General ESG News
The steps businesses take in light of this vicious attack on Ukraine - on millions of innocent people and entire cities, towns, homes, and businesses - is lifting the veil on which companies genuinely believe and practice their ESG values, and which ones only profess to when it is convenient.
Yale School of Management broke the list down into four Russian engagement categories:
WITHDRAWAL - Clean Break
SUSPENSION - Keeping Options Open for Return
SCALING BACK - Reducing Activities
DIGGING IN - Defying Demands for Exit
Unilever was on the front lines of the corporate ESG movement when Paul Polman was CEO, but the Yale list only has them categorized as “scaling back,” along with Kimberly Clark and Kellogg. Pirelli Tires, originally listed on the Yale list as one of 34 companies “digging in” in Russia, announced late on March 17th that it is now “scaling back” its operations in Russia.
The survey results indicate that ESG measures remain a strong and growing priority for businesses in 2022, especially as they begin to emphasize a balanced focus across environment, social and governance factors.
Many respondents say their company has either increased its focus on ESG this year (46%) or that its focus will stay the same (41%). Only 3% of respondents report plans to decrease spending on ESG factors in 2022, an even smaller group than the 6% who reported plans to decrease ESG spending in 2021.
83% of respondents agree strongly that a business' brand reputation is impacted by ESG factors. 29% of respondents rate all ESG factors as equally important to their company's business. Respondents increasingly believe their companies should have a formal process or program for measuring and reporting on ESG metrics.
Momentum around ESG in the U.S. shows no sign of slowing, with 55% of U.S. respondents saying their company plans to increase spending on ESG factors this year.
Harvard Law Review: The Evolving Role Of ESG Metrics In Executive Compensation Plans
As boards work to integrate ESG concerns into discussions of company strategy, many are also considering how to create the right incentives for achievement of ESG related goals. As of March 2021, more than half of companies in the S&P 500 used at least one ESG metric in their plans.
The 2021 Global Benchmark Policy Survey published by Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) stated 86% of investors think non-financial ESG metrics are an appropriate measure to incentivize executives.
A possible road map to readiness for companies that are not yet using ESG metrics in their plans includes: evaluate your company strategy and purpose, benchmark against your peers, assess your shareholders, and determine your ESG maturity. When thinking about implementation companies can be guided by these questions: Which metrics and weighting? To whom should the goals apply? How did the metrics operate? What time horizon is appropriate? How will this affect disclosure?
To help your company's leadership team properly embed ESG principles and plans into their pre- and post-IPO strategies, board members should be asking the following five questions:
What is the company’s overarching purpose and how does that link to long-term value creation?
What are the primary ESG issues we should consider?
Do we understand how our stakeholders view ESG?
How will ESG be measured and monitored over time?
How will we demonstrate our ESG performance?
Board members can help their leadership teams by striving to ensure that ESG principles are considered throughout the IPO planning process and that appropriate plans and structures are put into place prior to going public.
Harvard Law: Coming to Terms with a Maturing ESG Landscape
With the significant increase in ESG transparency over the last few years, investor engagements and shareholder proposals are increasingly focused on accountability and impact.
Many investors share anecdotal examples of E&S issues influencing a decision to vote against directors, but traditional governance issues like shareholder rights and director over boarding remain the predominant factors for directors receiving less than majority support from investors
For director votes in the most carbon intensive sectors, there has been a prominent level of director support - around 95% support in 2021 - and little differentiation relative to other industries despite a heavy focus on climate change among the proponents of shareholder proposals.
Looking at climate risk specifically, the quality of TCFD reporting is improving in terms of companies not only establishing aspirational targets or acknowledging climate as a material risk to the business, but also creating the infrastructure to manage climate risk.
Over the next couple of weeks, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) along with international government officials will review and evaluate whether to approve an important report that UN scientists drafted on how to reduce the number of warming gases emitted from human activities.
The report will likely discuss carbon removal approaches such as tree planting, agriculture, and large machines to remove air from carbon. Some carbon-removing technologies are considered controversial.
The war in Ukraine may affect the participation and outcomes of this meeting.
Particularly during the pandemic, CIOs roles have become crucial and now important to draft and implement ESG strategies. As ESG becomes prominent in all businesses, Ernst & Young LLP identifies five priorities for companies:
Decarbonizing existing processes
Ensuring more sustainable services and practices
Investing in green infrastructure
Switching to a sustainable supply chain
Implementing the risk and compliance necessary to account for all of the above
CIOs should collaborate with colleagues in sourcing and procurement to clearly define criteria for ESG risks and organize internally to set standards and goals and establish legitimacy.
Maddyness: What Role Does Technology Play in ESG?
ESG has become central to companies, but they face challenges in collecting and analyzing ESG data. ESG efforts consist of many complex initiatives to achieve goals as consumers are now demanding actions over words from companies.
European companies are leading the way with formal ESG programs. ESG-related laws and regulations have been established in Europe for several years now.
Technology advances ESG performance as it develops new materials to improve buildings, health, or productivity, and software helps to meet ESG goals. The Chief Technology Officer (CTO) has an important role. How they evaluate and use data and technology as leverage towards ESG efforts directly impact the company’s ESG success.
JD Supra: The ESG Report – The Role of Tax in ESG with Tracy Howell (Podcast Episode (11:24))
Tom Fox and Tracy Howell discuss tax and ESG in this podcast episode. External forces pull tax into the Social and Governance of ESG.
Companies paying a “fair share” has been misunderstood because different countries and jurisdictions have different tax rates. They are trying to operate in the most tax-efficient manner. It is also becoming more common for companies to talk about their tax compliance in the EU. Large institutional investors play a heavy role in multinational companies’ activities, as they are beginning to consider tax transparency.
As pressures on ESG transparency increase, there is a push to standardize reporting and scoring of entities on their tax transparency. Publicly traded companies have substantial reporting requirements on material information. Different organizations are pushing for globalization and drafting out their own transparency scorecards that include effective tax rates.
Global investment manager Federated Hermes announced Monday the launch of a Biodiversity Equity Fund in affiliation with the UK's Natural History Museum. The fund aims to invest in a portfolio of companies that are helping to preserve and restore biodiversity.
Federated Hermes outlined six key themes for the fund, addressing major biodiversity threats, including land and pollution, marine pollution and exploitation, unsustainable living, climate change, unsustainable farming, and deforestation.
The museum has developed a Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII), a metric that estimates the loss of grow diversity across an area and provides a figure for what percentage of the areas’ natural ecological communities persist there. This data will be used to help support and inform investment decisions for the strategy.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
HR Today: Rethinking D&I Strategy
A data-driven approach is key as organizations continue to take a critical look at their practices and their hiring processes. With the help of data and analytics, organizations can reveal unconscious bias and process flaws that are costing them diverse candidates.
There could be unconscious bias in the system that hiring managers do not realize they are bringing to the interview, and it is adversely affecting the hiring of diverse candidates.
To get a better understanding of the diversity of their talent pool and the inclusion of their hiring processes, HR leaders need to evaluate the demographic data of their candidates every step of the way.
Organizations that implement a data-driven approach to D&I will set themselves up for a more agile, effective talent strategy that delivers tangible results.
Various research findings state more diverse companies are more profitable and innovative. 79% of people state they will leave a company if they do not feel value and a sense of belonging.
Rita Kakati-Shah is an award-winning gender, diversity, and inclusion strategist and CEO and founder of Uma. She recently published a book called The Goddess of Go-Getting: Your Guide to Confidence, Leadership, and Workplace Success, where she offers DEI insights. Five tips to maximize the impact of a DEI strategy are:
1. Lead with empathy.
2. Listen before acting with decency
3. Consider culture from all angles.
4. Be original.
5. Do not box yourself in.
The pandemic created flexibility for everybody. In this podcast, lawyers from the U.K., U.S., Denmark, and Hong Kong discuss some benefits and challenges from the work practices that evolved from the pandemic.
During the pandemic, lots of barriers were created for mothers as childcare more often fell on them, and the added pressure on women in the workplace may hinder success and growth opportunities. Women are more likely to take opportunities to work from home, but proximity bias is a concern in which less visibility in the office may be perceived negatively. There have also been discussions to cut people’s pay based on attendance in the office, which could affect women or end up discriminatory.
The right to disconnect is being considered in many countries as burnout. The inability to switch off from work or directly interact with colleagues could negatively affect mental health. The Philippines has a Workers’ Rest Bill that prevents an employee to work or travel outside work hours, is not expected to answer communications, and cannot be punished.
The pandemic disproportionately affected disabled individuals. The disability pay gap has widened, and there are still multiple barriers that disabled people face. However, the pandemic may have benefited the disabled with flexible, remote work positions.
Crains Cleveland Business: Private Equity Grapples With Its Diversity Problem
Asset managers and their investors are beginning to appreciate the importance of diversity in the private equity sector. “Limited Partners are increasingly focused on the diversity of the managers they back and I would expect this trend to continue,” said Liz Burke, an Assistant Vice President with global private equity firm The Riverside Co.
The EY 2020 Global Private Equity Report determined that 74% of PE firms with fewer than $2.5 billion had not set targets for diversity. Diverse teams are more likely to invest in diverse companies. This trend could help support the generation of wealth minorities have been sidelined from – something that has inspired funds like Mezzanine and Fvlcrum.
ESG Disclosures, Standards, Rankings, and Reporting
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced Monday the release of its proposal for climate disclosures for U.S. public companies. The proposal would require U.S. companies to provide information on climate risks facing their businesses, and plans to address those risks, along with the metrics detailing the company's climate footprint including Scope 1, 2, and 3 greenhouse gas emissions.
Disclosure requirements for companies under the proposed rules would include information about the oversight and governance of climate related risks by the company's board and management, how identified climate related risks impact strategy, business model and outlook, and the process used by the company to identify, assess, and manage these risks.
For companies that have adopted a transition plan the rules would require a description of the plan. The rules also would require information about a company's use of an internal carbon prices, including information about the price and how it is set, disclosure of information on the impact to financial statement line items of climate related events, such as severe weather events, and of risks related to the transition to a low carbon economy. Additionally, companies would be required to report on their Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions.
The proposal will be open to a 60-day comment period before the SEC initiates the process to finalize its climate disclosure rules. Here is the SEC's proposed climate disclosure rules factsheet.
Doug Peterson, President and CEO of S&P Global, published a letter arguing that ESG scores should focus on impact by evaluating the risks and positive effects of a company.
ESG scores vary greatly because there are several methods to evaluate a company’s ESG performance. Greater transparency will clarify differences.
As the ESG rating industry evolves, Peterson claims transparency and impact are necessary to further evolve ESG, progress on sustainable goals, and boost market confidence.
Millennials and Gen Zers value ESG reporting to ensure they are aware and intentional with their spending as it helps them decide what to invest in, where to work, and what products to purchase.
ESG reports are reports that companies publish about their environmental, social and governance impacts, which often include their ESG goals, measures, and progress. Investors and consumers review ESG reports verifying that the report is honest and accurate.
Workiva has a streamlined platform for transparent, storytelling ESG reporting.
The IFRS Foundation and Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) have agreed to align capital market and multi-stakeholder standards for sustainability disclosure.
The IFRS Foundation established the International Sustainability Board (ISSB) at the COP26 climate conference last November 2021 to develop IFRS Sustainability Disclosure Standards and a baseline of disclosure requirements that can be used alone or integrated into a broader framework. At this time, the IFRS also consolidated the Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB) and the Value Reporting Foundation into the IFRS Foundation, which were the leading organizations of sustainability reporting standards.
The Global Sustainability Standards Board (GSSB) is the independent operating entity that is solely responsible for developing the GRI sustainability standards. As the ISSB and the GSSB will move forward with their new partnership agreement, they will coordinate work programs and standard-setting activities. The IFRS Foundation and the GRI will also participate in each other’s consultative bodies related to sustainability reporting activities.
Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance: ESG Disclosure in Silicon Valley
A report studied how technology companies are responding to ESG and ESG-related disclosures, particularly the Fenwick – Bloomberg Law Silicon Valley 150 List (SV 150).
About 90% of SV 150 companies present some level of ESG disclosures, and 83% disclose the information through various channels. The ESG disclosure varies by the size of the company as larger SV 150 companies generally disclose more “comprehensive” information that includes quantitative metrics.
The ESG disclosures cover many topics, but a significant majority disclose human capital management while smaller majorities disclose community impact and carbon emissions.
Around half of the SV 150 companies use third-party standards or frameworks for their disclosures.
17% of SV 150 companies give independent assurance for their quantitative ESG metrics like GHG emissions.
Most SV 150 companies delegate ESG oversight to the nominating and corporate governance committee.
Institutional Shareholder Services’ (ISS) responsible investment arm, ISS ESG, announced the launch of Net Zero Solutions, a suite of tools aimed at enabling investors to assess the alignment of portfolio with a net zero 2050 scenario.
ISS SG Net Zero Solutions provide coverage of 29,000 issuers for Climate data, 23,000 issues for Energy and Extractives data, and 8000 issuers for EU Taxonomy eligibility data. Dr. Maximilian Horster, Head of ISS ESG, said, “ESG solutions will support investors in verifying the extent to which their portfolio companies publicized targets and commitments are aligning with ongoing or planned operational activities.”
Credit ratings, research, and risk analysis provider, Moody's Investor Service announced Tuesday it is expanding its ESG profile and credit impact scores to a series of new industries. They will now integrate ESG considerations into the credit analysis of companies including each entities’ risk exposure and degree of credit impact. The report includes two types of ESG scores, including issuer profile scores (IPS) and credit impact scores (CIS).
Moody's provided its overall assessment for each of the sectors. For airline companies, they said that ESG considerations have a moderately negative impact on credit which creates risk of exposure due to the limited ability of the airlines to lower CO2 emissions. For restaurant and gaming companies, Moody's found the ESG considerations have a negative impact.
ESG Today: ISS ESG Launches Water Risk Ratings
Institutional Shareholder Services’ (ISS) responsible investment arm, ISS ESG, announced Tuesday the launch of the ISS ESG Water Risk Rating. It will be aimed at enabling investors to identify and manage freshwater related risks in portfolios, build freshwater focus portfolios, and invest in products and conduct water related stewardship and engagement programs.
The new water risk rating assesses eleven distinct data points per company. The tools scoring methodology assesses companies based on a Water Risk Exposure Classification (WREC) as well as on a Water Risk Management Performance Score (WRMPS). Dr. Maximilian Horster, Head of ISS ESG, said, “we're pleased to launch this Water Risk Rating, which provides a holistic assessment of companies overall freshwater related risk, to support investors seeking to improve water related stewardship and risk management.”
Traditionally, sustainability-linked loans (SLLs) have been aligned more toward the environmental component of a borrower's ESG strategy. However, SLLs are now increasingly incorporating social goals as well, either on a stand-alone basis or in addition to environmental (and/or governance) goals.
The growing interest among borrowers in the social aspects of ESG comes as diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives have gained wider acceptance and workers are increasingly returning to the office, making employee health and safety a renewed corporate priority.
Alternatively, lenders and borrowers may also choose to adopt a KPI that references a sustainability rating issued by an independent ESG rating agency, such as MSCI, Sustainalytics, or V.E (formerly known as Vigeo Eiris).
Shareholders have filed a record 529 resolutions related to environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues for the annual meetings of publicly traded U.S. companies so far this year, up 22% from the same point in 2021.
Many seek details on carbon emissions or workforce diversity. Successes activists scored last year could make directors look at proposed changes more favorably. Companies are realizing that their investors want them to have less risk.
Wins for activists so far this year include a vote at the annual meeting of fast-food company Jack in the Box Inc, where 95% of votes cast were in favor of a resolution dealing with sustainable packaging.
In another case, activist Boston Trust Walden agreed to withdraw a shareholder resolution filed for the spring meeting of JPMorgan Chase & Co.
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP) define human rights due diligence as an ongoing and iterative process to identify, prevent, mitigate, and account for how companies - and investors - address the most severe risks to people in connection with business activities.
The investment community is starting to understand that rigorous due diligence is good for businesses, investors, the economy, and the people it serves as detailed in The Investor Case for Mandated Human Rights Due Diligence.
Investors are engaging with companies so they will implement robust due diligence strategies. Shareholders have already begun to file resolutions asking their portfolio companies to undertake human rights due diligence, and human rights impact assessments are a first step in that process.
Bitcoin’s energy use is the amount of energy bitcoin mining uses. Mining is the mechanism that sustains the financial infrastructure of the Bitcoin network. Bitcoin mining is designed to be energy intensive and provide ironclad security.
Energy consumption is the price for securing the Bitcoin network.
Regarding ESG, investors may consider the environmental impact of Bitcoin’s energy use, which involves greenhouse gas emissions related to energy production from mining.
A 2020 research study suggested that 39% of total energy for Bitcoin mining was from renewable sources in 2019, and 76% of miners used renewable sources in their energy mix. The Bitcoin Mining Council shared data showing that 58.5% of global bitcoin mining uses renewable energy.
ESG considerations can be done in emerging markets by using a 360-degree view. Talking and engaging with multiple stakeholders, creating a very holistic viewpoint, and then quantifying that challenging ESG information using a propriety framework. Data and track records found that two thirds of the worst performers every year are due to ESG considerations. Innovative structures, like bonds that international investors could fund into, offer a great chance for international investors, who are ESG aware, the opportunity to fund into structures that help both the social and environmental consideration.
This article is a conversation between AllianceBersteins’ Patrick O'Connell, Senior Vice President, and Director of Fixed Income Responsible Investing Research, and Christian DiClementi, Senior Vice President and Lead Emerging Market Debt Portfolio Manager.
BlackRock CEO Larry Fink published his annual shareholder letter On Thursday, dedicating a significant focus on the market and investment implications from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, including what he called “putting an end to the globalization we have experienced over the last three decades.”
One of the primary impact areas of the war discussed in the letter was the net zero transition. A key result of the war, according to Fink, has been an adjustment in energy related considerations, with energy security joining energy transitions on the priority list. The long-term impact may be an acceleration in the shift to cleaner energy sources, with several countries already indicating plans to turn to renewable energy sources to establish energy independence.
Companies and Industries
A new memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Responsible Business Alliance (RBA) and the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) was signed in Feb 2022. The agreement recognizes the need for greater awareness of water stewardship and support to global brands and their supply chains for related resilience.
“We believe this partnership will help companies better understand water-related risks within their supply chains and the actions they can take to mitigate those risks,” said Rob Lederer, Chief Executive Officer of the RBA. “Water stewardship is an approach that enables organizations to develop a deeper understanding of their unique water-related impacts and dependencies in their operations.”
The Motley Fool: Here’s How ESG Investing Has Disrupted the Oil Industry
ESG has been shaking up the oil industry and receiving a lot of public notice from banks, large investors, and private equity hedge funds. Many have made direct commitments to avoid investing in fossil fuel industries, which are quite different actions compared to ten years ago.
ESG goes beyond mitigating carbon emissions as ESG is building a stronger world while some companies find themselves in the middle.
There may be higher energy prices for the next several years.
The National News: Hedge Funds Frustrated Over Lack Of Clear ESG Regulations
Hedge funds are raising growing frustration over what they say is an absence of clear regulations, especially for accounting for short selling. As a result, many are now turning to their lawyers to help them avoid the kind of legal risks that might arise if they misstate their ESG positions.
The EU says the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR) covers all corners of the asset management industry including short selling. It also requires every firm targeting European clients to abide by it. Hedge funds currently face limits around sustainability calculations when it comes to use of derivatives in which short positions can be based. Regulations look likely to determine how much ESG money flows into hedge funds.
The key opportunity for finance sector players is in realizing the potential of investing, not just in a business but for the wider health of a system. The concept of “finance is neutral” has been debunked; the principle that finance is a shaper of change cannot be applied to more than just greenhouse gas emissions.
Business Times identifies three dynamic trends for how the system could change in making ESG more mainstream.
Impact investing intentionally seeks out and measures net positive impact, such as contribution to the UN sustainable development goals.
Judging “worthwhile investment” not on whether it is better than before but on whether it keeps the economy within necessary thresholds.
Influencing the rules of the game.
These trends feed into a shift for financers as agents of change - acting to influence change at a system level by intentionally investing for the health of the economy, environment, and society.
Sustainalytics: What’s Happening In Sustainable Finance: ESG Market Continues Rapid Growth, Climate Risks Top WEF List, And More (Podcast Episode (36:06))
Nicholas Gandolfo, Director, Corporate Solutions and Aditi Bhatia, Regional Sales Manager, Corporate Solutions, discuss notable trends and deals in sustainable finance - from rapid growth market to increasing diversification of products, new taxonomies, sovereign green bonds, and sustainability linked bonds, impact accounting and reporting, and much more. They also tackle audience questions and give insight on Sustainalytics approach to supporting transition finance.
U.S. public companies must provide investors and regulators each year with details on their financial and risks, and they may soon be required to also disclose information on climate change efforts.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission formally proposed new rules that, for the first time, would require companies to report on greenhouse gas emissions and other environment-related details. Some companies have already been voluntarily reporting on climate-related information, but there have not yet been any standard requirements.
If these rules are approved, public companies must also provide climate-related information with their annual SEC filings. The rules would require companies to disclose data on their own greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption, and emissions generated by the companies’ suppliers and customers.
The public has 60 days to comment on the proposed rules. The rules would be phased in, so companies may not have to file climate risk information until 2024 at the earliest.
Also discussed by Washington Post: The SEC proposed a landmark climate disclosure rule. Here is what to know.
ESG Today: EU Member States Agree to Impose Carbon Tax
Member states of the European Union have agreed to impose a carbon tax. The new measure will be applied to products imported into the European Union that do not meet EU climate standards in their production.
The agreement follows the proposal by the European Commission in July 2021 for a carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM), placing a carbon price on targeted products to avoid carbon leakage. The proposals rules followed a phase in approach to implementing the CBAM system, initially applying it to a select number of goods with high carbon leakage risk. The proposed rules would see the system becoming fully operational in 2026.
The Biden administration can continue to consider the economic cost of climate change as it writes new rules which could inch the country closer to Biden's goal of cutting emissions in half by the end of the decade compared with 2005 levels.
This ruling raises questions about whether Biden officials will restart federal oil and gas leasing, which they paused after Judge James Cain blocked the government from considering the real-world cost of climate change.
“His injunction barred the Biden administration from using the higher estimate, leaving the government with only the lower cost figure imposed by the Trump administration.”