Tag Archives: California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS)

Investing in socially responsible companies makes sense

Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle
[Editor:  Significant quote: “Studying the performance of over 2,000 companies in six sectors, the researchers discovered the stock price of companies that invested to improve sustainability in ways that were material to their businesses outperformed companies that did not.”  – RS]

Investing in socially responsible companies makes sense

By Tom Kiely, Lenny Mendonca and Steve Westly, September 17, 2015

What do CalPERS, and many of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds from Scandinavia to the Mideast have in common? They’re betting big on sustainability.

In May, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, a $307 billion retirement fund, said it will require its asset managers to factor environmental and social risks into their investment decisions. Norway’s giant national sovereign wealth fund, with $890 billion in assets built off its oil and gas reserves, is divesting from companies that mine or burn coal. A majority of the world’s largest institutional investors — pension funds, insurance companies, sovereign wealth funds — incorporate considerations about a business’s environmental and social track record into their investment decisions.

However, too many company managers are still under the spell of the myth that shareholders are the only stakeholders who count. For decades, neo-classical economists suggested — and business schools taught — that sustainability investments unnecessarily raise a firm’s costs, creating a competitive disadvantage. Invest in anything but the bottom line, and you risk your survival we’ve been told endlessly.

Shareholder idolatry holds executives back from making the investments they should to benefit the planet and their businesses in the long-term. For every corporate leader there is a regiment of laggards.

Sure, most of the Standard & Poor’s 500 companies issue sustainability or social responsibility reports each year, but try reading those reports — they are a catalog of the tepid. Few companies integrate social and environmental factors deeply into their business strategies. U.S business organizations, such as the Chamber of Commerce, have opposed government-led efforts to reduce climate risk as overly bureaucratic and costly for business, while doing little to further business-led initiatives to improve corporate sustainability.

That’s a big mistake. For instance, in one recent study, three Harvard Business School professors showed how “firms with good performance on material (our emphasis) sustainability issues significantly outperform firms with poor performance on these issues.”

When it comes to these investments, the materiality test is crucial. Companies make all kinds of investments in sustainability and in corporate social responsibility programs. But only some of these things have a material impact on performance. The researchers looked at a set of environmental, social, and governance measures that both companies and their investors deemed material and measured their impact on stock prices.

What did they find? Studying the performance of over 2,000 companies in six sectors, the researchers discovered the stock price of companies that invested to improve sustainability in ways that were material to their businesses outperformed companies that did not.

This makes sense to a growing number of investors. Smart sustainability investments allow companies to attract better employees, improve their brands to sell more or sustain a price premium.

What should be done? Companies must do a better job of compiling non-financial data on their environmental and social performance and report it to investors and other stakeholders. Fifty percent of institutional investors surveyed by PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2014 said they were dissatisfied with the environmental-social-governance information companies provided.

Business leaders need to step up and champion these efforts.

Also, executives should act like leaders in policy debates. In early June, 80 companies, including U.S.-based Coca-Cola and Mars, pressed the British government to fight for strong action against climate change in international talks, and to aggressively push for a long-term low-carbon plan for the United Kingdom.

Where are U.S. business leaders on this?

Business leaders should propose a concrete plan for pricing carbon, for instance. After all, more than 150 companies already factor a carbon price into their business planning decisions, according to a recent study by CDP, a sustainability measurement organization. Executives have the public clout to elevate the debate on carbon pricing, and the experience to propose pragmatic frameworks for getting this done.

Corporate executives need to stop thinking of sustainability as a political discussion, and see it for what it is: good business.

Tom Kiely is a member of the Standards Council of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board. Lenny Mendonca is a consultant to leaders in the public and social sectors. Steve Westly, a former state controller, is managing director of the venture capital firm the Westly Group.
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    Palo Alto passes fossil fuel divestment resolution

    Press Release from Peninsula Interfaith Climate Action (PICA)

    Interfaith Victory: Palo Alto Fossil Fuel Divestment Resolution Passed

    PALO ALTO, CA — February 9, 2014.

    The City of Palo Alto, responding to concerns from Peninsula Interfaith Climate Action (PICA), voted unanimously to send a message to CalPERS (California Statement Employee Retirement System), the national’s largest pension fund, to pull its investments out of fossil fuels.

    Councilmembers Marc Berman, Patrick Burt, Karen Holman and Liz Kniss submitted the initial “Colleague’s Memo” in favor of divestment. “Climate change poses a top-tier threat to our future. Our obligation to address climate change through all avenues requires support from all sectors,” noted Council member Cory Wolbach. “I was inspired to see the passionate and effective work of these congregations collecting 152 signed letters on behalf of fossil fuel divestment.  Those letters, presented by a cross-denominational coalition, sent a very powerful moral statement.”

    Eileen Altman is an associate minister at First Congregational Church in Palo Alto and a PICA member who spoke at the City Council meeting. “As Christians, we share a core set of values and concern for God’s gift of life, both human and all other life. Our investments should reflect our values.” said Rev. Altman. “This concern is not a liberal or conservative value, but is a Christian value. The US political system unproductively magnifies differences when Americans everywhere share 98% of the same values. Climate is about the future of our children and is especially about the people who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Climate is the biggest social justice issue of our time. From the pews in Palo Alto and throughout the United Church of Christ, the first denomination to pass a resolution to move toward divestment from fossil fuels (in 2013), we welcome the opportunity to respectfully dialogue about climate with churches in all regions of the country and across all party affiliations.”

    While the call for fossil fuel divestment may have its strongest impact as a symbolic statement, it also has practical implications for the economic value of employee pensions, explained Debbie Mytels, convener of PICA, which comprises a dozen local congregations that submitted signed letters to the Council in favor of the divestment resolution.

    “While we believe it’s a moral obligation to stop using the fossil fuels that are causing sea level rise, extreme weather events and drought-related crop losses,” Mytels said, “it’s also important to question how long investments in these companies will be financially valuable.”

    “If we want to protect our employees’ pensions, we need to get CalPERS to pull out of dirty fuels before they become ‘stranded assets’.” said Mytels, citing a recent statement by Deutsche Bank in Germany that said  “to meet climate change targets, over half of identified fossil fuel reserves will have to stay in the ground.”

    “While we are pleased with Palo Alto’s progress in becoming a city that supplies ‘carbon free’ electricity to its utility customers,” Mytels said, “we feel it’s time for our city to demonstrate further leadership by joining the call for divestment.”

    “Thankfully, Palo Alto itself does not own any investment in fossil fuels of any sort — that’s all the more reason for the Council to consider the long-term safety of our employees’ CalPERS retirement assets,” she added.

    Reverend Will Scott, from California Interfaith Power & Light (CIPL), noted that “CIPL and our growing statewide network of more than 640 congregations are grateful for the inspiring work of the Peninsula Interfaith Climate Action group, now a CIPL Regional Working Group. Their regular, committed, and personal engagement on the local level as people of diverse faiths concerned about the climate crisis, is a strong model for other regional working groups in our network. Indeed, they are exemplifying the sincere, collaborative, practical, rooted and creative community resiliency needed throughout the world to meet the seriousness of this global challenge. California Interfaith Power & Light is learning much from PICA’s practices and shared wisdom.”

    Palo Alto now joins a growing group of California cities, including San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Brisbane, Richmond, Fairfax, and Santa Monica in calling for dropping fossil fuels from employee pension funds. Sunnyvale may be the next city. Other regional agencies, including the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which is mandated to protect Silicon Valley citizens from floods, have also passed similar resolutions due to concerns about sea level rise.

    In advance of Global Divestment Day, Feb. 13, 2015, Norway announced last week that it would drop coal and tar sands companies from its national investment portfolio. Similarly, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund has made such a decision, along with 50 other philanthropic organizations. The divestment movement is also growing significantly among national faith-based groups, and nearby Stanford University has agreed to eliminate its holdings in coal companies. Today, California State Senate President Kevin de Leon introduced SB 185, directing CalPERs to divest coal fossil fuel investments.

    For more information about PICA, see http://www.interfaithpower.org/pica and http://pica.nationbuilder.com/

    City of Palo Alto Fossil Fuel Divestment Resolution.

    The Palo Alto City Council voted unanimously in favor of divestment:  https://pbs.twimg.com/media/B9dpI7FCQAAfghe.jpg

    PICA members celebrate: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/B9dpI7JCIAAsuEF.jpg

    For more information about the international fossil fuel divestment movement, see http://gofossilfree.org/

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      UN summit: Businesses and investors pressing for green policy

      Repost from The Associated Press

      Businesses and investors pressing for green policy

      By Johathan Fahey, AP Energy Writer, September 22, 2014
      AP Photo
      In this Saturday, Jan. 10, 2009, file photo, a flock of geese fly past a smokestack at the Jeffery Energy Center coal power plant near Emmitt, Kan. Hundreds of corporations, insurance companies and pension funds are calling on world leaders gathering for a U.N. summit on climate change this week to attack the problem by making it more costly for businesses to pollute. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

      NEW YORK (AP) — Hundreds of corporations, insurance companies and pension funds are calling on world leaders gathering for a U.N. summit on climate change this week to attack the problem by making it more costly for businesses and ordinary people to pollute.

      The idea, long advocated by policymakers, economists and environmental activists, is that the world can’t hope to slow the heating of the planet until its cost is incorporated into the everyday activities that contribute to it, such as using gas- or coal-generated electricity, driving a car, shipping a package or flying around the globe.

      Business leaders representing trillions of dollars in revenue and retirement savings say they worry that global warming threatens the long-term value of their investments, and they want world leaders to adopt policies that would provide a financial incentive to people to clean up their act.

      That could include a tax on carbon emissions, a cap or some other mechanism.

      “There’s a market failure that needs to be fixed,” said Anne Simpson, senior portfolio manager and director of global governance at the $300 billion California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the largest public pension fund in the U.S.

      Despite a broad consensus that something needs to be done, it has been impossible so far for global leaders to agree on how to implement what amounts to a price on pollution, because energy is so important for economic growth.

      “It may be easier to get large businesses to agree that something should be done than to get them to coalesce around specific policy measures,” said Michael Levi, senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations.

      At Tuesday’s U.N. summit, 120 world leaders will try to summon some of the considerable political will required if a new climate treaty is to be reached at international negotiations next year in Paris. The one-day summit is part of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s push to help world leaders to reach a goal they set in 2009: prevent Earth’s temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) from where it is now.

      On Sunday, scientists announced that the world set another record last year for the amount of carbon pollution spewed into the atmosphere.

      Ahead of the summit, business leaders such as Apple’s Tim Cook renewed or expanded pledges to help the planet by running their businesses more efficiently, investing in renewable energy or pulling their investments from fossil fuel companies.

      Last week, CalPERS and other big asset-holders such as the insurance and financial firms Allianz, BlackRock and AXA Group called for a “meaningful” price on carbon emissions. The World Bank said Monday that 73 countries and more than 1,000 companies have expressed their support for a price on carbon.

      Also on Monday, a parade of business and political leaders tried to rally support in a series of speeches in New York.

      “It doesn’t cost more to deal with climate change; it costs more to ignore it,” said Secretary of State John Kerry.

      Cook said customers care about the planet and will “vote with their dollars” for sustainably produced products. He outlined the steps Apple is taking to reduce the carbon emissions of its products and its supply chain, and called for broader action.

      “The long-term consequences of not addressing climate change are huge,” he said. “I don’t think anyone can overstate that.”

      While many insist a transition to a cleaner economy can boost economic growth or at least not harm it, many worry it would slow the global economy and make it more difficult for people in developing nations to get access to even basic electricity and transportation. Even those who agree that the transition must take place can’t agree on how to do it.

      The International Energy Agency estimates that $1 trillion per year must be invested through 2050 in clean energy in order to keep global temperatures from rising past a level that scientists consider especially dangerous.

      Charging a price for carbon emissions could prod polluters to change their ways by making it in their financial self-interest to do so. It would make fossil fuel investments less profitable and therefore less attractive. And it would make clean energy more lucrative.

      A host of new investment vehicles are already making it easier for investors and others to sink their money into renewable projects. The market for so-called green bonds – tax-free bonds that fund clean energy, energy efficiency or other sustainable projects – is expected to at least double to $20 billion this year, for example.

      Last week the $188 billion California Teachers’ Retirement System announced its intention to boost its investment in clean energy and technology to $3.7 billion from $1.4 billion over the next five years and said that could rise to $9.5 billion with changes in policy. Warren Buffet has said he is looking to double his $15 billion in investments in wind and solar projects.

      On another front, a group of activists is calling on foundations and endowments to reduce or eliminate investments in fossil fuel-related companies and direct that money toward clean energy. The group, the Divest-Invest Coalition, said Monday that foundations representing $50 billion in assets have signed on, though the fossil-fuel investments in those portfolios are a very small percentage of the total.

      Despite these signs, annual global investment in clean energy is only a quarter of what the IEA estimates is required.

      “We’re moving tens or even hundreds of billions, but we’re looking at a $1 trillion every year, and if we’re looking at $1 trillion, we need policy,” said David Pitt-Watson, chairman of the U.N. Environment Program’s Finance Initiative.

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