When we think of resiliency, we usually think of a gritty, comeback story, or a resilient economy – but can a company be resilient too? If you consider that, of the world’s 100 largest economies in terms of revenue, 37 of them are corporations, making companies more resilient starts to make more sense.
This week’s guest on Sea Change Radio, Andrew Winston is a sustainability consultant and author who is working to make big corporations understand that they have just as much of an obligation to the planet and community as they do to their shareholders. He and host Alex Wise discuss what Winston dubs The Big Pivot, the need for these large corporations, just like many countries, to use science-based goals to reduce their carbon footprint, embrace renewable energy, and to develop a green strategy that is much more than just window-dressing.
The Social Investment Forum (SIF) submitted a letter to President Obama listing a series of policy proposals, from proxy access allowing shareholders to nominate board candidates to “say on pay” giving investors a vote on executive compensation. SIF also urges the Obama Administration to establish an Office for Innovation in Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR. This idea dates back to the early 2000s, propounded first by Susan Aaronson at the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, and supported by a Government Accountability Office report finding major lack of coordination on federal CSR initiatives. SIF CEO Lisa Woll explains the rationale behind the recommendations, and how they will promote advancement toward sustainability.
Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” Shareholder activists have long promoted transparency in corporate reporting. Now, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) acknowledges its rules governing company disclosures aren’t good enough. So FASB is proposing new rules. Today, we speak with Corporate Watchdog Radio co-founder Sanford Lewis about his shareholder activism promoting better corporate disclosure on environmental and human health risks. Lewis, who serves as general counsel for the Investor Environmental Health Network (IEHN), identifies several strengths — as well as some disconcerting weaknesses — in the proposed rules. IEHN has issued an action alert outlining these strengths and weaknesses to guide submissions during the public comment period ending August 8.
Stacy Malkan, co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, comments on toxics in cosmetics. Malkan points out that companies are allowed to label products ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ and still use harmful synthetics. Her award-winning book, Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry (New Society, 2007), tells the inside story of the campaign’s five-year effort to hold the beauty industry accountable to women’s health.
CWR co-host Francesca Rheannon speaks with Hampshire College Professor Michael Klare about his new book, Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy. Klare defines the term “resource nationalism,” whereby access to energy increasingly drives global politics. For example, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline runs from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, through Georgia, thereby circumventing Russia. In the interview conducted last week, Klare predicted possible conflict over energy access between Russia and Georgia, ensnaring the US. As this episode of CWR was in production, Georgian officials announced they are “very close” to war with Russia. Klare ends the interview suggesting renewable energies as a solution for diverting energy access from conflict to peace.
The second in a two-part conversation with Chris Martenson of the Martenson Report, who recently spoke about the convergence of economic, environmental, and energy crises at the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) Annual Conference. Martenson has a doctorate in neurotoxicology from Duke, an MBA in finance from Cornell, and is a former vice president at Pfizer. In the early 2000s, Martenson quit his high-status position when he recognized profound instabilities in our economic, environmental, and social structures. The interview culminates with Martenson mapping out the idea of re-imagining and transforming the stories we tell ourselves as a culture about growth, surplus, and prosperity.
We also hear commentary from Jennifer Taub of the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst on how mutual fund conflicts of interest intersect with genocide-free investing.
CWR co-hosts Francesca Rheannon and Bill Baue attended the conference, hosted by investor-environmentalist coalition Ceres and its Investor Network on Climate Risk. Rheannon speaks with British Telecom Pension Scheme Trustee Donald MacDonald about the impact of war on climate change and what institutional investors can do to address it.
Baue speaks with Co-op America CEO Alisa Gravitz about its multi-tiered approach to address climate change through member company actions, investor advocacy, and consumer activism. And Ian Gray of Ceres speaks with McKinsey Global Institute Director Diana Farrell about its new report on energy efficiency. We also excerpt highlights from the presentations by Harvard Professor and Woods Hole Research Center Director John Holdren outlining the current science on climate change and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney placing climate change in the social context.
Dean Foods’ Horizon Organic Milk brand is under fire for its industrial farming model. Mark Kastel of the Cornucopia Institute and Steven Heim of Boston Common Asset Management speak about the shareowner engagement they’ve been conducting with the company, asking why Dean would want to endanger the reputation of its Horizon brand by sourcing milk from factory farms.
George Siemon, CEO of Organic Valley, a cooperative that competes with Horizon nationally, talks about the difference between the family farm organic model and the industrial farm organic model, as well as noting some positives that corporations can bring to the sustainability movement. Francesca Rheannon of Writer’s Voice co-hosts this edition with Bill Baue.
Rich Ferlauto, who handles shareholder activism for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) pension funds, discusses shareholder democracy and corporate governance. Currently, shareholders cannot nominate candidates for corporate boards of directors, and those directors can be elected on a single vote. A federal appeals court recently ruled in favor of AFSCME against the American International Group in allowing the union access to the corporate ballot to nominate directors. Ferlauto also discusses the move to establish majority vote director elections that is gaining steam. He criticizes the Securities and Exchange Commission for failing to support shareholder rights.
Richard Liroff, Ph.D. talks about a new investor network concerned with reducing unnecessarily toxic chemicals in products. DuPont shareholders broadly support resolution calling for the company to report on options to speed the elimination of PFOA production and use (a chemical used in producing Teflon as well as grease and stain resistant coatings on carpet, textiles and food wraps).
In addition, we hear a live report from Simon Billeness at an Amnesty International protest regarding the role of Yahoo in jailing a Chinese dissident.