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Old Habits Slow Progress in Sustainability

[fa icon="calendar'] Nov 4, 2015 10:34:06 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) just announced a new credential

csr changes So Hard to Change Course

for accountants charged with analyzing sustainability issues that impact the bottom line.  “More and more companies are disclosing sustainability information. In 2011, only about 20 percent of S&P 500 companies produced a sustainability report, while in 2014 that number jumped to 75 percent.”

Should this make us jump for joy? I’d hoped for more.  By now, we were supposed to have one overall reporting scheme that integrated financial results with quantified sustainability measures.

I remember how participants cheered at the 2007 Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) Conference when piles of the Wall Street Journal’s special section “A Smarter Approach to SRI” were distributed. The section acknowledged SRI investors, data analysts and portfolio managers as a valid segment of investing, chronicling SRI’s shift from a sin-avoidance screen (no tobacco, liquor or firearms) to a philosophy that doing good in the world produces great financial results.

We thought we could see the end of a need for SRI. After all, if a strategy is producing better returns, wouldn’t everyone jump on the bandwagon? Wouldn’t accounting standards incorporate sustainability factors into their reporting requirements? Wouldn’t financial analysts demand access to standardized sustainability measurement?

Yet here we are, eight years later, and we’re no closer to sustainability integration. The SEC requires financial reporting on climate change and conflict minerals to account for their risk, but that was put in place in 2010 and has only been minimally enforced. The U.S. has not required sustainability reporting seen in other countries, and the U.S. accounting board (FASB) leaves sustainability reporting to independent organizations, removing FASB’s responsibility to put sustainability factors side by side with financial reports.

Sustainability data, also called CSR, is available – in fact, CSRHub, sponsor of this blog, posts some of its data online for free. But none have been used to establish standards that can be enforced.

Despite these roadblocks, some investors have figured out how to incorporate sustainability performance into their investment strategies, and they’ve had remarkable success. This month’s The Atlantic reports on Al Gore’s phenomenal performance with sustainable investing: his firm earned 12.1 percent annually over ten years, an astounding 5 percentage points over the average managed account.

Gore’s results are substantiated by studies from Oxford University and the Wharton School. So why are supposedly rational investors not enrolling in droves?

Bank of England’s Chief Economist Andrew Haldane has considered this behavior irrational as well. The Atlantic piece explains:

“…this is known as the ‘$20 bill paradox’: An economist sees some money lying on the sidewalk and says, ‘That can’t be a $20 bill, because if it were, someone would have picked it up.’ But Haldane’s analysis shows a persistent market failure because of habits of mind, compensation structure, and other real-world factors that make investors undervalue long-term returns.”

A perfect example comes courtesy of this month’s Harvard Business Review’s “Best-performing CEOs in the World.” For 2015’s report, the authors factored in 20 percent sustainability performance with its standard financial measures, profit and change in stock value. Eight years after the Wall Street Journal endorsed sustainability, Harvard has come around too. Should be great news right?

Predictably, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, was first last year. Also predictably given Amazon’s abysmal sustainability record, Bezos dropped to 87th this year.

But the market didn’t punish Bezos at all. The week the rankings were released, Amazon’s price was unaffected, bouncing around within its normal range. Even more telling, when the company’s “bruising workplace’” was excoriated by the New York Times then universally critiqued for weeks on end, the stock barely budged. Sustainability affects long term returns, which just don’t matter to most investors.

So what’s the news here?

By adding sustainability as a factor to its Best Performing CEOs ranking, HBS is supporting its mission to “Educate Leaders Who Make a Difference in the World. Yet the market’s “habits of thought” are to value short term over long term returns and reward ambitious leaders who fail to understand the inter-connectedness of the world.

You have to applaud the change in CEO ranking criteria, celebrate the SASB credential and admire those who proselytize sustainable investing. But we still have a long way to go to change real world habits.

Photo courtesy of Andy Blackledge via Flickr CC.


Carol2Carol Pierson Holding is President and Founder, Holding Associates. Carol serves as Guest Blogger for CSRHub. Her firm has focused on the intersection of brand and social responsibility, working with Cisco Systems, Wilmington Trust, Bankrate.com, the US EPA, Yale University’s School of Environmental Sciences, and various non-profits. Before founding Holding Associates, Carol worked in executive management positions at Siegel & Gale, McCann Erickson, and Citibank. She is a Board Member of AMREF (African Medical and Research Foundation). Carol received her AB from Smith College and her MBA from Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 15,000+ companies from 135 industries in 132 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

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CSRHub CEO Bahar Gidwani Speaking at Sustainable Brands Smarter Metrics Webinar

[fa icon="calendar'] Jan 13, 2015 3:24:53 PM / by Bahar Gidwani

CSRHub CEO and Co-founder Bahar Gidwani will be speaking at Sustainable Brands Sustainable BrandsSmarter Metrics Webinar, How to Collect, Manage and Report on Sustainability Date More Effectively on January 20, 2015 at 10-11 am Pacific Time.

Speakers include:

Bernard Fort, CEO, Tennaxia
Bahar Gidwani, Co-founder & CEO, CSRHub
Eli Reisman, Product Manager, SASB
Deborah Stern, Founder & CEO, 2020 Strategies [Moderator]

 What You Will Learn

  • Market trends and benchmarking regarding various CSR data management tools
  • What SASB, GRI and other experts recommend
  • The ROI for utilizing data management systems for improving CSR performance
  • Best practices for considering a CSR/Sustainability data management system

Tennaxia

Learn more and register here today:

Register


Bahar GidwaniBahar Gidwani is CEO and Co-founder of CSRHub.  He has built and run large technology-based businesses for many years. Bahar holds a CFA, worked on Wall Street with Kidder, Peabody, and with McKinsey & Co. Bahar has consulted to a number of major companies and currently serves on the board of several software and Web companies. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and an undergraduate degree in physics and astronomy. Bahar is a member of the SASB Advisory Board.  He plays bridge, races sailboats, and is based in New York City.

CSRHub provides access to the world’s largest corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information, covering over 13,000 companies from 135 industries in 104 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 370 data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices, and seek ways to improve corporate sustainability performance.

CSRHub is a B Corporation, an Organizational Stakeholder (OS) with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), a silver partner with CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project), and an Advisory Council Member of Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB).

 

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Are Both Sides Finally Meeting in the Middle?

[fa icon="calendar'] Jul 1, 2014 8:00:20 AM / by Bahar Gidwani

By Bahar Gidwani

This past week brought two pieces of positive news on Climate Change activism.  A number of highly-influential and well-connected politicians publicly stressed the importance of addressing climate change.  One of these luminaries, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, recently took the additional sACSBtep of assuming the Chair of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB).

Just yesterday, we heard from smaller companies.  Our friends at the American Council of Sustainable Businesses (ACSB) released a poll of 555 small businesses.  It showed that a majority of those polled were concerned about Climate Change.  The small business people included more Republicans and Independents than Democrats.  The bigwig contingent was equally diverse, politically.  The EPA’s recent pronouncement of state-by-state carbon limits adds further pressure on local politicians to fall in line.

While there was hand wringing and despair shown by the remaining climate doubters over the EPA action, I did not see any immediate attempts to reverse it (or to indict or impeach anyone!).  I take this as a further sign that we are moving towards a consensus that we should finally start to take concerted action to avoid further global warming.

Once we stop arguing over whether or not we need to do something, we can start arguing about what we need to do.  Carbon is not the only driver for warming—we need to deal also with other gases, deforestation, and changes in surface reflectivity.  Many corporate entities have already cut their carbon emissions by 30% or 50%.  We will need new technologies and management systems to go further than this.  And, we will need to find ways to encourage government agencies, not-for-profits and individuals to change their behavior.

We hope our database and the tools we have built will help this process.  As part of our commitment to our stakeholders (we are a B Corp), we have worked hard to keep our company’s carbon use low.  Still, we probably need to examine our own practices to see if we can find more savings and contribute our fair share to solving what is finally being acknowledged as one of the most important issues of our day.


Bahar GidwaniBahar Gidwani is CEO and Co-founder of CSRHub.  He has built and run large technology-based businesses for many years. Bahar holds a CFA, worked on Wall Street with Kidder, Peabody, and with McKinsey & Co. Bahar has consulted to a number of major companies and currently serves on the board of several software and Web companies. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and an undergraduate degree in physics and astronomy. Bahar is a member of the SASB Advisory Board.  He plays bridge, races sailboats, and is based in New York City.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 8,900+ companies from 135 industries in 102 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 325 data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

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SASB Launches Its First Pilot Program

[fa icon="calendar'] May 15, 2014 9:00:29 AM / by Bahar Gidwani

By Bahar Gidwani

At a meeting earlier this week, The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) sasbannounced that it was launching what it calls its “Corporate Roundtable.”  It hopes to get ten large companies to join the Roundtable over the next few months.  These companies will then use the materiality standards that SASB has developed to upgrade their public disclosure documents.

The first company to join the program is NASDAQ OMX.  As part of running one of the world’s largest stock exchanges, NASDAQ employs 3,000+ people and operates at least eleven facilities.  It will be fascinating to see SASB’s guidance tested in real life by a company that is deeply involved in a host of regulatory and reporting activities.

The International Integrated Reporting Committee (IIRC) started its pilot program in 2011.  We track the companies in this program (and the companies who have supported SASB by joining its working groups).  We were pleased to see that the average ratings for both the IIRC pilot companies (61) and for the SASB working group companies (57) were well above the average for all CSRHub-rated companies (51).  This confirms our view that companies who are actively engaged in understanding and implementing integrated reporting are “ahead of the curve” overall in their sustainability performance.

Let us know if you think your company might be interested in joining the Corporate Roundtable.  SASB is actively recruiting new participants and seems willing to provide workshops and other types of training support, to help its pilot companies through the implementation process.


Bahar GidwaniBahar Gidwani is CEO and Co-founder of CSRHub. He has built and run large technology-based businesses for many years. Bahar holds a CFA, worked on Wall Street with Kidder, Peabody, and with McKinsey & Co. Bahar has consulted to a number of major companies and currently serves on the board of several software and Web companies. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and an undergraduate degree in physics and astronomy. Bahar is a member of the SASB Advisory Board. He plays bridge, races sailboats, and is based in New York City.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 8,900 companies from 135 industries in 103 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 300+ data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 
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[fa icon="comment"] 1 Comment posted in Bahar Gidwani, CSR, Uncategorized, IIRC, sustainability, International Integrated Reporting Committee, NASDAQ OMX Global Sustainability Index, SASB, corporate roundtable, CSRHub, The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board

Turning ‘we don’t report’ into ‘we do’

[fa icon="calendar'] May 21, 2013 10:23:52 AM / by Bahar Gidwani

By Bahar Gidwani

We were recently invited by our friends at Trucost to moderate a webinar with the above title.  Our shared goal was to encourage more companies to start reporting their sustainability performance.

You can download the webinar from the Trucost site, here.  However, I thought I’d share a few of the things I learned from preparing for the talk and from the other panelists.

I started the webinar by sharing some figures from the CSRHub database.  I showed the audience that only 30% of companies in developing countries outside the US are using one of the three main reporting systems (the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the Carbon Disclosure Project (now CDP), and the UN Global Compact or UNGC).  US companies lag far behind—with only about 10% of the companies we track reporting via these systems.

I didn’t spend a lot of time during the webinar bragging about this data.  However, I was pretty proud to see that our coverage has now grown to the point where we can start to make broad, worldwide statements about corporate social performance.  We currently cover more than 7,300 companies in 93 countries.  Other sources have claimed that “reporting is rising rapidly” and that “90% of large companies are reporting.”  If we take the term “large company” to include those over $100 billion in revenue, these statements are true.  However, when we look at companies between $100 million and $1 billion (which most people would still consider “large”), reporting remains quite weak.

The next speaker was Lorinda Rowledge, who is one of the founders of EKOS International.  Over the past 17 years, Lorinda has helped many large companies take their first steps towards reporting their performance.  Among other things, she offered this set of insights into the benefits of making an initial report.

Our third speaker was James Salo of Trucost.  Jamie uses Trucost’s proprietary models (some of which he helped build) to improve company understand of their environmental performance.  He showed the audience this great example of how a company could use the data it gathers through a reporting process to help visualize its competitive position.

After we shared our slides, we took questions and comments from the audience.  In particular, there remains confusion about new standards for reporting such as those being proposed by SASB and the IIRC.  We agreed that we are happy to see the quality of reporting improved by these efforts—as long as they don’t discourage or confuse companies who are just starting on their journey into reporting.


Bahar Gidwani is CEO and Co-founder of CSRHub.  He has built and run large technology-based businesses for many years. Bahar holds a CFA, worked on Wall Street with Kidder, Peabody, and with McKinsey & Co. Bahar has consulted to a number of major companies and currently serves on the board of several software and Web companies. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and an undergraduate degree in physics and astronomy. Bahar is a member of the SASB Advisory Board.  He plays bridge, races sailboats, and is based in New York City.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 7,300+ companies from 135 industries in 93 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 200 data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

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[fa icon="comment"] 1 Comment posted in Bahar Gidwani, Carbon Disclosure Project, CSR, EKOS International, UNGC, UN Global Compact, Uncategorized, IIRC, Lorinda R. Rowledge, James Salo, SASB, sustainability performance, Trucost, CDP, Global Reporting Initiative, GRI

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