Old Excuses on Policy Advocacy Don’t Work Anymore

I admire corporate sustainability leaders who, as hockey great Wayne Gretzky once said, know how to “skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.”

I’m optimistic about our future when I see courageous leaders at companies like Unilever, Pepsi, Mars and others lead the way by looking beyond short-term profits for long-term success and publicly advocating for the smart regulatory and policy changes required to preserve the natural systems that people, communities and companies need to thrive.

Yet, there are too many companies that still rely on old excuses when asked to take a public stand on energy and environmental policy.

To be a bold leader in the 21st century requires a strong voice on the most pressing environmental issues of the day. It’s no longer good enough to put a green label on a product or declare in an annual report that your company is making the world a better place. It’s time to take the next leadership step.

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At Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), we like to call the next step of sustainability leadership the business policy nexus. It simply means that your company has aligned your sustainability goals and strategies with your external engagement on policy.

If your company isn’t operating in the business policy nexus, it’s time to retire the following excuses and go public in support of forward-facing environmental policies:

Excuse #1 "We're not political."

Companies can no longer be silent on issues like the environment. Customers expect the brands and companies they love to stand for something and to show leadership on issues that matter to them.

In previous decades, this excuse might have sounded more like, “we want Democrats and Republican to buy our products.” However, this recent working paper by researchers at Duke and Harvard suggests that C.E.O. activism can sway public opinion — and even increase interest in buying a company’s products.

Corporate neutrality on the issues that matter may be outdated. If you don’t believe me, maybe ask Paul Polman of Unilever or Indra Nooyi of Pepsi or Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia. Their corporate voices ring loud and clear when it comes time to stand up for the environment.

Excuse #2 "It's not part of our core business."

In a 2015 article the head of government relations for one of the world’s biggest companies told the Guardian: “There’s a reluctance if a regulation doesn’t get into your core competency to get into somebody else’s backyard. It’s an unspoken acknowledgment that you stick to your knitting.”

The earth is everyone’s backyard. And the state of our environment affects every business.

Just take a look at the companies who have backed the Clean Power Plan. “Clean energy” isn’t the core competency of global giants like Amazon, General Mills, Nestle, or Levis, but these companies and many others made their corporate voices heard for the good of business and society.

Excuse #3 “Our government affairs team deals with policy.”

Some corporate leaders have been passing the buck to other departments, other industries and other leaders for too long.

You have a responsibility to inspire everyone in your organization to maximize the triple bottom line: profit, people and planet.

Leaders find it easy to measure profit; measuring social and environmental impact is a little harder. Without good data, no one in a company feels comfortable taking the lead on policy.

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This is where an NGO like EDF can help make a difference. EDF has built a framework for corporate sustainability success that encompasses science, strategy, and systems to create measurable environmental and business benefits. Your organization can use this framework to become a sustainability leader and confidently stand up for smart climate policy that addresses your future business risks.

The old excuses don’t work anymore. So stand up for change and advocate for policies that will help us overcome the most serious environmental challenges we face. The issues are too important; the consequences for little or no action are too serious.

Follow Tom Murray on Twitter: @tpmurray

Further reading:

Why Investments in Agricultural Carbon Markets Make Good Business Sense

sarasnider-287x377Over the past decade, private investment in conservation has more than doubled, with sustainable forestry and agriculture investments as the main drivers of growth. This unprecedented expansion in “impact investing” or “conservation finance” has occurred as investors seek ROI that can also benefit the environment.  According to Credit Suisse, sustainable agriculture is particularly appealing to investors as it offers a wider array of risk mitigation approaches than sectors such as energy and transportation.

Yet despite this boom, there has been very little investment from private capital in emerging ecosystems markets, especially in the agricultural sector.

We’ve blogged before about the benefits growers – and the environment – realize from participating in agricultural carbon markets or habitat exchanges. But here’s why the private sector, food companies and retailers should invest in agricultural carbon markets. Read more

With Green Bonds, Legitimacy Comes to Those Who Verify

This post is part of an EDF+Business ongoing series on sustainable finance, highlighting market mechanisms and strategies that drive environmental performance by engaging private capital. EDF is actively engaging leaders with the capital and expertise needed to catalyze sector-wide changes—from accelerating investment in energy efficiency and clean energy, to protecting tropical forests, restoring depleted fisheries and saving habitats of endangered species.


Namrita KapurGreen bonds have been hailed as a key vehicle for driving clean energy investments both before and after the signing of the Paris climate agreement. And the range of organizations utilizing them continues to diversify – Apple issued its own $1.5 billion bond last month to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy projects for its operations. But as the pool of bonds issued each year grows, investors are increasingly concerned that clear standards are needed.

Through 2013, the World Bank was the primary issuer of green bonds. The simplicity of the market made it easier to verify the environmental benefits. As the market has grown, so has the need for institutionalizing transparency to validate the promised benefits.

While roughly two-thirds of global green bonds issued in 2015 received either third-party verification or second-party opinion, only two U.S. municipal offerings received any external review, casting doubts on the U.S. market’s credibility. Investors like insurance firm Allianz are concerned that many of the funds earmarked for sustainable development projects are not achieving the desired impact, and are calling for strong standards to help provide the market with increased certainty.

Bankers and investors are driving progress on transparency Read more

Green Bonds: A Year in Review

This post is part of an EDF+Business ongoing series on sustainable finance, highlighting market mechanisms and strategies that drive environmental performance by engaging private capital. EDF is actively engaging leaders with the capital and expertise needed to catalyze sector-wide changes—from accelerating investment in energy efficiency and clean energy, to protecting tropical forests, restoring depleted fisheries and saving habitats of endangered species.


Green bonds were a glimmer in the eye for investors when we first reported on them two years ago, but since then these sustainability-oriented debt financing instruments have exploded onto the investment scene. In fact green bonds were held up as a key instrument to keeping warming below the global high-end target of 2°C at COP21.

career-544952_640-300x211In the past year, the market to buy these bonds — which, by design, are linked to an environmental benefit — has significantly grown and matured. Over the course of 2015, the green bond market expanded from $37 billion to $42.4 billion, with much of this growth due to diversification — both in who is issuing them and for what wider types of projects.

While expansion of this market is encouraging, its growth is much slower than most experts had originally anticipated. Early predictions for 2015 had the green bond market booming to $80 billion, or even $100 billion. Instead, numbers seem to have stagnated. What does the future hold for this market, especially in the wake of COP21? Read more

KKR Expands Its Green Portfolio by Shepherding Green Solutions

This post is part of an EDF+Business ongoing series on sustainable finance, highlighting market mechanisms and strategies that drive environmental performance by engaging private capital. EDF is actively engaging leaders with the capital and expertise needed to catalyze sector-wide changes—from accelerating investment in energy efficiency and clean energy, to protecting tropical forests, restoring depleted fisheries and saving habitats of endangered species.


We’re proud to see the Green Portfolio Program, an initiative we helped kickstart in 2008 with private equity firm Kravis Kohlberg & Roberts (KKR), evolve to identify and implement more efficient practices in its portfolio companies that drive business value and reduce environmental impacts. Last week, KKR relaunched this initiative as the Green Solutions Platform (GSP), expanding its mission to include companies outside of its private equity portfolio, as well as a wider range of business and environmental benefits.

kkr_logo_13932KKR announced a shift in its investment strategy in its latest ESG report, and the relaunch of the GSP gives us a first glimpse into what that means in practice. The GSP’s scope has expanded beyond finding energy, water and waste reductions – what KKR refers to as “eco-efficiency projects” – to include portfolio company projects that can drive both top-line and environmental gains (“eco-innovation”) and companies whose core business drives a positive environmental impact (“eco-solutions”).

Much like GE with its Ecomagination product line or social enterprises focused on delivering renewable energy or clean water, the GSP’s new direction has the potential to support business activity that, by its nature, curbs climate impacts and creates value for communities and companies alike.

In just eight short years, 27 KKR portfolio companies reported that they achieved nearly $1.2 billion in avoided costs and added revenue, and avoided more than 2.3 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, 27 million cubic meters of water use, and 6.3 million tons of waste through eco-efficiency efforts. We’re heartened to see an already-forward looking firm push its boundaries further in the pursuit of greater environmental gains, and look forward to seeing what innovations emerge from the Green Solutions Platform.

Innovations in Sustainable Finance: The View From SOCAP15

This post is part of an EDF+Business ongoing series on sustainable finance, highlighting market mechanisms and strategies that drive environmental performance by engaging private capital. EDF is actively engaging leaders with the capital and expertise needed to catalyze sector-wide changes—from accelerating investment in energy efficiency and clean energy, to protecting tropical forests, restoring depleted fisheries and saving habitats of endangered species.


SOCAP logoI recently returned from SOCAP15, an annual conference “at the intersection of money + meaning”… in other words, a good place to be if you’re interested in how to harness markets to deliver financial, as well as social and environmental, returns. A record 2,600 attendees turned up this year, evidence of the growing interest in sustainable finance.

The increased focus on this space has triggered a wave of innovations aimed at addressing some of the sector’s key challenges, such as building and supporting a pipeline of investible entrepreneurs, securing sufficient demand from investors, and linking those players so that capital can flow efficiently to provide the greatest impact. It’s a challenging road ahead, but the conference offered important proof points that help show the way forward.

Growing support for entrepreneurs

Now is a very good time to be a social or environmental entrepreneur. We are witnessing a growing array of resources, services, and incubator and accelerator programs aimed at kick-starting ventures and preparing them for investment. One exciting example: Agora Partnerships hosted 20+ “deal rooms” at this year’s conference, offering Latin American-based entrepreneurs who had completed Agora’s intensive six-month accelerator program the chance to pitch to interested investors. Last year, these deal rooms resulted in eight investments, ranging from $50,000 to $500,000. EDF is in the early stages of engaging with Agora as we look to scale our sustainable fisheries finance work in Latin America.

Increasing demand from investors

Investor demand is rising to meet the growing supply of social and environmental ventures. A recent survey by US SIF – The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment shows that U.S.-based sustainable, responsible and impact investing assets grew 76% from 2012 to 2014. Another driver of demand is the growing trend of big banks, such as Citi, Goldman Sachs, and Bank of America, committing to increased investment in environmental innovation.

The demand extends beyond banks and institutional investors – to individuals, foundations, and companies, all of which have roles to play. During a panel discussion, Sasha Dichter, Chief Innovation Officer of Acumen Fund, an international nonprofit venture fund, noted a recent shift in how companies invest in their supply chains to build more sustainable businesses: moving from funding initiatives to becoming more deeply engaged, strategic partners. He cited the example of Acumen’s partnership with Unilever and Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership, which will improve the livelihoods of up to 300,000 smallholder farmers globally by investing in enterprises to support farmers and incorporate them into Unilever’s global supply chains. Read more

Faith-Based Investors Call on Exxon, Valero and Others to Support Methane Regulations

Since the president announced in January a national goal of reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry nearly in half by 2025, an outpouring of voices has supported the move. Now, EPA has proposed rules to help meet that target, and we’ve seen another wave of support – everyone from editorial boards in the heart of oil and gas country to massive investors like California’s pension funds has recognized that the rules are a manageable, commonsense means for reducing methane pollution.

ICCR-logoThe one voice that’s been silent? The companies with the opportunity to adopt the proven, cost-effective technologies and services to not only reduce pollution but also prevent the waste of the very energy resource they’re producing. Now another voice has emerged to make the case directly to these companies that it’s worth constructively engaging in the rulemaking process: the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a group of shareholders dedicated to promoting environmentally and socially responsible corporate practices.

Several shareholders from ICCR’s coalition sent letters today to dozens of energy companies in which they invest, voicing their concern about the impact of methane emissions on the climate and public health. As You Sow, BCAM, Mercy Investments, Miller Howard, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, Trillium Asset Management, and others made their case to companies whose shares they own, including some of the biggest names in the business, like Chesapeake Energy, ConocoPhillips, Exxon, Kinder Morgan, and Valero.

Specifically, the investors asked the companies to file public comments on EPA’s proposed methane rules, sharing the companies’ data and experience with methane monitoring and management and providing perspective on how the methane rules can be designed to reduce emissions cost effectively. They also urged the companies to guide their powerful trade associations –which have been some of the most vocal opponents of the rules – to engage honestly and transparently in the rulemaking process. Read more

Inside the Climate Bonds Initiative with Sean Kidney

This post is part of an EDF+Business ongoing series on sustainable finance, highlighting market mechanisms and strategies that drive environmental performance by engaging private capital. EDF is actively engaging leaders with the capital and expertise needed to catalyze sector-wide changes—from accelerating investment in energy efficiency and clean energy, to protecting tropical forests, restoring depleted fisheries and saving habitats of endangered species.

2014 has seen exciting growth in the maturing green bonds market, with clear investor demand and issuance tripling compared to 2013. However, for the market to grow to scale, this sector needs the kinds of systems and accepted standards in place that sustain the $80 trillion global debt capital markets.

Climate Bonds InitiativeI recently caught up with a key figure in the green bond movement – Sean Kidney, chief executive and co-founder of the Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI) – to discuss the current state of green debt and what it will take to scale up investments. Kidney launched CBI as a project of the Network for Sustainable Financial Markets, after a career in social marketing and strategy consulting, including working at some of the largest Australian pension funds. Here are some highlights from our conversation:

I understand that policy will play a key role in scaling the green bond marketplace. What role is CBI playing in the policy arena?

A price on carbon is critical to creating a scale, but that has proved challenging to secure in the near-term. Instead, we are largely focusing on what we call financial system policy.

First and foremost, we are advancing international standards, working to establish clear, green and robust definitions. We have a huge number of organizations involved in this, representing $34 trillion of investors, and sizeable grants from Bloomberg and the Swiss government. The type of certification system we are working to establish is critical to building and maintaining reasonable confidence in green bond “credentials”.

Our second focus is what we call policy formulation, helping governments see that ‘There’s a pot of gold over there,’ and showing them how to harvest it. Examples of this effort include a couple of papers we published in the spring. One is about what China can do to grow its green bond market and the macroeconomic reasons to do it. We also published a report for the European Commission on Financing the Future, where we articulated the role of green bonds in designing stable financial markets.

Our third effort is what we call market education; here our focus is to increase issuance. We’ve established there is investor demand, and now we need to feed it with bonds, so we travel the world working with the issuer community. We brief banks and cities on this new market, hoping to motivate them to enter it and thereby build supply.

There’s a lot of issuance coming through the system. I think we’ll see double the market this year than we saw last year without too much difficulty, but I want it to triple again because triple gets us to a magical $100 billion issuance, which has political resonance. Read more

In Its 5th Citizenship Report, KKR Reaches Beyond ESG

This post is part of an EDF+Business ongoing series on sustainable finance, highlighting market mechanisms and strategies that drive environmental performance by engaging private capital. EDF is actively engaging leaders with the capital and expertise needed to catalyze sector-wide changes—from accelerating investment in energy efficiency and clean energy, to protecting tropical forests, restoring depleted fisheries and saving habitats of endangered species.

Sustainability pioneer and inspiration to many of us at EDF, Ray Anderson frequently talked about his company’s efforts to scale the seven faces of Mount Sustainability and develop a more responsible company along the way. Summiting a mountain is a good analogy for a company’s journey to improve its environmental performance. To succeed you need a plan, commitment, resources, and the ability to change direction if there are obstacles in your path.

In the case of a private equity firm like KKR & Co. L.P. – with over 56 portfolio companies participating in value creation programs linked to its environment, social and governance (ESG) strategy since 2009– the journey is more akin to traversing an entire mountain range, whose contours keep evolving as companies enter and exit their portfolio.

That changing landscape is what’s driven KKR to continue to adapt how it manages ESG challenges and opportunities. KKR’s recently-released 5th annual ESG & Citizenship Report details how these programs have continued to evolve since our initial partnership in 2008.

Our work together helped drive KKR’s Green Portfolio Program which, six years later, has added a cumulative $1.2 billion to its portfolio companies’ bottom lines while avoiding more than 2.3 million metric tons of greenhouse gases and reducing waste by 6.3 million metric tons and water use by 27 million cubic meters, according to results announced last fall.

kkr_logo_13932KKR’s latest report documents the firm’s progress in advancing ongoing efforts, including measuring and improving ESG performance at key portfolio companies, rolling out a publicly available ESG policy across its global private equity staff, contributing its expertise to the Sustainable Accounting Standards Boards’ development of ESG disclosure guidelines, bringing together sustainability professionals and other experts at its first Sustainability Summit last year, and hiring a full-time energy expert and two EDF Climate Corps fellows to help its portfolio companies more systematically adopt solutions for better energy management.

In addition, something new caught our eye. KKR plans to refocus its investment efforts through one of three lenses – responsible investing, solutions investing and impact investing.

  • Responsible investing incorporates ESG metrics and analysis into investment decisions.
  • Solutions investing refers to investments made in companies that have an intentional focus on solving a societal challenge and deliver traditional returns to investors, such as providers of reusable bulk shipping containers, developers of environmentally-responsible office buildings in Korea and microfinance groups increasing access to capital for business owners in rural and semirural India.
  • Impact investing goes beyond the other two, focusing on investments in companies that put environmental and social impacts on par or even ahead of financial impacts. KKR began advising two impact businesses in 2013 by providing technical assistance, helping the companies scale their businesses and secure additional funding. Moving forward, KKR will consider investing in such businesses.

At EDF, we believe that private capital can and must be part of the solution to our biggest environmental challenges. We’re encouraged to see major investors like KKR expand their investment strategy as the next step in this journey and eager to see the environmental and financial results it delivers.

EDF Climate Corps Proves its ROI for Private Equity Firms

As summer officially gets underway, the 2015 EDF Climate Corps fellows are already off to the races seeking out energy and cost-saving opportunities for some of the world’s largest companies and organizations. Among those participating, we are pleased to place 13 fellows with private equity firms and their portfolio companies, the largest such cohort in a single summer, besting last year’s record of 12 fellows. This brings the grand total up to 57 EDF Climate Corps fellows who have worked in the private equity sector (including with portfolio companies) to date.

EDF Climate Corps fellows Yien Huang (left) and Jiamu Lu (right) collaborating at the fellow training

EDF Climate Corps fellows Yien Huang (left) and Jiamu Lu (right) collaborating at the fellow training

Since 2008, EDF has worked with the private equity sector to drive environmental results, beginning with a partnership with KKR & Co. L.P., and later with The Carlyle Group and Oak Hill Capital Partners. Resulting from this work was a suite of free tools designed to help firms identify and manage environment, social and governance (ESG) issues. EDF Climate Corps offers private equity firms a powerful resource that continues to deliver environmental benefits alongside real financial returns.

This year, as in past years, we continue to see a diverse range of participating companies and projects:

  • In 2015, we welcome new hosts Guitar Center, NBTY (vitamin/food supplement supplier), Ortho Clinical Diagnostics (medical equipment manufacturer), Pharmaceutical Product Development, and Gelson's Markets (a grocery chain in southern California).
  • Among returning companies, we’re excited to welcome back Floor & Décor, Philadelphia Energy Solutions, Avaya, and Caesars Entertainment, the last of which was featured in episode 7 of the Showtime series Years of Living Dangerously (now available on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime), which profiled the efforts of EDF Climate Corps.
  • HCA Healthcare will also be returning, marking the company’s sixth straight year of participation.
  • KKR & Co. L.P., Carlyle Group, and Hellman & Friedman will have fellows working at the firm level this year.

The work that these fellows will engage in this summer ranges from energy benchmarking and efficiency upgrades to demand response assessments and green revolving loan fund design. We’ve written previously about the myriad ways that fellows can add value both at private equity firms and portfolio companies and we’re excited to see new stories unfold this summer. Watch this space as well as our Climate Corps-specific blog, where fellows across a variety of sectors will share their experiences and accomplishments.