From the Editor

Monday, January 13, 2014

The definition of material information has always been vague. A Supreme Court decision tried: “a substantial likelihood that the disclosure of the omitted fact would have been viewed by the reasonable investor as having significantly altered the “total mix” of information made available.” That’s pretty subjective—it could always be argued that something is not material because it was not “substantially likely” to alter the “total mix” that affects the stock price of a company “significantly.” What to do?

Friday, January 10, 2014

The EU’s new report, Trends to 2050, projects European carbon emissions levels to mid-century. First, the good news: the study predicts that by 2050, gas, wind and nuclear energy will each be providing around a quarter of Europe’s energy supply. Efficiency gains will also be major: “Despite significant economic growth making the EU economy 78% larger in 2050 than it was in 2010, there will be a decline of total energy consumption by 8%.” Here’s the problem: the study only considers existing CO2 reduction schemes.

Monday, January 6, 2014

"Innovation" seems to be the biz buzzword of the moment. It’s being applied to all sorts of concepts, missions, and definitions of company cultures. In Austin, Texas, one of our more tech-savvy, culturally creative communities, it’s a common reality.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Massachusetts, the state that mandates universal health insurance coverage, is changing its rules to comply with the new national health care law. As a result, thousands of college students will now get a better deal on the cost of health insurance. The Affordable Care Act does not allow exclusions from subsidized programs of those who can get insurance elsewhere. Until now, the state denied most full-time college students free or subsidized state health insurance, instead forcing them to buy insurance directly from their colleges if they were not on their parents’ health plan.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Senate Finance Committee has released a draft proposal that outlines an overhaul of energy tax incentives. The proposal would consolidate 42 different current incentives into two targeted ones, for the domestic production of clean energy and of transportation fuel. A tax credit for clean electricity would link the size of the tax credit to the level of cleanness. It would be open to all resources, renewable and fossil. The tax credit for the production of clean transportation fuel would operate similarly; it would apply to fuel that is 25 percent cleaner than conventional gasoline.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

“The benchmark for progress is changing,” says Pamela Mar, a fellow at the Fung Global Institute, talking about China’s movement toward sustainability throughout its large, robust economy. Mar’s research shows that the country is re-setting its goals to couple growth with better environmental outcomes. Chinese companies are taking sustainability more seriously, re-thinking their business operations and values.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Once again, states are taking the lead on an issue with national impact. Six Midwestern governors have called for the Obama administration to support the renewable fuels industry. Specifically, the governors of Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Nebraska are asking the EPA to “increase biodiesel volume to reflect current production levels, modify the cellulosic target to match production expectations, and reinstate the statutory conventional renewable fuel target.” The EPA has proposed cutting the amount of renewable fuels in the U.S.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

GlaxoSmithKline will end the standard pharmaceutical industry practices of paying doctors to promote its products and linking the pay of its sales reps to the number of prescriptions for those drugs written by doctors. Glaxo, one of the largest pharma companies globally, reported 3Q sales of about $10 billion; it spends “tens of millions” per year on the practices it is stopping. Those fees have raised questions about undue influence in prescribing drugs.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Donors give 1.4 percent more to charities promoted by celebrities, according to an upcoming study from the Rutgers School of Business. Now, The Daily Beast has identified the top 25 charitable celebrities of 2013, those hardworking entertainers who add such bottom line value by lending their names to causes. There are the usual suspects (Elton John, Angelina Jolie, Bono, Oprah, and Ellen DeGeneres are the Top Five) and some surprises (Keith Urban, Betty White, Jessica Alba).

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Food and Drug Administration has issued new rules to restrict antibiotic use in animals raised for meat: cows, chickens, and pigs. For decades, as a matter of ordinary practice, livestock producers have added low doses of the medicines to animal feed and water to make healthy animals grow bigger, faster. The drugs will still be available through veterinarians to prevent disease. While voluntary, the changes are supported by Zoetis and Elanco, the two companies that make the majority of the antibiotic products.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Governors of eight Northeastern states plan to ask the Environmental Protection Agency to apply more stringent air pollution regulations to nine states in the Midwest. The reason? For the last 15 years, the East Coast states have operated under stricter requirements than most of the rest of the country while the Appalachian and Rust Belt states have had more lenient rules on pollution from coal-fired power plants and factories—emissions that are carried east by prevailing winds. Northeastern air is often so foul that it violates federal law.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

This year, employers and their workers will pay out $900 billion for coverage. Even more attention-getting than this huge figure is the fact that it’s hard to get a proper accounting of what prices buyers are paying for what products and services, and whether those prices are reasonable—or not. It’s well known that the cost of some medical services can vary wildly, from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars—for the exact same procedure. Theoretically, large employers use the clout of their big budgets to negotiate pricing.

Monday, December 2, 2013

£50, about $82, will be cut from each British household’s annual “green levy,” the subsidy that supports the U.K.’s shift to renewable energy, under a proposal put forth by Prime Minister David Cameron. The government will now fund some of the costs currently included in domestic power customers’ energy bills. The rising price of power has become a political issue in Great Britain, as the rapid changeover to renewable sources mandated by the 2008 Climate Change Act is proving costly.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

“Business can do more to engage with social issues that affect key stakeholders in their local communities.” So says Dominic Barton, global managing director at McKinsey & Co. in a recent “expert” blog post in the Wall Street Journal. As notable as the source and the showcase is Barton’s rationale: “This is important not because of the good optics of social responsibility, but because of the long-term benefits of operating symbiotically” (my italics).

Monday, November 25, 2013

As an American holiday, Thanksgiving tracks back to the “thanksgiving days” religious services and English harvest festivals brought to the New World by the Puritans and the Pilgrims. Around the world, many countries have celebrated or will be celebrating similar end-of-harvest celebrations that include bountiful feasts of special dishes.

Friday, November 22, 2013

In Colorado, Governor John Hickenlooper has worked out an agreement with three of that state’s largest oil and gas developers and the Environmental Defense Fund, a national advocacy group, to reduce emissions. Signing on are developers Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Encana Corporation, and Noble Energy. Hickenlooper's proposal sets strong limits on leaks of methane and other gases from well sites and storage tanks to keep escaping gases to a minimum.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

India has adopted a Companies Act that mandates minimum CSR spending requirements for corporations operating in that country. The new regulations apply to domestic companies and multinationals, and to public and private companies, that meet the defined monetary standards. The Act requires companies to spend two percent of the average net profit from the last three years on CSR initiatives. Companies can choose not to comply with these regulations, but must submit a disclosure about their non-compliance.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Three twenty-something programmers have created a functional, DIY website, HealthSherpa.com, that tells consumers what health insurance plans are available, based on their zip code, plan preference, and personal information. Users can find and compare plans and prices, and work with a subsidy calculator. The trio had each tried to get information from the marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act, but could not. So they built their own site, using data posted on HealthCare.gov and other information requested from state exchanges.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Prominent scientists concerned about climate change are calling for environmentalists to support the development of nuclear power as a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Wind, solar, and other forms of renewable energy can’t scale up fast enough to produce the amount of clean power needed, they say. (Renewables, including hydroelectric, currently make up 11 percent of the U.S. energy market.) With worldwide carbon dioxide emissions scoring a three percent rise in 2011, and the U.S.

Monday, November 11, 2013

In an ironic twist on the law of unintended consequences, many of the uninsured who depend on “safety-net” hospitals are facing denial of health care because those hospitals are facing large cuts in the subsidies that support that care. The federal “disproportionate share” hospital payments, for most large hospitals in the millions of dollars, have helped offset the cost of uncompensated and undercompensated care.

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