Is Your Mutual Fund or ETF Really “Green” or “Sustainable”? How Do You Know? More Disclosure by Fund Managers and Advisors May Be Coming…

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

What is it about an investable product – a mutual fund, an exchange traded fund (ETF) – that would qualify it as an “ESG” or “sustainable investment” offering to the retail or institutional investor?

That’s a question getting more attention recently.

S&P Global has issued a report that says only 12 percent of so-called “green” or “environmental” investment funds are on track to meet the global climate goals agreed to at the Paris Agreement / COP 21 meetings in 2015.

The goals agreed to by the community of almost 200 nations at that time: try to limit the global temperature to below 2 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial levels and aim for limiting the increase to 1.5C.

We are sharing some analysis of the S&P report by Mark Segal as published in ESG Today (he’s the founder of the web site).

He explains: S&P Global looked at about 12,000 equity funds and ETFs with US$20 trillion in total market value. Findings: about 300 funds (with $350 billion total valuation) used “green” in their name or investment objectives.

Looking then at the holdings (equities of corporations) using the S&P Global Trucost Paris Alignment Data for 17,000 companies in the universe of 12,000 funds, only 11% were really aligned with the Paris Agreement goals.

What about the smaller universe of 300 (the “green” funds)? Only about 12% were on track to meet Paris goals.

S&P Global noted that some funds are screening out publicly-traded fossil fuel companies for portfolios, including renewable energy companies, and some are engaging with portfolio companies to urge the firms de-carbonize their operations.

Conclusion: “Our analysis,” reports S&P, “points to a systemic issue. Few funds, even those that describe themselves as using green or climate-specific language, are on track to meet the goal of the Paris Agreement. Understanding the trajectory is an important step toward planning for a low-carbon future.”

The marketing of mutual funds and ETFs as “green” is being closely looked at by the Securities & Exchange Commission. SEC is focused on “enhancing ESG investment practices” of certain capital market players.

The agency in May proposed amendments to rules and reporting requirements of investment advisors and investment companies (that manage mutual funds and ETFs) to “promote consistent, comparable, and reliable information for investors” about funds’ and advisors’ incorporation of ESG factors.

The proposed rule would aim to categorize types of ESG investment strategies and require funds and advisors to be more specific in disclosures (such as in prospectuses, annual reports, brochures) to inform investors about ESG strategies being pursued.

Funds with strategies focused on the consideration of environmental factors would be required to disclose the greenhouse gas emissions associated with their portfolios. (That is, the GHG emissions of companies in the assembled portfolios of the mutual funds or ETFs.)

And, funds that use proxy voting and engagement with corporate issuers would be required to disclose their voting and engagement with companies on ESG-related matters.

Morningstar rates “sustainable mutual funds” among the thousands of funds rated by the firm’s analysts and its Sustainalytics unit.

Here’s a look into the challenges fund companies may face if the SEC rules are adopted: “This year has been difficult for many ESG funds,” writes Morningstar’s Katherine Lynch. “After years of solid performance, sustainable investing mutual funds have been roughed up, but a handful of strategies have been able to outperform.”

Which ones? Those holding energy stocks, which some investors in ESG try to avoid. Energy stocks are now outperforming, and most sustainable funds hold little or no oil companies in portfolio because of the connection of oil and gas consumption and climate change.

The conversation about “sustainable investing” and the criteria used by mutual fund management companies is sure to get more complicated in the days ahead.

Our G&A Institute team will continue to monitor developments and keep you updated on the changes to the mutual fund / ETF disclosure requirements.

Here are Top Stories for you to learn more:

  1. Less Than 10% of Climate Funds are Aligned with Global Decarbonization Goals: S&P (ESG Today )https://www.esgtoday.com/nearly-90-of-green-funds-are-not-aligned-with-global-climate-goals-sp/
  2. SEC Proposed to Enhance Disclosures by Investment Advisors and Investment Companies About ESG Investment Practices: https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2022-92
  3. 2022’s Top Sustainable Fund Weather a Tough Market: https://www.morningstar.com/articles/1097780/2022s-top-sustainable-funds-weather-a-tough-market



Springtime in North America – A Time Featuring Corporate-Investor Engagement and Proxy Voting on Critical Issues

April 20 2021   Spring is in the air!  Proxy Season 2021 getting underway.  So how did we get here?  Some history and springtime news. 

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

Springtime comes to the USA and and the Northern Hemisphere countries with pretty flowers in bloom, trees budding, the onset of warmer weather.  And…

Asset owners and their managers participating willingly or reluctantly in the peak months of corporate proxy voting season in North America.

Typically, the corporate issuer develops the resolution(s) for voting by the shareholder base – for example, election of slate of nominees for the board and approval of the outside auditing firm.

And then… there are the resolutions prepared by the shareholders, and these are usually not to board and executives’ liking.

Thought you might be interested in some of the history of shareholder activism.  In the earlier days of shareholder activism certain “gadflies” would offer up their resolutions for inclusion in the voting (typically then, by individual investors).

Brothers John and Lewis Gilbert and a few others of similar thinking would gin up their resolution drafts and then face the challenge by the target company could be expected.

Some still around remember the ever-present at annual meeting Evelyn Davis, a Dutch Holocaust survivor with strong feelings and lots to say about how companies she invested in were being managed .

The Gilbert siblings operated “big time” in proxy season; they owned shares in 1,500 companies and attended at least 150 corporate annual meetings each year. T

They were often characterized as showmen (kicking up a storm at companies like Chock Full o’ Nuts and Mattel and other companies’ meetings.) Right after WW II John Gilbert got the SEC on the shareholders’ side; the regulatory agency started to require that companies include relevant shareholder resolutions in the annual proxy statement (of course certain conditions applied then and now).

Over time, this process became more sophisticated as many institutional owners put corporate equities in portfolios and steadily a certain number became activist investors. (

It really helped that the US Department of Labor leveraging ERISA statutes and rules  reminded US institutional investors that their proxy was an asset and voting was a clear responsibility of the fiduciary-owner.

In 1988, Assistant Secretary of Labor Olena Berg reminded pension fund managers of the “Avon Letter” that posited that corporate proxies are a pension plan asset and should be taken seriously and voted on.

One of today’s proxy voting / corporate governance experts with wide recognition and respect is California-based James McRitchie (principal of Corpgov.net).

In a communication to the US SEC in November 2018, he explained that he and other investors engage companies on ESG issues “to enhance their long-term value and to ensure corporate values do not conflict with the long-term interests of a democratic society.”

He suggested: “Corporations should welcome shareholders into the capitalist system as participants in major decision.”

In proxy season 2021, the “crisis stories” of 2020 and earlier years continue as public dialogue at least in the form of shareholder requests / demands / expectations of the companies that are in the portfolio on important societal issues.

Climate change action, racial justice/injustice, diversity & inclusion, inequality – these are high on the list for this year’s voting.

We have selected three Top Stories for you on the themes of 2021 voting. The not-for-profit Ceres organization, long active in ESG proxy voting issues, highlights the focus on science-based emissions reduction plans, and corporate policies aligned with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement. There are 136 climate-related shareholder-sponsored resolutions submitted to public companies as of April 2nd for 2021 voting.

The good news is that a number of these have been resolved in investor-corporate dialogues at Domino’s Pizza, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and other firms. Others were withdrawn at Duke Energy, CSX, and Valero.

Climate-related themes for resolutions include “Banking on Low Carbon”, “Carbon Asset Risk”, and “Say on Climate”.

Long-time shareholder activist Tim Smith is Director of ESG Shareowner Engagement at Boston Trust Walden and member of the Ceres Investor Network. Ceres continues to track such resolutions and information is available at www.ceres.org.

The authoritative Pensions & Investments publication shares news about a new website — Majority Action’s “Proxy Voting for a 1.5 C World”.

Four key sectors are in focus: electricity generation, oil & gas, banking, and transportation, with summaries of corporate current emission targets, capital allocations and policy activity relate to climate change. (Reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 is an example of issue in focus.)

The web site offers recommendations for voting against director nominees at companies failing to implement plans “consistent with limiting global warming” by industry/sector.

In banking the web site names Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase. Issues in focus overall include Climate Change, Community Development / Investment, Gender Equality, and more.

Third – the Yield Positive web platform offers excellent background on shareholder resolutions and the current state of affairs following the dramatic events of 2020 – racial inequality highlighted by the killing of George Floyd; worker health and safety protections in the Covid pandemic; climate change issues – with examples of the resolutions coming up for vote in 2021.

These include Home Depot – Report on racism in the company; Target – Report on/end police partnerships; Wells Fargo – report on financing Paris Agreement-compliant GHG emissions cut, and more.

The 2021 spring season of corporate proxy voting and then the voting at company issues to Fall 20231 will be closely followed by business media and of course, the global investing community. We will continue to share news and perspectives about this annual exercise of “shareholder capitalism”.

TOP STORIES – April 2021

It’s Proxy Season 2021: Investors Focus on Climate Action

FYI

 

“APAC” & Corporate Sustainability Journeys – Monitoring Progress & Demonstrated Leadership on the Rise in This Vital Global Region

May 24 2021

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

Business and financial activities in “APAC”, the Asia / Pacific Basin Region are vital to the economies of the rest of the world.

Think of the region’s leading sovereign economies…in order of magnitude, consider the impact of the economies of China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia, Indonesia (the top economies).

These six countries are;

  • home to some of the world’s lower cost manufacturing and assembly centers,
  • sources of financing for companies and other government entities, sourcing points for many of the world’s natural resources and food and industrial ingredients,
  • sources of value-added manufactured products (such as the chips used in a multitude of consumer and business IT applications such as smartphones and electric vehicles).

The good news is that the region is also home to a growing number of corporate sustainability leadership companies. 

For example, CDP reports that “despite many challenges in 2020” companies disclosing on TCFD-aligned reporting reached a global high — and that included more than 3,000 companies in 21 Asia Pacific Region (“APAC”) countries responding to CDP for the first time…and that now account for almost a third of CDP’s global corporate responses.

ESG Leadership Progress:  The majority of the 3,000 APAC companies report having a board-level oversight on climate-related issues (79%) and say that they are beginning to integrate climate issues into business strategy.

Half say they have integrated incentives in management of climate issues, including attainment of targets.

Three of four APAC companies responding to the CDP survey say they have identified climate risk as maybe having substantive impact on their business and 60% of these are transition risk.

Climate Change Impact:  CDP in its Global Climate Risk Index 2021 found that 60% of countries most affected by climate change from 2000 to 2019 are in Asia.

McKinsey consultants estimates that the impact on labor productivity due to chronic increases in heat and humidity could cost Asia as much as US$4.7 trillion in of annual GDP by 2050.

We are sharing CDP’s recap of the survey responses for 2021 as a Top Story.

Looking at the smaller economy of the region, Sustainalytics’ manager Frank Pan focuses on ASEAN-6 nations and reports that in the context of sustainable investing moving from “niche” to mainstream, this trend is still limited those Southeast Asian countries — even though the region is an economic block with one of the world’s fast-growth rates.

The ASEAN-6 countries: Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines.

All six of these countries, Pan points out, do have some form of ESG disclosure required and the governments have guidelines to help companies in their ESG disclosures; all the nations have stock exchanges that are members of the Sustainable Stock Exchange Initiative to encourage ESG reporting by listed companies.

He points out the nature of the ESG disclosure regimes of the six nations in another Top Story selection this week.

Sustainability Reporting:  The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is the world leader in number of corporate reports published following the organization’s standards; while some ESG standards are designed to inform the investment community, GRI’s were developed over 30-plus years with stakeholders in mind, including providers of capital (today’s standards were preceded by GRI’s reporting frameworks, “G1 through G4”).

GRI in our third Top Story this week reports growing momentum for sustainability reporting in South Asia and especially for three target countries (India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka).

GRI’s research examined 1,100 companies in the region; of these, 503 are in India, 320 in Bangladesh, and 284 in Sri Lanka.

The “2020 Sustainable Reporting Trends in South Asia” research found that GRI’s Standards are the most widely-used for ESG reporting across all the countries; 64% of listed companies in Sri Lanka use the standards; the number of reports published in Bangladesh increase by more than a third from 2018 to 2019; in India, 99% of organizations analyzed by GRI have integrated sustainability reporting into their management practices.

While the usual flow of content that we monitor and share in the newsletter each week at times has a focus on Asia and the Pacific Basin region and subregions, we are bringing you much more detail in these stories – where you will find more information about the above research efforts and respective organizations’ reports in the Top Stories.

TOP STORIES

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

May 17 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about P/E and sustainability? 

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

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

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

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

TOP STORIES

 

Special Mention – IR Magazine Focus – Our Partners, DFIN

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

Pressure is Building on the C-Suite – to Start or Advance the Enterprise’s Sustainability Journey

July 2021

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

Pressure points:  The corporate executive suite in recent months has experienced pressure from both inside and outside the organization in terms of rising expectations related to corporate sustainability, responsibility, citizenship, ESG, and so on.

For example, asset owners and external asset managers are asking many more questions now about the sustainability journey of the companies they are invested in, including the company’s ESG strategies, actions, performance, metrics, outcomes, external recognitions, and more.

The customer base for a growing number of companies is now an important consideration related to the supplier/provider’s positioning in its sustainability journey.

The working principle here:  the large customer especially considers the supply chain “partners” to be part of their own ESG footprint.  Third-party organizations pose questions to supply chain partners on behalf of their client base (Ecovadis being an excellent example of this practice).

Consider, too, that the Federal government is the largest buyer of goods and services in the U.S. and the Biden Administration has instituted sweeping sustainability policies on sourcing of many kinds.

Regulators of different sorts are moving towards strongly urging companies to disclose more about their sustainability journeys and considering mandates to help ensure more comparable, accurate, complete, decision-worthy data and narrative disclosures to help providers of capital (investors, lenders, insurers) in their own portfolio management.  We see that now in the U.S. and in the European Union.

There is peer pressure – corporate issuers moving ahead to leadership positions in sustainability put pressure on industry peers to perform better, disclose more, and attain at least middle-of-the-pack positions. And laggards (those not yet on their journeys) are under even greater pressure today.

One place where the leader board really counts is in the now-numerous ESG ratings and rankings provided to institutional investors by the likes of MSCI, Sustainalytics, Institutional Shareholder Services, and other ESG rankers and raters.

And then there is the internal pressure point – employees want to work for a company demonstrating leadership in sustainability and responsibility.  They want to be an integral part of the journey and be a part of the team making great things happen. All this counts in recruitment, retention, and motivating the workforce.

This week we pulled together some of the contours of these pressures on boards and executive and management teams.  As you read this, thousands of people are gathering virtually for the UN Global Compact Leaders’ Summit to discuss the growing pressure on governments, companies, investors, and other stakeholders to take action on climate change and sustainability issues.  The UNGC released the 2021 Survey of Companies & CEOs ahead of the gathering.

Top line results:  Business interests need to transition to more sustainable business models.  Over the past three years corporate leaders have been experiencing the pressures to do this; and 75 percent of survey respondents expect the next three years to be times of increased pressure on boardrooms and executive suites.

Where is pressure coming from?  Certainly, from the investor side.  For example, 450+ investors managing US$45 trillion in assets released a joint statement calling on world governments to create a race-to-the-top on climate policies…

This is the “2021 Global Investor Statement to Governments on the Climate Crisis” that asks for climate-related financial reporting to be mandatory, recognizing the climate crisis.

Seven investment management partners created “The Investor Agenda” to be shared at the recent G7 meeting to encourage advocacy for “ambitious climate policy action” leading up to the Glasgow, Scotland meeting of “The Conference of the Parties” (COP 26) in November.

The Investor Agenda is in the Top Stories below for your reading, along with comments from heads of NYS Common Fund, State Street/SSgA, Alliance Bernstein, Legal and General Investment Management, Fidelity International, and others.

In the U.S., 160 investors with U$2.7 trillion in AUM joined by 155 corporate leaders and 58 not-for-profit organizations are advocating for the Securities & Exchange Commission to protect investors from risks including systemic and financial risks related to climate change by mandating climate disclosure.

By doing this, corporate issuers can clarify the risks they should measure and disclose so that investors can make sound investment decisions.  SEC rules are needed, say the advocates, to provide comparable and consistent information.

Who are these advocates?  A group of state financial officers —  Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs, California State Controller Betty Yee, New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli – as well as Steven Rothstein, Managing Director for the Ceres Accelerator for Sustainable Capital Markets and others.  Their suggestions for moving to an SEC mandate is another Top Story selection for you.

G&A is closely monitoring the various pressure points being placed on organizations to start or advance your sustainability journey, and you can detect other pressure points in the story selections in the topic silos.

TOP STORIES

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

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

Eyes on Financial Accounting and Reporting Standards – IASB & FASB Consider “Convergence” and Separate Actions

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

March 2021

Investors Call For More Non-Financial Standards for Corporate Reporting, Less Confusion in “Voluntary” Disclosure.

Should there be more clarity in the rules for corporate sustainability accounting and reporting as many more investors embrace ESG/Sustainable analysis and portfolio management approaches?

Many investors around the world think so and have called for less confusion, more comparability, more credible and complete corporate disclosure for ESG matters.

Accounting firms are part of the chorus of supporters for global non-financial disclosure standards development.

Where and how might such rules be developed? There are two major financial accounting/reporting organizations whose work investors and stakeholder rely on: The International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) and in the United States of America, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). Both organizations develop financial reporting standards for publicly traded companies.

There are similarities and significant differences in their work. The US system is “rules-based” while the IASB’s approach has been more “principles-based” The differences have been diminishing to some degree with the US Securities & Exchange Commission more recently embracing some principles-based reporting.

By acts of the US Congress, FASB (a not-for-profit) was created and has governmental authority to impose new accounting rules — while the IASB rules are more voluntary.

The US system has “GAAP” – Generally Accepted Accounting Principles for guidance in disclosure. The adoption of IFRS is up to individual countries around the world (144 nations have adopted IFRS).

The IASB standards are global; these are the “IFRS” (International Financial Reporting Standards) issued by the IASB.

The FASB standards are used by US-based companies. For years, the two organizations have tried to better align their work to achieve a global financial reporting standard – “convergence”.

The IFRS Foundation is based in the United States and has the mission of developing a single set of “high-quality, understandable, enforceable and globally-accepted accounting standards (the IFRS), which are set by IASB.

In 2022 IASB and FASB will have a joint conference (“Accounting in an Ever-Changing World”) in New York City to “…strengthen connections between the academic and standard-setting communities…” and explore differences and similarities between US GAAP and IFRS Standards.

Consider that the Financial Stability Board (FSB), which launched the TCFD, is on record in support of a single set of high-quality global accounting standards.

Convergence. In the USA, the “whole of government” approach to the climate crisis by the Biden-Harris Administration may result in encouragement, perhaps even rules for, corporate ESG disclosure. The IASB is not waiting.

The IFRS Foundation Trustees are conducting analysis to see whether or not to create another board that would issue global standards for sustainability accounting and reporting.

A proposal will come by the time of the UN Climate Change Conference this fall. Should the IFRS foundation play a role? The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) thinks so.

Many questions remain for IASB and FASB to address, of course. This is a complex situation, and we bring you some relevant news in the newsletter this week.

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Here’s an update from the IFRS Foundation and what is being considered:

Meanwhile, the European Commission separately is exploring how to strengthen “non-financial” reporting – there’s the possibility that there could be EU standards developed:

Helpful information about the FASB-IASB differences:

“Sustainable Investing” or Just Plain “Investing” – Where Are We in 2021? Important Milestones Provide Answers…

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

February 22, 2021

About Sustainable / or ESG Investing: We have traveled a far distance over the past four decades, beginning with “ethical” and “faith-based” and the more frequent “socially responsible investing” (SRI), morphing over time into “sustainable & responsible investing” (still SRI for the traditionalist) and on to “ESG investing”.

And now to… how about “investing”? That is, just plain investing, as our friend and colleague Erika Karp, CEO of Cornerstone Capital Group has been long saying.

At various conferences, Erika (a former head of UBS research) would often say to the crowd, “one day it will be ‘investing’ without the adjectives”. That day appears to be here! Let’s see how and why.

We can start making that “just plain investing” case with the results of the US SIF biannual survey of professional asset managers in the United States (2020) – $1-in-$3 of professionally-managed AUM follows some type of ESG/sustainable investing approach. That is $17 trillion of a $55T market and growing in leaps and bounds. We can expect the next survey to report $1-in-$2 or better. (Source: US SIF.)

More recent news: Morningstar looked at “sustainable funds” for 2020 and determined that more than $51 billion flowed into new investments (double the record year of 2019) …accounting for one-quarter of all newly invested money.

Morningstar’s Jon Hale (author of the report) explains that the worsening climate crisis, the Coronavirus pandemic, and the Black Lives Matter movement are among the many reasons for this apparent flight to safety investing trend.

And, the sustainable funds outperformed (on average) more than conventional funds, with three out of four sustainable equity funds ranked in the top half of their Morningstar category in 2020. (There are about 400 “sustainable funds” available for investment, says Morningstar, up from 139 in 2015 as the firm began to separate sustainable funds for close examination from the usual mutual funds.)

Morningstar applies a Sustainability Rating for funds to help investors measure portfolio level risk from ESG factors, using Sustainalytics ratings to measure a company’s material ESG risk; the scores are rolled up to company level scores to come up with the portfolio score.

The World Economic Forum (WEF, the Davos meetings folks) points out an important factor in 2020 investing growth – 10 million new individual investors began investing since the start of the pandemic. The newcomers to investing are often younger, and Millennial Generation (born 1980-2000 by most definitions).

The post-Baby Boomers (born after 1965) stand to inherit an estimated US$30 trillion as their Boomer parents pass along their wealth in coming years. (Boomers are categorized as the post-WWII baby boom born 1946 to 1964.)

Asks WEF: “As this great wealth transfers, what might this mean for wealth inequality and long-term sustainable value creation?”

An important “add” here to note is the moves by Goldman Sachs to issue $750 billion in sustainable financing, investing and advisory activity by 2030 (according to the firm’s CEO).

In this issue we share four Top Story items that add considerable information to the above. Are we ready yet to follow Erika Karp’s advice – just call all of this ‘investing’?

TOP STORIES