ESG Insider is a podcast from S&P Global that takes you inside the environmental, social & governance issues shaping the business world today. In each episode, co-hosts Lindsey Hall and Esther Whieldon interview ESG experts, leveraging S&P Global data to shine a light on the sustainability opportunities and risks that business leaders and investors need to know about. Lindsey Hall is head of ESG Thought Leadership at S&P Global Sutainable1 and Esther Whieldon is a Senior Writer on the team.
How 4 of the world’s biggest companies are turning net zero goals into action
We’ve seen an explosion of companies setting net zero targets in 2021. That prompted us to ask: What comes next? After you set a decarbonization goal, how do you go about meeting it and measuring progress? To answer these questions, we talked to some of the world’s largest companies — Walmart, AT&T, Duke Energy and State Street Global Advisors — in a recent S&P Global webinar. This episode of the podcast highlights some of the key takeaways we heard from those executives.
Walmart Chief Sustainability Officer Kathleen McLaughlin tells us how the retail giant is working with thousands of suppliers to achieve zero emissions by 2040.
AT&T Chief Sustainability Officer Charlene Lake talks about how the telecommunications giant is working up and down its supply chain to pursue its science-based target of reducing emissions.
Duke Energy Chief Sustainability Officer Katherine Neebe explains how the utility, which has most of its emissions occur in the production of electric generation, is seeking the most reliable and affordable path to net zero.
And we hear from Carlo Funk, the lead ESG Investment Strategist at State Street Global Advisors covering Europe, the Middle East and Africa regions. Carlo unpacks how the asset manager is engaging with companies to lower its portfolio emissions.
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How some companies cut corners to achieve renewable energy targets
Hundreds of companies around the world have made ambitious promises to purchase only wind, solar and other types of clean electricity to power their operations. But many of these corporations aren’t buying actual physical electricity from renewable sources. Instead, they are snapping up incredibly cheap instruments known as unbundled renewable energy certificates, or RECs, which allows them to make “100% renewable power” claims while continuing to emit greenhouse gases as before. The practice is also problematic because it does little to encourage the establishment of new wind or solar farms —not a good outcome in the broader fight against climate change.
In this episode, we talk to Max Scher, head of clean energy and carbon programs at software giant Salesforce, which used to buy RECs but no longer does so.
“My general fear here is that if we are hyper-focused on… purchasing RECs, we’re going to miss the hard work, the important work, on reducing energy consumption, thinking about siting of facilities on cleaner grids” and other real-world steps to lower the carbon footprint of corporations,” Max tells us.
We also hear from an analyst at Lazard Asset Management, and from Matthew Brander, a carbon accounting expert at the University of Edinburgh who cautions that buying RECS instead of actual renewable power can be “a very low-cost easy way of making it appear to have reduced emissions.”
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Banks turning green in pursuit of net zero
As countries across the world set out plans to bring their emissions to net zero by 2050, financial institutions are increasingly setting their own carbon neutrality goals. Limiting global warming to 2°C by 2050 will require $3 trillion annually in investment, according to an estimate by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and banks will play an integral part in channeling that financing.
To find out what banks are doing to get to their lending portfolios to net zero, we talk to Amit Puri, global head of environmental and social risk management at U.K.-based Standard Chartered, about the bank’s net zero ambitions.
“We are really trying to figure out on a sector-by-sector basis, on a geography basis, where are we today, where is the baseline, and therefore what do we need to do to reduce emissions in line with the commitment that we have made?” Amit says.
We also hear from executives at Natixis about a tool the French investment bank created to make its lending portfolio more sustainable. That approach “should help us to drive the entire portfolio of the bank toward a net zero balance sheet,” says Karen Degouve, head of sustainable business development at Natixis.
To learn more about our ESG Thought Leadership, visit the new S&P Global Sustainable1 website.
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Big Oil's 'bumpy ride' to net-zero
Major oil and gas companies are beginning to set aggressive decarbonization targets, but the path ahead for them is riddled with challenges. The latest episode of S&P Global's ESG Insider podcast takes a deep dive into what net-zero goals mean for those energy companies.
We'll hear from Ed Daniels, an executive vice president and the head of strategy at Royal Dutch Shell plc, about the company's plan for achieving net zero across its direct and indirect emissions. We also talk with Natasha Landell-Mills, the head of stewardship at Sarasin & Partners, a U.K.-based asset manager with more than £15 billion under management, about why the firm recently divested from Shell after years of engagement. And Simon Redmond, a senior director at S&P Global Ratings, explains the rating agency's decision to bump down the credit ratings of some companies in the oil sector, including Shell.
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Shareholder proposals to watch this proxy season: climate, racial equity, stakeholder capitalism
Heading into the 2021 proxy season, investors are increasingly focused on equity issues, climate change, and the broader role of companies in society. Shareholders filed at least 435 ESG-related shareholder proposals for the 2021 proxy season, according to the respected Proxy Preview report.
In this episode, we explore three emerging shareholder proposals.
One asks companies to give investors a “Say on climate,” a variation on “Say on pay” resolutions that gained traction after the 2008 financial crisis. To learn more, we talk with Chris Hohn, a British billionaire hedge fund manager and philanthropist behind the “Say on climate” resolution.
We also hear from Tejal Patel, corporate governance director at CtW Investment Group, which is behind a resolution asking companies to perform racial equity audits.
"Even the most well-meaning board might be missing certain ways that their policies affect communities of color," Tejal says. Financial institutions, in particular, need to look for those blind spots "because they play such a critical role in our economy and in our society."
And we look at a proposal that asks companies to become "public benefit corporations" to further advance stakeholder capitalism. Stakeholder capitalism posits that companies are responsible for their role in society in addition to making money for shareholders, and the idea has gained traction in recent years.
To read S&P Global's 2021 proxy report, click here.
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State Street Global Advisors expects a data ‘revolution’
Last week, State Street Global Advisors released its annual asset stewardship report. With nearly $3.5 trillion in assets under management, the firm is one of the world’s largest asset managers. In 2020, it voted in more than 19,000 meetings and engaged with over 2,400 companies.
In this episode, we hear from Ben Colton and Rob Walker, co-heads of the firm’s asset stewardship program. They tell us about the themes the firm focused on in shareholder engagements in 2020, like COVID-19 response, supply chain resilience and racial and gender diversity. And they say that last one is poised for rapid change.
"I believe that in the next six to 12 months, you're going to see a revolution in the quality and the quantity of data related not only to racial and ethnic diversity, but human capital management more broadly,” Ben says.
They also talk about the emerging themes they’re engaging on in 2021 proxy season. The Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, or TCFD, has become widely adopted. Now, Ben and Rob say investors are shifting their focus from baseline climate disclosures to the governance of environmental issues.
State Street Global Advisors' latest asset stewardship report can be found here: https://www.ssga.com/library-content/pdfs/asset-stewardship/asset-stewardship-report-2020.pdf
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Absolutely LOVED the episode on ESG trends in 2021
Truly insightful without getting too nuts and bolts. Really enjoyed this as an ESG investor and someone who works in the field!
Interesting and engaging
Interesting stories keeping you up to date of what’s happening in the ESG financial world. Engaging presenters and guest speakers, great work. Thank you