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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : May/June 2004 :Happenings

HAPPENINGS

Just Getting Started
CERES celebrates its 15th year by continuing efforts to change the way business conducts business.


Though the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) celebrated its 15th anniversary in March at its conference in Boston, MA, the group is, in its own words, just getting started. Founded to move businesses, capital and markets to advance lasting prosperity by valuing the health of the planet and its people, this national coalition of investment funds, environmental organizations and other public interest groups has achieved significant advances.

It made its first big splash with the introduction of the CERES Principles, an environmental code of conduct that has won broad support from a wide cross section of stakeholders. The Aveda Corp. became the first signatory to the principles in 1989 and subsequent endorsers include environmental and public interest groups, investors and foundations and a diverse number of both major and smaller corporations.

In 1999 CERES launched the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the first set of generally accepted standards for sustainability disclosure. Developed in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and many others, GRI was spun off in 2002 and is now an independent organization headquartered in Amsterdam.

Also in 2002, the CERES publication Value at Risk drew attention to the financial risks of climate change. This effort led to the convening of the first Institutional Investor Summit on Climate Risk at the United Nations and brought together investors representing more than $1 trillion in investments. Labeled a huge success, observers said “it placed climate change on the radar screen of high-powered policymakers and investment professionals.”

As a direct result, Sean Harrigan, the president of California’s Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), addressed the assembled at the CERES conference with an exciting and significant announcement. As the nation’s largest public pension fund, holding assets of $166 billion dollars in trust for their members and beneficiaries, Harrigan acknowledged that CalPERS needs to be involved in the financial affects of climate change. “I’m here to say we are going to be more than engaged in this effort to protect our financial assets. No question, climate risk is a financial and a health security issue that affects everyone, including our 1.4 million CalPERS members and their families.

“We should all be concerned about the risks to investments worldwide,” Harrigan continued. “I am seriously disturbed by the recent studies documenting potential climate change damage facing California. The severe impacts on water, on agriculture, and the increased wildfire risks: all of these directly threaten CalPERS investments, and that threatens our members’ retirement security. Facing the climate change challenge requires nothing short of a revolution. I submit to you that it is time to embark upon this revolution.”

Harrigan concluded by expressing confidence in the revolution. “I believe we have the know-how and technology to address climate risk, and we can do so while enhancing investment returns. But what we need today is the other important ingredient: leadership. We need investors, we need companies and we need policy makers to stand up and be counted. We simply can’t leave it to future generations to solve this problem. It may be too late. It is up to us. It is up to us to do it now. At CalPERS, we are going to use our leadership and our clout in the marketplace to help advance the proposal I have set forth today.”

The first major pension fund to set up a formal private equity environmental investment program is big—really big—news indeed and a testament to the effectiveness of the initiative. In its first 15 years CERES has made a significant difference in the ways in which businesses operate, how they communicate and the transparency with which they do so. They represent a bright light of clarity in the currently murky political and economic climate and to hear them tell it, CERES has only just begun!


For more information about CERES and its 2004 conference, visit www.ceres.org.


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