Will campus activism reach the C-suite?

Published on Greenbiz.com, 8/1/2013

By Georges Dyer

“Something’s brewing on college campuses that soon may affect corproate sustainability professionals in all industries.

“During the past year, a groundswell of action demanding that college and universtiy endowments sell their holdings in fossil fuel companies has brought environment, social and governance (ESG) issues to the fore. Driven in part by 350.org, the fossil fuel divestment movement has sprung up on more than 300 campuses and is spraeding to cities, faith organizations and beyond.

The latestes news: Sterling College – a small, private liberal arts college in Vermont – has completed its divestment from the fossil fuel industry. While Steriling is small, with only about 100 students and an endowment of approximately $1 million, it provides more evidence that divestment is pssible and relatively straightforward.

Do your homework

Common initial concerns about divestment include that it is costly, complicated and requires investors to sacrifice returns. To divest, Sterling College chose a fossil-free option that Trillium Asset Management has offered clients for over a decade. ‘Those who say divestment is not possible haven’t done thier homework,’ said Matt Patsky, CEO of Trillium.

Trillium’s fossil free option replaces screened companies with similar investment characteristics (e.g. similar beta and return on equity). The result is a fossil-free option that doesn’t sacrifice returns. Recent reports from Impax Asset Management, MSCI and Aperio Group support the claimt hat removing fossil fule investments from portfolios has a negligible impact.

Sterling is one of just six colleges to commit to divestment to date, along with Hampshire, Unity, Green Mountain, San Francisco State and College of the Atlantic. But many others are considering it.

Divestment highlights the moral hazard of our fossil fule based economy for institutions that understand the devestating implications of climate change, yet support fossil fuel production as shareholders. This is a particularly difficult challenge for college and university endowments, designed to benefit institutions and students over the long term, in perpetuity. How is it justifiable to risk the fundamental resilience of our society from climate change impacts in the name of potentially higher financial returns? (Particularly when the data suggest those higher returns are negligible, if they exist at all.)

A moral paradox

Divestment proponents recognize the fossil fuel companies are unlikely to stop mining and drilling because soem investors sold their shares – others will buy them. But the movement highlights this moral paradox. And even if no other schools divest, it has sparked conversations on campuses across the country about a range of other ESG investment strategies.

And this could have dramatic implications across all industries – not just the fossil fuel companies. Every company currently has some responsibility, in one way or another, for greenhouse gas emissions and a wide range of other sustainability challenges such as water use, toxic chemicals, and labor and human rights issues. But those that are proactively implementing strategies that help move society towards sustainability can avoid risks and seize opportunities for innovation, attracting top talent and enhancing shareholder value.

Increasingly, investors seek out companies creating sustainability solutions or driving best practices in social, environmental and governance realms.

‘More and more companies have been embracing the idea that sustainability principles are good for business and shareholders over time. WE’ve seen tremendous growth in this space.’ said Trillium’s Patsky. ‘The more they see interest from the investor, the more they will do about it.’

Companies that don’t make the cut from an ESG perspective risk limiting their pool of potential investors. Fewer buyers and more sellers can hurt stock performance, a key driver (for better or worse) of corporate decision-making. Investors influence corporate executives and directors.

There are many ways investor scrutiny on ESG issues can influence corporate sustainability practices, such as:

*ESG investors look to sustainability indices, such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices and MSCI’s ESG Indices, to benchmark and inform investment decision-making.

*As more asset managers incorporate ESG factors into their investment decision-making, and sell-side analysts do the same for their buy/sell ratings, companies increasingly will be judged on their sustainability performance.

*Asset managers (and their clients) that understand the benefits of ESG investing often engage directly with companies through various forms of shareholder advocacy, providing direct pressure to improve sustainability performance.

A recent survey from Oekom Research supports the idea that sustainability investing impacts corporate strategy: Nearly two-thirds of the companies said requests from sustainability rating agencies were a decisive factor in tackling sustainability issues. One-third said enquiries from sustainability analysts influence the overall strategy, and two-thirds said they influence their sustainability strategies.

Uncovering value

As college and university presidents, business officers and board investment committee members look more closely at these issues (thanks in large part to student pressure), they will realize that ESG factors are materials and can undercover hidden risk and value. By requiring traditional asset managers to step up their game on ESG factors, they will help drive more of the financial services industry to consider sustainability issues in all investments.

The shift to sustainability will be the result of the sum total of many companies, organizations, communities and individuals implementing bold, transformative strategies, through incremental step-wise actions. Institutional investors sit at a critical place to drive and accelerate this process. Imagine a virtuous cycle where Wall Street analysts, currently focused on short-term, quarterly earnings results, shift their attention to comprehensive ESG considerations. This will motivate corporate execs to improve sustainability performance to enhance their ratings and stock price, driving healthy competition and moving whole industries toward sustainability.

In recent months, a host of conferences, workshops, webinars and new initiatives have sprung up to help endowments understand these issues. This is just the beginning of what could prove to be the next big step in elevating sustainability as a core strategic issue for the C-Suite at companies in every industry.”

Source URL:  http://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2013/08/01/campus-activism-c-suite

The Weather Company Confronts Climate Change Denial Head On

By Tina Casey; Published July 15, 2013, TriplePundit.com

Recently, some of the top business journalists in the U.S. went on record asserting that climate change denial is a form of political posturing that is not worthy of discussion in serious reporting on economic issues. If that doesn’t lay the whole climate change denial thing to rest, then hopefully this will:  The Weather Company has just endorsed the BICEP (Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy) Climate Declaration, which acknowledges the scientific consensus on climate change.

As the owner of The Weather Channel and related weather media platforms, The Weather Company already reaches a broad audience with reality-based information, so it’s in a good position to help bridge the political divide…or is it?

Communicating about climate science

Let’s start with the current state of affairs, which is the information gulf separating climate scientists and the lay public. Politics aside, a large part of the problem has to do with the nature of communication accurately about science in general. In many cases, it is impossible to reduce science into sound bites that can be absorbed during the course of daily life, especially in competition with the flood of other news in a media-saturated world.

Climate change poses an especially great communications challenge, because the hard evidence accumulates over long periods of time and cannot be seen with the naked eye, except in abstract form of a chart or graph.

The Weather Company and climate change

Public awareness is beginning to reach into new territory, even without the help of The Weather Company. In the past couple of years, more of the general population has had the misfortune to experience phenomena linked to climate change, namely, more frequent and severe storms, droughts, floods, and wildfires. That also includes people who live in areas that have not experienced extreme destruction in a generation or more, and now find their normally “safe” environment undergoing new threats.

In that regard, The Weather Company could help build these individual experiences into a tipping point. To see why, let’s go back a few months ago, when artists and researcher Nickolay Lamm used data from the non-profit organization Climate Central to create a series of arresting before -and-after images of East Coast landmarks affected by sea level rise. He had this to say about the project, which he called Sea Level Rise in Real Life.

“I’m surprised at the amount of people calling this a ‘liberal agenda.’ When I was making these illustrations, I based them off sea level rise maps from Climate Central, not someone’s wild imagination.”

Now Lamm has added a West Coast version to the project, and The Weather Company has picked up on it. In a July 12 article on weather.com, The Weather Channel posted Lamm’s West Cost images and video along with links to the East Coast version and to Climate Central.

The article also referenced NOAA and National Geographic, so consider that thrgough The Weather Company, reality-baseed information from Climate Central is now associated with some of the most trusted (and non-political) names in science information, all wrapped around a series of truly stunning, graphic images of what some of the most familiar icons in the U.S. landscape would look like under water.

For more of the article go <HERE>


Ben & Jerry’s Commits to Phasing out GMOs

From: TriplePundit.com, published June 21, 2013

By Lisa Marie Chirico

“Consumers searching for greater clarity in food labeling have reason to rejoice. Ice cream manufacturer Ben & Jerry’s, a division of Unilever, decided that more transparency was in order. The Vermont-based company, the first wholly-owned subsidiary to gain B Corp Certification, recently announced their plan to completely eliminate all genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from their entire product line by 2014. According to the company, about 80 percent of their ingredients by volume are sourced non-GMO in the United States and Canada, and all their products made in Europe are already non-GMO. ‘We have a long history of siding with consumers and their right to know what’s in their food,” Ben & Jerry’s stated.

According to the company’s website, although their goal is for all 80 flavors to be Fair Trade Certified and sources with non-GMO ingredients by the end of this year, the conversion will continue into 2014. Ben & Jerry’s cites complexity as the reason for this – a single flavor of their ice cream can contain almost 40 different ingredients.

The public outcry over GMOs continues to grow. According to a recent poll, 82 percent of Americans agree that foods containing GMOs should be sold with a label. The U.S. is currently the only industrialized nation lacking mandatory labeling for GMO foods. Although voters in the state of California did not approve the GMO labeling legislation Proposition 37, there are currently similar efforts underway in 20 other states, including Vermont, where the GMO labeling law recently passed by a vote of 99-42 and awaits state Senate approval. Concerns about GMO labeling have also begun to reach restaurant chains such as Chipotle Mexican Grill, who started labeling all ingredients, including GMOs, of their chains’ menu in March. According to the company’s spokesperson, the chain is also working to decrease the GMO content of its ingredients.”

For the rest of the story, go HERE.


UWGB a “Green College” According to The Princeton Review!

UW – Green Bay is proud to be included for the first time in  The Princeton Review’s Guide to 322 Green Colleges: 2012 Edition. The publishers bill their product — created in partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council — as focusing “solely on colleges that have demonstrated a notable commitment to sustainability.”  

Being in this guide is a testament to the hard work and commitment the University’s faculty, staff and students have shown over many years of maintaining a focus on sustainability and working to live up to the “Eco-U” name.

Other Wisconsin schools in the guide are Marquette University, Northland College and the UW campuses at Eau Claire, Madison, Milwaukee and Stevens Point. You can see a state-by-state list at http://www.princetonreview.com/green-schools-by-state.aspx.