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Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is an idea that corporations have to consider the interests of customers, employees, shareholders, communities, and ecological considerations in all
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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : May/June 2003 : Happenings


CERES 2003: Purveyors of Change
Empowering people to invest in change.

by Penny Bonda

True to form, the 2003 CERES conference delivered two days of accomplishment and promise. Subtitled “Advancing Sustainable Governance,” its agenda concentrated on the organization’s leadership in converging the best practices of corporate business with those of environmental responsibility. Prior focuses of activity such as the Global Reporting Initiative were joined by some new programs.

This year, in partnership with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), CERES launched the first U.S. Sustainability Reporting Awards program to emphasize the value of reporting as a first step to corporate progress on economic, environmental and social issues. Its goal was to encourage better reporting on sustainability, reward best practices, provide guidance to others and increase accountability. The focus of the awards was on the highest degree of disclosure, transparency of business practices and communication effectiveness. (See sidebar for information on award winners.)

CERES executive director Mindy Lubber explained the importance of reporting as a first step to corporate progress on environmental and social issues. “At CERES we’ve found that what gets measured gets managed, and that reporting on these issues is a way for companies to assess where they stand, what the issues are, and where they need to make improvements,” Lubber said. “A decade ago, you wouldn’t find this information anywhere, and certainly not from the companies themselves. We’ve come a long way, but still have a long way to go to the point when providing this information is standard practice.”

Another first announced at the conference is likely to have profound ramifications. Four state and city treasurers and comptrollers, representing approximately $190 billion in assets, expressed concern about the risks of climate change to long-term investments and announced plans to hold a summit with other institutional investors to examine the issue. Denise Nappier, treasurer, State of Connecticut; William C. Thompson, Jr., comptroller, City of New York; Alan Hevesi, comptroller, New York State; and Jeb Spaulding, treasurer, State of Vermont, all expressed concern that global warming posed long-term economic risks that threatened the value of retirement funds.

Recent corporate scandals, the resulting drop in investor confidence and growing support for global warming shareholder resolutions have created an opportunity to convene this historic gathering. Foundations, unions, money managers and property insurance companies will join the representatives from the state pension funds in a series of meetings. Nappier, Thompson and Hevesi have indicated that the funds they represent would likely vote their proxies in favor of shareholder resolutions filed this year. With close to $200 million on the table, a figure that is estimated to double within the next 12 months, this represents a hefty block of influence.

“All funds, but particularly pension funds, have a responsibility to their shareholders to ensure that they’re adequately assessing risk in their portfolio companies,” Nappier said. “These resolutions should serve as a notice that we will not tolerate irresponsible corporate behavior that could potentially undermine the integrity and soundness of our pension funds and the health of our planet and its people. We need to pull corporate America’s heads from the sand and look at this obvious long-term risk. In my view, institutional investors are in a position to lead that effort.” CERES will work with the investors to convene the summit sometime in the next six to nine months.

According to many of the CERES conference speakers, climate change is the next big thing—a threat more potent than Y2K, for example. Other challenges include shortages of potable water and preserving the wilderness in an increasingly urban world. Solving these problems cannot be accomplished by corporations alone; a change in government policy will be required and it’s going to take elections to make that happen. Others criticized the current administration for refusing to face its responsibilities. Denis Hayes, the president of the Bullitt Foundation and a co-founder of Earth Day, admonished President Bush for “not getting it” and then named some of the corporations who do: DuPont, BP, Shell, Johnson & Johnson, IBM, Toyota and Honda.

Mark van Putten, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, believes that there’s plenty of money to be made in finding solutions to the global climate change problems. Bruce Ralston, chair of the Vancouver City Savings Credit Union, Canada’s largest, agrees and states that running a corporation in a sustainable and equitable way in this post-Enron world can be a differentiation. California Resources secretary Mary Nichols feels that smaller, entrepreneurial firms are ahead of the larger firms who tend to act like governments.

CERES is successful because it convenes people in power and empowers them to invest in change. The Sustainability Reporting Awards program has, for example, made CEO statements more meaningful, prioritized performance indicators, disclosed how stakeholders are involved in the reporting process, disclosed public policy positions, addressed sustainability as a governance issue, improved verification procedures and enhanced the user friendliness of Web-based reports. CERES is making a difference inside the board room and out, or as former CERES executive director Bob Massie put it, “You never know what we’re going to be able to pull off.”

Nineteen companies submitted reports and the judges presented awards in three categories in the first annual U.S. Sustainability Reporting Awards, a joint project of CERES and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).

Joint Winners-Outstanding Sustainability Reporting

* Ben & Jerry’s Homemade, Inc. was singled out as being unique for dealing with the issues of CEO compensation and livable wages in developing countries. Long-admired for its environmental commitment and as the first publicly-traded company to issue a report, Ben & Jerry’s sets an example for small- and medium-sized companies, said the judges, and “captures the feel and scope of sustainability, both in the balance of social, environmental and economic coverage, as well as the balance of vision, policy and management systems and performance information.”

* Chiquita Brands International, Inc., once the target of environmental criticism, impressed the judges with its willingness to openly discuss the company’s goals,
challenges and areas for improvement. Directness in addressing “the environmental impacts associated with its
business, including pesticide use and
toxicity, waste management, conservation of water resources and soil conservation” were factors that influenced the selection. Using third- party certification and performance standards, Chiquita tightly managed the report process and associated costs.





Outstanding Environmental Reporting

* Bristol Myers Squibb Co. not only assessed its corporate environmental performance, but also its system for collecting and reporting data. Driven in part by its customers’ and investors’ need for responsible data, the company has also used the report to hire and retain top-notch employees. The judges noted that the report is Web-based (with over 65,000 hits in just two months), is easy to navigate and has effective search and indexing functions. Making the point that reporting is time-consuming and expensive, Bristol Myers Squibb estimated that the effort required one-half of a fulltime staffer for one year.

Commendation for Environmental Reporting

* Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD) began its reporting in 1995 in response to employee interest and to be able to provide information to investors with a high level of detail. Its report addresses such core environmental issues as climate change, energy conservation, toxic chemicals management and product stewardship including take-back issues, a subject of vital importance in the electronics industry. The judges liked that its Web site provides links to other reports such as AMD’s annual report, TRI information and a global climate protection plan.

Outstanding First Time Reporting

* Wisconsin Energy Corp. not only names the staff responsible for its oversight, implementation and audit in its report, but identifies its stakeholders and its approaches to stakeholder interactions. The company believes that reporting builds credibility
especially in the hot issue areas of coal
and nuclear power. The jury believed that WEC “effectively and thoroughly applied the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines and included a GRI contents index for easier location of each GRI indicator.”


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