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.

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…

Big News: US SIF Report on US Sustainable and Impact Investing Trends 2020 Released

Big News:   As 2020 Began, $1-in-$3 of Professionally Managed AUM in the United States Had ESG Analysis and/or Portfolio Management Strategies Applied…US$17.1 Trillion Total

November 2020 — Every two years, since 1996, the influential trade organization for sustainable, responsible and impact investment (US SIF) conducts a year-long survey of professional asset managers to determine the total of USA-based assets under management (“AUM”) that have ESG analysis and/or portfolio management applied.

The Trends report just released charts the AUM with ESG analysis and strategies in the United States at $16.6 trillion at the start of 2020 – that’s 25X the total since the first Trends report in1996, with compounded growth rate of 14 percent. (The most rapid growth rate has been since 2012, says US SIF.)

Consider: This means that today, $1-in-$3 of professionally managed assets in the United States follows analysis and/or strategies considering ESG criteria. (The total of US assets under professional management at the start of 2020 was $51.4 trillion.)

This is a dramatic 43% increase over the survey results of the 2018 Trends report – that effort charted a total of $11.6 trillion in ESG-managed AUM in the USA at the start of 2018.

The survey respondents for the current Trends report identified the ESG-focused AUM practices of 530 institutional investors; 384 money managers; 1,204 community investment institutions – all applying environmental, social, and corporate governance criteria in their portfolio management.

What are top ESG issues identified by money management professionals in the survey effort?

  • Climate Change-Carbon: $4.18 trillion – #1 issue
  • Anti-Corruption: $2.44T
  • Board Room Issues: $2.39T
  • Sustainable Natural Resources/Agriculture: $2.38T
  • Executive Compensation: $2.22T
  • Conflict Risk (such as repressive regimes or terrorism, this cited by institutional investors): $1.8T

Note that many strategies and ESG analysis and portfolio management approaches can be overlapping.

Lisa Woll, US SIF Foundation CEO explains: “Money managers and institutional investors are using ESG criteria and shareholder engagement to address a plethora of issues including climate change, sustainable natural resources and agriculture, labor, diversity, and political spending. Retail and high net worth individuals are increasingly using this investment approach, with $4.6 trillion in sustainable investment assets, a 50% increase since 2018.”

The 2020 Trends report counts two main strategies as “sustainable investing” – (1) the incorporation of ESG factors in analysis and management of assets and (2) filing shareholder resolutions focused on ESG issues.

What are the top issues for the professional asset owners, their managers, and other investment professionals participating in the survey? Gauging the leading ESG issues for 2018-to-2020, examining the number of shareholder proposals filed, the Trends report charts the following in order of importance:

  • Corporate Political Activity
  • Labor & Equal Employment Opportunity
  • Climate Change
  • Executive Pay
  • Independent Board Chair
  • Special Meetings
  • Written Consent
  • Human Rights
  • Board Diversity

Looking at the 2020 Trends report, we have to say — we’ve certainly come a long, long way over the years. When first Trends survey was conducted at the end of 1995, the total AUM was just US$639 billion. The shift to sustainable, responsible, impact investment was underway! (The report released on November 16th is the 13th in the series.)

For information about the US SIF Report on US Sustainable and Impact Investing Trends 2020, and to purchase a copy of the report: https://www.ussif.org/trends

Governance & Accountability Institute is a long-time member of the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment (US SIF) and a sponsor of the 2020 Trends report. US SIF is the leading voice advancing sustainable and impact investing across all asset classes.

Members include investment management and advisory firms, mutual fund companies, asset owners, research firms, financial planners and advisors, community investment organizations, and not-for-profits. The work is supported by the US SIF Foundation that undertakes educational and research efforts to advance SIF’s work.

Louis Coppola, G&A EVP and Co-founder, is chair of the SIF Company Calls Committee that arranges meetings of SIF member organizations with publicly-traded companies to discuss their ESG/Sustainability efforts.

US SIF Trends 2020 Report Published November16, 2020:

Corporate Sustainability Reporting: Changes in the Global Landscape – What Might 2021 Bring?

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

Change is a-coming – quite quickly now – for corporate sustainability reporting frameworks and standards organizations.  And the universe of report users.

Before the disastrous October 1929 stock market crash, there was little in the way of disclosure and reporting requirements for companies with public stockholders. The State of New York had The Martin Act, passed in 1921, a “blue sky law” that regulates the sales and trades of public companies to address fraud issues.  That was about it for protecting those buying shares of public companies of the day.

Under the 100 year old Act, the elected New York State Attorney General is the “Sheriff of Wall Street — and this statute is still in effect. (See: AG Eliot Spitzer and his prosecution of the 10 large asset managers for analyst shenanigans.)

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, elected two-term governor of NY before his election to the highest office in November 1932, brought along a “brains trust” to Washington and these colleagues shaped the historic 1933 Securities Act and 1934 Securities Exchange Act to regulate corporate disclosure and Wall Street activities.

Story goes there was so much to put in these sweeping regulations for stock exchanges, brokerage houses, investor protection measures and corporate reporting requirements that it took two different years of congressional action for passage into law in the days when Congress met only briefly and then hastened home to avoid the Washington DC summer humidity and heat.

The Martin Act was a powerful influence on the development of foundational federal statutes that are regularly updated to keep pace with new developments (Sarbanes-Oxley, 2002, updated many portions of the 1934 Act).

What was to be disclosed and how? Guidance was needed by the corporate boards and executives they hired to run the company in terms of information for the company’s investors. And so, in a relatively short time “Generally Applied Accounting Principles” began to evolve. These became “commonly accepted” rules of the road for corporate accounting and financial reporting.

There were a number of organizations contributing to GAAP including the AICPA. The guiding principles were and are all about materiality, consistency, prudence (or moderation) and objectivity like auditor independence verifying results.

Now – apply all of this (the existing requirements to the Wild West of the 1920s leading up to the 1929 financial crash that harmed many investors — and it reminds one of the situations today with corporate ESG, sustainability, CR, citizenship reporting.  No generally applied principles that all can agree to, a wide range of standards and frameworks and guidance and “demands” to choose from, and for U.S. companies much of what is disclosed is on a voluntary basis anyway.

A growing chorus of institutional investors and company leaders are calling for clear regulatory guidance and understanding of the rules of the road from the appointed Sheriffs for sustainability disclosures – especially in the USA, from the Securities & Exchange Commission…and the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), now the two official keepers of GAAP.

FASB was created in the early 1970s – by action of the Congress — to be the official keeper of GAAP and the developer of accounting and reporting rules.  SOX legislation made it official; there would be two keepers of GAAP — SEC and FASB.  GAAP addressed material financial issues to be disclosed.

But today for sustainability disclosure – what is material?  How to disclose the material items?  What standards to follow?  What do investors want to know?

Today corporates and investors debate the questions:  What should be disclosed in a consistent and comparable way? The answers are important to information users. At the center of discussion: materiality everyone using corporate reports in their analysis clamors for this in corporate sustainability disclosure.

Materiality is at the heart of the SASB Standards now developed for 77 industry categories in 11 sectors. Disclosure of the material is an important part of the purpose that GAAP has served for 8-plus decades.

Yes, there is some really excellence guidance out there, the trend beginning two decades ago with the GRI Framework in 1999-2000. Publicly-traded companies have the GRI Standards available to guide their reporting on ESG/sustainability issues to investors and stakeholders.

There is the SAM Corporate Sustainability Assessment (CSA), now managed entirely by S&P Global, and available to invited companies since 1999-2000. (SAM was RobecoSAM and with Dow Jones Indexes managed the DJ Sustainability Indexes – now S&P Global does that with SAM as a unit of the firm based in Switzerland.)

Since 2000, companies have had the UN Global Compact principles to include in their reporting. Since 2015 corporate managers have had the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to report on (and before that, the predecessor UN Millennium Development Goals, 2000-2015). And the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) recommendations were put in place in 2017.

The Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) in February 2010 issied “guidance” to publicly-traded companies reminded corporate boards of their responsibility to oversee risk and identified climate change matters as an important risk in that context.

But all of these standards and frameworks and suggested things to voluntarily report on — this is today’s thicket to navigate, picking frameworks to be used for telling the story of the company’s sustainability journey.

Using the various frameworks to explain strategy, programs, actions taken, achievements, engagements, and more – the material items. Profiling the corporate carbon footprint in the process. But there is no GAAP to guide the company for this ESG reporting, as in the example of financial accounting and reporting.

Institutional investors have been requesting more guidance from the SEC on sustainability et al reporting.  But the commission has been reluctant to move much beyond the 2010 risk reminder guidance even as literally hundreds of publicly-traded companies expand their voluntary disclosure.  And so we rely on this voluntary disclosure on climate change, diversity & inclusion efforts, political spending, supply chain management, community support, and a host of other ESG issues. (Human Capital Management was addressed in the recent Reg S-K updating.)

We think 2021 will be an interesting year in this ongoing discussion – “what” and “how” should companies be disclosing on sustainability topics & issues.

The various providers of existing reporting frameworks and standards and those influencing the disclosures in other ways are moving ahead, with workarounds where in the USA government mandates for sustainability reporting do not yet exist.

We’ve selected a few items for you to keep up with the rapidly-changing world of corporate ESG disclosures in our Top Stories and other topic silos.

There are really important discussions!  We watch these developments intently as helping corporate clients manage their ESG / sustainability disclosures is at the heart of our team’s work and we will continue to keep sharing information with you in the Highlights newsletter.

More about this in The Wall Street Journal with comments from G&A’s Lou Coppola: Companies Could Face Pressure to Disclose More ESG Data (Source: The Wall Street Journal)
TOP STORIES

Food! Will We Have Enough to Feed an Ever-Hungrier Planet? – Are Food & Ag Industries “Sustainable” – Let’s Explore…

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

October 30 2020

The United Nations projection is for today’s global population of an estimated 7.6 billion people to expand to a global population of 8.6B by 2030 and 9.8B by 2050…and then to 11.2 billion in 2100 (so says the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs report, June 2017).

Each year, says the UN, 83 million more people are added to the world’s population.

If we go back 1,000 years, the world population was an estimated 300 million people.

And then, only 4% (about 4 million square kilometers) was used for farming, according to the University of Oxford (source: ourworldindata).

Today, half of the world’s habitable land is used for agriculture (excluding deserts, beaches, rocks, etc.) – that is 51 million KMs. T

There is also land (an additional 40 million KMs) used for livestock, meat, and dairy. Protein supply is largely from plant-based food for much of the world population. (Data – UN Food and Agricultural Organization).

So as the population grows and grows, will we be able to feed millions and then billions of additional people? Where will the capital be needed for food & ag expansion?

Will investors and other stakeholders have enough information – especially reliable, comparable data sets – to understand where the food & ag industry players are…to meet the daily food needs of many more people…to use available arable land wisely and sustainably…to understand what food manufacturers and marketers are doing to be more sustainable and responsible?

We’ve selected a few items in our Top Stories to explore these questions, especially as investors look for agriculture and food trends that fit into the ESG bucket.

TOP STORIES

  1. Forbes contributor Hank Cardello looks at the food industry and the magazine’s list of “100 most sustainably managed public companies” – finding food processing companies “a no show among the top companies”:Food Industry is a No-Show in New Sustainability Study (Source: Forbes)
  2. This ESG / Financial Times article explores why the food sector is difficult to assess from an ESG perspective – to quote, “ESG investors are finding it hard to incorporate food in their portfolios…food businesses’ far-reaching impacts are difficult to measure, making it unclear whether they meet ESG criteria”:Food Proves Hard for ESG Investors to Digest (Source: Financial Times)
  3. This article talks about ESG not being covered in farm media and opines that primary producers don’t have to rely on ESG reporting to get access to capital. So – it seems like these factors could cause difficulty for downstream customers to report on the ESG metrics of their supply chains. Contributing analyst Elaine Kub advises the ag industry that convincing investors a company is operating sustainably and making long-term decisions…and deserves to be in the “ESG category”, but is nary a mention of this in farm media…yet: ESG: Another Acronym for Ag to Know (Source: Progressive Farmer)
  4. 4-A new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) charts organic ag sales have increased 31% from 2016 to 2019:2019 Organic Survey Results Show Sales Up 31% from 2016 (Source: USDA)

Sources:

The United Nations at 75 Years This Week – Corporate CEOs Around the Globe Pledge Support of the Missions

October 20, 2020

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

Three-quarters of a century of serving humanity — the family of nations celebrates the 75th Anniversary of the founding of the United Nations on October 24th.

After the global conflict of World War Two, with great losses of life, liberty and property, 51 nations of world gathered in San Francisco to put the Charter into force — to collectively explore a better way forward with collaboration not confrontation.  (The Charter was signed as the war was ending in the Pacific and had ended in May in Europe).  We can say that on October 24, 1945, the United Nations “officially” came into existence with the ratification of the Charter by nations and the gathering of delegates.

The United Nations members states — the global family of sovereign nations collaborating peacefully for seven-plus decades to address common challenges — got good news in its 75th anniversary year.

More than one thousand business leaders from 100+ nations endorsed a Statement of Renewed Global Cooperation, pledging to further unite in helping to help to make this a better world…for the many, not the few. Some of the world’s best known brand marketers placed their signatories on the document.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres received the CEOs’ messages of support at a Private Sector Forum during the recent General Assembly in New York (September).

The Statement from Business Leaders for Renewed Global Cooperation was created as the nations of the world are coping with the impacts of the Coronavirus, domestic and global economic slowdown, rising political and civic unrest, wars in different regions, critical climate change challenges, the rising demand for equality of opportunity, and more.

The corporate CEOs’ public commitments included demonstration of ethical leadership and good governance (the “G” in ESG!) through values-based strategies, policies, operations and relationships when engaging with all stakeholders.

Now is the opportunity, the statement reads, to realign behind the mission of the UN to steer the world onto a more equitable, inclusive and sustainable path. We are in this together – and we are united in the business of a better world.

“Who” is the “We”? Leaders of prominent brands signing on include Accenture, AstraZeneca, BASF, CEMEX, The Clorox Company, Johnson & Johnson, Moody’s, Nestle, Thomson Reuters, S&P Global, Salesforce, Tesla, and many other consumer and B-to-B marketers. (The complete list of large-cap and medium and small companies accompanies the Statement at the link.)

There are many parts of the global community’s “meeting place” (the UN) that touch on the issues and topics that are relevant to us, the folks focused on sustainability. Think of the work of:

UN Global Compact (UNGC)
This is a non-binding pact (a framework) to encourage enterprises to voluntarily adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies and report on same; 12,000+ entities in 160 countries have signed on to date (the Compact was created in July 2000).

UN Principles for Responsible Investing (PRI)
Founded 2006, this is a global network of financial institutions and others in the capital markets pledging to invest sustainably, using 6 principles and reporting annually; today, there are 7,000+ signatories to date in 135 countries; this is in partnership with UNGC and the UNEP Finance Initiative.

UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
The SDGs (17 goals with 169 targets) build on the earlier Millennium Development Goals MDGs- (2000-2015).

The Paris Agreement builds on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) plays important roles in protecting the world’s environment.

In all, there are almost three dozen affiliated organizations working to advance humanity through the United Nations System.

 

SHARED PERSPECTIVES: FAYE LEONE
With all of this activity, the UN needs support, and shared ideas, to build even stronger foundations. Our colleague, G&A Institute Senior Sustainability Content Writer Faye Leone, has a decade of experience reporting on the UN.

Her perspectives: “It is exactly right for business leaders to express support for global cooperation– not competition- at this time. This is in the spirit of the UN’s 75th anniversary and critical for the next big challenge for multilateralism and solidarity: to fairly provide a safe vaccine for COVID-19.”

She explains that leading up to its 75th anniversary in September 2020, the UN conducted a year-long ‘listening campaign”. The results, after over one million people around the world participated!

They said they do not want “more of the same” from the UN.  They overwhelmingly called for a more inclusive, diverse, and transparent UN that does a better job of incorporating businesses, cities, vulnerable peoples, women, and young people. They also said the UN should be more innovative.

(View Source)

The Sustainable Development Goals, says Faye, can help with that.  The 17 goals “provide a common language for everyone to combine their strengths. According to the head of B Lab, business’ role is to participate in delivering on the SDGs, use the power of business to solve the world’s most urgent problems, and inspire others to do the same”.

(View Source)

Read more about the UN’s 75th anniversary through Faye’s work with IISD here.

Read more about the UN’s 75th anniversary here.

Mark October 24 on your calendar. That’s the day we commemorate the UN’s official founding after WW II (on 24 October 1945). We invite you to think about how you can support the UN moving toward the century-of-service mark in 25 years (2025) – and what ideas you can share to help this organization of the family of nations to address 21st Century challenges!

TOP STORY

Celebrating Highlights Issue #500 – And Unveiling a New Design

October 16, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOP STORIES

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

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

 

Rising Heat & Humidity, Rising Sea Levels, Up & Down Shifts in Crop Yields, More Large Fires, Huge Human Migration Within the United States -– What We Are Learning Today

September 24 2020

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

There is so much going on in the global sustainability space that we could draw an apt analogy – it’s “like drinking water not out of a straw but a fire hose!”

Every week our team seeks out the news, feature and research items that will help you stay informed on developments in corporate sustainability and CSR, sustainable investing, the actions of governments and civil society leadership, activists, academics & researchers…and more.

For the past two or three years the pace of these developments has accelerated and so created a long list of many “possibilities” to share with you.  Sometimes, certain news jumps up and shouts at us from the print or digital page.

Example:  This week we see a powerful accounting of the impacts of climate change as assembled by ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit journalism organization focused on the major issues of the day.   The collaborating journalists – at ProPublica and The New York Times with support from the non-profit Pulitzer Center — focused on “the compounding calamities of climate risk” and the projected impact on the continental U.S.A. over the coming decades.

The issues “stack on top of one another”, they write.  Such as rising heat, excessive humidity, oceans rising, very large fires, crop failures, economic damages, and more…scary projections for the 2040-2060 timeframe.   (That is starting only 20 years, or 240 months, just 1,000+ weeks away!)

ProPublica worked with data from the Rhodium Group, which when presented in the context of the report, tell a story of warming temperatures, and changing rainfall that will drive agriculture and temperate climates from south to north, as the sea levels rise and vast amounts of coastlines “are consumed” and dangerous levels of humidity “swamp the Mississippi River Valley”.

All of this will profoundly interrupt the way that we in this, the world’s largest economy, will live and farm and work later in this century.  This could be an era to be marked by mass migration within the U.S.A., far outpacing the dramatic “Great Black Migration” with large populations moving from southern states to the north, profoundly reshaping this Land.

The data is presented in maps and county-by-county review; you can in the visuals presented see how the temperate zone marches north and more…for corn and soy production, harvests will decrease and increase, depending on location in the country.

Economic impact? (Serious projections to consider today while we experience dislocation now due to the Coronavirus pandemic include rising energy costs, lower labor productivity, poor crop yields, increase in crime and more.

Which counties will rise and which, fall?  The maps tell the story.

This reportage was so important and timely that the NY Times published a comprehensive wrap up this weekend in the Sunday magazine (reaching well beyond two million print and digital subscribers).   We present this important reportage for you in the Top Stories.

Timeliness:  This is also Climate Week, with important digital and some physical meetings around the world to focus on climate change challenges. We’re sharing some of the coverage of that as well.

 

Top Stories

Americans Tuning in to Sustainability During Crises, Expecting “More” from Government and Corporate Sector

August 27 2020

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

According to responses to a June on-line survey of 2,000 adults in the U.S.A. for “clean manufacturing” leader Genomatica, sustainability is now a top-of-mind issue, with an overwhelming majority (85% of respondents) of Americans indicating they’ve been thinking about sustainability the same amount or more…and 56% want brands and government to prioritize sustainability even in the midst of the crises (Coronavirus, economic downturn – plus civil unrest).

According to Genomatica CEO Christophe Schilling: “The collective consciousness on sustainability is rising, and certainly faster than most would have expected during these unprecedented times.

While this shift has been underway for decades, and is particularly strong in Europe, many of us in the U.S. have been inspired by the rapid improvement in air quality and traffic that shine a bright light on how our behaviors and decisions impact our environment and quality of life.”

Other interesting survey findings:

  • 59% of Americans say working from home is more sustainable than working in an office.
  • 37% of Americans are willing to pay a little more for sustainable products, even during an economic downturn. Gen-Z is the most willing age group, at 43%.
  • Half of Americans won’t be comfortable using sharing economy services like Uber or Airbnb (53%), riding public transportation (54%) or carpooling (50%) until there is a vaccine, if ever.

There’s more findings in the Top Story link below:

Part of the “sustainability thinking” is about personal investments…and how to do well financially while doing good with one’s financial activities.

A new report published by the foundation of The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment (US SIF) explores the growth of passive ESG investing and the outpace of investor flows into passive vs. active ESG funds.

The report shows that “net flows into passively-managed ESG funds have in recent years outpaced net flows into their actively managed counterparts” — despite the fact that “the vast majority of sustainably-invested assets are in actively-managed ESG funds.”

Meg Voorhes, Director of Research at the US SIF Foundation explains:  “The advent of passive ESG funds provides more options to investors seeking sustainable impact, and we encourage these fund managers to make commitments to comprehensive ESG approaches.”

Follow Up to Last Week
In last week’s Highlights we told you about Morgan Stanley’s pioneering move to join the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials (“PCAF”).  The update:  Citi and Bank of America are on board, too.  Great news moving toward the low-carbon economy. 

Citi, Bank of America join Morgan Stanley in carbon-disclosure group

Individual news releases from the banks with the details:

Lively Discussions: The Move Toward Harmonized Corporate ESG / Sustainability Reporting

September 22 2020

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

There are lively discussions going on, centered on improving publicly-traded company disclosure and reporting – and especially ESG reporting…that is, storytelling about the company’s “non-financials” (in accounting-speak).  And the story of the corporate sustainability story for those-in-the-know!

The proliferation of ESG / sustainability reporting frameworks, standards, information platforms, industry guidance, stock exchange guidance and much more has been astounding in recent years.

We think of all this as about the organizing of the storytelling about a company’s sustainability journey and what the enterprise has accomplished. 

And why the story matters to society…to investors, employees, customers, suppliers, communities…and other stakeholders.

And it has a been a long journey to the state of today’s expanding corporate ESG disclosure.

The start of mandating of periodic financial and business mandated disclosure goes back to the 1930s with passage of landmark federal legislation & adopted implementation (compliance) rules for publicly-traded companies in the United States.

Corporate financial disclosure in concept is all about providing shareholders (and potential investors) with the information they need to make buy-sell-hold decisions.

The sturdy foundations of mandated corporate disclosure in the U.S. are the laws passed after the 1929 stock market crash – the 1933 Securities Act and 1934 Exchange Act.  These laws and the bodies of rules deriving from them have been constantly updated over the years, including with Sarbanes Oxley legislation in 2002 and Dodd Frank in 2010. These mandate or guide and otherwise provide the rules-of-the-road for financial disclosure for company managements.

Disclosure has steadily moved well beyond the numbers – Sarbanes-Oxley updated the 1930’s laws and addressed many aspects of corporate governance, for example.

Voluntary Disclosure & Reporting – ESG Issues & Topics
Over the past 40 years, beyond the financials, corporate voluntary non-financial disclosure has been steadily increasing, as investors first embraced “socially responsible investing” and moved on to sustainable & responsible & impact investing in the 21st Century.

Asset owner and asset manager (internal and external) requests for ESG information from publicly-traded companies in portfolio has steadily expanded in the depth and breadth of topic and issue areas that institutional investors are focused on – and that companies now address in significantly-expanded ESG disclosures.

Today, investor interest in ESG / sustainability and related topics areas is widespread throughout asset classes – for equities, equity-focused products such as imutual funds and ETFs, fixed-income instruments, and now credit risk, options and futures, fixed assets (such as real estate), and more.

With today’s dramatic increase in corporate sustainability & ESG reporting, the maturation of reporting frameworks and standards to help address the internal need for better organizing non-financial data and information and accompanying ESG financial disclosure.

And all of this in the context of trying to meet investor demands.  Today with expanded ESG disclosure, corporate executives find that while there are more resources available to the company, there is also more confusion in the disclosure process.   Investors agree.

Common Complaints:  Lack of Comparability, Confusion, Demand for Change
The result of increasing demand by a widening range of investors for accurate, detailed corporate ESG information and the related proliferation of reporting frameworks and standards can and has resulted in confusion among investors, stakeholders and companies as to what is important and material and what is frill.

This especially as corporate managements embrace various elements of the available frameworks and standards and industry guidance and ESG ratings for their still-voluntary ESG reporting.

So where do we go from here?  In our selection of Top Stories for you, we bring you news from important players in the ESG reporting process as they attempt to move in the direction of more uniform, comprehensive, meaningful and decision-ready corporate ESG reporting. That investors can rely on.

The news for you is coming from GRI, SASB, GSSB, IIRC, CDSB, and CDP (among others) – all working to get on the same page.

The aim: to benefit corporate reporters – and the users of the reports, especially capital market players.

Because in the end, ESG excellence is all about winning in the competition for access to capital. Accurate, timely, comprehensive comparable ESG information is key!

Top Stories