Get Us There—The Ceres Strategic Plan

Mindy Lubber is CEO and President at Ceres. This post is based on her Ceres memorandum. Related research from the Program on Corporate Governance includes Socially Responsible Firms by Alan Ferrell, Hao Liang, and Luc Renneboog (discussed on the Forum here).

In 1989, in response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, a group of forward-thinking investors and environmentalists, led by pioneer Joan Bavaria, came together to form Ceres. At the time, they were at the forefront of a transformative movement in business. They understood that the most successful companies in the long term will be those that consider their impacts on the environment, employees and communities. They knew then what we say now at Ceres: sustainability is the bottom line.

Today, our research shows that nearly 400 of the 600 largest publicly traded companies in the U.S. have commitments to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, 300 actively manage water resources and nearly 300 actively protect employees’ human rights. Companies have begun to embrace sustainability and incorporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks and opportunities into their decision making in ways we couldn’t have dreamed of thirty years ago.

And as low and zero carbon technologies continue to develop, the economic opportunities of the clean energy transition give us good cause for hope. As of 2019, for example, nearly 3.3 million Americans are working in the clean energy sector, showing that transforming the economy can create jobs, secure company profits and protect the planet—all at the same time.

As these changes have occurred in the decades since our founding, we’ve grown into an influential nonprofit organization, creating and partnering with powerful networks of investors, companies and nonprofits, and working with policymakers and other capital market influencers. Along the way, our founders’ vision has moved from the margins to the mainstream. The business case for sustainability is clear and has never been stronger.

But the challenges we face have never been greater. We have roughly a decade to keep global average temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius and thus avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Freshwater shortages are at crisis levels in both major cities and remote villages around the world even as demand grows. Deforestation and the resulting loss of biodiversity are devastating wide areas of the globe. And millions toil in forced labor or unsafe conditions, or suffer in workplaces where human dignity is ignored.

In response to these challenges, our strategic plan offers a roadmap to “Get US There”—to a just and sustainable global economy.

In the pages that follow, we explain who we are, whom we work with and how we create change. We share plans to address four global challenges: climate change, water scarcity and pollution, inequitable workplaces and outdated capital market systems. And we also lay out our plans for growing and strengthening Ceres in order to fulfill our mission.

We are in uncharted waters, and it is truly an all-hands-on-deck moment. We are recruiting others to join us because we cannot tackle these problems alone. Our greatest impacts have always been realized through our collaborations—with investors, companies, nonprofit organizations, policymakers, donors and countless others who share our commitment to a more sustainable world. We are grateful for their vision and dedication.

We are on this journey together—every one of us needs to scale up our ambitions and actions to shape and secure our future. And I’m confident that, together, we can get there.

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The complete report is available here.

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