies), and managing private equity funds and funds of funds for its investment clients.

In the Blackstone investment portfolio are companies with familiar names:  SERVPRO, Ancestry, Refinitiv, Bumble, EPL, Aypa Power.

Blackstone Group Inc has asked the top executives running portfolio companies “controlled by its private equity arm” to regularly report on ESG matters to their boards of directors, according to a news story by Reuters corporate governance reporter Jessica Dinapoli (she covers boards of directors and C-suite trends).

She writes that Reuters obtained a letter from Blackstone’s CEO (“the world’s largest manager of alternative assets such as P/E”) to portfolio companies’ CEOs that is basis of her report.

Her takeaway:  The Blackstone firm’s sustainability credibility would be boosted by portfolio companies disclosing more about their climate risk, environmental certifications, diversity & inclusion, and commitments to protection of human rights.

According to the Reuters report, the letter to portfolio companies’ CEOs advised: “ESG factors are attracting greater focus globally and demand careful attention on your part.”

The latest move by Blackstone could help to “standardize” ESG reporting across the firm’s massive global portfolio.

An accompanying story by Reuters tells us that Blackstone recently hired five managers to beef up its internal ESG team as the firm moves to drive sustainability and diversity across its broad portfolio of holdings.

Adding our perspective why this is a very important development: The company is a member of the American Investment Council (formerly, Private Equity Growth Council).

What about P/E and sustainability? 

That organization says in 2020 the P/E industry invested $24 billion-plus just in renewable and sustainability projects… “playing a critical role in the energy transition and moving our economy in a more sustainable direction.”  P/E has invested $100 billion in renewable energy since 2010 says the AIC.

The Blackstone moves to have portfolio companies “be all in” on sustainability should help to bring about much more ESG disclosure by firms not necessarily doing much reporting today (as they are tucked away in P/E portfolios)l

From experience we know at G&A Institute that when firms move out of P/E portfolio (via IPO, SPAC, acquisition by larger firm, management buyout, other means) the proactive burnishing of corporate ESG reputations can be a big plus in the divestment of today’s P/E entity.

We have the link to the Blackstone report in the Top Story this issue.

TOP STORIES

 

Special Mention – IR Magazine Focus – Our Partners, DFIN

Celebrating Climate Week & Earth Day 2021 – Global Leaders Gather in “Climate Summit” Hosted by the U.S. – Kumbaya for Paris Agreement Goals Refresh

April 30 2021

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

A highlight of the numerous celebrations of the 2021 Climate Week / Earth Day around the world was the hosting of a “global summit” of leaders from 40 nations and sub-governments, the investment community, the corporate community, NGOs, and advocates, the E.U., multilateral organizations, indigenous communities, and others – hosted this year by the United States of America.

We could describe the enthusiastic presentations and panel discussions over the two days by global participants a kumbaya gathering to refresh and update the 2015 Paris Agreement (or Accord) moments as the world leaders then set out ambitious goals to limit global warming.

The big news – the USA is back in the global effort to address climate change challenges.

President Joseph Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were the primary hosts over the two days of digital meetings, along with former Secretary of State John Kerry (now the White House climate envoy), present Secretary of State Antony Blinken, cabinet officers, and others in the administration making presentations and leading discussions.

Sovereign leaders joined the two days of discussions to present the strategies and actions (current and planned) for their respective nations (including China, UK, Russia, France, Canada, Australia, India, Japan, Germany, South Korea, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa, Marshall Islands, and others).

The measures sovereign governments (large and small!) are taking to address climate change challenges – with the foundation of the Paris Agreement of 2015 as guide – are sweeping; some initiatives are now in partnership with other nations (the USA and India, or EU nations and African nations, as examples).

We have included for you the Fact Sheet issued by the White House in our Top Stories for this week. “

The USA is Back” on climate issues is the general messaging of the Biden-Harris Administration, with many specifics set out during the two-day conference.

Some examples of the “whole of government” climate approaches in the United States — and an ambitious agenda for helping developing nations around the world:

  • The United States will double the nation’s target for overall reduction of carbon emissions (NDC) by 50 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. This “underscores the commitment to lead a clean energy revolution”.
  • To assist other nations, a Global Climate Ambition Initiative was launched to support developing nations in establishing net-zero strategies, to be led by the US Department of State and USAID (the US Agency for International Development).
  • These efforts will need funding; the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) commits to achieving a net zero investment portfolio by 2040 with one-third or more of the new investments made having a “climate nexus” by FY 2023. The DFC will work with the Rockefeller Foundation to support distributed energy and other innovations offshore.
  • The USA and Canada are chairing “The Greening Government Initiative” to lead by example in helping developing nations implement their respective climate change plans to “increase resilience and mitigate emissions from their government operations and collaborating on common goals”.
  • The North American partners will seek to develop net zero economies, using 100 “clean electricity” and zero emissions vehicle fleets (as examples of climate leadership in action).
  • President Biden announced an international climate finance plan, making use of his country’s multilateral and bilateral channels and institutions to help developing countries; this will include directing the flow of capital toward climate-aligned investments and away from high-carbon investments.

There is much more for you to digest in the sweeping range of current and planned initiatives in the White House Fact Sheet in the Top Stores.

Considering the announcements from Washington DC in the context of the actions of other nations and organizations that we are sharing in the newsletter. We have news from the European Union, the Global Reporting Initiative, United Nations Global Compact, CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), and the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC).

Important: We can all give a nod of thanks to the media who today are covering the many aspects of climate change challenges (and solutions) – including Forbes, Associated Press, CNN, The Guardian, and many others whose coverage of CC topics & issues we share with you each week.

Bravo, editors and journalists, for keeping us informed of the progress made as well as the societal challenges we still face.

TOP STORIES

Climate Summit

EU Regulations: Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive

ESG Disclosure – Swirling Public Dialogue on Status & Value Today and in Future for Corporate Constituencies

JULY 1 2021

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

On corporate ESG / Sustainability / CR reporting – and third party assurance.  The trends?

The required financial reporting by publicly-traded companies is assured by third parties (accounting, auditing firms). In the U.S. SEC rules require public companies to have an annual audit; the audited financial statements have an opinion included from the auditing firms.

Objective: includes determining if the statement presents information fairly and in line with GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles).

What does the outside auditor do in the financial reporting process?

Explains Ed Bannen at BGQ Partners LLC in Ohio: The most rigorous level of assurance is provided by an audit. It offers a reasonable level of assurance that financial statements are free from material misstatement and conform with GAAP. 

But what about the growing volume of corporate ESG / sustainability / responsibility reports flowing out from corporate issuers to investors and other stakeholders? The “non-GAAP stuff” of ESG disclosure at present?

The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) “warns” that only half of companies at most back up their sustainability reports with assurance (IFAC looked at 1400 companies).  This presents “an emerging investor protection and financial stability risk.”

There is “some” level of ESG reporting by 91 percent of companies in 22 governmental jurisdictions now, but reporting standards used are inconsistent and IFAC urges that assurance practices need to mature alongside corporate ESG reporting.

Of course, the accountants noted that often where there is ESG assurance provided it is not by professional accountants but by other types of consultancies.

We bring you background on this from CFO Drive: Investors representing literally tens of trillions of AUM are looking for consistent, comparable, decision-useful information to determine whether to invest, sell or make a proxy vote…

SEC Chair Gary Gensler was quoted saying:  Therefore, SEC staff will be recommending governance, strategy and risk management practices related to climate risk, and determine whether metrics such as GHG emissions are relevant for investor consideration.”.  Stay tuned to the SEC!

Summing up: the operating environment for leaders of publicly-traded companies is rapidly changing when it comes to ESG / sustainability, public disclosure and structured reporting. In both the U.S. and in the European Union, regulators are proposing dramatic changes in rules or appear to be in the process of developing guidance and rules. (Frequently in the U.S., SEC also issues interpretations that reflect important changes in policy thinking about reporting.)

We bring you four important updates on these public discussions going on in our Top Stories selections.

On a recent webinar hosted by our partner organization, DFIN Solutions, there were 1,000 professionals registered for the session. About half of the attendees answered a survey question about whether or not their firm publishes a sustainability report, with about half saying “no” or “did not know.”

Clearly there is an urgent need for more corporate managements to become informed about ESG disclosure.

Information about the webinar “Navigating the Corporate ESG Journey: Strategies & Lessons Learned Featuring FIS Global, IR Magazine’s 2020 Best ESG Reporting Award Winner,” co-hosted by G&A Institute’s EVP Louis Coppola is here: https://info.dfinsolutions.com/navigating-corporate-ESG-journey-replay

Useful background from Ed Bannen, Senior Manager of GBQ’s Assurance and Business Advisory Services regarding statement assurance, auditing and related topics is here for you:https://gbq.com/levels-of-assurance-choosing-right/

Top Story/Stories – Reporting, Assurance and More in Focus

Attention Finance Officers – The Sustainability Journey & The Company’s Bottom Line

Original:  September 2021

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

When corporate managers talk about their company’s ESG and sustainability efforts it is most often now in the context of “telling the story of our corporate sustainability journey.”

The hallmarks of this journey are typically about the continuous improvement in the enterprise’s ESG performance indicators and ever-increasing and more robust disclosures to inform investors and other stakeholders that this (is indeed!) a most sustainable company..

G&A Institute began tracking the ever-expanding reporting of sustainability journeys by mainly publicly-traded companies in the S&P 500 Index in 2011, when we determined that about 20 percent of those firms published a formal sustainability or corporate responsibility report.

That percentage grew quickly to 50% and on to 70% and to the current 90% of the 500 companies over a decade. As we analyzed the data and narrative that was being shared, it became clear that the corporate financials were an increasingly important element of the company’s ESG story.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is talking about that now; the WEF posits that there is growing evidence that strong ESG credentials can improve the corporate bottom line, improve access to capital, and lower the cost of capital.

The WEF recommends that corporate CFOs should take on the responsibility of aligning their company’s ESG and financial goals. (Until recently, WEF points out, the CFO would not have included sustainability in an analysis of what affects the bottom line.)

The WEF points to evidence of a strong correlation between financial and ESG performance.

There are cost savings in reducing energy usage, more efficient use of resources, and new business opportunities presented.

Deloitte predicts that by 2030 (only 400+ weeks away), organizations committed to sustainability as embodied in the Sustainable Development Goals will generate US$12 trillion in savings and gain of new revenues (for energy, cities, food, and health).

In our Top Story we’re sharing the WEF’s perspectives as authored by CEO and Executive Director Sanda Ojiambo of the UN Global Compact.

There are examples of “better outcomes” when CFOs embrace sustainability – Enel of Italy, Tesco of UK, Chanel of France. These firms issued sustainability-linked bonds to raise capital. JP Morgan predicts that bonds linked to the issuer meeting environmental goals could reach US$150 billion by the end of this year.

The UN Global Compact organized a “CFO Taskforce” in December 2019 to engage CFOs worldwide; to integrate the SDGs into corporate strategy, finance, and IR; and, to create a broad, sustainable finance market.

There are 50 members in the task force today; the aim, CEO Sanda Ojiambo writes, is to have 1,000 members by 2023.

The shift of corporate business models from focusing primarily on shareowners and short-term expectations to “broader, more sustainable, and equally profitable alternatives” is creating more opportunity for the finance executive to become more instrumental in helping to shape a sustainable future, she writes.

In the G&A team’s conversations with corporations about sustainability topics and issues, the good news is that many more finance and investor relations executives are an important part of the conversations and decision-making about their firm’s sustainability reporting and are focused on the disclosure and organized reporting of their firm’s ESG efforts.

We’re including a report from Entrepreneur about the growth of Sustainability Investing from 2019 to 2020. And, to underscore the importance of sustainability-linked corporate bonds, two other items: the news from Eli Lilly of its issuance of a €600 million sustainability bond; and Walmart will issue a US$2 billion sustainability bond (first for the largest retailer in the U.S.).

TOP STORIES

More Details Roll Out – Biden-Harris Administration’s “Whole of Government” Climate Policies & Actions

June 2021  – This is a biggie!

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

The Biden-Harris Administration continues to roll out details of new or proposed or adjusted policies, rules, programs, Federal government financing and various actions to address what the leaders characterize as “the climate crisis”.

What we have now more details of the “Whole of Government” approach for these United States in addressing a widening range of climate change issues. 

In most crisis situations for large organizations, dramatic changes-of-course are always necessary – new paths must be followed.  And so we see…

President Joe Biden certainly being ambitious in navigating the way forward for the public sector in meeting the many climate change challenges (for actions by Federal, state, region, local governments).

President Biden signed yet another order for policy changes and various actions by the many agencies of the national government: “Executive Order #14030 on Climate-Related Financial Risk”.

The new EO #14030 sets out policy and actions to be taken by the whole of America’s public sector, a number of actions intended to be implemented in partnership with state & local governments and financial services sector institutions, and corporate and business interests…”designed to “better protect workers’ hard-earned savings, create good paying jobs, and position America to lead the global economy”.

EO  #14030 builds on the framework for climate change policies and actions set out in President Biden’s January 27th action: “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad” (that is EO #14008).

This and other execute branch orders are designed to “…spur creation of well-paying jobs and achieve a net-zero emissions economy no later than 2050”.

The new EO is intended to “…bolster the resilience of financial institutions and rural and urban communities, States, Tribes, territories…by marshalling the creativity, courage and capital of the United States…and address the climate crisis and not exacerbate its causes to position the U.S. to lead the global economy to a more prosperous and sustainable future…”

The latest order addresses the need for greater financial transparency of the Financial Services Sector — addressing banking, insurance, fiduciary duties of those managing assets — as well as addressing the aspects of Federal financing for business, governments and institutions, and Federal government budgeting both short- and long-term.

For example, the Secretary of the Treasury as chair is instructed to work with the other members of the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) to assess climate-related risk to the stability of the U.S. financial system; to facilitate sharing of climate-related financial risk data among the members of FSOC; to publish a report in six months on actions / recommendations related to oversight of Financial Institutions.

FSOC members are the influential of Financial Services regulation and oversight:  Treasury Department; the Office of Comptroller of the Currency (inside Treasury, overseeing national banks and foreign banks operating in the USA); chair of Securities & Exchange Commission; chair of the Federal Reserve System; head of FDIC; head of Commodity Futures Trading Commission; as well as a state insurance commissioner; a state banking commissioner; a state securities commissioner.

Addressed in the Executive Order:

  • disclosure and reporting by publicly-traded entities;
  • insurance industry “gaps” of climate-change issues that need to be addressed at Federal and state levels for private insurance;
  • the protection of “worker savings and pensions” (with ERISA and the Department of Labor in focus);
  • Federal level lending and underwriting, including financial aid, loans, grants of such agencies as the Department of Agriculture (farm aid);, and
  • Housing and Urban Development (funneling funds to local and state agencies as well as Federal level financial transactions); and,
  • Department of Veterans Affairs.

For companies providing services and products to the Federal government (largest buyer in the United States), there are numerous policy changes and actions to be taken by agencies that will affect many businesses in the U.S. and abroad.

For many companies this will mean much more disclosure on GHG emissions data, adoption of Science-based Emissions Reduction Targets, and disclosure of ESG policies and actions.

Federal agencies will be guided by policies to look more favorably on companies that bid on contracts [and have] more robust climate change policies and targets in place.

We are bringing here you news coverage and shared perspectives on the important new order and a link to the White House Executive Order in our Top Stories (below).

G&A Institute Perspective:  This EO builds on standing orders of recent years by prior presidents and the orders issued “since Day One” of the Biden-Harris Administration to address what is characterized as the “climate crisis” by President Joe Biden in his campaigning and since taking office.

There are announcements of actions taken and new and proposed policy changes just about every day now, following out of cabinet departments and other agencies of the Federal government.

This is all of the “Whole of Government Approach” to addressing climate change challenges, short- and long-term.

We’re seeing both significant and subtle changes taking place throughout the public sector, at Federal, State and local levels, actions that will increase the pressure on the corporate sector and capital market players to start or to enhance their “sustainability journey” and greatly increase the flow of ESG data and information out to both shareholders and stakeholders/constituencies.

The disclosure and reporting practices of publicly-traded and privately owned/managed corporate entities will be addressed through a variety of Federal agencies, including of course the Securities & Exchange Commission.

SEC has an invitation out to individual and organizations to suggest ways to enhance reporting of the corporate sustainability journey (or lack thereof).

The instructions to Federal agencies in the latest EO will result in stepped up demands by Federal agencies for companies to disclosure more ESG information, such as in bidding on projects and contracts, or seeking financing of various types.

There are many more details in the G&A Institute’s Resource Paper, click here to download a copy.

Let our team know what questions you have!

Top Stories

And related information:  The International Energy Agency (IEA) Report coverage:

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…