As more companies take public stands on political issues, it’s getting easier to follow corporate contributions made to candidates and political parties, ballot measures, and other direct or indirect payments.
From the Editor
Quick: name the US city that represents the cutting edge of sustainable design. How many did you think of before getting the right answer: Washington D.C.? Yes, the nation’s capital, home of a current administration that is openly hostile to environmentally friendly issues from renewable energy to climate change, is by far the country’s leader in sustainable design, reports Huffington Post.
In the most recent example of brands taking stands, 13 major corporations have written to President Trump urging him to keep the US signed on to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Their reason is simple: the bottom line.
There’s yet another measure of the rapid rise of green investments made by the private sector. The Green Transition Scoreboard has added up private investment in five areas (renewable energy, efficiency, life systems, constructions, and corporate R & D) and arrived at a total of $8.1 trillion. That is a larger sum than many have suspected. Published since 2009 by Ethical Markets Media, the Scoreboard tracks private money shifting from traditional investments into sustainable investing.
Over 80 national brands issued public statements as they removed their ads from Bill O’Reilly’s show when allegations of sexual harassment against the host continued to unfold. The pullout of major brand advertising clearly played a major part in Fox News’ decision to dismiss its most popular pundit.
Another generation of Buffets is showing leadership in innovative philanthropy. The NoVo Foundation, set up by Peter and Jennifer Buffett, the son and daughter-in-law of the legendary investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett, has announced a $90 million program aimed at groups and organizations working with girls of color in the US.
The growth in renewable energy is continuing its rapid rise, propelled by momentum built up in 2016. According to a new UN report, last year the world added record levels of renewable energy capacity and at lower cost. Eight percent more capacity than 2015 was added in 2016, with 23 percent less investment than the previous year (the 2016 total investment number was a still whopping $241 billion).
Call it another unexpected item on the list of unintended consequences. It makes total sense that a drop in the use of coal would result in a decrease in carbon emissions from the energy sector in 2016. That’s confirmed by the Energy Information Administration, which reports that overall emissions were down by 1.7%, the result of an 8.6% decrease in pollution from coal that followed from a 1.3% fall in coal use. But the EIA also reported that warmer weather was a big factor, too.
Impact investing—funding that supports efforts that both improve the social good and deliver a reasonable ROI—just got a big boost from the Ford Foundation. In the largest commitment of its kind by a private foundation, Ford is committing $1 billion from its $12 billion endowment over the next 10 years to mission-related investing.
“In our view, the health care industry is now currently embarking on a radical “Copernican Revolution.” So says an article in MedCity News. You remember Copernicus—he’s the one who proposed a model of the universe that put the sun, not Earth, at its center. The thesis of the article is that a similar paradigm shift is underway in the healthcare sector, one that puts the patient-customer at the center rather than the provider.
BlackRock, the world’s largest money manager with total assets of $5.1 trillion, is changing its investment strategy, driven by technological innovation. The firm is reducing its actively-managed equities business in which portfolio managers serve as stock pickers in favor of computer models that inform indexed investments via data and algorithims.
In 2004, at an event at the Center for Investigative Reporting in Berkeley recognizing the 50-year career of Frank McCulloch, a pioneering investigative journalist, I asked the honoree what was holding back wider recognition of environmental issues. With typical ex-Marine, investigative reporter bluntness, he said: “The case hasn’t been made to the public.” Since then, there has been a media tsunami of information about the environment, "making the case," but clearly, progress has been partial.
The administration is proposing to eliminate business regulations to accelerate economic growth. The Financial Choice Act of 2016 aims to dismantle the Dodd-Frank Act, which wrote into law new governance rules in reaction to the financial crisis of 2008.
The 2017 rankings for national “happiness” have been released, and the ratings prove that economics play a major part in scoring that quality. The report, published by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, defines national happiness as “the proper measure of social progress and the goal of public policy.” Countries were rated on factors from freedom to health, from good governance to income. The Number One spot went to Norway.
The Ethisphere Institute has issued its annual list of the “World’s Most Ethical Companies” for 2017. “Ethical” is a term you’ll hear more in the UK and EU, as in Ethical Performance (our UK/EU web site) and the Institute for Business Ethics, a UK research and consultancy firm that reviews the journalistic case studies we publish in our Best Practice publication.
Recent news about solar power has been mixed. Some reports tout its increasing adoption and job growth, others express concerns about an uneven market and the uncertain future for subsidies. Here’s some decidedly upbeat news.
US companies are moving toward an increasingly concentrated market and are scooping up a larger percentage of profits, according to research summed up in the Wall Street Journal. “Twenty years ago, the US had more than 7,000 public companies; today, it’s less than 4,000.” In 1996, “the 25 companies in the S&P 500 with the highest net profit margins earned a median of just under 21 cents on every dollar of sales.
Autodesk, the software company, has published a special edition of Redshift, its publication “dedicated to telling stories about the future of making things in the architecture, infrastructure, construction, and manufacturing industries.” The current issue of the downloadable booklet, How 7 Companies Do Good Well, expl
Regulatory rollbacks, along with proposals to cut the budget of the regulating EPA by 24% and its staff by one-fifth, have energized values-driven investors. Since the November election, ESG investors have put $383 million into ESG stock funds, according to EPFR Global, quoted in a recent Barron’s article. Barron’s says ESG factors “could prove especially useful in evaluating companies if the administration rolls back regulation.” Transparency could be another issue.