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

Earth Day – Climate Week – The World Celebrates Promises and Actions to Meet Climate Change Challenges

April 21 2021

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

In brief – yes, this is Climate Week, being observed just about everywhere on this precious Blue Orb floating in space. 

The varied observations are “surrounding” the now-50-plus-one years of celebrating Earth Day going back to April 1970, United States Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin was the moving force behind the very first Earth Day in the United States of America.

Good news for 2021: The U.S.A. is fully “back” in climate change matters with the nation rejoining the Paris Agreement and embracing and promising to surpass the COP temperature-limiting goals. As we write this,

President Joseph Biden and VP Kamala Harris are leading a global leader virtual summit on climate change issues.

Senator Gaylord’s words in Denver, Colorado that first Earth Day continue to speak to us across the decades: “Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human being and all living creatures.”

Here we are in 2021 in the USA witnessing the dramatic expansion of the decades of Earth Day celebrations with current and future promises, pledges, and action on many fronts – in many nations as well – and among global institutions (like the arms of the United Nations and many more),

And by tens of millions of people, individuals who care about the state of humanity and state of our planet.

While considerable focus is on the Biden-Harris Administration policy declarations and actions at the Federal level (“the climate administration”), there are many more actions at the state, city – municipality and tribal levels as well in the United States.

And, across the spectrum of firms in “Corporate America” and at many asset management firms there is the rapidly-widening embrace of ESG policies and actions.

‘No doubt the digital climate summit of this week will spur internal debate in corporate suites along the lines of: What are industry and investing peers doing – what else should we be doing! What are our risks and opportunities as the world engages to move toward Net Neutrality!

In this brief post we are sharing timely updates in each of our subject/topic silos that readers find each week in the G&A Sustainability Highlights newsletter.

Reminder – there is much more related current and archived climate change content beyond the silos for you on the G&A’s SustainabilityHQ platform.  And more related content to share on G&A’s Sustainability Update blog.

TOP STORIES

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

April 30 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOP STORIES

Climate Summit

EU Regulations: Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive

Selling in the Agora or Connecting Online – Consumer Products Companies Adapt to Growing Demand for Sustainable Products

June 20 2021  – Here we go shopping!

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

Selling “at retail,” both direct to consumers and through business partners to consumers in both digital and physical spaces, is a rapidly- changing (every day!) area of the North American economy.

Think of the upheavals in the once-staid and steady consumer retail marketplace in recent years.

Tiny Amazon came to life in summer 1994 in Washington State founded by a former Wall Streeter, Jeff Bezos. The first products offered were books (with human editors writing summaries!).

By 2020, the company had reached annual revenues of US$386 billion (up $38% over 2019) with net profits of US$21 billion (up 84% over 2019) – with an amazing array of products moving to consumers.

Amazon was the “go-to” retailer for many people in the sheltering-in-place days of the Covid pandemic. Need “it”? Chances are Amazon’s “got it” as the company’s inventory of products and methods of delivery have been dramatically expanding. And disrupting many other retailing organizations.

The largest U.S.-headquartered, “location-based” as well as remote order retail organization selling direct to consumers is Walmart, with 11,443 stores, 404 distribution centers and 2021 fiscal year sales of $559 billion worldwide.

Consider that Walmart is the largest retailer on the globe — including being the #2 digital retail marketer. All this from small beginnings as storefront stores in Arkansas founded by Sam Walton and family in 1962. By 1967, there were 24 stores with a healthy $12 million in annual sales.  Walton Stores morphed to “Wal-Mart Stores”.

Walmart today is also a business disrupter for many other retailing organizations and for companies in the middle all along the value chain from farm-to-factory-to-shelf and table. But there are other disrupters as well in the digital retail marketing space.

Top web-based retailers today include Apple (at #3, just passed by Walmart), Dell, Best Buy, Home Depot, Target, Wayfair, Kroger, and Staples.

In 2020, the U.S. Department of Commerce estimated that retail sales topped $4 trillion in the United States. While e-commerce grew by 44% to become $1-in-$5 of all retail sales, “in-store” sales still dominated the retail space.

There are more than one million retail establishments across the breadth of the U.S., and even the 50 top retailers with online presence operate stores (a hybrid model).

Fixed-space retailing is still very popular with consumers – “wandering the Agora” has been a favorite pastime for many of us since the classical times in ancient Greece and down through the ages.

The Athens agora was an important city and just part of the agora of settlements in Greece; this was the center of economic activity and the consumer marketplace for goods…as well as for sharing ideas.

Today’s huge malls are a sort of equivalent but minus the philosophers holding forth.

What about large consumer products companies selling to consumers in domestic and global marketplaces, mostly through value chain partners ranging from Walmart and Amazon to supermarket chains?

How are these companies managing their way through the embrace of sustainable products by a growing number of consumers?

We have selected three firms to look at this week who are leaders in terms of their corporate ESG profile: Kellogg’s, Colgate-Palmolive, and PepsiCo. Some top lines for you:

Kellogg’s is partnering with 440,000 farmers in 29 countries to promote climate, social and financial resiliency (this is the “Kellogg’s Origin” program). The company’s Kashi subsidiary began to partner with local growers (wheat, corn, rice, sorghum) to help transition from traditional farming to organic farming. The food manufacturer / marketers’ programs are outlined in the story from Baking Business (see link below).

Colgate-Palmolive is reporting on its corporate sustainability journey with updates on its “purpose” progress – re-imagining a healthier future for all people, their pets, and our planet.

News: 99 percent of Colgate-Palmolive products launched in 2020 have improved sustainability profiles – that should be attractive to this large company’s customers.

PepsiCo is a large multinational enterprise marketing beverages and snacks around the world. The company is coming out in support of the idea of better “environmental labelling,” as the European Union considers as part of its “Farm-to-Fork” strategy a sustainable food labelling framework. PepsiCo is generally on board, says its director of environmental policy, Gloria Gabellini, with the idea that consumers have the right to expect transparency from the producers.

And so – for consumer purchases in the digital space or taking place in a fixed location (the venerable physical storefront) – consumer products companies are recognizing the shift underway with many more buyers seeking “sustainable” products (especially for consumables).

These food, beverage, personal products, and related products are disrupting their own businesses to remake the model.

Think of retailing – including wandering the Agora of the 21st Century – as an ever-changing economic activity.

Free-range chicken for dinner tonight, anyone? Even farming practices considered “old” or traditional are coming back into vogue for consumers.

TOP STORIES

Corporate Progress

G7 Developments

The “G7” are heads of governments of the leading economies of the world – United States of America, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Japan, Italy, and Canada.

These sovereigns represent about 60% of global net wealth and almost half of global GDP. The European Union has representatives at the G7’s annual summit. G7 decisions influence the major economies of the world. So – these steps need to be monitored going forward:

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

JULY 1 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original:  September 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOP STORIES

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

June 2021  – This is a biggie!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Addressed in the Executive Order:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let our team know what questions you have!

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

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.

CEOs & Business Leaders Speak Out on Voter Rights – Corporate Citizenship, USA-style On Display

April 14 2021

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

Corporate America and “Corporate Citizenship” – Today, that can mean lending the CEO and company voice to address critical societal issues in the United States of America.  Some applaud the move, while others attack the company and its leader for their position on the issues in question.   

In this context, powerful messages were delivered today from the influential leaders of the US corporate community – clearly voicing concern about the American electoral process and the rights of all qualified voters in the midst of mounting challenges to the right-to-vote. 

What the CEOs, joined by other influentials in the American society, had to say to us today:

As Americans we know that in our democracy we should not expect to agree on everything.

However – regardless of our political affiliations, we believe the very foundation of our electoral process rests upon the ability of each of us to cast our ballots for the candidates of our choice.

We should all feel a responsibility to defend the right to vote and oppose any discriminatory legislation or measure that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot.

Who is saying this? A list of bold name signatories in an advertisement that appears today in The New York Times and The Washington Post – these messages (these above and more) splashed across two full pages (a “double truck” in newspaper language) with a dramatic roster of prominent names from Corporate America. And prominent accounting and law firms with bold name corporate clients. And not-for-profits. And individuals. Celebrities.  People and organizations that every day in some way touch our lives. 

This advertisement certainly continues to set the foundation in place for pushback by powerful people and organizations as various state legislatures take up electoral voting measures. And pushes back against the “Big Lie” that the November 2020 elections at federal, state and local levels were widely fraudulent.

The names on the two pages jump out to capture our attention: Apple. American Express. Amazon. Dell Technologies. Microsoft. Deloitte and EY and PwC. Estee Lauder. Wells Fargo. BlackRock. American Airlines and JetBlue and United Airlines. Steelcase. Ford Motor and General Motors. Goldman Sachs. MasterCard. Vanguard. Merck. Starbucks. IBM. Johnson & Johnson. PayPal. T. Rowe Price. And many more.

CEOs including Michael R. Bloomberg (naturally!). Warren Buffett. Bob Diamond, Barclay’s. Jane Fraser, Citi. Brian Doubles, Synchrony. Brian Cornwell, Target. Roger Crandall, Mass Mutual.

Luminaries joined in as individual in support of the effort: David Geffen. George Clooney. Naomi Campbell. Larry David. Shonda Rhimes. Larry Fink. Demi Lovato. Lin-Manuel Miranda. Many more; think about the influence of their influencers in our American society in 2021.

And we see the names of these law firms: Akin Gump. Arnold Porter. Milbank. Morgan Lewis & Bockius. Fried Frank. Cleary Gottlieb. Holland and Knight. Ropes & Gray. (If you are not sure of who these firms and many more law firm signatories are, be assured that in the board room and C-suite and corporate legal offices these are very familiar names).

And the “social sector” institutions/organizations signing on include leaders of the Wharton School, Morehouse College, Spelman College, University of Pennsylvania, Penn State, NYU Stern, United Negro College Fund, Hebrew SeniorLife, and Council for Inclusive Capitalism.

The New York Times covered the story of the advertising message in an article in the Business Section – Companies Join Forces to Oppose Voting Curbs (bylined by Andrew Ross Sorkin and David Gelles). Subhead: A statement that defies the GOPs call to stay out of politics.

The effort was organized by prominent Black business leaders including Ken Chennault, until recently the highly-regarded CEO of American Express, and Ken Frazier, the also-widely-admired CEO of Merck.

Recall that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell corporations said that corporations should “stay out of politics”. The recent State of Georgia legislation addressing voting rights was a trigger for prominent corporate leaders (such as heads of Coca Cola, Delta Airlines, both headquartered in Atlanta) to criticize measures that could deter or inhibit minority voter populations from exercising their rights.  Leader McConnell reacted to this. 

The Times quoted Kenneth Chennault: “It should be clear that there is overwhelming support in Corporate America for the principle of voting rights…these are not political issues…these are the issues that we were taught in civics…”

Also made clear: The CEOs, social influential and thought leaders including celebrities involved in the ad message effort were non partisan and not attacking individual states’ legislative efforts.

Remember The Business Roundtable’s recent re-alignment of the groups mission statement to focus on “purpose”? According to the Times report, the subject of the ad effort was raised on an internal call and CEOs were encouraged to sign on to the statement; many CEOs did.

Where does this go from here? Corporate executives are speaking out separately on the legislative measures being discussed in individual states that appear to or outright are clear about restricting rights of minority populations. That happened in Georgia recently. Coca Cola and Delta Airlines were hit with criticism; those companies were not signatories on the ad today. Home Depot (also HQd in Atlanta) waffled; the company is not represented on the signatory line nor was there public criticism of the legislature’s effort.

Perspective: While corporate citizenship has been an area of focus and public reporting for many years at a number of large cap public companies, the glare of publicity centered on the question of “what are you doing to help advance society on critical issues as a corporate citizen” is more recent.

The spotlight is intensifying on voting rights (as we see today) and also on climate change, diversity & inclusion, human capital management (especially in the Covid crisis), investment in local communities, in supporting public education, in hiring training & promotion of women and minorities, doing business with nations with despot leaders (think of Burma/Myanmar), equality of opportunity for all populations…and many other issues.

And so today’s advertising splash with CEOs especially putting their stake and their company’s stake in the ground on these types of issues is something we can expect to see continue and even expand in the coming weeks.

The division lines in the USA are certainly clear, especially in politics and public sector governance, and we are seeing that corporate leaders are responding to their stakeholders’ expectations…of being “a good corporate citizen”.

And it’s interesting to see the perspectives shared that even the meaning and understanding of the responsibilities of the “corporate citizen”) is defined along some of the lines that divide the nation.

Interesting footnote:  Clearly illustrating the political and philosophical divide, the members of the Republican Party who are organized as the opposition to the GOP today — The Lincoln Project — called on followers to sign on to an email that singles out JetBlue (one of the ad signatories) for contributing to political campaigns of what the Lincoln Project calls “seditionists”.  These are elected officials who “support voter suppression”. Says the project: If enough of us make it clear that we won’t stand inequality, voter supression and sedition, we will make a difference.

The battle lines are clearly drawn in voting rights issues. 

The advertisement today:

April 14 2021 – The New York Times and The Washington Post messages: