For most of us, New Year’s marks the time when we set annual resolutions (personal and professional) and get to work on tackling the priorities for the year ahead. In my hometown of Washington, DC a new year also means that Congress comes back into session, lawmakers and speechwriters ready their agendas and proposals, and the president delivers the State of the Union address.
From what we heard last night and in recent announcements, 2015 could be a big year for action on climate – from government and the private sector alike. But big results will take leadership on all fronts.
Leadership from our government…
Addressing climate change is supported by the vast majority of Americans and the Obama administration is taking bold steps to curb the United States’ contribution to climate change. Last night, we saw President Obama tell the nation “no challenge – no challenge – poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change” in his State of the Union address. The President also strongly reiterated his commitment to work to ensure “American leadership drives international action” on climate change.
It is clear that climate change is an urgent national priority. Fortunately, the Administration is carrying out its promises under the Climate Action Plan, and steps taken and soon-to-be-taken have helped put us on the right path. From the proposal to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, expected fuel economy standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks, to last week’s announcement of steps to address methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, we have seen a lot of progress to address climate change since the last State of the Union. Further, the November announcement of a joint China-U.S. agreement to address climate change on a global scale underscores how crucial U.S. leadership is at this juncture in achieving a binding worldwide climate deal. Much more work remains and leadership at all levels will be necessary to meet our climate goals. Read more
Last year, Oak Hill Capital Partners released its inaugural environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance report. While you may have read about similar reports from private equity firms like KKR and The Carlyle Group on this blog, Oak Hill Capital’s report was significant because it were first among U.S. middle-market private equity firms to publicly release an ESG performance report. In doing so, the firm increased transparency and offered other mid-market firms a blueprint to follow. Last week, it issued its second annual report, offering an inside look at the firm’s progress to date.
A comprehensive approach
In its new report, Oak Hill Capital outlines its approach to ESG management, measuring progress in integration, results and leadership: three of the key building blocks for a successful ESG management program that are included in our ESG Management Tool for private equity.
For Oak Hill Capital, integration refers to the ways it embeds ESG management practices across the firm’s operations to ensure it can best deliver results at portfolio companies. Key examples from the report include its responsible investment policy, incorporation of ESG in due diligence, and its recently becoming a signatory of the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI). Management of environmental performance is also woven into the management of the firm, through its ESG Committee, which is made up of senior executives and chaired by Oak Hill Capital’s general counsel.
Results speak to how the firm evaluates the ESG performance of potential new investments and how it tracks and supports the sustainability efforts of portfolio companies. This year’s report includes how the firm considered ESG factors in the due diligence process of three new investments and how existing portfolio companies have benefited from the firm’s expertise in ESG issues. One example is an energy efficiency project Oak Hill Capital initiated at its portfolio company, Dave and Buster’s, with Entouch Controls, a leading energy management solution for restaurants and schools.
Lastly, Oak Hill Capital takes a broad approach to leadership, both within the industry and in the communities in which it operates: promoting lessons learned among similarly-sized firms, as well as engaging employees in business-focused mentorship opportunities.
A diverse portfolio of sustainability initiatives Read more
Ken Mehlman, Global Head of Public Affairs, KKR
Last week in Atlanta, Kohlberg, Kravis & Roberts (KKR) Member and Head of Global Public Affairs Ken Mehlman summed up his approach to sustainability in a single sentence: “it’s got to be about what you do.” The comment was in response to a panel that EDF moderated at KKR’s first annual sustainability summit, where guest panelists Jeff Foote from Coca-Cola, Mitch Jackson from FedEx, and Maury Wolfe from Intercontinental Hotels Group shared their successes and challenges in improving their organizations’ environmental performance. Ken highlighted a common theme in all three panelists’ remarks: for a company’s work on sustainability to have a real impact, it needs to be integrated into its core business model.
KKR has clearly taken the same lesson to heart. By integrating environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues into how it evaluates and manages portfolio companies, KKR has shown what that thinking can achieve for a private equity firm and its portfolio companies. Read more
This past year, we’ve seen some bold action by companies in what we’ve dubbed the business-policy nexus, and it’s taking several different forms. Some have been calling for state or federal action on environmental impacts, while others are taking far-reaching voluntary efforts that could help support policy advocacy in the future.
Whether you view engagement on public policy as risk mitigation, providing market certainty, supporting corporate sustainability goals or securing competitive advantage, leading businesses are increasingly stepping up their efforts to support smart policy reform that will benefit the environment and economy.
Keeping toxic chemicals out of supply chains
Walmart and Target are moving to proactively get harmful chemicals out of their supply chains, even though the nation’s main chemical safety law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), is outdated and hasn’t been reformed in nearly two decades.
Earlier this year, our long-term partner in this area, Walmart, took a big step forward by announcing a new sustainable chemicals policy focused on cutting 10 chemicals of concern from home and personal care products it sells. Chemicals of concern – for example, formaldehyde, a known carcinogen – have been found in about 40% of the formulated products on Walmart shelves, including things like household cleaners, lotions and cosmetics. Read more
Last week, financial community leaders took a big step into the intersection of business and policy on the urgent need to curb methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. A group of investors managing more than $300 billion in market assets sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration and the White House, calling for the federal government to regulate methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. The letter urged covering new and existing oil and gas sites, including upstream and midstream sources, citing that strong methane policy can reduce business risk and create long-term value for investors and the economy.
Spearheaded by Trillium Asset Management, the cosigners of the letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy included New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, who oversees the $160 billion New York City Pension Funds, and a diverse set of firms and institutional investors. They spelled out in no uncertain terms that they regard methane as a serious climate and business problem – exposing the public and businesses alike to the growing costs of climate change associated with floods, storms, droughts and other severe weather.
As we approach the 25-year anniversary of EDF’s work with the corporate sector, it’s an opportune time to reflect on our successes and plan for the work ahead.
Over the years we have worked with McDonalds, Walmart, FedEx, KKR and many others to integrate sustainability into their operations, strategy, and supply chain management. Together, we have kick-started market transformations in sectors including fast food, shipping, retail, private equity and commercial building energy efficiency. While we’ve made great strides, there remains a huge distance to go in order to fully protect our natural resources, clean up our dirty energy system, and turn the corner on global greenhouse gas emissions in time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
Looking ahead, the opportunity and need for more aggressive private sector leadership has never been greater. Moving from environmental progress today to full scale solutions tomorrow will require a new type of corporate leadership. This next step will require a willingness to align corporate sustainability operations, strategy AND policy.
Voluntary corporate efforts have made a difference and will continue to be a critical pathway for innovation. But this is not sufficient to meet the size and scale of the challenges we face. Businesses must take the next leadership step – helping to shape and support the smart regulatory and policy changes required to preserve the natural systems that people, communities and companies need to thrive.
Simply put, the bar is now higher for companies that want to lead on sustainability.
Too often, environmental performance gets labeled as the responsibility of one team within a company – whether that of a dedicated sustainability staff, external or public affairs, legal or compliance, etc. As a result, a company’s staff can often think of environmental and social governance (ESG) issues as what Douglas Adams once famously termed an SEP – Somebody Else’s Problem.
With the release of its 2013 ESG and Citizenship Report, private equity firm Kravis Kohlberg & Roberts (KKR) shows it’s taking a different approach: KKR has adopted a new global policy that makes identifying and addressing ESG risks in both the pre-investment and investment phases, for its staff, everyone’s problem.
Notably, KKR’s private equity investment professionals are being integrated into the ESG risk assessment process: first, in assessing risks during the diligence phase, and second, working with portfolio companies, consultants and subject matter experts to set performance goals and measure against them during the typical five to seven years a company remains part of its portfolio.
As the old management adage goes, “what gets measured gets managed.” Private equity firm Apax Partners took an important step toward embodying that concept this spring by releasing a sustainability report rich with key metrics from its portfolio companies' progress in environmental, social and governance (ESG) management.
As last year’s Pitchbook survey showed, ESG management is increasingly a mainstream issue for private equity firms. The detailed data that Apax portfolio companies are gathering — and reporting as a group — form the foundation for companies to manage ESG issues, as well as benchmark and then measure any advances.
This is all part of an important, ongoing shift in the private equity industry: from questioning if firms can create value through ESG management, to how can firms capture the value.
I believe that Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is at its best when we are leveraging the power of market leaders to drive innovation and solve environmental challenges. Over the years we have worked with McDonalds, Walmart, FedEx, KKR and many others to kick start market transformations in sectors including fast food, shipping, retail, private equity and commercial building energy efficiency. Notable initiatives included slashing supply chain greenhouse gas emissions with Walmart, creating a market for hybrid trucks with FedEx, and launching an innovative business internship program to catalyze energy efficiency in business.Notable initiatives included slashing supply chain greenhouse gas emissions with Walmart, creating a market for hybrid trucks with FedEx, and launching an innovative business internship program to catalyze energy efficiency in business. Read more
Environmental Defense Fund was the first environmental group to hire a full-time economist, way back in the 1970s. At the time, many wondered what economics had to do with protecting the environment. We saw an opportunity and seized it because we believe prosperity and stewardship can go hand-in-hand, and solutions that make good business sense have the best chance of catching on and delivering environmental benefits that stick. That idea remains one of our guiding principles today.
So, it should be no surprise that EDF recently commissioned a detailed economic analysis of opportunities to cut methane emissions from the U.S. oil and gas industry. Our objective was simple – show how leading companies can cut methane emissions quickly and cost-effectively.
Why focus on methane emissions, and why now? Because pound for pound, methane is a very potent greenhouse gas – 84 times more potent in the short term than CO2 when released into the air. Whether intentionally vented or inadvertently leaked, methane from the oil and gas sector is America’s largest industrial source of U.S. methane emissions.
It’s a serious problem… but after extensive analysis and discussion with industry leaders and other experts, this study shows us it’s a solvable one. Better yet, it makes a solid case for immediate action.