- We will see more and more restaurants and food companies add plant-based options to their menus.
- ESG rankings and ratings will see more consolidation and face more pressure as investors carry out their own ESG research and engage directly with companies for information. At the same time, CR/sustainability professionals will forge closer bonds with their investor relations colleagues.
- In the U.S., we will see more focus from NGOs on corporate political spending governance and disclosure in the run-up to the November elections.
Monday, January 13, 2020
2020 is here and with it predictions for what is in store from an ESG perspective. Will this be the year we finally see a groundswell of investors pushing companies for ESG disclosure? Will millennials’ purchasing decisions continue to be swayed by sustainable practices? Will more companies take stands on critical public policy issues such as gun control and reproductive choice?
Here are my predictions:
Let’s hear from other ESG experts on what they foresee in the next 12 months. I asked a dozen to share their thoughts. Here is what they predict.
“An exponentially increased focus on ESG investing which will bring greater scrutiny to data, performance, transparency, communications and the efficacy of reporting frameworks such as GRI, SASB and TCFD.” – Jane Madden, Managing Director, Finn Partners
“The EU will use leading legislation to steer its economy(ies) further in the interest of workers, citizens and society at large, and the environment.” – Sarah Bostwick Stromoski, Manager, CEO & Investor Engagement, Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose (CECP)
“Companies [will] respond to millennials’ desire to have less, but good quality (reusables, fewer air flights, fewer car purchases).” – Judy Sandford, Managing Director of CSR and Sustainability, Addison
"We are going to see an explosion of companies ramping up their sustainability efforts (and communicating them) because of the increased alarm over the lack of action on our climate commitments combined with an increase in scrutiny. Will be a perfect storm that will help to tilt us in the right direction.” – Phillip Haid, Co-Founder & CEO, PUBLIC Inc.
“Investor interest in connecting the dots between business value and ESG factors will continue to escalate while businesses face the fact that we will now be 10 short years away from being able to avoid the worst impact of a changed climate.” – Aman Singh, Senior Director of Sustainability Communications, Corporate Reports
“Continued business trend to commit to ‘Carbon net zero’ in 2-3 years’ time. [Businesses will move] From sustainability strategy to sustainable business strategy. [Increased] Focus on intersection of ‘digital’ with ‘sustainable.’” – Thomas Scheiwiller, Founder and Owner, Scheiwiller Impacts
“Trends in 2020 -- Climate action and collective action.” – Melissa Orozco, Founder, Yulu Public Relations
“Relevant stakeholders, such as consumers, investors and governments, are growing reticent to accept private-sector sustainability claims at face value. From the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigating the veracity of some ESG funds, to ongoing skepticism that the Business Roundtable will back up its new purpose statement with action, it's clear that words alone won't cut it anymore. This is a trend that's already bubbling under the surface and may well reach a fever pitch in 2020 and beyond.” -- Mary Mazzoni, Senior Editor, TriplePundit.com, and Managing editor, CR Magazine
Have predictions of your own? Send them in via the comments button below.
Stay tuned for next week’s blog, which will explore ESG wishes for 2020.
Tuesday, January 7, 2020
The end of 2019 seemed, for me, to go by like a whirlwind. Finishing up projects for clients, getting presents wrapped and under the Christmas tree, and preparing for a house full of guests. Before I knew it, we were ringing in the New Year with family, friends and glasses of prosecco.
Before I jumped right into the new year, I took a moment to ask a few friends and fellow ESG experts for their reflections on what they considered to be the most significant ESG events – positive or negative -- in 2019.
From my own perspective, while not really an “event” but more of a collective trend was the awakening of many companies to the importance of taking stances on policy issues critical to their businesses, their employees and their customers. Examples include Levi’s and Walmart’s public support for gun control; Chobani’s continued calls for immigration reform; and support for abortion rights from companies such as Eileen Fisher and MAC Cosmetics. The other “event,” of course, that swept the world was Greta Thunberg, whose voice and actions will hopefully continue to have an impact in the years ahead.
Have thoughts of your own? Send them in via the comments button below.
Stay tuned for next week’s blog, which will explore predictions for 2020.
“I think it has to be the Business Roundtable Statement. I know many people were skeptical about it as long in intention, short on action, but I think its symbolism will propel the movement to a purpose economy forward."
– Phillip Haid, Co-Founder & CEO, PUBLIC Inc.
“On the positive side, the growth and amplification of the climate crisis by youth activists Greta Thunberg, Alexandria Villaseñor, Autumn Pelletier, Bruno Rodríguez and the millions of students participating in school strikes around the world. … Unfortunately, the Failure of COP 25 -- “the meltdown in Madrid” -- shows that governments are not willing to take the necessary actions to mitigate and finance an effective plan to combat the climate crisis.”
– Jane Madden, Managing Director, Finn Partners
"Good news: Goldman Sachs became the first bank to say no to Arctic drilling and financing coal. Tied in first place for bad news:  The second shoe fell with news that BlackRock and Vanguard have not been living up to all their talk about pushing for climate action.  COP26 fell apart with zero traction shown on ESG/climate by industry and government.”
– Aman Singh, Senior Director of Sustainability Communications, Corporate Reports
“The Business Roundtable's Statement on the Purpose of the Corporation was significant for 2 reasons: (1) It's difficult to get 180 people to agree strongly enough with something to sign their name to it. (2) It generated as much buzz among companies, media, governments, citizens, conferences and meetings large and small, than anything I remember in the last 10 years.”
– Sarah Bostwick Stromoski, Manager, CEO & Investor Engagement, Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose (CECP)
“[The] Increasing number of shareholder proposals related to climate change and sustainability in general, and the proliferation of long-term or sustainability-related CEO initiatives and commitments (EPIC, CECP, WEF, US CEO Roundtable, etc.). And, the failure of the Madrid COP (unfortunately).”
– Thomas Scheiwiller, Founder and Owner, Scheiwiller Impacts
“There wasn't a lot of great news in 2019 -- for example, emissions worldwide went up last year despite all the hype. Also, the fact that tobacco companies proved themselves to be as nefarious as they always have been with the horrible news about vaping and its impact on public health.”
“GRI adding a tax payments indicator, and Greta Thunberg shaming governments into action.”
– Judy Sandford, Managing Director of CSR and Sustainability, Addison
Thursday, December 19, 2019
Many companies have conducted materiality assessments to understand the issues most important to their business and stakeholders. But, as I heard during a webinar last week sponsored by SustainAbility, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis has taken a much different, deeper approach. The webinar was the fifth in a series to explore how Novartis conducts and uses its materiality assessments. All are available on the SustainAbility site.
In this week’s blog, I highlight Novartis’ materiality assessment process and share perspectives from Denise Weger, Senior Manager Strategic Initiatives Global Health & Corporate Responsibility, at the biopharma company. For Denise, a materiality assessment is a starting point that can inform the company’s decision making and transform how it does business.
Novartis conducted its third full materiality assessment in 2017. Denise explained that the company started with basic desk research to understand trends and issues, then looked at peer reports, risk reports, guidelines such as those published by the OECD, and internal documents. In addition, they considered the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – with SDG #3 Good Health and Wellbeing being the focus indicator -- to better understand issues of importance.
During their most recent assessment, the company identified more than 100 topics relevant to Novartis and its stakeholders, which it went on to consolidate into the 30 “most-important” topics in eight issue clusters. The clusters were than ranked by internal and external stakeholders based on impact on and performance of Novartis.
At the issue cluster level, stakeholders indicated the following four clusters as most material:
· Access to Healthcare
· Patient Health & Safety
· Ethical Business Practices
One of the aspects I find most comprehensive and innovative about Novartis’ process is how it displays the assessment results, not in the typical plot chart format but in a circular polar chart (see page 16 of their report). The chart’s inner circle reflects the eight issue clusters; the middle circle indicate topics with significant differences in perception between internal and external stakeholders (based on survey responses); and the outer circles represent the 30 individual topics. The relative importance of each topic is indicated by the height of the column. So, for example, for the Patient Health & Safety cluster, the three topics most important to stakeholders were pharmacovigilance, safety profile & quality of drugs; counterfeit medicines; and health education & prevention. You can tell from the chart that these three topics were seen as important by both internal and external stakeholders with no significant difference in perception. And, from the height of the topic columns, it’s clear that pharmacovigilance, safety profile & quality of drugs is seen as the most important of the three.
According to Denise, one of the most added-value aspects of their materiality assessment was the engagement with stakeholders. Their methodology also allows the company to break down results by stakeholder group to show what is important to each. Denise cautions that if a company is not truly open to having this dialogue it will impact how they view and perceive the material issues they are facing.
Beyond its global assessment, the company has rolled out an assessment process to local country offices and provides guidance through a local country tool kit. Novartis says local assessments will help the company identify and understand regional differences and help country organizations define strategic areas of focus. To date, local teams in Turkey, Greece and Portugal have completed assessments, which, Denise said, will feed into the company’s global assessment as well. Next up, she said, will be assessments in Latin American countries.
The company has published a detailed report on their materiality assessment process and results on its website, and plans to publish in January a tool kit that other companies can use to conduct materiality assessments at the country level. Denis says the idea is to establish a practitioners’ exchange and also gather feedback for improvements.
I, for one, am looking forward to seeing it!
Happy holidays everyone. I hope you have enjoyed my blog in 2019 and I appreciate all the feedback I have received – keep it coming! I’ll be back with my next blog in the new year!
Thursday, December 12, 2019
In this week’s blog, I share perspectives from well-known ESG expert Robert Eccles, currently a visiting professor at the Harvard Business School and Said Business School at Oxford University, who kicked off the webinar. In typical fashion, Eccles didn’t hold anything back.
“The SDGs are influencing business in terms of rhetoric, but not too much else, especially in terms of action,” he said. “All this talk about the SDGs and the private sector …. I’m dubious how much will happen. The tension is that the SDGs are about achieving positive externalities, and materiality assessments are about financial materiality.”
He shared results of an analysis he worked on with other academics looking at the SASB materiality framework and the SDGs. Mapping the 77 industries in the SASB standard to the SDGs, he found some financial material issues touch most of the SDGs. An example is supply chain. Others not so much, such as data privacy. His analysis also found some industries – such as health care and natural resources – have the ability to make greater contributions to the SDGs than others, such as financial services.
The biggest challenge however facing companies he said is the lack of metrics to measure true impact of corporate performance on the SDGs. He cited three multi-stakeholder groups now working to develop impact metrics that would show how companies are positively contributing to the SDGs: The Impact Management Project, the Value Balancing Alliance, and the Impact-Weighted Accounts Project.
He believes these three efforts need to come together and reach consensus on standards and methodology for impact reporting, together with the private sector and investors. Only then will the clear impact be understood.
Stay tuned for my next blog with insights from Denise Weger, Senior Manager Strategic Initiatives Global Health & Corporate Responsibility, at Novartis.
Friday, December 6, 2019
This week has been a busy one after getting back from the Thanksgiving holidays. I had the good fortune to cover the launch of the Danone Institute North America’s inaugural One Planet. One Health. grant program Monday night at a special dinner event hosted by Danone North America and Top Chef Host Tom Colicchio. I had a chance to meet the winning recipients who represented transdisciplinary teams from across the United States and Canada charged with designing, implementing and evaluating actionable, community-based projects for sustainable food systems. I have to say I was equally impressed by the amazing meal served up by Colicchio’s team and by each recipient’s project. Read more in my post this week on TriplePundit.
That was followed early on Tuesday with Moving the Market: SASB’s 2019 Symposium. I am an FSA Credential II Candidate for SASB certification and was excited to join with others to discuss the standards and hear from companies, investors and other stakeholders who are using them. Below are a few nuggets from the various panels and keynotes.
Thank the heavens, is all I have to say. “We think that over time there will be fewer and fewer [ESG] surveys because there will be more disclosure [by companies] in financial statements. … and, the information that makes up [remaining] ratings is going to be more transparent so you can understand what factors are behind each specific rating. … analysts will be able to look at the granular details and dig into the details…. At the end of the day, the change [toward disclosure] will be driven by asset owners – those people who are Millennials and very interested in how their investments are being used. They are starting to put pressure on asset managers already, saying ‘I want my savings to be used in such a way that will be positive to climate change.’” – Doug Peterson, President & CEO, S&P Global
SASB continues to move forward on a project to develop a framework around human capital management (HCM), Jeff Hales, SASB Chair, reported. He said this was the No. #1 issue when SASB’s Investor Advisory Group was polled. SASB will track HCM issues that are reasonably likely to affect a company’s financial performance and work over the next 18 months to map them to industries before developing meaningful metrics.
Rakhi Kumar, Senior Managing Director and Head of ESG Investments and Asset Stewardship at State Street Global Advisors, gave a great TED-style talk on her vision for the future of sustainable capital markets. After getting frustrated with variation in how ranking agencies score companies, State Street created their own ranking, which they call the R-factor (as in Responsibility). It looks at corporate performance and governance as it relates to ESG issues by industry, based on SASB standards. Companies can ask State Street for their score – as well as scores of their peers. State Street will send companies a roadmap with suggestions for what more they can disclose to improve. R-Factor scores are shared with State Street’s investment teams and also power the Bloomberg SASB ESG Indices.
Hungarian Oil & Gas Company MOL Group recently whittled down their ESG report from 80 pages, which they suspected very few analysts were reading, to a mere 10 pages. “We tried something bold,” Mikkel Skougaard, Sustainable Development Senior Expert at MOL, said. In 10 pages, they were able to tell what happened in the past fiscal year in terms of risks and developments. They included one page with major indictors and the rest for context. Static information – policies, approaches, programs – lives on their website. The result: MOL’s scores went up by MSCI, DJSI, Bloomberg, showing that less really is more!
Caroline Flammer from Boston University’s Questrom School of Business shared research on the rise in integrating CSR into executive compensation. This is something I am constantly on the search of to share with clients. Examples she included in her study were Valero Energy, which ties 33 percent of executive comp to health, safety & environment; Intel, which links compensation to reductions in GHG emissions and energy use; and Excel, which also links to reductions in carbon emissions. She found that linkage was most prevalent in the mining industry at 57 percent, followed by agriculture, forestry & fishing at 53 percent. Her theory was that linking executive compensation to ESG will improve a firm’s overall performance. She found that, indeed, companies that did saw an increase in firm value of 4.1 percent.
For anyone responsible for ESG reporting who has ever been frustrated by their legal department, this one’s for you. Robert Jackson, a Commissioner with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission: “The idea that doing nothing [not disclosing] is safer than doing something, is such a mistake. If the last few years have taught us anything it is that not disclosing material risks gets you in trouble -- especially when it comes to climate-related issues. We need to back up and ask what is the role of lawyers?” And this is from a Harvard-educated former corporate lawyer! Maureen Jensen, Chair and CEO of the Ontario Securities Commission, agreed. “By not disclosing you are disclosing that the issue is not important to you, and people will notice. You have to be prepared for this discussion.”
Look out next year for a report from IASCO on sustainable finance.
Canada has mandated that companies must report the number of women on their board and if a company doesn’t disclose they need to disclose why. The mandate has moved the needle, with the number of companies with at least one woman on their boards jumping from 49 percent to 70 percent.
And perhaps my favorite: “Increasingly the interests of stakeholders are the interests of investors,” coming again from SEC Commissioner Rob Jackson.
All in all, a good day spent with former colleagues and meeting new ones. From there, it was a quick subway ride downtown to the UNICEF Snowflake Ball to bid goodbye to the formidable Caryl Stern, who is leaving at the end of the month to take the reigns at the Little Rock-based Walton Family Foundation. As in past years, the event was spectacular, with actress Priyanka Chopra receiving this year’s Danny Kaye Humanitarian Award for her philanthropic work with UNICEF in India.
One fifth-grade holiday band concert later, Friday found me, my husband and friends volunteering our time at Deirdre’s House, where I am privileged to serve on the board. Deirdre’s House is the center in the New Jersey county where I live for child victims of abuse and/or neglect and for children who have witnessed violence. It does yeoman’s work.
With that, I am ready for a weekend!
Wednesday, November 20, 2019
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to speak with Andrew Mangan, co-founder and executive director of the United States Business Council for Sustainable Development (USBCSD). As a Global Network Partner of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, USBCSD works to create and deliver value-driven sustainable development projects.
As Andrew explained to me, “the USBCSD is an action-oriented and member-led business association that gives U.S. businesses a platform to mobilize boots on the ground and work together to design, implement and scale sustainability solutions.”
The Council currently has four areas of focus:
· Facilitating company-to-company industrial reuse opportunities that support the culture shift to a circular, closed-loop economy
· Establishing regional cross-industry carbon reduction collaboratives aimed at reducing carbon emissions and impacts while preserving and enhancing economic vitality
· Creating replicable business solutions for improving watershed collaboration between stakeholders to reduce shared water risks
· Identifying and implementing member-led projects to conserve or enhance ecosystems while creating new business value and benefit to communities where they operate
In my discussion with Andrew, he shared how he has seen the sustainability field shift in the past 30 years, as well as what excites him the most about it today.
MK: At USBCSD, you are facilitating a culture shift among organizations toward a circular closed-loop economy. Where is the U.S. in this shift? What more is needed to accelerate the shift?
AM: Here in the U.S., there is a lot going on; it’s a major shift and will require a lot of understanding from within companies – not just by the sustainability team but also the procurement, legal, and acquisitions teams. They are needed to actually implement the shift.
It is going to take a while, but a lot of good things are happening already. I’m seeing support from the top – from CEOs – for the concept of circularity. Government is also intrigued by the concept – especially State-level government given that they are the ones tasked with implementing the Federal Waste Management Regulations and submitting 2030 Waste Strategies to the U.S. EPA. Also, none of the States want to permit another landfill, and some states are really struggling with limited landfill space. The Council has been working with three states – Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee – with their State Environmental Commissions and State Economic Development Corporations and the private sector to establish systems that promote circular economies. Together, we are looking at recycling infrastructure, government funding incentives, and whether current regulations are preventing desired outcomes.
MK: Many of the initiatives that USBCSD has incubated have been regional – not sector-specific – in scope. What is the value of this approach?
AM: We find this approach works really well because companies that are in a region feel ownership of that region, whether its’s the Gulf Coast, Great Lakes, or New England – we find there is a real affinity for collaboration. It’s also a lot easier to get a company focused on a sub region of the U.S. than on the whole country. A lot of our regional efforts are bringing together companies that have common objectives – whether on water, materials, or carbon – but that aren’t organized to work together in an effective way. An example is in the Gulf Coast where we are bringing together companies around decarbonization. They have done a lot internally but not across industries, which is key to moving ahead.
MK: During your time with USBCSD, how have you seen the field of sustainability change?
AM: In the late 1980s, people weren’t really sure what sustainability was … it took 10 to 15 years to get agreement on what the issues, challenges, and opportunities were. Then, the discussion shifted to what do we do about it. A lot has been done internally within companies, but now there is a growing recognition that you can’t do it on your own or even within an industry. There has been an evolution in external engagement and finding effective ways to bring in other sectors – including the academic sector – to solve major challenges.
MK: Is there a greater sense of urgency than in the past to tackle sustainability?
AM: A big change recently is seeing the investment community really stepping up – from communications to CEOs on carbon, the circular economy, and natural resources. They are telling CEOs that if they don’t see their companies moving on this, they will pull them out of their investments. That is accelerating and making it more urgent for companies.
MK: What in the work among your members excites you the most and why?
AM: The Gulf Coast Carbon Collaborative. We will be launching in New Orleans in early December. It will be business-led, business-organized and business-driven.
MK: What impact will the US’ decision to leave the Paris Agreement have on the efforts of U.S. companies?
AM: It’s disappointing to see the U.S. pull out of a global agreement. But, it’s not impacting what we are doing. Companies are moving ahead and are driven by other forces. There is still strong corporate commitment to the agreement.
Thursday, November 14, 2019
This week, I connected with Jennifer Evans, a principle at the CKP group, a woman-owned integrated communications firm in Houston – which, by the way, is a city I’m eager to visit given that everyone I speak with is so passionate about what a wonderful place it is!
As for Jenn, she has spent 25 years as a marketing and communications professional, during which time she has witnessed the shift in corporate social responsibility (CSR) from a “nice to have” to a “must have.” She also believes that Houstonians place a particular emphasis on community investment, which has been borne out by the number of Houston-based businesses consistently ranked on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual Charity Navigator index.
She shares her insights here. Enjoy!
MK: How do you define CSR?
JE: At CKP, we define Corporate Social Responsibility as "an entity’s responsibility to operate in an ethical and sustainable way and be responsive to its community impact—whether the impact or potential impact be environmental, social or economic.” This is our collective leadership team worldview and it permeates every aspect of our business.
MK: How have you seen CSR change over the past two decades?
Today, smart companies have tenured professionals who lead all or most of these functions under one stand-alone umbrella and basically in service to the company and its many departments. Sure, there have always been global brands that were pacesetters for these changes, but regulations and public scrutiny have changed the rules of engagement.
MK: Who is driving the push for greater focus on social and environmental performance amongst your clients?
JE: In our work with clients, particularly those in heavily regulated industries like energy and manufacturing, we see priority and focus coming from all aspects of the internal organization. Mitigation and remediation certainly put pressure on businesses and more so in industries such as energy, health and bio-tech.
What we see in our brand management role with clients in multiple markets is a voracious appetite in the court of public opinion—which now plays in social media—for disclosure and pro-active communications. Consumers and customers in general—whether B2B or B2C—are going to be the loudest group and will ask questions sooner or later. Issues management strategy can help in managing activist groups. But if your potential or existing clients challenge you, be prepared to lose them to other brands if they don’t like what you say. That’s not to say that employees and investors don’t play key roles in managing your risks and being responsible. But when you remove or reduce the power of financial gain to win favor, we are all consumers and we vote with our feet.
Footnote: Gen Z, our youngest marketplace-viable generation, is unbelievably astute, and I expect their demands and expectations of accountability to have a stronger impact than Millennials. Social and political demographers continue to forecast that this next generation will have the rage of Gen Y, the tenacity of Gen X and the loyalty (and lack of forgiveness) of the Boomers. Their role as consumers will overshadow the rest. And their advocacy will make or break brands. Best be prepared.
MK: What advice do you have for creating successful partnerships?
JE: Regardless of whether you work for a global business or a single stand-alone shop, you should collaborate with partners that are open and willing to support you. I often see businesses make social investments that don't align with one or more of these groups' passions and engagement. This usually results in a one-time engagement and a failed relationship.
We recommend first doing the internal work to identify the values you want to promote, the social impact you may have and where, and the categories of nonprofits and public/private groups that make sense. Once you've got that strategy in place, it's much easier to research and identify potential partners.
Treat it like hiring an employee. Get to know each other and transparently discuss your challenges and concerns. Then, the magic happens. Real, vibrant partnerships develop and they are much bigger and better than a cookie cutter sponsorship package that a random organization asks you to fund.
MK: What is your advice for brands and businesses in industries that aren't heavily regulated? What's the ROI in being bold about your business position on CSR for such companies?
JE: CKP was founded in Houston, Texas, which consistently ranks at the top of the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual Charity Navigator index. I have lived in several large and small communities, and I’ve not seen the attention to which people doing business in Houston pay to how others invest in the community.
We work with large global brands and small start-ups, and the single thing all businesses have in common is the need for third-party endorsements. Whether a business produces cookies, renewable energy, marketing and public relations services (like CKP) or something else, savvy business leaders know that your close rate is higher and reputation is more protected when others with strong brand reputation back you. Our team at CKP counsels many clients in their sponsorship, CSR and partnership negotiations and communications.
In any household or business, we must budget to protect, care for and to give to the things that matter to us. Defining what matters early on and having it resonate with internal and external stakeholders is just good business. We’ve got some excellent case studies at CKP and the consumer marketplace at large too—from small emerging industry, locally owned, as well as reputation-challenged large businesses—that show how real partnerships and social investments benefit everyone.
Regulations are present in all industries, and stakeholders are a given no matter what kind of business you run. We frequently hear from clients that wish to begin organizing their reporting and messaging, in anticipation of public exposure and changing politics. Preparedness is key. Don’t wait to be called out to communicate your community impacts.