Rethinking the role of sustainability reports

October 20, 2020 by  
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Rethinking the role of sustainability reports Mike Hower Tue, 10/20/2020 – 01:00 Corporate sustainability has a reporting problem — it always has. Companies typically don’t enjoy creating them and investors, customers, employees and most other stakeholders don’t revel in reading them. Yet, with investors more interested in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues than ever before, this long-standing problem has become an immediate liability for companies looking to maximize shared value. Today, some 90 percent of companies in the S&P 500 produc e corporate sustainability reports, and the practice has become so ingrained in corporate sustainability culture that few question its purpose or efficacy. Reporting has risen to prominence for good reason — there never has been a more critical time for companies to communicate their strategies and actions for corporate sustainability. Many investors evaluate nonfinancial performance based on corporate disclosures, with most finding value in assurance of the strength of an organization’s planning for climate and other ESG risks. Meanwhile, consumers increasingly are demanding responsible products, and attention to sustainability issues has become an employee expectation. But something isn’t right with the status quo of reporting. “By trying to meet the demands of multiple stakeholders, sustainability reports have become bloated, overly complex and expensive to produce,” said Nathan Sanfacon, an ESG expert at thinkPARALLAX , a sustainability strategy and communication agency. “This results in companies spending scarce resources on a report that doesn’t quite satisfy the needs of any stakeholder group.” To be more effective at engaging investors and other critical audiences on ESG, companies ought to shift towards communicating relevant data in a more agile and real-time format. This is particularly problematic for large, publicly traded companies seeking to attract and retain institutional investors. “To be more effective at engaging investors and other critical audiences on ESG, companies ought to shift towards communicating relevant data in a more agile and real-time format,” Sanfacon said. Addressing this disconnect is at the core of the new thinkPARALLAX white paper, ” The New Era of Reporting: How to Engage Investors on ESG ,” which examines the pitfalls of sustainability reporting in the past and present and offers a better way forward for corporate sustainability practitioners. A short history of sustainability reporting While reporting might seem a recent phenomenon, its origins go back nearly half a century — emerging first in Europe in the 1960s and later in the United States in the 1970s after the first Earth Day launched the modern environmental movement. Many of the earliest reports were strictly environmental and more about addressing public image problems than communicating anything that might resemble a proactive sustainability strategy. What we might call the modern era of sustainability reporting began in 1997 when public outcry over the environmental damage of the Exxon Valdez oil spill compelled Ceres and the Tellus Institute to create the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) . The aim was to create the first accountability mechanism to ensure companies adhere to responsible environmental conduct principles, which was then broadened to include social, economic and governance issues, GRI says on its website. “Prior to GRI, there was no framework to ensure that reporting was consistent or reflective of stakeholder needs,” said Eric Hespenheide, chairman of GRI, in an email. “First through versions of the GRI Guidelines and since 2016, the GRI Standards, we have been furthering our mission to use the power of transparency, as envisaged by effective disclosure, to bring about change.” Since then, multiple other reporting frameworks have emerged to cater to the ever-growing list of corporate sustainability stakeholders, such as the investor-focused Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) and Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) . “While sustainability reporting has come a long way, a lack of standardization means that there is a disconnect between what investors are looking for and what companies are communicating,” Sanfacon said. Giving investors what they want Here’s a billion-dollar question: What do investors look for when evaluating companies on ESG? The simple answer: data; data; and more data. “Investors tell us they’re looking for raw ESG data that is consistent, comparable and reliable — data that is focused on the subset of ESG issues most closely linked to a company’s ability to create long-term value,” Katie Schmitz Eulitt, director of investor outreach at SASB, wrote in an email. Schmitz Eulitt regularly engages with the investment community on disclosure quality, including with members of SASB’s 50-plus member Investor Advisory Group, who collectively manage more than $40 trillion in assets. “When companies more explicitly connect the dots between how they manage sustainability-related risks and opportunities and their financial outcomes, it’s both an opportunity to enhance transparency and strengthen performance,” Schmitz Eulitt added. When companies more explicitly connect the dots between how they manage sustainability-related risks and opportunities and their financial outcomes, it’s both an opportunity to enhance transparency and strengthen performance. But this is easier said than done because corporate leaders, investors and other stakeholders must work with two separate and disjointed reporting systems: one for financial and the other for ESG performance. “Companies can be screened in or out using various criteria, but there is no way to integrate the data into earnings projections or valuation analysis,” wrote Mark Kramer et al. in a recent piece in Institutional Investor. “The result is two separate narratives, one telling how profitable a company is, the other highlighting whether it is good for people and the planet.” The new era of reporting Investors, of course, aren’t the end all, be all of corporate sustainability communication — companies also want to reach customers, consumers, regulators and employees, among others. But limited time and money often results in corporate sustainability practitioners attempting to use annual or bi-annual reports as a one-size-fits all solution. More often than not, these reports are heavy on human-centric stories and light on quantitative information. While non-investor stakeholders tend to appreciate the human stories, they also typically aren’t taking the time to download and devour a portly PDF. Meanwhile, while investors are people too and can enjoy a good human story, they ultimately aren’t getting enough of the hard data they desire. In the new whitepaper, thinkPARALLAX proposes addressing this problem by dividing sustainability communication into two drivers — demonstrating performance and building reputation — so that companies can better invest time and resources to better engage investors and other stakeholders. Demonstrating performance involves conveying the effectiveness of a company’s sustainability strategy and management of material ESG issues, such as disclosing data around carbon emissions or diversity and inclusion through a digital reporting hub. Building reputation focuses on showing that a company is acting responsibly, limiting its environmental impact and delivering societal benefits. This could take the form of communications activities such as social media campaigns, microsites, videos, speaking or op-eds, among others.  “Companies most interested in engaging investors should focus more on demonstrating performance by communicating the hard ESG data they are looking for, as opposed to human interest stories,” Sanfacon said. “But if non-investor stakeholders like consumers, employees or customers are a primary audience, the company should invest more in building reputation by bringing the data to life through inspiring stories.” While this won’t single-handedly solve corporate sustainability’s reporting problem, it’s a start. As companies shift away from massive PDF reports and toward more targeted, real-time investor communication, they’ll free up time and resources to better engage consumers, employees and other key stakeholders on corporate sustainability. Pull Quote To be more effective at engaging investors and other critical audiences on ESG, companies ought to shift towards communicating relevant data in a more agile and real-time format. When companies more explicitly connect the dots between how they manage sustainability-related risks and opportunities and their financial outcomes, it’s both an opportunity to enhance transparency and strengthen performance. Topics Reporting ESG Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) On Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Shutterstock Kan Chana Close Authorship

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Rethinking the role of sustainability reports

Where there’s hope for speeding up business action on plastics

August 26, 2020 by  
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Where there’s hope for speeding up business action on plastics Elsa Wenzel Wed, 08/26/2020 – 02:01 In 10 short years, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) arguably has done more than any other group to define and advance the circular economy. Its landmark report,  “The New Plastics Economy” (PDF),   sounded the alarm in 2016 that if “business as usual” continues, by 2025 the ocean may hold more plastic than fish by weight. Its commitment by the same name has attracted many of the planet’s biggest brand names, among 450-plus signatories, to dramatically slash their use or production of plastic by 2025. PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Unilever and even Tupperware  have signed on with governments and NGOs to do away with “unnecessary” plastics and innovate so that other plastics will be reused, recycled or composted; and kept out of natural systems. Only five years ago, few corporate leaders had plastic pollution on their official radar. Yet Dame Ellen MacArthur herself is floored by the rapid pace of change in business that has been forced by the COVID-19 pandemic. In food, for instance, business models and distribution methods were reshaped in a matter of weeks, as supply chains flexed to keep groceries in stock and farmers struggled to offload overripe crops. Digital networks and online platforms scaled to meet spiking demand during social distancing. In all this, she finds hope for systemic change toward a circular economy. Much of industry continues to embrace “throwaway living,” which was celebrated in this Life Magazine photograph in 1955.   “People have gotten used to having to jump quickly to change the system,” EMF Chair MacArthur said Tuesday at the GreenBiz Circularity 20 virtual event. “That hopefully will set a precedent for how we can do things in the future and how we can shift quickly in a light-footed way.” Time isn’t on the side of those who hope to prevent the projection by the  Pew Charitable Trusts  that plastic waste flows into the oceans will double in the next 20 years. Already, if all the world’s plastic waste could be shaped into a plastic shopping bag, all of Earth would fit inside of it, noted Morgan Stanley CMO and CSO Audrey Choi. Picture a double bag in 30 years. The business case Although the financial services firm is far from being in the business of producing or using plastic products, last year it set a resolution to work to keep 50 million metric tons of plastic out of ecosystems by 2030. It’s unique but not alone. The strength of collaborations emerging toward circular solutions, among corporate competitors as well as between business and government, has surprised MacArthur, for one: “The system has to change and I think more than ever, the companies involved in the system want to change.” Her remark came moments before the launch of  the US Plastics Pact  by EMF, The Recycling Partnership and WWF. Its 60 signatories across public and private sectors agree to advance circularity goals for plastic by 2025. Similar national plastics pacts are at play in Chile, France, Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa and the United Kingdom. Choi is among the execs sounding a call to action to propel business in a new direction on plastic. “I can’t think of another instance in which it would be a smart business position to take a finite natural resource, turn it into a product we use on average for 12 minutes and throw it away,” she said, citing that single-use plastic wastes $120 billion in economic value each year. “Business leaders often care but say either they can’t do anything about it because they’re not a major part of plastic value chain or because the problem is just too big,” she said. “It’s a global economy-wide issue but the fact that it is everywhere should inspire us to action. I believe that in virtually every C-suite you could go around the table and identify why every C-suite officer can care and benefit from trying to address the problem.” With the experience of having crafted Morgan Stanley’s Plastic Waste Resolution with input from the highest executives, Choi shared these specifics for others seeking to achieve buy-in from the top (She skipped the CEO, since all of it rolls up to them eventually): Chief financial officers CFOs may initially frown on making a change by switching costs or assume that alternatives are more costly. But they will find plenty of low-hanging fruit that can reduce operating and capital costs. For example, facilities that adopt cleaning products in powder or concentrate, in reusable containers, could shrink their shipping costs and carbon footprint while increasing profit margins. And companies have benefited from shifting public sentiment on plastics when they’ve issued corporate debt with proceeds tied to plastic waste reduction. Chief legal officers  CLOs have to keep up with a rapidly evolving patchwork of state laws governing plastic use and disposal, driven by activists, regulators and consumers. Bans on plastic straws, grocery bags and cup lids keep piling up, even if many are on hold during the coronavirus crisis. But company legal officers can streamline compliance and reduce liability by targeting plastic. Woe is the CLO who ignores public sentiment and risks lawsuits or fines; plastic waste branded with their company’s logo is a time bomb waiting to appear in the wrong place at the wrong time. Chief innovation officers For innovation chiefs, Choi sees the benefit as fairly intuitive. “Plastic waste reduction can be their muse, inspiring innovation through new products, new services, and new ways to engage customers,” she said. There’s an obvious wow factor to using new material that’s truly biodegradable or recyclable, just as IKEA is replacing plastic foam packaging with mushroom-based material that can be grown in a week, reused and then composted in a month. Chief marketing officers There’s a clear and growing opportunity for CMOs as customers vote with their purchases against plastic waste. For example, being the category leader in reducing plastic waste can be a chief differentiator beyond simply competing on price. “Selling your product in a beautiful, branded reusable container comes with the added benefit of the consumer looking to you and only you to refill that container.” If plastic rose to amazing heights in a matter of decades thanks to corporate marketing efforts, imagine the next revolution in plastics coming from the same source. Chief sustainability officers “It’s pretty self-explanatory why we should care about plastic waste reduction,” Choi said. In addition to the sustainability aspects, plastic goals are an opportunity to forge C-suite alliances and build bridges with clients and corporate partners, potentially leading to innovative programs and products. To reduce the plastic burden, Choi envisions drawing on the kinds of scientific discoveries, ingenuity, entrepreneurship and marketing that made plastic part of daily life in past decades. There are special challenges in this COVID-19 era, as single-use plastics, including disposable masks laced with microplastic fibers, flood waste streams and waterways at unprecedented levels. Yet advancing circularity also helps to meet climate targets. What does MacArthur consider crucial to making a difference on circularity in the next year or so? “We have an opportunity right now, like we’ve not had before, because of something tragic, to build in a different way,” including for the automotive, industrial and infrastructure sectors, she said. “Accepting what that looks like and making it happen, that for me, that’s the step.” Topics Circular Economy Circularity 20 Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) On Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Single-use plastic cups: an endangered species? Shutterstock Svetlana Lukienko Close Authorship

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Where there’s hope for speeding up business action on plastics

The Business Roundtable’s statement of purpose, one year on

August 17, 2020 by  
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The Business Roundtable’s statement of purpose, one year on Joel Makower Mon, 08/17/2020 – 02:11 When the Business Roundtable updated its  Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation a year ago this week, its members surely didn’t anticipate a global pandemic, a recession of historic proportions and a movement for racial justice becoming mainstream. Yet here we are, a year later, looking at a very different world than the one envisaged last August. Now that the business group’s statement has been stress-tested well beyond anyone’s expectations, it’s a good time to take a look at what difference it has made in its first 12 months. The short answer: It’s mostly business as usual. That’s an admittedly blunt and sweeping assessment of the state of corporate responsibility. While many companies have stepped up in some fashion to address the urgency of the moment, few have done so in ways that could help advance the kinds of long-term structural changes needed to ensure that the organization’s lofty statement has enduring impact. And some have neutered their stated commitments with actions that harm workers, communities and the environment. First, a refresher. The statement, signed by the chief executives of more than 180 large corporations, declared that business needs to move away from its shareholder-centric mission and advocate for “a fundamental commitment to all of our stakeholders.” In part, signatory companies committed to: compensate employees fairly, including through training and education, while fostering diversity and inclusion; deal fairly and ethically with suppliers; support “the communities in which we work” by respecting people, protecting the environment and “embracing sustainable practices across our businesses” and generate long-term value for shareholders, “who provide the capital that allows companies to invest, grow and innovate.” Not exactly radical statements, given that these commitments reflect much of the corporate sustainability agenda that has been decades in the making. These days, they represent society’s basic expectations of companies and their leaders. Still, the statement signaled a significant departure from the shareholders-at-all-costs orthodoxy of the past half-century, as articulated by the economist Milton Friedman. Fifty years ago next month, writing in the New York Times (PDF), Friedman argued that the social responsibility of business was to “increase profits.” And that anything businesspeople might do otherwise would be part of “the socialist view that political mechanisms, not market mechanisms, are the appropriate way to determine the allocation of scarce resources to alternative uses.” As I noted in a  2006 essay on the occasion of Friedman’s passing: We know better now. For example, we understand that ignoring environmental and social issues can be bad for business. Companies that pollute their local communities risk poisoning their customers. Ignoring the state of the local school system risks depleting the pool of qualified workers. Abusing workers risks higher turnover and training costs, not to mention greater difficulty attracting the most qualified candidates. The roundtable’s statement may have been a departure from the Friedman orthodoxy, but not as profoundly as some seem to think. For example, it acknowledged that “the free-market system is the best means of generating good jobs, a strong and sustainable economy, innovation, a healthy environment and economic opportunity for all.” In other words: Business knows best how to protect people and allocate resources. Somewhere, Professor Friedman must be smiling. When the Business Roundtable statement was announced, much of the immediate criticism wasn’t from those who disagreed with its goals, but rather those concerned how the commitments would be translated into action, how progress would be measured and how companies would be held accountable. Somewhere, Professor Friedman must be smiling. With good reason: Sustainable business still lacks universal definitions, metrics and accountability. Sure, there are ESG metrics, sustainability ratings and corporate rankings galore. And the pursuit of those can help move companies further faster. But not all companies strive to achieve high scores and rankings, probably because no one, internally or externally, is demanding that they do. And companies can fare well in these rankings even if they, say, extract oil or hire workers at minimum wages without benefits, among other things that are not likely considered “socially responsible” by some. Shareholders first So, what, exactly, has happened in the 12 months since the statement was made? I was hard-pressed to find any significant corporate actions that can be tied directly to the Business Roundtable’s doctrine. Maybe I’ll be surprised in the coming week, should companies or the roundtable itself use the one-year anniversary to assess progress or announce bold new initiatives. That doesn’t mean companies aren’t acting. Corporate initiatives have continued largely unhindered by the recession and pandemic,  as I’ve noted previously . And the George Floyd murder and all that followed has spurred companies to address a range of long-festering racial and social justice issues. But nearly all of those things would likely have happened without the Business Roundtable statement. At best the statement codified what hundreds of big companies are already doing. Moreover, under the laws of the state of Delaware, where 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies (and many smaller ones, including GreenBiz Group) are registered, corporate directors still have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of shareholders. The statement does not alter this reality. That means companies are still legally required to put shareholders first. To the extent that it provided a fig leaf that enabled CEOs to pursue business as usual — well, it was probably worse than doing nothing at all. And to the extent that corporate boards and executives have remained on the sidelines of such front-burner issues as voter disenfranchisement, criminal justice reform and climate change rather than advocating for policies to address these critical issues — well, that doesn’t necessarily line up with the Business Roundtable’s stated efforts to “ensure more inclusive prosperity.” Worse than nothing? In the end, the Business Roundtable’s statement was probably far less than it seemed. Companies were already on a path to address many of society’s pressing social and environmental ills, albeit incrementally. To the extent that the statement gave political cover to CEOs that had been reticent to jump in, great. To the extent that it provided a fig leaf that enabled CEOs to pursue business as usual — well, it was probably worse than doing nothing at all. There have been robust efforts for years among academics, NGOs, entrepreneurs and a handful of business executives aimed at reinventing capitalism and corporations. (Allen White, vice president and senior fellow at Tellus Institute, who directs its Program on Corporate Redesign, has written  several thoughtful pieces for GreenBiz on these topics.) Those conversations are extremely valuable, becoming more so every year, and are worthy of a much larger engagement. Ultimately, the power to effect structural change doesn’t necessarily reside in boardrooms, Wall Street or the corridors of political power. It is we, the people, in our roles as the very stakeholders the Business Roundtable’s statement aims to appease — customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders — who are best able to push companies to change, along with supporting the political influencers who understand that the reward systems for doing the wrong things need to be fixed. The Business Roundtable and its members no doubt understand that. But their 2019 statement is unlikely to lead us in that direction. Not without a full-court press from you and me. I invite you to  follow me on Twitter , subscribe to my Monday morning newsletter,  GreenBuzz , and listen to  GreenBiz 350 , my weekly podcast, co-hosted with Heather Clancy. Pull Quote Somewhere, Professor Friedman must be smiling. To the extent that it provided a fig leaf that enabled CEOs to pursue business as usual — well, it was probably worse than doing nothing at all. Topics Leadership Corporate Social Responsibility Featured Column Two Steps Forward Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Shutterstock

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The Business Roundtable’s statement of purpose, one year on

The many faces of energy resilience

August 17, 2020 by  
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The many faces of energy resilience Michelle Moore Mon, 08/17/2020 – 00:30 This series explores how clean energy can deliver on finance and corporate social and governance goals alongside climate and environmental benefits. “Resilience” is a powerful word in 2020. Fires, floods, pestilence, pandemic — I don’t know about you all, but I was raised in a fundamentalist Southern Baptist Church and my Revelations bingo card is just about full. Thinking about the idea of resilience as it relates to equity and energy systems merely as the ability to keep the lights on, however, is missing a powerful opportunity to right the scales of justice. Large corporate energy buyers and utilities, in particular, hold the opportunity to build better and make things right. On resilience The term “resilience” can be applied to a vast array of natural, built and social systems and refers to the ability to recover function following a significant, potentially unpredictable disruption. As it relates to energy, moving away from long transmission lines and centralized power plants burning extracted, polluting fuels and towards a distributed system that combines local energy storage with renewables improves resilience — consistent with the principles of biomimicry. That’s the vision. But how is that vision valued? Resilient energy systems combining renewables, microgrids and energy storage are being deployed by corporations and other institutions that can assign an economic value to resilience as a service, by residential customers who can afford it and by utilities that benefit from the resulting infrastructure and other cost reductions. If we define the value of resilience in such narrow economic terms, however, we will build a clean energy dystopia. But we can choose a better way. Do justice Our energy systems, like most legacy systems, are infused with racial injustices that do particular harm to Black communities, families and individuals because many of our laws and institutions were designed for that purpose. Systems produce outcomes according to the values on which they are founded, and the outcomes are clear. As the NAACP has highlighted , 68 percent of Black and African-American individuals live within 30 miles of a coal plant and are twice as likely to die from asthma than white Americans. Only 1.1 percent of those employed in the energy industry are Black, while Black households comprise more than half of those paying 10 percent or more of their entire income to keep the lights on. Moreover, Black and Latino households pay almost three times as much for energy as higher income and white households.  If we define the value of resilience in such narrow economic terms, we will build a clean energy dystopia. But we can choose a better way. Just because you didn’t write the rules that made things so broken doesn’t absolve you of accountability to fix them. As my colleague Chandra Farley, Just Energy Director with Partnership for Southern Equity, has pointedly noted, Black people, communities of color and low-income communities are resilient because they have endured hundreds of years of systemic racism and disinvestment. Recognizing this, every decision maker leading an energy storage project can choose to do justice by understanding the value of resilience as encompassing more than the money. Here are four examples of how to begin. Communities can define their own resilient energy futures , anchored by colleges and universities. In service to the Atlanta University Center Consortium , Groundswell is supporting the design and development of an innovative Resilience Hub that celebrates the leadership of Atlanta’s historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Partnership for Southern Equity is on the team to ensure that the voice and vision of the surrounding neighborhoods, among the most energy-burdened in the city, are the priority. Enabled through NREL’s Solar Energy Innovation Network, this project is tackling how to deploy community-led energy resilience in a regulated, utility-driven energy market. Large corporate energy buyers can share resilience as a service to the communities surrounding their facilities and installations. Doing so in a way that aligns with local community needs and values requires building relationships with local communities and listening to and meeting their needs. John Kliem, formerly the head of the U.S. Navy’s Resilient Energy Program Office, oversaw an early example of this approach in collaboration with the Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative in Hawaii. The resulting solar-plus-storage facility, recognized b y a 2019 U.S. Department of Energy award, improves energy security for the local Naval facility while supporting local goals. Kliem, who now leads federal energy strategy for Johnson Controls, also has identified co-location of energy storage facilities to share resilience with critical infrastructure such as hospitals and municipal water pumping stations as opportunities. Cities, municipalities and other jurisdictions can use their planning authority to embed community-driven resilience at the building level. The city of Baltimore is helping to lead the way. Funded through a Maryland Energy Administration Grant, Baltimore is working with Groundswell and energy storage innovators A.F. Mensah to identify and develop up to 20 local Resilience Hubs across the city that will host solar and energy storage installations and provide refuge for local community members in case of extreme weather or other events. Importantly, funded collaborations such as this support critical place-based R&D into optimal approaches to financing larger scale deployment while navigating local, state and regional regulations that impact siting, interconnection and access to revenue opportunities such as selling stored power back to the grid at peak.   Rural electric cooperatives are demonstrating how utilities can deploy energy storage that reduces electric costs for their member customers. Curtis Wynn, CEO of the Roanoke Electric Cooperative and president of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, is studying offering energy storage as a service to industrial customers and sharing the resulting cost reductions from reducing peak demand with his residential customers, who are largely low- and moderate-income households. Using smart hot water heaters for energy storage offers similar potential benefits to lower income customers, which is just one of the innovative ideas being advanced by the Beneficial Electrification League . Towards regeneration Building energy resilience can do more than keep the lights on for those who can pay for it. Resilience can be reparative, and the resulting investments can support the regeneration of communities that have been held back by institutionalized systems of oppression. We have a corporate as well as an individual responsibility to do justice. We are called to advocate for and share what we have with others so that everyone is treated equally and with dignity, and it’s the privilege of our generation to be alive at a time when we can make things right. Pull Quote If we define the value of resilience in such narrow economic terms, we will build a clean energy dystopia. But we can choose a better way. Topics Energy & Climate Social Justice Community Resilience Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off GreenBiz photocollage, via Shutterstock

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Why the private sector needs to invest in conservation agriculture right now

June 6, 2020 by  
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Why the private sector needs to invest in conservation agriculture right now William Ginn Sat, 06/06/2020 – 02:00 This is an excerpt from ” Valuing Nature ” by William J. Ginn. Copyright 2020 William J. Ginn. Reproduced here with permission from Island Press, Washington, D.C.  Resistance to change is universal. For example, despite more than 30 years of good science and best practices that support conservation agriculture in the United States, less than 5 percent of U.S. soy, wheat, and corn farmers use cover crops, and only 25 percent have adopted crop rotation and conservation tillage practices, even though the country is losing more than 10 billion tons of soil each year as well as more than $50 billion in social and environmental benefits. One challenge is the increasing percentage of farms owned by investors who lease land year to year to the highest bidder, which gives farmers little incentive to invest in conservation practices that might take years to be fully realized. Nevertheless, [The Nature Conservancy (TNC)], along with a consortium of farmers’ groups and a contingent of seed and fertilizer companies, has set a goal of getting half of the country’s wheat, soy, and corn crops into conservation tillage by [2025] (PDF). To achieve this goal, the same kind of incentives, extension services, and creative financial mechanisms being advocated for in the developing world are going to be needed in the United States too. Building capacity and providing patient capital at the farmer level is a big challenge; at NatureVest, it is referred to as the last-mile problem. Although big-picture interventions are often understood in theory, the capacity of farmers to implement these solutions on the ground is often quite limited. Nearly everywhere these challenges exist, we need to dramatically increase the number of intermediaries who can help farmers through the difficult but necessary transition to new cropping and livestock-raising systems. It is all high-risk business, and as such, it is not always successful. Several years ago, TNC entered into an agreement with an agricultural consulting company in Argentina with the objective of helping farmers improve sheep-grazing practices. Years of overgrazing had left the region’s grasslands substantially degraded; in fact, at one point in the early years of Patagonia’s colonization, more than 45 million sheep roamed free. Today, the region is home to between 5 million and 8 million sheep, but even that number may be too many. Building capacity and providing patient capital at the farmer level is a big challenge; at NatureVest, it is referred to as the last-mile problem. The restoration plan, called the Patagonia Grassland Regeneration and Sustainability Standard, or GRASS for short, incorporated conservation science, planning, and monitoring into the management plans of wool producers. The idea was not new: rather than grazing sheep in one place continually, they are moved in and out of different pastures depending on the conditions of the grasses. This practice encourages more diversity of native grass species and expanded yields from the revitalized pastures. Done well, ranchers, sheep, native plants, and animals can thrive together. But what motivates ranchers to make these investments in better management and fencing? The basic business idea of GRASS was to improve management practices on ranches and produce a certified wool product that would attract buyers willing to pay more for sustainably grown wool. The program attracted two early adopters, Patagonia, Inc ., a brand committed to sourcing their raw materials sustainably, and Stella McCartney , a high-end clothing manufacturer and daughter of Paul McCartney. Prior to this venture, both companies had been buying their wool primarily from Australia and New Zealand, but for Patagonia in particular, a shift to sourcing from Argentina provided a nice opportunity for alignment with their brand. Dozens of ranches signed up to participate, and many saw measurable yield improvements, even though the initial wool purchases were small. Despite the program’s early successes, the program became unraveled when the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released video footage of alleged animal abuse occurring at some of the ranches. As chief conservation officer of TNC at the time, I can say that I was not very happy with these practices, but I thought some of the allegations were overblown. For example, PETA considers docking tails of sheep to be inhumane, yet it is long-standing practice that arguably improves the health of animals. Nevertheless, both Patagonia and Stella McCartney abruptly ended their contracts with GRASS, and without a market partner, the program has failed to scale to a commercial model. Although any improvement in grazing is useful, the expected impact across the landscape now seems a distant objective. Because feeding the world is an absolute imperative, farmers, investors, and aid organizations continue their quests for new models of sustainable intensification that will both feed more people and restore the soils and hydrological systems that are essential to agriculture. Providing capital in a way that reaches the hundreds of millions of small farmers across the globe as well as the necessary skills and technical expertise is a challenge that will remain for years, but business opportunities abound. Our shared natural assets — soil, water, and a stable climate — will only increase in value as the world demands more food. Pull Quote Building capacity and providing patient capital at the farmer level is a big challenge; at NatureVest, it is referred to as the last-mile problem. Topics Corporate Strategy Food & Agriculture Biodiversity Books Food & Agriculture Conservation Conservation Finance Collective Insight GreenBiz Reads Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) On Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Flock of sheep in Patagonia, Chile. Shutterstock gg-foto Close Authorship

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How to use ‘captive’ insurance to mitigate climate change risks

March 2, 2018 by  
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This article is the second in a three-story series culled from the MMC Climate Resilience 2018 Handbook (PDF) and originally published on Brink. The first part, focused on green bond strategies for climate adaption, may be found here.

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How to use ‘captive’ insurance to mitigate climate change risks

Critically endangered red wolf may be forced into extinction by GOP

December 1, 2017 by  
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There are only 45 to 60 red wolves left in the wild, concentrated in a small area of North Carolina — but for Republicans, that is simply too many. The  Canis rufus, which was declared endangered in 1982 and critically endangered in 1996, has seen only slight growth in its population over the last 30-plus years. As such, the wolves have been protected through a captive breeding and reintroduction program funded by the federal government. But now with Republicans controlling the Senate, a covert push is underway to eviscerate the protective agency and force these red wolves into extinction. As IFLS shares, the initiative is  buried in a Senate report , written as: “The Committee acknowledges the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s request that the [Fish and Wildlife] Service end the Red Wolf recovery program and declare the Red Wolf extinct.” The claim is that “landowners and other species” are being impacted by the wolves and that “the program has failed to meet population goals for the red wolf”—though, notably, absolutely no research or data was accompanied to back up the statements. If passed, the program would come to a close next year. Related: Red Wolves Critically Close to Extinction After Hunters Kill 10 Percent of Population “Senate Republicans are trying to hammer a final nail in the coffin of the struggling red wolf recovery program,” Perrin de Jong, a Center for Biological Diversity staff attorney, said in a  press release . “It is morally reprehensible for Senator Murkowski and her committee to push for the extinction of North Carolina’s most treasured wild predator. Instead of giving up on the red wolf, Congress should fund recovery efforts, something lawmakers have cynically blocked time and time again.” The handful of existing red wolves are the result of an aggressive reintroduction effort started in 1987 to bring them out of extinction. Even today, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) reports they are “one of the world’s most endangered wild canids,” though they have made “good progress” in rebuilding the population, despite illegal poaching and interbreeding with coyotes. The goal has been to grow the number to 220 red wolves. Rather than disassembling the program, the Center for Biological Diversity is calling on pols to improve it: “The science demonstrates that red wolves are still recoverable. A 2014  report  by the nonpartisan Wildlife Management Institute concluded that recovery would require augmenting eastern North Carolina’s existing wild population of fewer than 45 red wolves with two additional wild populations and investing additional resources to build local support for red wolf recovery.” Both the subcommittee and the Interior Department will decide the fate of the wolves. Unfortunately, as the two are under the control of the GOP, a party that has little interest in environmental conservation, the future of the red wolf is bleak. Via  IFL Science Images via Center for Biological Diversity

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Critically endangered red wolf may be forced into extinction by GOP

Flood damage in America: 4 crucial lessons

April 14, 2016 by  
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Floods are the most damaging natural disaster in the United States (PDF), as well as globally, with losses rising dramatically (PDF) over time.

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Flood damage in America: 4 crucial lessons

Pope Francis’ leaked encyclical calls for global government action against climate change

June 16, 2015 by  
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We’ve long known that Pope Francis has a great many thoughts about climate change , and that he has been preparing to release a hefty encyclical to illustrate his stance. An unauthorized draft of that document designed to urge the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics to join him in the fight to save our planet was published online in PDF format  Monday by L’Espresso, a prominent Italian news weekly. But Vatican officials warn that the 192-page draft doesn’t represent the final version of the Pope’s encyclical, which will be released on Thursday. Read the rest of Pope Francis’ leaked encyclical calls for global government action against climate change Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: catholics , Climate Change , encyclical , leaked encyclical , official vatican statements on climate change , papal document , papal encyclical , Pope Francis , pope on climate change , pope scientist , vatican , Vatican City

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Pope Francis’ leaked encyclical calls for global government action against climate change

9 ways sustainability drives profit

October 23, 2014 by  
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9 ways sustainability drives profit Chris Hummel 6:00am Featured Image:  Today most executives recognize that sustainability must be integrated into their organization’s core strategy — not to say that they necessarily understand why. In fact, too many are still content wearing some kind of sustainability PR badge just because the “About Us” section of their website gives sustainability a one-paragraph mention. For their sake and ours, here are nine reasons why all of us might want to redefine how we approach sustainability. 1. Lower costs Sustainability drives profitability. For example, Intercontinental Hotels says it is saving $30,000 a month at two San Francisco hotels by micro-managing peak power. Watch for companies using the uninterrupted power supplies in their data centers to do the same thing. They might even rent spare capacity on their UPS to utilities — UPS as a profit center, anyone? 2. Increased revenue CBRE , the world’s largest commercial real estate services firm, surveyed San Diego and found that green buildings commanded 18 percent higher rents ($2.42 per square foot versus $2.02 per square foot) and higher occupancy rates (88.3 percent vs. 84.3 percent) than conventional buildings. Other surveys show similar results . 3. Higher capital value and ROI In real estate, higher rents and lower turnover translate directly into higher capital values (PDF) that can average 10.9 percent for new buildings and 6.9 percent for older ones. It also helps you control your utility bill. 4. Leveraging broadband investments As part of a smart-grid upgrade to make its electrical system more efficient, municipal utility EPB installed a 1-gigabit fiber optic network that reaches more than 172,000 homes and businesses in Chattanooga, Tenn . By building one network for both grid and Internet traffic, EPB was able to leverage its investments and construction costs, and provide local residents along with businesses such as Volkswagen and Amazon with some of the fastest Internet service in the country. This project will become a model for many communities. 5. Brand Sustainable brands outperform their peers by 120 percent . Seventy-five percent of retailers say sustainability has strengthened or mitigated their brand. I have seen several private studies by the top branding agencies in the world that say similar things. 6. Customer engagement Ask anyone who has retrofitted their restaurant or store with LED lighting : patrons linger longer. Anecdotal evidence is also being gathered about higher sell-through rates (let alone more savings, of course, as solid-state lighting and lighting networking can cut light power consumption by 70 to 90 percent .) 7. Recruiting Workers younger than 25 rank an employer’s reputation as an important draw for a job. “It is one of the soft things that many companies don’t understand but it is crucial in the retention and morale of employees,” Larry Vertal of AMD has noted. “It is amazing how the highest talented people will grill you about your sustainability practices in job interviews.” 8. Health and wellness Workplace and building design can have a direct impact on motivation, employee satisfaction and productivity . If you’re not freezing or complaining about the heat, you’ll get more done. This benefit may be tough to quantify, but the compelling anecdotes are growing. Hewlett-Packard found that lighting controls can reduce migraines . Data also shows that respiratory problems drop in retrofitted buildings. 9. Data center performance With the trend towards cloud everything, data center managers are some of the biggest believers in sustainability as electricity can consume up to 30 percent of the operating budget. Google claims it has saved over $1 billion through its energy efficiency measures in its data centers. What kinds of measures can be taken in a data center environment? Designing for energy efficiency can free up floor space , reducing real estate costs. Lowering wasted heat extends equipment lifetime and reduces failures. Even innovations such as flash memory storage systems — one of the more interesting new ways to reduce power consumption — let companies get more work done with fewer machines. The list could go on. What are some results and unexpected benefits you’ve seen? And how do you think we can use hard data to move the ball forward? Top image by  Patryk Kosmider  via Shutterstock. Topics:  Data Centers Emissions Reduction Renewable Energy Energy Efficiency Reporting Architecture & Design Smart Buildings Corporate Strategy

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