The U.S.A. & the 2015 Paris Accord: Five Years On, the Largest Economy on Earth Promises to Return – With a Cabinet of Climate Change Champions Preparing for Action

December 20 2020 – published again in the blog in October 2021 as President Joe Biden travels to the Stockholm meeting of the COP 26.

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

Seems like just yesterday we were celebrating the great promise of the 21st Century in 2015 – the Paris Accord. Can you believe, it is now five years on (260 weeks or so this December 2020) since the meeting in the “City of Lights” of the Conference of Parties (“COP 21”, a/k/a the U.N. Paris Climate Conference).

This was the 21st meeting of the global assemblage focused on climate change challenges.

The Promise of Paris was the coming together of the world’s sovereign states – the family of nations — to address once more what for many if not all of the states is an existential threat: climate change.

The parties agreed to a binding, universal agreement – the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (“NDC”) to attempt to limit global warming to 2.7C by 2100.

The United States of America was [then] prominent among leading economies of the world at the Paris gathering, signaling the intention to play a significant role in addressing climate change matters. In fact, the final agreement was signed in New York City on Earth Day in April 2016.

Promises made, promises broken – in his campaigning and then almost immediately upon taking office, President Donald J. Trump said the U.S. would leave the historic agreement and nearing the end of his term in 2020 had just about completed the exit.

To the family of the world’s nations was this message: Do it without the United States of America.

Then, the recent good news: President-Elect Joseph Biden has indicated that his would be the “climate administration” beginning in January 2021 and quickly named former Secretary of State John Kerry to be his “climate czar”, the influential voice on the world stage to signal the USA is back in addressing the challenges of climate change.

Secretary Kerry was the U.S. representative to the COP 21 meetings in Paris and guided the nation’s inclusion in the Paris Agreement.

Forward to the last days of 2020: This is a climate emergency, President-Elect Biden said, and former US Senator and Secretary of State Kerry would lead the effort to elevate the nation’s response to the ever-escalating crisis, influencing policy and diplomatic initiatives on the world stage. (

Secretary Kerry will officially be on the National Security Council and report to the President of the United States after January 20, 2021.

Speaking to ProPublica, Secretary Kerry said “…the issues of climate change and human migration are intertwined… people are moving to places where they think they can live…and they will fight over places they want to move to… we will have millions, tens of millions of climate migrants…”

Come 2021, the family of nations can begin to celebrate – the United States of America will be back on the front lines in meeting myriad challenges related to the climate crisis.

As we prepared our commentary for the G&A Sustainability Highlights newsletter, President-Elect Biden named his dream team of climate change champions to lead the nation’s efforts:

Gina McCarthy, former head of the US EPA, will be the domestic climate change advisor (heading the White House Office of Climate Policy).

Governor Jennifer Granholm is the nominee to head the Department of Energy (her home state of Michigan is the home of the auto industry – she was the state’s governor).

Congresswoman Deb Haaland will be the first Native American when confirmed to be named to a cabinet post. She’s member of the federally-recognized Pueblo of Laguna, the New Mexico tribe whose 500,000 acres of land are near to Albuquerque. They refer to themselves as “Kawaik People”.  As Secretary of the Interior, she will have responsibility for jurisdiction over tens of millions of acres of tribal lands). Interior’s Department of Indian Affairs (BIA) is charged with “…promoting safe and quality living environments, strong communities, self-sufficiency and enhancing protection of the lives, prosperity and well-being of American Indians and Alaska Natives”.

Michael S. Regan, who worked in both George W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations, and who is head of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, is Biden’s nominee to head the US Environmental Protection Agency.  He will have the daunting task for rebuilding the nation’s environmental regulations that were unraveled during the Trump Administration.

Brenda Mallory, experienced federal government attorney, will had the Council on Environmental Quality.

This is also a team, Biden and supporters point out, “that looks like America”.

Leveraging the strategies, policies, actions, and programs designed to address climate change challenges, the team and colleagues will “build back better” with green infrastructure initiatives at the core.

In the December 2020 issue we brought readers a selection of current news and opinion and shared perspectives on the Paris Accord, now five years in.

As we neared year-end 2020 much of the news was about climate, climate, climate in the context of the peaceful transition of power in this, the world’s most influential democracy.

A nation that for many years had been that Shining City on a Hill for other peoples and nations.  Will the USA be that again?

Stay Tuned to climate change crisis responses that have the potential to be at the heart of many of the new administration’s public policy-making efforts. On to year 2021…

TOP STORIES in the Newsletter Dec 20 2020

Against the above context, we share here a selection of the perspectives on the 5-Year Anniversary of the Paris Agreement.  Where we are now as we prepare for the transition year 2021 in the USA:

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

The EU Has Led on Adopting Corporate ESG Disclosure Rules – The U.S. May Catch Up Soon

July 2021

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

For many years, the European Union moved ahead of the U.S.in developing laws, regulations and rules to address the challenges of climate change and require the expansion of corporate programs and still voluntary related reporting by corporations for their ESG issues.

In the U.S., the major regulatory bodies — Securities & Exchange Commission, the Federal Reserve System and its regional banks, the Treasury Department and other cabinet level and independent agencies avoided mandating disclosure rules for publicly-traded corporations (for many social/S and environmental/E issues).

That is changing more recently with new leadership at the SEC, the Fed, Treasury, and other agencies as the Biden-Harris Administration continues to move forward with a “Whole of Government” approach to meeting climate change crisis challenges. (This is outlined in a May 2021 Executive Order.)

The U.S. could quickly catch up to the EU and even pass Europe with rigorous national corporate ESG reporting requirements – maybe in 2021 or 2022.

The EU is not sitting still, though. In 2014 there was an Accounting Directive developed at the confederation level and adopted in each of the (then 28) member countries to require large companies to disclose the way they operate and manage social and environmental challenges (this is the “Non-Financial Reporting Directive” or NFRD). Social topics include treatment of employees, respect for human rights, anti-corruption, bribery, and diversity on boards.

This directive was amended in June 2019 with supplements/guidelines for companies to report on climate-related information – applying to listed companies, banks, insurance companies and other entities “designated by national authorities as public-interest entities”); this covers about 11,700 large companies and groups across Europe.

In April 2021, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) to amend the existing requirements that would extend NFRD to cover all large companies and all companies listed on regulated markets.

The proposed new standards, targeted for adoption by 2022, will require an audit (assurance) of reported information, which would have to be tagged and machine readable to feed into the “capital markets union action plan.” In addition, more requirements will be added to the NFRD rules, which would lead to adoption of European-wide (EU) sustainability reporting standards.

Consider the dramatic impact the actions of the European Union and the United States could have in their respective territories and across other regions:

  • The EU consists of 27 independent sovereign states located on the continent, with collective population of 448 million souls (2020) and combined GDP of US$16.6 trillion (about 1/6th of the global economy).
  • The U.S. has population of 331 million and GDP of US$21 trillion (almost 20% of global economy).
  • The U.S. has almost 6,000 publicly-traded companies in 50 states, according to The Global Economy.com. The average for the EU in 2020 (based on 18 countries examined) was 347 companies per country (where data were available). The largest number of companies listed on a stock exchange in the EU is Spain with 2,711 entities.

We bring you more news from Europe as the “ESG movers and shakers” move ahead with still more dramatic moves to address ESG topics and issues.

And we are watching dramatic moves by the Federal government of the U.S. as well as those actions of the states, cities, and municipalities to address climate change challenges and create greater transparency of involved entities across the corporate, public, and social sectors.

Bringing Your Attention To:

Webinar: BI Analyst Briefing: Global ESG 2021 Mid-Year Outlook
ESG’s momentum continues in 2021 as renewed policy support and increased shareholder engagement propels growth. While climate remains in focus, new risks like cybersecurity emerge. As the ESG asset class grows and regulators increase scrutiny, greenwashing concerns remain in focus. Join Bloomberg Intelligence Analysts on July 21st for a Mid-Year Outlook on Global ESG.  Register here 

TOP STORIES

EU unveils ‘gold standard’ sustainable finance strategy to cut greenhouse gas emissions (Source: CDSB)

New European sustainable finance strategy gives hints on mainstreaming sustainable finance through global standards and frameworks (Source: CDSB)

GRI welcomes role as ‘co-constructor’ of new EU sustainability reporting standards (Source: GRI)

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:

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.

 

Overview: Select Sessions, “SB21” Trendwatching – Mapping the New Brand Purpose Landscape

April 2021

by Kirstie Dabbs – G&A Institute Sustainability Reports Analyst and G&A Sustainability Analyst Intern Team Leader

BACKGROUND
Sustainable Brands hosted its “SB ’21 Trend Watching“ event (virtually) on February 23, 2021. Covering the intersecting crises from 2020 and opportunities that lie ahead for stakeholders in 2021, the event was full of information about the increased value of purpose for consumers, brands, and leaders.  

I present here brief recaps of select sessions with content that will be of value to many of our blog readers. 

Session Spotlight: “What We Learned About Ourselves in 2020”

Dimitar Vlahov, Senior Sustainability, Regeneration & Brand Transformation Expert at SB kicked off the event with an overview of key trends reflecting the state of our planet, society, and business environment, including:

  • Increasing existential risks related to biodiversity collapse. This, he said, is “very real and very close.” With one million species currently at risk, and global wildlife populations down 68% since 1970, humans and livestock now comprise 96% of all existing mammals. Only 4% of mammals on earth are in the wild. This is a tragic and very dangerous imbalance, he posited.
  • Growing presence of climate grief and climate anxiety in youth and young adults
  • Erosion of social /societal cohesion.
  • Increased focus on racial justice. Because this is such an important trend, Sustainable Brands will host a Just Brands event devoted exclusively to social and racial justice in May 2021.
  • Widening digital inequality.
  • Rise of intentional (and unintentional) spread of false news. False news stories on Twitter travel six (6x) times faster than true / factual stories, according to a recent MIT study.
  • Declining trust in institutions, specifically national governments, global companies, and the media.
  • Signs of collapsing multilateralism.
  • Rising inequality of stock market holdings in the United States of America. U.S. families in the top 1% of net worth hold nearly 40% of overall equities, while families whose net worth falls in the bottom 50% hold only 1% of overall equities, according to Survey of Consumer Finances data presented by The New York Times.
  • Growing commitments to Stakeholder Capitalism have yet to be supported by appropriate levels of action. Despite the promise made by 180 members of the Business Roundtable (BRT) to redefine the purpose of a corporation as benefiting all stakeholders (employees, customers, suppliers and local communities in addition to shareholders) very few have apparently amended their governing purpose guidelines beyond the long-term focus on the Professor Milton Friedman school of shareholder primacy.
  • Increase in Science Based Targets on climate. Over 1,000 companies worldwide are working on science-based emissions reduction targets through the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). Exciting news: methodologies are also being developed for setting science-based targets for water, land use, forests, biodiversity, and oceans as well – described below.

Session Spotlight: “Goal Setting & Innovation: Critical Environmental Thresholds”

Kevin Moss, Global Director of the Center for Sustainable Business at the World Resources Institute (WRI) and Chair of the Science Based Targets Network, moderated this discussion with Lina Constantinovici, Founder and Executive Director of Innovation 4.4 and Roberta Barbieri, PepsiCo VP of Global Water and Environmental Solutions.

The session covered new developments around science-based targets (SBTs) for all aspects of nature: biodiversity, climate, freshwater, land, and oceans.

This, of course, in addition to SBTs for climate, which are gaining popularity. This important work is being performed by the Science Based Targets Network, comprised of 20 nonprofits including World Resources Institute. Science-based targets for nature, geared toward cities and companies, will be released by 2022. Initial guidance for business is already available in this 2020 report.

Developing methodologies for these targets poses a challenge, due to contextual variations of resources based on region, accessibility, and use. Freshwater use in a water-scarce region has different limitations than in a non-water-scarce region.

Nevertheless, these targets will be critical in the management of the global commons that power not only our economy, but our very existence.

The SBT Network is currently partnering with private sector companies to pilot targets to determine their feasibility and effectiveness.

Important news:  PepsiCo has signed on to pilot a freshwater target wherein each water-scarce watershed in its supply chain will have a unique target for water management.

PepsiCo knows that freshwater is material to its business and has been focused on water stewardship for years. Adopting a science-based freshwater target will inform the Company about what is required to alleviate water risks, and how far it is from achieving its own water targets.

As Roberta Barbieri pointed out, if PepsiCo is water insecure, other companies are as well. She hopes that this pilot will influence other companies to participate in such work going forward.

Lina Constantinovici shared the mission of Innovation 4.4, which is to accelerate the commercialization and deployment of water, energy, health, materials science and space technology most critical to the achievement of the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Her session highlighted the critical issues facing oceans today, sharing that oceans are Earth’s most valuable asset, contributing US$70 trillion to global GDP annually and over 50% of the oxygen we breathe.

Yet — the quantity of plastic in oceans is expected to outnumber fish by 2050, and UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 – Life Below Water – is second to last in terms of the funding it receives compared to the other SDGs.

For this reason, Innovation 4.4 developed a multi-pronged strategy to innovate for better oceans. Initiatives include Oceans Funders, which enables a more aligned and informed approach to funding ocean solutions, and Oceans Prize, a contest to find plastic alternatives and remove existing plastic from oceans.

Global collaboration and ambitious thinking will be required to tackle our global challenges, of which oceans and freshwater are only two examples. The forthcoming SBTs for nature will allow organizations to measure and take responsibility for their environmental resource use.

Perhaps in a few years’ time we’ll be so lucky as to hear about 1,000 companies working toward such targets. This SB ’21 Trendwatching event provided cause for stakeholder to be optimistic that the rise of brand purpose will help to move us in that direction.

About Author Kirstie Dabbs
2021 Intern Team Leader
G&A Sustainability Reports Research Intern

Kirstie Dabbs is currently pursuing an MBA in Sustainability, with a focus on Circular Value Chain Management, at Bard College in New York. Her fluency in corporate disclosure stems from the program’s emphasis on the Integrated Bottom Line. As an MBA student she has enjoyed developing sustainability strategies for public, private and nonprofit organizations.

In her role as an Associate Consultant for Red Queen Group in New York City, Kirstie provides organizational analyses and support for nonprofits undergoing strategic or management transitions. Her rich background as a project manager at The Metropolitan Opera has informed this role, and she remains an enthusiastic supporter of the visual and performing arts.

Kirstie is also a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, an organization led by former Vice President Al Gore that promotes awareness of climate change worldwide, and is a contributor to GreenHomeNYC, a resource for green building and career development in the New York metropolitan area.

The United States of America Moves Forward with the Biden-Harris “Climate Crisis Agenda” for Federal Government Actions

March 2021

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

As he assumed the post of the highest elected public officer of the United States, President Joseph Biden characterized his [as the] “Climate Administration” — and immediately (the fabled Day One actions) set out a very ambitious “climate crisis” policy agenda for action by the many arms of the Federal government agencies under his control. (Notably, all cabinet offices with their great reach into all corners of the American Society.)

As a current commentary in the influential Harvard Business Review explains: “Biden put the environment squarely at the heart of U.S. federal policy, and for good reason. The future competitiveness of the U.S. economy is at stake, and climate action is an effective way to boost jobs, prevent future systemic shocks, and secure a prosperous future.”

In the commentary by Maria Mendiluce, CEO of the We Mean Business coalition, she posits at least seven important implications for corporate sector and other business leaders:

  • Climate regulation is coming (with a “net zero emissions” goal envisioned by 2050). Climate-focused regulations are being adopted around the world and we can expect to see some in the near term in the United States of America. The U.K. is an example – 2030 is the end date for sales of gasoline-powered autos.
  • Corporations will be in the vanguard in moving society in transitioning to the net zero ambitions (companies can help to scale up solutions for de-carbonizing society). Examples cited include Amazon, Apple, Ford, Microsoft, Walmart, Uber, and Verizon.
  • There’s risk for companies that delay climate action. Watch out if your enterprise is not “de-carbonizing” and transitioning from “black-to-a-green” energy company.
  • As we are seeing, investors are looking with favor on companies that taking action on climate matters – portfolio managers are moving away from high polluting firms. Asset managers like BlackRock are leading the way in pushing corporate leaders to adopt net zero targets. Capital is “looking” for greener businesses to invest in.
  • Soon, we can expect climate risk disclosures and reporting on GHG emissions to become mandatory. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) has warned that financial regulators must recognize climate change poses risk to the U.S. financial system. The head of that federal agency is now talked about as prospective Chair of the Securities & Exchange Commission in the Biden-Harris Administration.
  • While there has been discussion about carbon pricing schemes, and a bit of action in Europe, we can expect to see that discussion to increase in tempo and a price put on pollution.
  • Public sector investment in clean energy is on the rise (look at the volume of “green bonds” in recent months). In the United States, the new administration pledged to invest US$2 trillion in clean energy and infrastructure and the many Trump-Pence Administration rollbacks of environmental regulations are being put back in place by Biden-Harris actions.

We can expect to see more presidential Executive Orders, more administration, corporate and public sector pledges and commitments, and more Biden-Harris administration policy definitions related to climate action in 2021.

President Biden plans to convene a Leaders Summit for Earth Day and have the U.S. government back at the table at COP 26, the global confab for climate negotiations. “The USA is back” is the theme for 2021.

Concludes Maria Mendiluce: “This is a turning point for the U.S. and the world. It’s not too late for companies to adapt to the new net zero economy and support a green recovery. There is also no time to lose.”

We have selected her essay in HBR for the Top Story category of the G&A Newsletter this week, along with relevant developments in the “Climate Administration” of President Joe Biden and VP Kamala Harris.

The “We Mean Business” coalition has 1,596 companies involved with collective market cap of almost $25 trillion; these firms have made 2,000-plus “bold action climate commitments” to date. There is more information at: https://www.wemeanbusinesscoalition.org/

TOP STORIES

Federal Policymakers & Regulators Embrace or Reject ESG / Sustainability Factors – a Complicated Story of To & Fro

March 23, 3021

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

Federal policymaking and regulation with respect to investor risk and opportunity in the United States of America is a complicated story played out over almost a century. 

The modern era of laws passed/rules adopted to implement got underway in earnest in 1933 and 1934 following the October 1929 “Black Tuesday” stock market crash and subsequent failure of Wall Street firms and banks.

The Securities Act of 1933 and The Exchange Act of 1934 are the solid foundations of most of the investor protection laws and rules that have followed.

For example, the comprehensive package of changes and reforms that comprised the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (assembled as “Public Companies Accounting Reform and Investor Protection Act” in the US Senate [and] “Corporate and Auditing Accountability, Responsibility, and Transparency Act” in the House of Representatives, with 11 separate “titles” in what we today call “Sarbanes-Oxley”) was in part constructed on the solid foundation of the 1934 legislation.

An important driver for SOX moving ahead in the Congress were the collapse of Enron and WorldCom and other firms – dramatically impacting many investors who clamored for change.  (Ah, such crisis events – quicken the pulse and move legislators do the their job.)

The passage of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA” for shorthand) following collapse of some retirement plans and reports of negative practices at others was intended to protect plans and participants and address fiduciary duties; included was provision for greater transparency for (private industry) retirement and health plans and those who manage them.

Part of ERISA provides fiduciary responsibilities for managers / those who are in control of plan assets. The agency responsible for enforcing the rules:  The U.S. Department of Labor, a cabinet office of the Executive Branch. And subject, of course, to the political winds of the day.

It’s important to note that the critical elements of the above sweep of Federal government policymaking (enacting laws, assigning responsible arms of government, developing rules, procedures, interpretations & guidance for players involved) are protection. 

The independent Securities & Exchange Commission, as example, was established in 1934 under The Exchange Act to enforce both the ’33 and ’34 acts — essentially to protect investors.

Protection – Guidance:  All good and well.  But these important creations of political bodies are subject to the politics of the time, the era, the whims of people elected to high office and the people they in turn appoint to manage regulatory agencies.

And so, we come to today’s sustainable investing and corporate sustainability topics.

We ask:  are the operating rules, guidance, enforcement, agency management philosophies…keeping up with important changes? Like the emergence of investor preference for sustainable products, including in their retirement and health plans?

Many eyes are on the SEC these days with the Biden-Harris Administration putting forth an aggressive “climate crisis” agenda; with the Federal Reserve System adopting climate change-related policies; and a few days with the easing-off-leading-to-reversal policy of the US DOL with regard to guidance on consideration of ESG in investment decision-making by fiduciaries of plans.

The last is in focus for our Top Stories in this issue of the G&A Institute weekly newsletter.

As a brief example of the to and fro of political positioning by regulatory agencies – from Trump-era decision to Biden-era decision (reversal).

The changes moved quickly at Labor (November 2020 to March 2021).  The decisions to be made at the SEC, sought by many investors to address both ESG risk (protection) and opportunity for investors is a much more complicated story.  No doubt in weeks to come there’ll be welcome news there to share with you in the newsletter.

The sturdy foundations of the ’33, ‘34’ ’74, ’02, and 2010 and other laws and rules can be built on to address both corporate and investor ESG needs & wants in 2021.

For now – take a look at the to and fro of current ESG policies at the US Department of Labor ERISA situation.

TOP STORIES

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…

On Corporate Risk Strategy, Sustainable Actions & Outcomes – What’s the Best Ways to Report on ESG to Stakeholders?

April 2021

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

Buzz… Buzzz… Buzzzzz! The current buzz among key stakeholders – investors, corporate boards & management, NGOs, government regulators, stock exchanges, ESG raters & rankers, ESG corporate disclosure standards and frameworks managers – is centered on “Quo Vadis”…where do we go from here!

The good news is that the lively discussions underway appear to be indicating progress in the global drive to achieve more holistic, meaningful, accurate, comparable, understandable corporate ESG disclosure approaches.

One, to help publicly-traded company managements understand and provide transparency for the data sets, metrics and narratives that asset owners and their managers, and (2) to help creators of sustainable investing products in their expanding analysis of companies of all market cap sizes.

Influential players are part of the discussion.

Example: The World Economic Forum (WEF) published a White Paper in January 2020 to set out a framework to bring sustainable reporting frameworks & standards into a common and consistent system of metrics. This, to help investors and companies attain sustainable value creation and accurately disclose on same. WEF suggests a set of 22 Core metrics and a range of Expanded metrics to start with.

At the same time the “Big Five” of the global corporate sustainability disclosure and reporting frameworks and standards organizations are collaborating and recently published a shared vision of the elements necessary for achieving more comprehensive and holistic corporate sustainability reporting.

The five organizations are: CDP; the Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB); Global Reporting Initiative (GRI); International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC); Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB). Plus TCFD, the Task Force for Climate Related Financial Disclosure, created by the Financial Stability Board (FSB), a G20 nations organization.

Joining the effort: The European Commission; IOSCO (global government securities regulators organization); WEF’s International Business Council; and IFRS.

Each issue of the G&A Sustainability Highlights newsletter we bring you information about the above and much more related to the increasing tempo of the buzzzzz on corporate sustainability disclosure and reporting.

The discussions are taking place worldwide as leadership in public sector, private (business/corporate) sector and social sector address a widening range of ESG issues that will over time determine what kind of world we’ll live in.

See: meeting the challenges of climate change multiple issues, diversity & inclusion, populations deciding on democracy or authoritarianism, having ample food supplies or facing starvation, providing equality of opportunities & outcomes, pandemics to come, rapidly disappearing natural resources, political financing, a range of labor/workforce challenges…and more.

The content silos in our newsletter are designed to help you scan and select the news and perspectives we gather for you each issue.

The G&A Institute’s “Sustainability Headquarters” (SHQ) web platform has many more items selected by our editorial team led by EVP Ken Cynar for you. He’s assisted in these efforts by G&A’s Amy Gallagher, Reilly Sakai, Julia Nehring, Elizabeth Peterson, Lucas Alvarez, Lou Coppola, and Hank Boerner. All of this is team effort! Check the expanded related contents not in the newsletter on SHQ!

We constantly monitor all of the above issues — the global ESG disclosure buzz! — and participate in certain of the conversations as guiding the ESG disclosure and reporting of our corporate clients is at the core of the G&A Institute mission.

TOP STORIES