Tag: Sustainability


Shareholder Proposals on Social and Environmental Issues

Matteo Tonello is managing director of corporate leadership at The Conference Board. This post relates to an issue of The Conference Board’s Director Notes series authored by Melissa Aguilar and Thomas Singer. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

Matteo Tonello is managing director of corporate leadership at The Conference Board. This post relates to an issue of The Conference Board’s Director Notes series authored by Melissa Aguilar and Thomas Singer. The complete publication, including footnotes, is available here.

Political spending and climate change, key topics during the 2014 proxy season, are expected to feature heavily again in 2015 shareholder proposals. This post reviews the content of the social and environmental proposals voted on most frequently by shareholders of Russell 3000 companies during the 2014 season, including the topics that received the highest average shareholder support. The complete publication provides examples of proposal text and sponsor supporting statements, as well as board responses and related corporate disclosure.

Nearly 40 percent of all shareholder proposals submitted at Russell 3000 companies that held meetings during the first half of 2014 were related to social and environmental policy issues, up from 29.2 percent in 2010, as documented in Proxy Voting Analytics (2010-2014). Social and environmental policy proposals now represent the second-largest category of the subjects in terms of both the number submitted and the number voted, narrowly behind corporate governance.

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ESG Risks and Opportunities Facing Investee Companies

The following post comes to us from Rakhi Kumar, Head of Corporate Governance at State Street Global Advisors, and is based on an SSgA publication; the complete publication is available here.

The following post comes to us from Rakhi Kumar, Head of Corporate Governance at State Street Global Advisors, and is based on an SSgA publication; the complete publication is available here.

As part of our active ownership process, State Street Global Advisors (“SSgA”) considers environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) matters while evaluating and engaging with investee companies. SSgA believes that ESG factors can impact the reputation of companies and can also create significant operational risks and costs to businesses. Conversely, well-developed corporate social responsibility (“CSR”) programs [1] can generate efficiencies, enhance productivity and mitigate risks, all of which impact shareholder value.

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Nanotechnology and the S&P 500

The following post comes to us from Heidi Welsh, Executive Director at the Sustainable Investments Institute (Si2), and is based on a Si2 report.

The following post comes to us from Heidi Welsh, Executive Director at the Sustainable Investments Institute (Si2), and is based on a Si2 report.

Corporations globally have been investing $9 billion annually in nanotechnology, yet less than one-tenth of S&P 500 companies report to shareholders and other stakeholders on their involvement in nanotechnology. Although it has the potential to revolutionize industries like healthcare, information technology and energy systems, nanotechnology’s promise is tethered to unique environmental, health and safety (EH&S) issues that are not yet fully understood. Investors eyeing rapid growth and minimal regulation are engaging companies in discussions about nano-related EHS risks and recently forced a vote on the first nano-related shareholder resolution.

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Delaware Public Benefit Corporations 90 Days Out: Who’s Opting In?

The following post comes to us from Alicia E. Plerhoples at Georgetown University Law Center. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

The following post comes to us from Alicia E. Plerhoples at Georgetown University Law Center. This post is part of the Delaware law series, which is cosponsored by the Forum and Corporation Service Company; links to other posts in the series are available here.

On August 1, 2013, amendments to the Delaware General Corporation Law (DGCL) became effective, allowing entities to incorporate as a public benefit corporation, a new corporate form that requires managers to produce a public benefit and balance shareholders’ financial interests with the best interests of stakeholders materially affected by the corporation’s conduct.

In my paper, Delaware Public Benefit Corporations 90 Days Out: Who’s Opting in?, I present empirical research on the companies that adopted the Delaware public benefit corporation form within the first three months of the effective date of the amended DGCL.

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Speaking of Corporate Social Responsibility

The following post comes to us from Hao Liang and Luc Renneboog, both of the Department of Finance at Tilburg University, Christopher Marquis of the Organizational Behavior Unit at Harvard Business School, and Sunny Li Sun of the Department of Global Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

The following post comes to us from Hao Liang and Luc Renneboog, both of the Department of Finance at Tilburg University, Christopher Marquis of the Organizational Behavior Unit at Harvard Business School, and Sunny Li Sun of the Department of Global Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Linguists suggest that obligatory future-time-reference (FTR) in a language reduces the psychological importance of the future. Applying this to a corporate context, we theorize in this paper that companies with strong-FTR languages as their official/working language would be less future orientated and hence perform worse in future-oriented activities such as corporate social responsibility (CSR)—firms’ environmental, social, and governance engagement—compared to those in weak-FTR language environments.

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Board Oversight of Sustainability Issues in the S&P 500

The following post comes to us from Jon Lukomnik of the IRRC Institute and is based on the summary of a report commissioned by the IRRC Institute and authored by Peter DeSimone of the Sustainable Investment Institute; the full report is available here.

The following post comes to us from Jon Lukomnik of the IRRC Institute and is based on the summary of a report commissioned by the IRRC Institute and authored by Peter DeSimone of the Sustainable Investment Institute; the full report is available here.

Board oversight has long been viewed as an effective mechanism to direct and monitor corporate management. For example, in the wake of accounting scandals last decade, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 requires all publicly traded companies in the United States to have an audit committee comprised of independent directors, charged with establishing procedures for handling complaints regarding accounting or auditing matters and for the confidential submission by employees of concerns surrounding alleged fraud.

While sustainability has been a concern of corporations and investors for years, there has been little research focused on how boards oversee a company’s sustainability efforts. Sustainable and responsible investors also have seen board oversight as an effective way to encourage corporations to accelerate such efforts; they began filing shareholder proposals requesting board oversight of various sustainability issues in the 1970s, and both the numbers of resolutions and the support those resolutions have received have grown exponentially since. It is worth noting that one such model proposal, formulated by The Center for Political Accountability (CPA) and requesting board oversight of political spending in addition to key disclosure features, accounts for the vast majority of sustainability shareholder resolutions on board oversight and resulted in political spending being a top subtopic of board oversight duties.

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What Will Result From the SEC’s Current Disclosure Reform Initiative?

The following post comes to us from Betty Moy Huber, co-head of the Environmental Group in the Corporate Department of Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, and is based on an article by Ms. Huber that first appeared in the American Bar Association’s Environmental Disclosure Committee newsletter.

The following post comes to us from Betty Moy Huber, co-head of the Environmental Group in the Corporate Department of Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, and is based on an article by Ms. Huber that first appeared in the American Bar Association’s Environmental Disclosure Committee newsletter.

The SEC is in the midst of what could be a sweeping reform of its disclosure regime. During the course of this year, the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance, or Corp Fin, will be seeking broad input from companies and investors on how the SEC can improve its disclosure rules. This initiative follows on Corp Fin’s lengthy December 2013 report on this topic. Arguably, the SEC’s disclosure reform initiative could not have come at a better time for sustainability and environmental groups who have been working for years to achieve better corporate sustainability disclosure. These groups are savvy, dedicated, and have trillions of institutional investor (and other) dollars backing them. With social media, they have become well organized and effective advocates for their cause. In addition, investment banks are taking note and becoming interested in better and more uniform sustainability disclosure in their capacity as underwriters as well as investors themselves. Further, shareholder proponents have submitted a record number of environmental and sustainability shareholder proposals in recent proxy seasons. But will these sustainability groups succeed in finding common ground with the SEC and, if necessary, convince the SEC that sustainability issues are material or otherwise a priority?

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The Foundations of Corporate Social Responsibility

The following post comes to us from Hao Liang and Luc Renneboog, both of the Department of Finance at Tilburg University.

The following post comes to us from Hao Liang and Luc Renneboog, both of the Department of Finance at Tilburg University.

A fundamental issue in business and economics is the sustainability—and not merely the growth—of economic development, which crucially hinges on the socially responsible operational and investment behavior of modern corporations (Porter, 1991). There is a widespread recognition, as well as growing empirical evidence, that corporate social responsibility (CSR) can substantially contribute to social progress and stakeholder wealth, including the wealth of shareholders (e.g., Dimson, Karakas, and Li, 2012; Deng, Kang, and Low, 2013). In our paper, The Foundations of Corporate Social Responsibility, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we examine the forces that fundamentally steer companies to behave as good citizens in society.

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Communications Challenges at the New Frontiers of Corporate Governance Activism

Charles Nathan is partner and head of the Corporate Governance Practice at RLM Finsbury. This post is based on an RLM Finsbury commentary by Mr. Nathan.

Charles Nathan is partner and head of the Corporate Governance Practice at RLM Finsbury. This post is based on an RLM Finsbury commentary by Mr. Nathan.

The principal corporate governance campaigns of the past decade have reached a plateau in terms of both investor commitment and implementation. These governance issues (such as majority voting, de-classifying staggered boards, eliminating super-majority votes and executive compensation excesses) are not by any means going away. Indeed, there are concerted investor-led efforts to push favored corporate governance “best practices” down the corporate chain to mid-cap and small-cap companies. However, the activist community has clearly won the policy battles surrounding these governance principles, and their “sizzle” is dissipating.

Policy stasis does not become corporate governance activism, as its very name implies. Corporate governance activists will develop new “green fields” to plow; otherwise they risk becoming irrelevant. The question is not whether corporate governance activists will move on but rather where they will go.

While there are a number of possible new foci, two stand out in particular:

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The Corporate Social Responsibility Report and Effective Stakeholder Engagement

The following post comes to us from Bill Libit, partner concentrating in corporate and securities and municipal finance at Chapman and Cutler LLP, and is based on a Chapman publication by Mr. Libit and Todd Freier.

The following post comes to us from Bill Libit, partner concentrating in corporate and securities and municipal finance at Chapman and Cutler LLP, and is based on a Chapman publication by Mr. Libit and Todd Freier.

Companies today are being called upon by their shareholders and other stakeholders to not only boost the bottom line, but also to help address some of the country’s most challenging problems, including those concerning economic development and the environment. While opinions differ on how responsibility should be allocated across the public and private sectors, corporate stakeholders (which typically include shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers, communities, governments and regulators) are demanding that companies recognize a broader scope of responsibility in addressing those problems. As a result, companies are increasingly working with stakeholders to understand their views and concerns on various environmental, social, corporate governance and economic issues (such issues often referred to as corporate social responsibility (“CSR”) issues) and to incorporate and address those views and concerns in the company’s strategic decision-making processes.

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