General ESG News
New research from ESMT shows that stakeholders increasingly want business leaders to be politically and socially engaged, rather than focusing solely on creating shareholder returns.
A recent Business Values Survey from the University of Oxford highlights how values like empathy, passion, and courage help guide organizations through challenging circumstances, and sustainability is more of a business opportunity than an obligation.
Alignment between personal values and company values is increasingly a deal-breaker in talent attraction and retention. Additionally, companies are realizing that “there is no future for companies if the earth has no future itself.” This underpins a spirit of cooperation and developing lasting relationships with suppliers, customers, governments, communities, and even competitors.
New publications from Harvard Business School also reveal that while many companies continue to view ESG, CSR, and sustainability as “external” to their core business, the new generation of leaders believes that these principles are more than “nice to have.” Companies can pursue ‘purpose plus profit’ in many ways, including:
Creating a new model or market
Transforming the business
Focusing on operational efficiencies
Recognizing added value.
The idea of selling carbon credits to fund regenerative agriculture practices has captured the minds of climate activists, farmers, and corporations, but the produce sector of farming has largely been left out of the conversation in favor of crops like corn, wheat, and soybean.
Allcot, a carbon credit project developer, has partnered with ProducePay to launch a carbon offset program designed specifically for fruit and vegetable farmers. The program involves close collaboration with farmers to help them design their fields deliberately and to account for frequent crop rotations.
The program is expected to fund some innovative agricultural approaches, including soil management techniques that contribute to carbon storage, plastics recycling, and waste management solutions like biomass and biofertilization to help shift away from carbon-intensive fertilizers.
Gabon plans to release 90 million carbon credits into the voluntary market, and this will help gauge how seriously developed nations are taking their environmental commitments and see if they are willing to pay developing nations to preserve their carbon-absorbing forests.
Gabon is the world’s second-most forested nation and is partnering with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s REDD+ to create the carbon credits, which are expected to be ready in early October.
The credits will be sold on a new platform, redd.plus, and are expected to sell for anywhere from $16 to $30 each.
Forbes: ESG Needs a Texas-Sized Makeover
The narrative of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius in compliance with the Paris Climate Accord has not resonated with Americans, as Americans do not use Celsius and are not particularly compelled by compliance with a UN agreement.
U.S. politicians have been pushing back on ESG investing, and in Texas the state's Comptroller issued a list of financial funds and other funds Texas-based funds need to divest from given their stance on climate-related investing as another act of resistance to ESG investing.
New messaging is needed to unite Americans, focusing on issues that energize Texans like competition, security, and duty. Becoming greener is now a global competitiveness issue, reducing dependency on fossil fuels is a global security issue, and protecting the planet for the future is our duty.
The Inflation Reduction Act’s $362 billion for climate change includes allocation directly towards cities and climate equity efforts. $27 billion is budgeted for a greenhouse gas reduction fund for projects and similar funds at the state and local levels, and 60% must go to disadvantaged communities.
Major rating agencies like S&P and Moody’s have evaluated ESG-related risks for states, large cities and counties, and other public sector entities. Moody’s study found that only 18% of cities with an ESG rating had a positive impact on their overall rating, and 35% of the studied cities had ESG ratings that negatively impacted their overall ratings.
There is notable room for opportunity for cities to improve environmental stewardship and social equity. ESG metrics can help cities assess risks in more detail and direct funding to resolve climate and social equity issues.
About a decade ago, the water managers of the Yakima Basin in Washington developed a plan to manage the river and its tributaries for the next 30 years to ensure a stable supply of water. Many are suggesting the managers of the Colorado River do the same.
After several years of negotiations, the Yakima Basin's integrated plan was formed. It is a blueprint for ensuring reliable and resilient water supply for farmers, municipalities, natural habitats, and fish, and it even addresses warming and the potential for droughts.
The Colorado River is much longer and more complex than the Yakima, but the Yakima plan has a fundamental principle of shared sacrifice and cooperation among groups. Thus, in the states and regions where the Colorado River flows and where there are allocations for use within these areas, there must be a consensus on the need to save the river.
Forbes: Why All ESG Is Not The Same
Company ESG practices are driven by regulation, stock exchange rules, investor requirements, consumer preferences, and industry competition.
Some companies implement ESG practices for value or social responsibility reasons while others implement ESG practices primarily for business strategy purposes.
Different motivations tend to fall into three different categories:
Compliance driven – when a company implements ESG practices in response to regulation or compliance requirements.
Social responsibility driven – when a company implements ESG practices because they align with company values and because it aligns with stakeholders' interests.
Strategy driven – when a company implements ESG practices to assess potential risk and because it drives quantifiable business opportunities.
Determining the reason, a company might choose one motivation over another requires the company to determine its own values and goals.
In times of a possible recession, resilience comes from strong internal buy-in and a business case that demonstrates a clear ROI. Sustainability leaders advise thinking like a CFO to “focus on actions that you can put a dollar benefit on.”
ESG disclosures and initiatives require alignment with the CFO and board who oversee and govern ESG strategies. Sustainability leaders must also anticipate future challenges and actions.
Bart Alexander, former chief corporate responsibility officer at Molson Coors, counsels sustainability leaders to "deepen your understanding of the drivers of your business and build trusting relationships with members of your leadership team. Then, during both good and rough times, your expertise will be valued as you advise on strategies for a lower carbon and more sustainable enterprise... Recessions may put options on the table that would not be considered in normal times. Seize opportunities for more substantive redesign.”
The Wall Street Journal: Biden’s Climate-Bill Win Offers Fresh Change to Woo Midterm Voters
Democrats are hoping to leverage the Inflation Reduction Act to gain support for the midterm elections.
The law includes plans to lower prescription drug costs, tax large corporations and focus on renewable energy.
Currently, voters are mostly concerned with inflation and abortion
When asked about the plan to lower prescription drug prices and expand domestic energy sources, 51% of voters polled were in favor of it.
Republicans and Democrats continue to disagree over student loan forgiveness and inflation.
ESG is not corporate social responsibility. ESG involves authentic stakeholder engagement for long-term value creation, which requires leadership with shifted perspectives on corporate priorities and meeting stakeholder expectations.
Companies that are most advanced in ESG efforts are focused not only on risk mitigation but also on the creation of long-term sustainable advantages. Beyond defining the company’s purpose and commitments, the company should:
Align the company leadership.
Conduct a multi-stakeholder assessment to understand stakeholders’ expectations.
Ensure the purpose is supported by strong commitments, budget, and resources.
Prepare operating plan objectives and performance incentives aligned with desired outcomes.
Inform all employees and partners of the changes and initiatives.
Keep in mind that change is challenging and may take significant time.
Develop a strong communication plan to support initiatives and share results.
The Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting the global average temperature increase to 1.5°C is turning out to be too ambitious for corporate companies across all G7 countries.
While not enough companies are committed to climate targets, the ones that do have commitments do not have ambitious enough goals, the report argues.
Scope 3 continues to be left out by companies tracking their emissions and often Scope 3 emissions represent the majority.
Europe is in the closest alignment with the Paris Agreement temperature goals.
There has been major opposition from environmental activists and some Democrats after Senator Manchin’s plan to fast-track energy projects.
The proposal could accelerate clean energy project approvals, expedite approval for the Equitrans Midstream Corp.’s Mountain Valley gas pipeline and make changes to bedrock environmental laws.
The Mountain Valley pipeline will benefit most from Manchin’s plan.
Some believe the legislation will streamline permitting that is necessary to claim tax credits under the new climate law.
Environmentalists are worried that without thoughtful planning, the potential upcoming building spree would be harmful to the environment.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
A 2020 analysis of the 3,000 largest publicly traded US companies found that corporate board diversity is not proportional to the overall United States population as only 21% were female directors, 12.5% were from underrepresented ethnic and racial groups, and 4% of which were Black.
Another study found that firms addressing underperformance were more likely to sacrifice gender and racial diversity on their boards compared to their competitors or times of greater productivity. To resolve underperformance, "the board increased the level of expertise within the white male director pools.” The reason for this is to maximize ease of communication, trust, and solidarity and mitigate potential conflict to build consensus within the board.
As stakeholders pressure companies, they should create a more inclusive boardroom culture with underrepresented directors and increase awareness of the value that underrepresented individuals can contribute to in the boardroom.
When DEI metrics require information, gender tends to be most focused on with race or ethnicity following but many frameworks don’t inquire about both, resulting in missing experiences of women of color.
Some believe gender is the primary focus because disclosures such as the gender pay gap are already in play, especially in the EU.
There are concerns that focusing on the percentage of women in leadership or the general workforce fails to capture a full representation.
With DEI becoming more prevalent, companies are being asked to include more metrics that will hopefully include missing aspects of women's representation.
According to a computer simulation on environmental stress, addressing inequality will provide the public support needed for the global economy and climate change. Lack of social trust impedes public policy action. If inequality is not addressed over the next fifty years, governments and institutions will lose public trust and struggle to cooperatively manage climate change or other threats.
Sandrine Dixson-Decleve, co-president of the Club of Rome think tank, asserts, “Inequality and poverty play a huge role in enabling us to move forward. Net-zero poverty has to be as much of a goal as net-zero emissions."
ESG Disclosures, Standards, Rankings, and Reporting
Global Finance Magazine: Regulators Push ESG
In July 2020, EU Taxonomy Regulation came about and represented a shift in reporting requirements by providing a classification system for businesses and investors to evaluate the environmental impact of economic activity.
This year, more than 500 employees under the Non-Financial Reporting Directive (NFRD) will have disclosed their taxonomy alignment on key performance indicators, including Capex, Opex, and turnover. This taxonomy also applies to financial market participants who offer and distribute products in the EU.
While the EU is a global leader in ESG, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has been working to make advances by proposing major new climate disclosure requirements. The proposed rule would be the broadest mandated ESG corporate data disclosure requirement on the federal level.
Five institutions banded together in 2020 to ensure the necessary elements for comprehensive corporate reporting are available, including environmental disclosure charity CDP; the Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB); the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI); the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC); and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB)—work alongside The International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO), the IFRS, the European Commission, and the World Economic Forum in an effort to improve financial accounting and environmental disclosure with reporting.
There are new environmental rules in India that will help to eliminate greenwashing by requiring companies to submit detailed emission data starting next fiscal year. Corporations will have to provide data on more than 120 metrics, including from the past two years.
India's government plans to compile information from the country’s top 1000 companies starting April 1st, 2023. Being the world's third largest polluter, India intends to cut emissions and meet a target of net zero emissions by 2070.
For those who wish to advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) while making financial returns, measurements can provide an avenue for setting goals to attract impact investors and further the advancement of SDGs.
Increasing the amount of successful impact-based business models is needed to attract the level of private sector investment necessary to close the SDG financial gap, which is currently at $4.2 trillion per year.
A multitude of impact investors fail to make it past the transitory period when the partnership is too large for small-scale grants but still too early for commercial investment. These partnerships need to craft their business to provide a positive social and environmental impact in a profitable way and demonstrate that the impacts are fulfilling ESG goals.
Impact entrepreneurs and their partnerships must balance both investment finance and SDG impact as well as understand how to integrate ESG and measuring and management (MM). The focus on inward evaluation, ESG, in confluence with outward, MM, is vital to ensure the right partners are on board and understand which impact outcomes to prioritize.
The Wall Street Journal: Break Up the ESG Investing Giants
BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street are the three largest investment companies in the United States, collectively holding the largest voting blocs for almost the entire S&P 500. American law enforcers are seeking to stop their dominance towards investors and the economy.
Nineteen state attorneys general sent a letter to BlackRock on August 4th probing whether the company’s ESG efforts align with its fiduciary duties to investors. The attorneys general also questioned whether there are potential antitrust issues as BlackRock and other institutions coordinate to demonetize the oil and gas industry.
Because the Big Three own each other and themselves, many are concerned about antitrust issues and lessened competition in various industries. The author writes, “We’re now facing the original problem that Congress wrote American antitrust laws to address coordinated ownership of everything by concentrated cliques pursuing their own priorities at the expense of the common good.”
Companies and Industries
The Wall Street Journal: Climate-Change Fight Dies (Again) in Zaporizhzhia
Last year, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission upheld a 70-year-old risk standard despite admitting that recent science does not support it. The timing is unfortunate especially because climate change activists have been rethinking their opposition to nuclear power and reevaluating its role in the clean energy transition.
It is not well known that coal plants emit uranium and thorium in greater quantities than what is radiated from the world’s nuclear reactors, which are held to stricter emissions standards.
One of the biggest problems with the nuclear energy industry now is not safety and contamination risk, but public fear and harmful discourse that is not well-informed.
There is now concern around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine – the largest power plant in Europe – and what could happen as a result of Russia targeting this plant. Ukraine is calling for a preventative evacuation and a cease-fire surrounding the plant to avoid a potential disaster. Were such a disaster to happen, it could have even further negative impacts on the public perception of nuclear power, which is key to long-term CO2 emissions reduction.
In early 2021, the Trump administration approved plans for a $1 billion open-pit mine in Nevada’s Thacker Pass, on government-owned land covering nine square miles above the largest lithium deposit in the country. The Biden administration has defended the decision.
Supporters of the mine say it could produce enough lithium annually to match the total global output from 2020, thereby expediting U.S. battery manufacturing and accelerating the shift away from fossil fuels. These supporters believe Nevada can become the “Lithium Valley.”
However, a local coalition of ranchers, environmental groups, and tribal members are opposing the mine. They insist that it will consume groundwater, destroy the local habitat, and negatively impact the legacy and lifestyle of those living on and near the land.
Many in the energy industry see Nevada as “ground zero” -- it is already home to the only other lithium mine in the U.S., and there are plans for more, supported by the Department of Energy’s $7 billion battery supply chain program and Congress’s recent climate bill and its roll-out of tax credits for electric vehicle makers.
The Thacker Pass in Nevada has been a contentious area for centuries, with historical struggles over control of the area’s natural resources resulting in the massacre of dozens of natives.
The communities and businesses in the surrounding area have been hit hard by natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic, and tribal members worry about leaving future generations on “desolate land” and doing nothing to fight the “corporate giant.” The alternative is to work with Lithium Americas to secure the future of the people in the area.
Project Gigaton, Walmart’s sustainability program, endeavored to reduce 1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases from its supply chain by 2030, equivalent to 30% of Walmart’s Scope 3 footprint. Five years later, Walmart reported that it was halfway to achieving its goal. Through supplier engagement with over 4,500 suppliers, the company avoided 574 million metric tons.
Walmart plans to continue engaging with its suppliers and pursuing initiatives or programs to meet its goal. Zach Freeze, Walmart’s Senior Director of Sustainable Initiatives, notes that opportunities for the most reduction are in food transportation, packaging, waste, and refrigeration.
PwC Switzerland announced a contract with Climeworks, a Direct Air Capture (DAC) provider, to remove CO2 from the atmosphere as part of the firm’s strategy to reach its climate targets.
The long-term agreement makes up part of PwC’s net-zero plan, to achieve net zero emissions by 2030. The firm announced its net zero goal in 2020 and has had its climate targets verified by the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi).
Climeworks is a leading provider of DAC technology, which is listed by the International Energy Agency as a key carbon removal option in the transition to a net zero energy system.
Climeworks continues to expand its DAC capacity by completing a $650 million capital raise to support the launch of its largest project, “Mammoth”, which is projected to have a capture capacity of 36,000 tons of CO2 per year.
Simple Mills, founded by Katlin Smith, is shifting what it means to have products “free-from” to products “for-more.” Simple Mills makes crackers, cookies, baking mixes, and bars, all packed with nutrition.
Simple Mills has identified 3 paths to innovation. The first is their play space for diversifying agriculture and diets, the second has to do with making direct contracts with growers for crops, and the third is investing in the regions where there are supply sheds for certain ingredients.
Simple Mills also values regenerative agriculture. Regenerative agriculture is a conservation rehabilitation approach to food and farming systems focusing on topsoil regeneration, increasing biodiversity, improving the water cycle, and enhancing crops.
For example, Simple Mills is involved in a “five-year farmer-led initiative with California almond growers in which they are experimenting with a variety of soil health practices including cover crops, livestock grazing, composition, and overall input reduction. The hope is this set of practices will help to deal with the water shortage issues that are becoming so critical in this region.”
The Wall Street Journal: Fashion Firms Look To Single-Fiber Clothes As EU Recycling Regulations Loom
In response to a European Union plan to require apparel to be longer lasting and recyclable, many clothing companies are starting to sell more garments made from single materials.
Currently, less than 1% of the world's textile waste is recycled into new clothes, with the bulk of it ending up in the trash.
Regulations would not only affect Europe’s homegrown brands, but also multinational companies such as Nike, Levi's, Uniqlo, and Shein.
Technology remains a big hurdle regarding recycling clothes. Carbios is a French company that offers biological enzymes that can break down polyester and other plastics. The company has already signed agreements with sportswear brands such as Puma and Patagonia earlier this year.
Building Ventures is an early-stage venture firm investing in entrepreneurs who are creating a better built world. They recently announced the closing of their $95 million Fund II, which will be used to invest in 18-20 seed to Series A construction and real estate tech startups focused on improving full building lifecycles.
From Fund II, Building Ventures has already deployed investments in Animated Insights, Extracker, and Skillit.
Investors and executives worry they will be forced to pick sides in a society divided by conservatives and liberals.
A recent Texas law requires state agencies to end business relationships with financial companies that have been identified by state Comptroller Glenn Hegar or the agencies must explain why they are continuing the relationship.
BlackRock Inc is among the companies state agencies are required to cut ties with.
West Virginia recently banned JPMorgan and Wells Fargo for boycotting fossil fuel companies yet both banks deny the allegations.
Many Democratic-led states are happy that Wall Street has adopted new ESG criteria, yet many Republican-led states are not.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, Britain’s new energy minister, is a known supporter of fossil fuels and wants to extract as much gas as possible from the North Sea to ensure a “security of supply.” He states that the UK is not trying to “become net zero tomorrow” and will need fossil fuels in the interim.
Rees-Mogg argues that domestic fuel supplies would help alleviate pressure from reliance on Russian natural gas, and the country is facing a crisis in energy security, rising costs of living, and more.
Many experts and activists criticize Rees-Mogg's position, which blames rising energy prices on “climate alarmism,” and they question his commitment to the UK’s net-zero target.
The New York Times: Climate Law a ‘Game Changer’ for Highways and Bridges
The Inflation Reduction Act aims to increase the manufacturing of sustainable materials used in infrastructure projects with a combination of direct funding and tax credits. Additionally, demand for cleaner products is being created with over $5 billion allocated to federal agencies to purchase low-carbon materials for projects.
This focus on heavy industry is necessary to reach Biden’s goals of reducing emissions by 50% from 2005 levels by 2030. Concrete companies have worked to reduce the amount of cement incorporated in their products to reduce pollution, and asphalt companies have been reducing binders and increasing recycled asphalt. Even with this progress, more progress is needed, and the Inflation Reduction Act encourages additional action.
An advanced manufacturing fund is created in the bill allocating $5.8 billion to increase the speed of decarbonization at industrial plants. Specifically focused on energy-intensive industries like steel and concrete, the funding will allow plants to install energy-efficient technologies.
The administration is focusing on using the purchasing power of the federal government to jump-start the decarbonization process of American industry.
The Wall Street Journal: Environmental Progress and the Future of Recycling
There is significant confusion at the local level about what can and cannot be recycled. The Senate has recently approved legislation to create a grant program to increase the accessibility of recycling, which will be one of the first federal laws committed to improving recycling in rural and underserved communities.
Supporting legislation has been approved by the Senate to require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to track and provide data on recycling and composting rates throughout the country. Additionally, the law will provide definitions for recycling, recyclable materials, and other related terms, to create a more effective system.
The current U.S. plastic recycling rate is below 6%. Federal lawmakers should go further and establish a ban on certain single-use plastics and hold producers accountable for their pollution to adequately address the plastic problem.
The Wall Street Journal: WSJ Opinion: Democrats Finally Passed Climate Legislation. Does It Matter? (video, 5:35)
Bjorn Lomborg, president of Copenhagen Consensus Center, shares his thoughts on why the new Inflation Reduction Act does little to reduce global temperatures. Although the Act aims to cut emissions 40% below 2005 levels, most emissions would have been achieved without the Act.
After calculating the impact of the Act on temperature reduction, Lomborg claims that the Act will have virtually no impact on temperatures even by the end of the century. He says the law is not going to teach the rest of the world how to progress but rather tells them that “we can spend almost $400 billion and achieve almost no climate benefit.”
Vast emissions come from today’s developing countries, not wealthy countries like the United States, so we need to prioritize cutting emissions in those developing countries. Climate change can only be solved by innovation but spending lots of money on buying known inefficient technologies is not the solution.
In January 2021, President Biden signed an executive order for the federal government to prioritize climate change mitigation. In June, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced its new program, the Climate Change Mitigation Pilot Program to "positively impact the climate by accelerating examination of patent applications for innovations that reduce greenhouse gas emission.”
Aidan Hollis, a University of Calgary economics professor, opposed climate tech patents because the patents will reduce access to beneficial technology for less affluent countries and producers that will have to wait for the expiration of patents. The patent program’s imprecise language can allow applicants to take advantage of the program with an unfair economic advantage.
The Justice40 Initiative pledges that 40% "of the overall benefits of certain Federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution." Hopefully, the federal government will help not only boost the climate tech industry but also increase universal accessibility.
Financial Times: Republican targeting of ESG laws is bad for business
When it comes to ESG, America is a “minefield” for financial companies. Those doing business with the European Union and liberal states have been increasingly pressured to adopt ESG norms. On the other hand, there has been opposition from Republicans to curbing the fossil fuel industry.
The Republican backlash is particularly seen in the state-level laws in which politicians seek to curb ESG products locally. Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, does not support Disney’s LGBTQ policies and told state pension funds to exclude ESG considerations. Texas released “a blacklist of ten financial companies that state and school pension funds are supposed to shun because the entities are deemed to boycott fossil fuel.” Republicans attacking ESG in business will harm instead of help business confidence in the long run.