Category Archives: Sustainability

Latest Episode of Energy Policy Now Podcast – Carbon Reduction Strategies

Submitted by Andy Stone, Partner at Emerson Stone

Two strategies stand out in the effort to reduce carbon emissions on an economy-wide scale. Carbon Cap and Trade, and Carbon Taxation, have been implemented with varying degrees of success in recent years, while taking very different approaches to reducing emissions.

The latest episode of the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy’s Energy Policy Now podcast takes a look at the mechanisms by which these strategies seek to reduce emissions, and the political and economic considerations that may make one or the other a best fit for a particular nation or region.

The episode features James Hines, Professor of Law and Economics at the University of Michigan, and an editorial adviser to the Kleinman Center.

Managing Transactional Risks in Contaminated Property Cleanups and Redevelopments

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By Jeff Telego, Owner & President, RTM Communications, Inc.

Managing environmental and financial risk effectively are challenging for all types of corporate and real estate deals from the portfolio and one – off commercial or industrial property transactions. The environmental risk and liability concerns that arise in Mergers & Acquisitions to the legacy liabilities associated with the redevelopment of brownfield sites require the use of bullet proof legal tactics, deal strategies that can bracket and or transfer the environmental risks and the financial tools such as environmental insurance to close the deal. In fact, one of the recent trends in corporate transactions is the increased use of environmental insurance such as Pollution Legal Liability insurance to leverage the transaction whether the deal is a liability buyout or facilitating the closing of a brownfield transaction. The transactions are larger in financial terms and the insurance coverage capacity that is being provided is greater.

Real estate market trends are very favorable to drive contaminated property transactions toward cleanup and sustainable redevelopment. Corporate surplus properties are starting to turn over especially now that we are seeing economic fundamentals work for the transactions as they now appear to be doing. There is a surplus of corporate cash on the sidelines along with institutional and foreign sovereign monies looking for higher yields and investing in U.S. real property some focused on brownfield transactions where there are complex infill properties, affordable housing, waterfront, port terminal activity as well as big box store redevelopment needed. According to a Citizen Commercial Banking report, commercial and industrial property selling activity for 2017 is ramping up. Middle-market decision makers note that valuations may not hold for much longer coupled with unquantifiable economic uncertainty centered on deregulation and tax reform among other externalities and these phenomenon are further driving market dynamics.

The financial markets have seen an increase in construction lending for commercial and industrial loans and where redevelopment supports infrastructure development this trend should continue. There is increased M&A activity in the first quarter of 2017. The private equity coffers are primed thanks to successful fundraising in 2016. The M&A activity of 2016 was anemic compared to 2015 where M&A deals showed an 80% more transactions. Cash is coming into the market, economic indicators are showing strong growth, and many conditions call for improved infrastructure development.

The key to winning Trump administration’s support for brownfield cleanups and redevelopment is couching the funding in terms of infrastructure development. With the past administration, there had been increase cooperation from regulators especially at the state level with the focus on risk-based cleanups and cooperation with the community toward redevelopment. With the Trump administration we are in a wait and see period relative to the impact on brownfield redevelopment and the impact of environmental deregulation and cutbacks in EPA staff.

Environmental risk can impact the success of closing the transaction, valuation of the assets, and the transfer of legacy liabilities. It takes creative funding, the bracketing of environmental risk using rigorous and alternative due diligence and remedial alternatives, and deal structuring techniques grounded in  risk management strategies to assure that the redevelopment or reuse or successful disposition of the surplus or stranded asset(s) can be successfully implemented.

This RTM conference zeroes in on the effect environmental risk has on deal flow and the management of  commercial, industrial and government property types. We will get into the business tactics and strategies for reducing the uncertainty caused by environmental risk and closing the deals employing creative environmental risk financing and management approaches. The Conference will also delve into the enhanced value environmental insurance and liability management strategies are bringing to leveraging the M&A activity and the purchasing and disposition of corporate assets and contaminated real estate.

Key presentations will cover:

  • Environmental liability management strategies for successfully transferring corporate surplus properties and closing M&A transactions,
  • Emerging contaminants and new regulatory challenges confronting the financial services industries and property owners/developers,
  • Accelerated transfer of redevelopment and legacy sites into beneficial reuse,
  • Environmental and M&A Buyer – Side insurance leveraging private equity transactions,
  • Creative application of public/private brownfield financings,
  • Extreme weather and climate change effects on commercial/industrial properties

New Energy Policy Now Podcast Episode: How U.S. LNG is Changing the Global Gas Market

Submitted by Andy Stone, Partner at Emerson Stone

In 2016 the first shipments of US LNG left from a terminal on the Gulf Coast, opening a new frontier of opportunity for the US natural gas industry and, on an international scale, contributing to the development of a truly global gas market. This globalizing market is eroding traditional buyer-seller relationships, including those of the U.S. and its allies, with implications for political balance.

In the latest episode of the Kleinman Center’s Energy Policy Now podcast, Kleinman Senior Fellow Dr. Anna Mikulska explores the geopolitical implications of a global natural gas market, and potential impact or U.S. foreign relations and policy.

In addition to her work with the Kleinman Center, Dr. Mikulska is a nonresident scholar in energy studies at the Baker Institute for Energy Studies at Rice University. Her research centers around European energy markets and energy policy.

Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability in the Trump Administration

By: Steve Rochlin, Co-CEO, IO Sustainability, Twitter: @SteveRochlin

The trends arising from the new Trump Administration make corporate responsibility and sustainability (CR&S) more central to business success than ever. At first this may seem counter-intuitive. Yet, recent history suggests that Republican controlled Administrations and Congresses create conditions that drive companies to enhance their commitments to CR&S. Ronald Reagan issued an executive order creating a task force calling for business to do more in alleviating social problems. George W. Bush encouraged greater corporate engagement. At the same time, activism calling for business to take on greater responsibility and leadership for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance intensifies from NGOs, investors, and media.

The private sector will have a central and often unique relationship with the Administration. One expects the Administration to pare back environmental, safety, and other regulations; corporate taxes; reporting requirements such as those for conflict minerals and extractive industry tax and royalty payments; and engagement in international agreements from Basel III to the Paris Climate Agreement. At the same time, the Administration will advance a mix of carrots and sticks to keep domestic jobs and invest in infrastructure. The Administration will seek to redo social support systems such as the Affordable Care Act, and push education, housing, health, and welfare programs to the states. Foreign policy will mix assertive and isolationist stances. The Administration will pinpoint trade and international aid efforts to areas that are viewed to enhance security, job creation, or both.

This agenda will move forward in the first multi-media Presidency to operate and communicate at the pace of internet time. In this context CR&S will be an essential Swiss Army Knife supporting business development and sales, enterprise risk management, brand and reputation, and HR. Companies should take the following steps.

1) Rethink your approach about gaining ROI from CR&S

Executives will experience admonishments that shift from one extreme – dismantle the company’s costly and distracting ESG commitments – to the other – redouble commitments and take bold ESG leadership. Designing a clear and measurable strategy to prioritize and invest in core CR&S areas is a business essential.

Fortunately, evidence from the recently published “Project ROI” report shows CR&S if done well can bump share price up by 6%, increase sales up to 20%, reduce employee turnover by half, and deliver a host of financial risk, productivity, and reputational benefits. Project ROI gives guidance on how to achieve these results and measure outcomes.

This has never been more important as we shift away from debates about privatizing public services, to innovating business solutions for the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The “SDGs” represent a $12 trillion opportunity that could create 380 million new jobs. Companies and business initiatives such as the Global e-Sustainability Initiative, IBM, NovoNordisk, and Unilever among many others are taking advantage. As they do, trends suggest that the mainstream investor community will intensify their positions that ESG performance represents an increasingly important predictor of financial performance.

2) Deepen voluntary ESG commitments and reporting

Reagan presciently saw the growing influence of the court of public opinion. A new landscape of organized activists and media has extra-judicial power. Over the last three decades, companies have participated in a massive global experiment to create self-policing stewardship mechanisms across a wide range of ESG issues from chemical-use, emissions, forests, fish, human rights, and many others. The more regulatory constraints are lifted, the higher expectations will rise for companies – especially the the biggest brands and leaders in every industry — to manage their impacts on the environment and communities. They’ll be expected more than ever before to hold their suppliers accountable for meeting so-called, “civic regulation.” It will be more important than ever to find the sweet spot between wider societal needs, and high priority ESG issues that require both management and reporting.

Some industry segments will take advantage, adhering to minimum legal requirements to undercut the costs of ESG compliance leaders. As corporate ESG reporting, commitments, and partnerships continue to establish the new normal for business success, the more these free riders will lose out.

3) Hew strongly to your company’s core values in taking public positions

The current Administration is inventing new ways to engage with the public using new and traditional media. Industries and brands are in the spotlight in ways never seen before. Project ROI finds that the public evaluates the authenticity of corporate responses and positions, and looks to the perceived reaction of employees as a barometer. Culture and values are core to determining where and when companies should pick sides or stay out of the fray. Every company should form a rapid response team with Corporate Communications, Government and Public Affairs, Legal, HR, and the CR&S team leaders attached at the hip.

4) Build your own constituency

The politicization of consumer purchasing behavior is maturing in Europe, and reaching adolescence in the US. Stakeholder outreach is no longer a side activity tied to sustainability requirements. Risk management will increasingly require companies to have access to their own constituent networks willing to serve as character witnesses, advocates, brand ambassadors, intermediaries, and intelligence agents as marketplaces, policy, and politics increasingly intermesh. Companies like Nestlé and Target and collaborative multi-stakeholder initiatives, are finding ways to define how ESG stakeholders can support competitive success. Companies will be wise to move from current forms of stakeholder engagement to corporate constituency development as the Tweets and messages fly.

5) Engage on agreed areas of collective need

Domestically this means jobs and infrastructure. Underneath these tent poles are a host of potential solutions and social innovations such as work force development (see Accenture and PwC), addressing economic opportunity (see Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and Walmart), education (see IBM,), health (see Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Campbell Soup Company, Pfizer), and resilience.

Global companies cannot neglect emerging gaps involved in serving international issues. Now is the time to invest in creative and strategic approaches to international development.

Instruments from corporate and workplace community investment, volunteering, R&D, and cause marketing will become more strategic than ever before. The need to demonstrate progress in solving issues will outpace the need to obtain traditional photo-ops and sponsorship branding.

The bottom line is this: don’t myopically focus on the favorable tax and regulatory agenda. Companies should prepare now to be called from all quarters to partner and lead on ESG issues at an unprecedented level of intensity.

Progress on Sustainability Initiatives at Major Consumer Product Companies (Part 1)

Submitted by Rekha Menon-Varma (WG ’06), Managing Partner, Vertaeon LLC

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Leading consumer product companies have embraced corporate sustainability, from setting mid to long term goals to driving alignment with business objectives. In addition to resource scarcity, increasing regulations, and ever expanding global supply chains, these companies also face changing consumer expectations. A decade ago, I was debating aspects of profit maximization, considering all stakeholders rights and the conflicts (in interests) it could bring about, at our business law class at Wharton. Today, leaders like Unilever, Nestle and Coca-Cola have demonstrated how to strike the right balance in implementing Sustainability initiatives.

Here at Vertaeon, our focus on sustainability strategy, resources and supply chain made us curious about goal-setting in consumer product companies (CPG). Sustainability goals in leading CPG companies ranged from operational (reducing/managing resource consumption, emissions, safe workplace) to supply chain (sustainable sourcing and reducing waste and carbon footprint of supply chain) to social impact. There has also been discussions and actions on business model and product innovation. However, as Clayton Christensen put it in a recent conversation* success in business model innovation is not easy even for leaders. Balancing innovation with social and environmental drivers make it even more complex to design and implement.

Being focused on data analytics and having experienced the power of data in ensuring successful Sustainability initiatives, we went searching for consolidated data on Sustainability goals at CPG companies and found it on Andrew Winston’s Pivot Goals site**. As a first pass, we looked at three sub-sectors including Food, Beverage, and Household and Personal Care. Within these, we assessed fifteen companies and fourteen KPIs including: Climate, Energy, Renewable, Fuel, Air, GHG, Water, Waste, Forest, Safety, Packaging, Food & Ag, Products and Distribution.

Our goal was to identify past focus areas and undertake some level of sector and company benchmarking and gap identification that could (a) yield higher visibility into goal-setting and (b) identify improvement options. For analysis purposes, each goal was reduced to the main message and assigned to one of four buckets/goal areas, categorized by Vertaeon, as Operations, Supply Chain, Products and Community. Progress along these four broad buckets is the primary focus of this analysis. In total, we assessed 19 goal types, 12 focus areas and 155 goals. Considering, ‘what’s measured is managed’, we also split goals with specific targets and progress from those with No Reported Change. Community bucket showed up mainly under ‘no reported change’. (Ref: Charts 2 & 3).

[For detailed analytics related to peer benchmarking and company performance, please contact us at http://www.vertaeon.com]

Key Findings

Operational goals lead the way:

It is no surprise that companies focused on their operations. 51% of the goals are related to reduction targets; GHG (11%), energy (9%), water (10%) and waste (14%) combined with improving recycling (5%), safety and renewable energy. Traditionally, reduction goals have been viewed as cost reduction opportunities; however, as CPG customers, retailers and consumers, demand more from their supply chain, operational initiatives will continue to stay at the forefront of sustainability. Vertaeon’s Integrated Analytics™ platform provides opportunities to further leverage, through in-depth analytics, the operational data collected as part of these initiatives to identify actionable operational improvements.

Supply chain offers new KPI opportunities:

Sustainable sourcing leads overall goals; however, this can be attributed to high coverage by Unilever and P&G (20/27 or 74%). Supply chain goals currently under focus in the CPG sector are improving sustainable sourcing (17%), reducing GHG emissions in supply chain (6%) and transportation (2%). This analysis indicates a vital need for more players to adapt goals/KPIs in the areas of reducing GHG and Carbon footprints, reducing packaging waste and improving sustainable sourcing of raw materials and packaging along the supply chain.

CHART 1

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Product goals as prevalent as supply chain goals (Ref: Chart 2):

While leading players such as Unilever, Nestle, Coca-Cola & Pepsi have embarked on product nutrition and sustainability goals, overall there is still considerable room for improving product sustainability within these consumer sectors. Here again, we will see more KPIs as consumers demand higher levels of nutrition and impact labeling. Current product goals focus on health & wellness (13%) and packaging (6%).

CHART 2

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Goals with no reported change (Ref: Chart 3):

The Community section leads the pack here with goals in community (13%), water availability (9%) and health & wellness (6%). This offers opportunities to set specific targets and monitoring for community and social impact and assess investment priorities as well as impact. Other notable ‘no change’ goals came up in Water (Operations), Food & Ag (Supply Chain) and Health & Wellness (Products). This could suggest there is room for setting additional targets and subsequently monitoring changes here as well.

CHART 3

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In Conclusion

This preliminary assessment of Sustainability goal-setting and currently reported goals at leading CPG companies indicate a primary focus on Operational goals. While Product and Supply chain goals are increasingly becoming part of sustainability initiatives at the leading companies, there is room for further adoption in this sector. The focus on Operational goals presents the unique opportunity for companies to leverage the operational data collected as part of goal-tracking to identify opportunities for improvement. As mentioned at the outset, the heterogeneity in consumer expectations has not yet fully translated to goal-setting or reporting. A recent publication by NC State University*** found that consumers see other dimensions (e.g. risk & compliance, social justice) of interest than those put forth by the GRI framework, thereby suggesting a disconnect between corporate sustainability reporting and stakeholder views and interests. Understanding of consumer demographics and preferences via segmentation and translating insights to product and engagement strategies can address this.

Blog Contributors: Danielle Boccelli, Data Analyst, Vertaeon LLC & Vipin Varma (WG’11, IGEL Alumni Advisory Board), Co-Founder, Vertaeon LLC

*Building a business creation engine, MIT Sloan Webinar, January 2017 **www.pivotgoals.com, A. Winston in collaboration with Jeff Gowdy                          ***Study finds current corporate sustainability reporting misses the mark, M. Bradford et al., NC State University, January 2017

Energy Policy Now Podcast: How Alberta Overcame Discord to Enact Carbon Tax

Contributed by the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, via Andy Stone

Carbon policy unexpectedly made headlines last week when a pair of Republican party elders proposed a national carbon tax with a few unique twists. The proposal from Treasury secretaries George Schultz and James Baker actually looks similar to the carbon tax that the Canadian province of Alberta enacted on January 1st with unusually broad buy-in from environmentalists, the energy industry (Canada’s oil sands are in Alberta), indigenous groups and government.

Energy Policy Now, the podcast from Penn’s Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, interviews Alberta’s senior diplomat to the United States on details of the tax and the collaborative process that made it reality.

Gitane De Silva, Senior Representative to the United States, discusses plan details including the rebate checks to the majority of Albertans to offset higher energy costs. De Silva also provides insights into the provincial government’s intended uses for the balance of the C$9.6 billion in tax revenue over the next five years.

Education and the Sustainability Professional of the Future

By Neelam Ferrari

Many of my posts talk about the numerous global issues that are related to sustainability, and more particularly, how these important topics relate to human health and nutrition. As food and nutrition security will likely become defining societal issues over the coming decades, and we see no slowdown in the evolution of technological progress, the demands of sustainability professionals working in fields related to these topics need to be responsive to emerging global trends. These trends include not only environmental components, but also encompass changes in business, socioeconomics, technology and culture. When we hear the term sustainability, we often immediately focus on the environment and natural resources. While this is appropriate, it is only a piece of the broader puzzle. The definition, and the acknowledgement of topics related to sustainability encompasses perspectives from many different fields ranging from finance to medicine. Therefore, the foundation education for future sustainability professionals must embrace a multidisciplinary approach, while also emphasizing depth in one or more of the related components.

I can think about this from my own perspective as I will be entering college in the fall. After college, I plan to embark on a career in medicine. However, I plan to do more than practice in a clinical setting. In addition to working directly with patients, I also want to work to address some of the issues that are at the root of the development of disease, and I believe that many of these issues can be addressed through the lens of sustainability. Some of these sustainability/health issues center around access to a clean and plentiful water supply; this brings in the perspective of science and engineering. Others relate to food and nutrition, which can include genetics, biotechnology and education. In addition, we can connect some diseases to the lack of access to markets, which includes knowledge of economics, politics and business. From these high level examples, it is clear to me that while my primary education will focus on medicine and biotechnology, I will also need to develop a foundation in other contributing fields that are part of the sustainability spectrum.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Platform has been a leader in highlighting the importance of education in meeting sustainability goals. Further, education has been selected as one of the priority areas to help advance their agenda. As we broaden our definition of what a sustainability professional is, we can start to see that no matter what your primary occupation might be, a sustainability emphasis can be incorporated into your job and this is important in truly making effective strides towards addressing global problems. Core curriculum emphasizing sustainability subjects is a start, and supplementing this with ties to the business world, such as those developed at Wharton IGEL at Penn, Columbia’s The Earth Institute, and the NYU Stern Center for Sustainability, are great examples that other institutes can emulate.

IGEL at the COP22

By Eleanor Mitch, CEO and Founder of EM Strategy Consulting, Wharton alumna

The swift approval and ratification of the Paris Agreement[1] (104 countries of the 197, or 58%, have ratified the agreement!) was nothing short of “miraculous” in CIDCE[2] president Michel Prieur[3]’s words. Never before had an international agreement been so rapidly approved and adopted by so many nations in such a short span of time (approximately 1 year). Indeed, Prieur, one of the “fathers” of the principle of non-regression in environmental law, was instrumental in ensuring the addition of “this momentum is irreversible” in para.4 of the Marrakech Action Proclamation[4]. He has participated in the drafting of many international conventions since the 1970s and sees great hope in the rapid action even though we and future generations will still have to face the grave effects of climate change.

As part of this historic movement of awakening to the realities of the changes climate change must bring about, Wharton IGEL was represented with a presentation in absentia[5] by Eric Orts[6] on the implications for business of the Paris Agreement. Indeed, one of the key sectors that will be facing changes is the business sector. While markets have already chosen more sustainable energy sources in some areas (investments in wind and solar power, and Morocco boasts the world’s largest solar power plant, which just went live in 2016[7]), much more needs to be done, all throughout the supply chain, especially in Operations.

For the first time ever at a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties (UNFCCC-COP), an event uniting the ITC[8], IFAD[9], WTO[10], UNCTAD[11], UNFCCC[12] and UNFCCC Subsidiary Body for Implementation[13] was held to discuss how to move forward with business and trade on the Paris Agreement. During the event, Wharton IGEL Alumni Eleanor Mitch raised the point of the role of business schools, and especially IGEL’s, in leading the way to new business opportunities and innovation in sustainability. Given that Wharton graduates and those of other business schools will become business leaders, it is important to strengthen ties with the international law-making, enforcing bodies and business schools to prepare graduates to provide services and products for the challenges the world faces: environmentally displaced persons, sea-level rising, sustainable energy and consumption among others. Innovation and creativity-driven prosperity can come hand-in-hand with sustainable development.

 

[1] https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09.pdf

[2] http://cidce.org/

[3] http://cidce.org/structures-institutional/

[4] http://unfccc.int/files/meetings/marrakech_nov_2016/application/pdf/marrakech_action_proclamation.pdf

[5] Eleanor Mitch, presented for Eric Orts

[6] http://cidce.org/presentations-cop-22-cop-22-presentations/

[7] http://www.greenprophet.com/2016/02/worlds-largest-solar-power-plant-goes-live-in-morocco/

[8] http://www.intracen.org/

[9] https://www.ifad.org/

[10] https://www.wto.org/

[11] http://unctad.org/en/Pages/Home.aspx

[12] unfccc.int

[13] http://unfccc.int/bodies/body/6406/php/view/reports.php#c

PSR Presents: The Business of Sustainability

By Samantha Freeman

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On Saturday, November 19th, my Management 100 team hosted a conference in John H. Huntsman Hall on behalf of Penn Sustainability Review. This conference, The Business of Sustainability, explored the intersection between business and sustainability. Our keynote speaker was David Cohen, Chairman of the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania and an Executive Vice President of Comcast Corporation. Our panel included Morgan Berman, CEO and Co-Founder of MilkCrate; Melissa Lee, CEO and Founder of The GREEN Program; Jason Halpern, CEO and Co-Founder of Gridless Power; and Emily Schapira, Campaign Director for the Philadelphia Energy Authority (PEA). Together, these speakers and panelists answered the long-standing question: How can the sustainability efforts of businesses both small and large lead to significant change?

My team, Flight Club, kept two main goals in mind when planning this conference. We wanted to 1) promote the discussion of sustainability issues among the Penn population, and 2) increase name recognition and interest in PSR. With over 130 Penn students in attendance, the conference successfully raised awareness for the academic discourse community PSR has created. Furthermore, the dozens of questions received for the panel and several students’ newfound interest in writing articles post-conference revealed that sustainability is a topic that truly sparks the curiosity of the Penn population. We are so excited to see how PSR will keep bringing this enthusiasm to new heights over the next few years.

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Around 1 pm on Saturday, students began entering F85. They happily stacked their plates with Chipotle burritos and Zesto’s Pizza, then found a seat and waited for introductions from Lori Rosenkopf, Vice Dean of the Wharton Undergraduate Program, and Julianne Goodman, Editor-In-Chief of PSR. Following these introductions, David Cohen spoke for twenty minutes on Comcast’s commitment to sustainability and future of sustainable investments for businesses. Comcast’s LEED-certified buildings were one point of focus. Comcast Center, in downtown Philadelphia, utilizes high-performance glass and sunscreens and water-saving fixtures to reduce expenses and energy consumption. As Comcast builds more structures like these, the corporation remains committed to delivering its services in a manner that lessons its environmental footprint.

Around 1:50 pm, the panel began its discussion, moderated by Penn graduate student Emily Newton. As the panelists shared the stories behind their businesses and how they got involved with sustainability, one thing became clear: All a person needs to start building an idea is a personal commitment to the issue at hand. For Morgan Berman and Melissa Lee especially, an independent goal to live more sustainably blossomed into a plan for a company that would allow others to do the same. Following the initial round of questions, audience members were welcome to ask their own. Several students were interested in hearing the answer to this question: What small things can I do? As they learned from the panelists, regardless of how miniscule the activity may be (for example, carrying a reusable water bottle over a plastic one), anything counts, and every great decision can have an even more substantial impact.

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My team thoroughly enjoyed working with PSR over the course of the semester, and we hope everyone who attended our conference found the experience to be as enjoyable and rewarding as we did. If you are interested in learning more about the featured businesses or want to know what you can do to promote sustainability, please reach out to our panelists, whose contact information is listed below. We’d like to extend a huge thank you to Julianne Goodman, Hersh Solanski, and Elena Rohner for their guidance, and we thank you all for flying with us.

 

Panelists’ Contact Information:

Morgan Berman: Morgan@mymilkcrate.com

Jason Halpern: Halpern@gridless.com

Melissa Lee: Melissa@theGREENprogram.com

Emily Schapira: eschapira@philaenergy.org

Environmental Catastrophes: The Buck Stops in the C-Suite!

By Lawrence B. Cahill, CPEA, Wharton IGEL Alumni Advisory Group

Introduction

Corporate environmental, health and safety (EHS) programs require a substantial commitment on the part of executive management in order to be successful.  Programs, policies, and procedures must be defined and implemented, resources committed, audits assessing performance conducted, deficiencies corrected, and improvements made.  If all goes well, there is a presumption that unwanted surprises and incidents will be rare, resulting in fewer management headaches and no material adverse personal consequences for senior managers.  Truly a win-win for both the company and its executives.

Sadly, it is not always the case that senior corporate executives participate actively in EHS programs.  A passive approach is much more common as EHS compliance and performance is often deemed to be the sole responsibility of EHS and Sustainability Managers in the organization.  This passive approach can be perilous for both the individual executive and the company.  Senior executives should be involved actively and there are ways to test whether this involvement is real or not.  What follows is a discussion of why participation and commitment are important and a way to test whether it is truly happening in a given organization.

Why Commitment is Important to the Executive

Some believe that environmental incidents and catastrophes will have an impact on a company’s reputation but will not directly affect senior corporate executives.  For example, a recent column in the on-line Environmental Leader was entitled “No Reputational Penalty for CEOs on Environmental Lawsuits.”[1]  The column refers to a study published in the Journal of Contemporary Accounting & Economics entitled “Corporate litigation and changes in CEO reputation: Guidance from U.S. Federal Court lawsuits”.[2]  This study, based on almost 10,000 cases filed in U.S. federal court over an eight-year period from 2000-2007, concluded that there was:

“…no evidence of any reputational penalty for CEOs following environmental allegations against their companies,” [University of Adelaide, South Australia] business school lecturer Dr. Chelsea Liu told Environmental Leader. “This means that the executive labor market, driven by the collective actions of corporations in the marketplace, is not inclined to ‘shun’ those CEOs whose firms are accused of environmental violations. This is very different from how the market reacts to allegations of financial fraud —prior research shows that CEOs whose firms are accused of financial fraud do experience significant reputational damage.”

Yet, actual notable cases in recent history would appear to contradict the study’s conclusions.  There are any number of instances where very senior executives, including several CEOs, have had their reputations permanently sullied and some have even been sentenced to prison for negligence with respect to EHS mismanagement.  These include the following five cases:

  • Union Carbide Corporation (UCC). Warren Anderson, the then CEO of UCC, and seven other employees were sentenced to 2 years in prison in June 2010 for negligence (the maximum allowed by Indian Law) as a result to the December 1984 Methyl Isocyanate release in Bhopal, India, which killed an estimated 4,000 people and injured another 500,000.  Anderson died in Florida in 2014 at the age of 92 and served no prison time in India as he was not extradited.  Interestingly, “Bhopal protestors” picket the Dow Chemical Headquarters in Midland, MI every year at the annual shareholders meeting.  Dow purchased the assets of UCC in 2001, a full 17 years after the incident.  Should the Dow/DuPont merger announced in December 2015 go through one wonders if the protesters will picket in Wilmington, DE as well, the historical headquarters of DuPont.  Not something that executives in either company presumably relish.
  • BP. After a 28-year career with BP, Tony Hayward, the now ex-CEO, was forced to resign on October 1, 2010 as a result of the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  Ironically, Mr. Hayward had replaced Lord John Browne as CEO in 2007 who resigned partly as a result of the BP Texas City Refinery fire that killed 15 people in 2005.
  • Massey Energy. Don Blankenship, the now ex-CEO of Massey Energy, was forced to resign on December 3, 2010 after the April 5, 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, which killed 29 miners.  On April 6, 2016, Mr. Blankenship was sentenced to one year in prison for “conspiracy to willfully violate mine health and safety standards.”
  • Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). Three former TEPCO executives were indicted for negligence on February 29, 2016 as a result of the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown caused by a March 2011 tsunami.  In March 2015, a Japanese National Police Agency report confirmed 15,894 deaths, 6,152 injuries and 2,562 people missing as a result of the tsunami.
  • Volkswagen. The now ex-CEO of Volkswagen, Martin Winterkorn, was forced to resign on September 23, 2015 as a result of the 2015 “Clean Diesel Scandal” in the U.S.  Winterkorn accepted responsibility for the scandal while asserting that he was “not aware of any wrongdoing on my part.”  Volkswagen and its executives face possible criminal enforcement action from the U.S. Department of Justice and over 25 State Attorneys General.

It is pretty clear then that there are indeed personal consequences for senior executives when significant EHS incidents occur.  Any individual sitting in one of the chairs in the C-Suite would do themselves a favor by becoming more involved in the company’s EHS management.  And in fact, senior management reviews are a mandatory requirement of ISO 9000 (Quality), ISO 14000 (Environment) and OSHA 18000 (Health and Safety) management system standards often adopted by organizations to better govern operations.  For example, ISO 14000 requires the following: “Top management shall review the organization’s environmental management system, at planned intervals, to ensure its continuing suitability, adequacy and effectiveness.”[3]  And indeed, there are companies, such as Occidental Petroleum, where members of the Audit Committee of the Board of Directors regularly review actual site EHS audit reports.  Although this particular activity should not be relied upon exclusively for assurance purposes, it does provide valuable information on both leading and lagging EHS compliance and performance indicators.

Evaluating Executives’ Commitment

How then does one test whether key executives have an understanding of the implementation and results (and potential consequences) of the company’s EHS management and programs?  One way is to interview these key executives as part of an annual review of EHS program performance.  This annual review can be conducted internally or through a third party.  The evaluation should involve a detailed review of policies and procedures, interviews with a sample of executives at various levels of the organization, and testing the implementation of the EHS program at the site level through assessments or audits at a sample of operating facilities.

The interviewing of key executives is, then, a key component of an EHS program evaluation. In conducting these interviews any interviewer must be diligent, thorough but also respectful of the executive’s time. They are very busy people.  The questions provided below in Table 1 can be used to address and test an individual executive’s involvement and commitment.  It’s important to note that each executive must tailor his or her involvement to best support the organization as effectively as possible.  So, the interviewer should not assume that any given executive should be involved in all the aspects suggested by the questions.  For example, one executive might be involved in the setting of corporate EHS policy and sustainability goals, while another might be responsible for implementing programs within his or her division to achieve those goals, while still others might actually visit plants in their business units periodically to assess site-level performance and gather feedback on the challenges the site management experiences in meeting the goals.

Based on actual experience the questions can be covered in 30-45 minutes. Face-to-face interviews are preferred but a phone interview or video conference can be used as well with comparable results.  Note that the questions are designed to elicit more than a yes/no response.  The interviewer might also discover that the executive will request to see the questions in advance.  That is perfectly acceptable and might actually produce a more productive session as there is a good chance that the executive will have given the questions considerable thought in advance.  In some cases, they will have actually written-out their answers which can enhance the face-to-face discussion.

TABLE 1: Ten Questions to Test an Executive’s Involvement in a Corporate EHS Program

Area of Inquiry Question
1. Personal Involvement What has been your involvement with the corporate EHS program to date?
2. Program Objectives Do you understand the objectives of the program? What are they? Do you believe the objectives are being met? Why or why not?
3. Program Effectiveness Do you believe the program is effective, adequately resourced, and adds value? Specifically, why or why not?
4. Organizational Setting Do you believe that the program is positioned within the organization so as to achieve the appropriate independence and authority? If not, what could or should be done?
5. Stakeholder Involvement Are the concerns of all stakeholders’ (e.g., management, employees, stockholders, regulators, NGO’s, communities) being considered appropriately? Any stakeholders’ interests that are under-represented?
6. Management of Change Is management of change a key component of the program?  If so, how do you know?  If not, why not?
7. Risk Identification Does the program adequately identify and define the key EHS risks faced by the company?  In your estimation, what are the top three risks?
8. Program Outputs Do you see what you need to see with regards to the outputs of the program? If not, what would you like to see that you don’t see now?
9. Corrective Actions Is there sufficient management attention given to correcting identified program deficiencies and needed improvements in a timely fashion? How do you know?
10. Improvements What is the EHS program doing well and should continue to do? If you could change or add one thing to the program to make it better what would that be?

Note that the very last question is extremely important. So, the interviewer has to be careful to manage the interview process so that there will be time for it to be asked and answered.  Executives are very smart and savvy people.  Asking them to identify one thing they might change or add to the EHS program to make it better will often elicit some sage advice and maybe even some “out of the box” thinking.

Closure

Executive participation in and commitment to EHS performance is one key to assuring company-wide compliance and potentially avoiding catastrophes. Experience shows that there is no guarantee that executive participation will be a ‘fail-safe” measure but rigorous management support throughout the organization can be extremely valuable.  Involving executives in an active way can help bolster the program and provide the support necessary to accomplish goals, achieve compliance and minimize (but sadly not eliminate) the potential for disasters.

[1] Hardcastle, Jessica Lyons, “No Reputational Penalty for CEOs on Environmental Lawsuits,” Environmental Leader, March 7, 2016

[2] Liu, Chelsea, et.al., “Corporate litigation and changes in CEO reputation: Guidance from U.S. Federal Court lawsuits,” Journal of Contemporary Accounting & Economics, Volume 12, Issue 1, April 2016, Pages 15–34.

[3] International Organization for Standardization (ISO), “Environmental management systems – Requirements for guidance and use,” ISO14001:2015, Third Edition, Section 9.3, September 15, 2015