In New Report, KKR Deepens Commitment to Tackling ESG Concerns

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.

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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.

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Raising the Bar for Private Equity ESG Reporting

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.

Apax Partners logo

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.

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PitchBook Survey Highlights Growing Importance of ESG

A recent report by PitchBook is telling on several levels when it comes to the changing state of environmental, social and governance (ESG) management in private equity (PE).

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First, the survey highlights the growth in the number of PE firms, limited partners (LPs) and general partners (GPs) who are engaged on ESG issues. A whopping 84 percent of LPs told PitchBook that ESG is at least somewhat important when deciding whether to invest, and 24 percent said a strong ESG program could outweigh slightly lower historical performance. A majority of GP survey takers (60 percent) have an ESG program at their firm, up from 49 percent last year. Another 26 percent either are developing an ESG program or plan to do so in the near future. This year’s survey included 54 GP and 54 LP respondents, up from last year’s 48 GP and 4 LP respondents.

Then, there's the fact that a prominent industry publication like PitchBook is now regularly reporting on ESG. This is a pretty clear signal that ESG management is now a mainstream issue for private equity.

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Oak Hill Capital Partner’s first ESG report blazes a trail for the middle-market

This week, Oak Hill Capital Partners (Oak Hill) became the first U.S. middle-market private equity firm to publically report on its environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance.  Another first for Oak Hill and an extension of the ESG trend kicked off by industry leaders – including Carlyle and KKR – over the past few years.

Just last year, Oak Hill and EDF teamed up to demonstrate that opportunities to improve environmental performance were not limited to the mega buyout firms.  We worked together to create a methodology that mapped environmental management opportunities across Oak Hill’s portfolio based on potential environmental impacts, financial results, and management’s readiness to act.

Oak Hill’s new report discusses the firm’s work to expand its ESG efforts and shares its progress to date.  Last December, EDF released a new ESG management tool for the private equity sector.  The Tool is informed by our work in the private equity sector over the past five years and defines the practices needed to build a successful ESG management program.  Many of these best practices have been embedded in Oak Hill’s approach to ESG management and are evident in the firm’s first public report including:

1) Commitment from the top:  Successful ESG initiatives require strong commitment from the top. Oak Hill’s Responsible Investment Policy, ESG related trainings for the firm and its portfolio companies, and the commitment to publically report annually underscore the support for the firm’s leadership and commitment to make ESG management a core part of the way Oak Hill does business.

2) Integrating ESG into due diligence:  Collaborating with BSR to understand the key ESG risks and opportunities of potential investments is admirable, but it’s also smart business.  Just as we’ve seen in our partnerships with other leading private equity firms, integrating ESG into the due diligence process results in opportunities to reduce risks, increase efficiency, and improve performance.

3) Engaging with the right stakeholders leads to results: Private equity firms are increasingly building relationships with key stakeholder groups to gain new insights and improve operations.  Competing private equity firms take notice; three of Oak Hill’s portfolio companies have hosted EDF Climate Corps fellows.  EDF Climate Corps trains graduate students to quickly understand and improve the way organizations use energy by identifying lasting solutions with long-term financial and environmental benefits.  To date, over 30 private equity firms and portfolio companies have tapped in to this program to reduce energy use, cut greenhouse gas pollution, and save money.

In the past few years the private equity sector’s approach to ESG has evolved rapidly and we’ve been hearing from more and more players in the sector, including both asset managers and owners, about how to improve ESG performance.

Oak Hill is continuing to lead the charge in the middle-market.  The secret to Oak Hill’s successful ESG strategy is that there is no secret.

Any private equity firm can do this if they dedicate time and resources to the effort.  Luckily, the next firm to stand up to the challenge will have Oak Hill’s report as a blueprint.

A Hacker, a Hipster, and a Hustler Walk Into A Bar…

O.K. not a bar, but into the Manhattan Center’s Hammerstein Ballroom for the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon. Never heard of a Hackathon?  Well, until recently, I hadn’t either. It’s an event where teams of coders compete over a very short period of time to develop an app. As I learned, the “Hacking Dream Team” is to have a Hacker to do the guts of the app, the Hipster to focus on the look and feel of the app, and the Hustler to hold the project and team together. According to the event organizers, this was the best attended Hackathon TechCrunch has sponsored yet. Over 160 teams of coders competed to develop apps in less than 24 hours.

Attending the Hackathon was like getting a glimpse into the future and included demonstrations of 3-D printing and drones. Hundreds of coders hunched over their keyboards to crank out apps that ranged from the whimsical—such as the music app Game of Tones to the practical—like an app to help you with your job search called Career Hound—to those that combined the whimsical/practical such as RoboKeg.

KKR's Green Portfolio Program Reaps More than $900 Million

This week, KKR announced impressive results from the firm's five-year Green Portfolio Program: more than 1.8 million metric tons of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and $917 million in combined cost savings and new revenue for portfolio companies since 2008.

The Green Portfolio Program 's powerful trajectory stands as an example of the great things that can come out of a long-term partnership between a nonprofit like the Environmental Defense Fund and an innovative investment firm like KKR. We applaud KKR's continued commitment to increasingly make environmental, social and governance (ESG) management a central part of the firm's investment practices, strategy and methodologies. Read more

McDonald’s new paper coffee cups brewed from 23 years of hard work and NGO partnership

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is delighted to hear the good news from McDonald’s that it will transition away from polystyrene foam cups and opt for more sustainable fiber-based paper cups to serve hot coffee drinks in at its 14,000 U.S. restaurants. This is a significant step forward for the company — one that builds on decades of hard work.

Twenty-three years ago, EDF embarked on a partnership with McDonald’s to prove the business case for recycled paper packaging over polystyrene foam. In an era when environmental and business interests were typically not aligned, this was the first of its kind partnership between an environmental group and a Fortune 500 company.

The groundbreaking project ultimately phased out the old fashioned foam clamshell food containers at McDonald’s restaurants; eliminating more than 300 million pounds of packaging, recycling 1 million tons of corrugated boxes and reducing waste by 30 percent over a decade. Today, the majority of quick-service restaurants serve food in paper packaging.

Phasing out foam beverage cups is an important next step for McDonald’s and the industry as a whole, especially given the coffee culture that is our current way of life.

Just as EDF worked with McDonald’s to transform food packaging in the nineties, we then worked with Starbucks to transform coffee cup practices… and how far coffee cup practices have come.

When we first started looking at Starbucks, it was serving its hot brews in double stacked paper cups for the sake of its customer’s fingertips. This doubled the amount of solid waste the company created from hot beverage cups. EDF identified better solutions for keeping its customers’ hands cool. The result? In 1997 Starbucks introduced a corrugated paper coffee sleeve made from 60 percent postconsumer recycled fiber that was 45 percent lighter than the second cup it replaced.

Coffee sleeves seem anything but innovative nowadays, but the industry is continuing with its momentum on packaging. Tim Hortons, Canada’s leading quick-service restaurant, announced just last week that it has closed the loop on its coffee cups through its cup-to-tray project. The company collects coffee cups, lids, napkins and trays in recycling bins, sorts and compresses them, and ultimately turns old material into new trays.

So what have we learned over the past 23 years? Paper cups are far better than foam cups. One paper cup with a sustainable sleeve is better than two paper cups. And paper cups that can be recycled and turned into trays (or even better new cups) are really cool.

The industry is still far from perfect in regard to its beverage vessels though. EDF would like to see more of our leading coffee culture suppliers serving up a zero waste culture along with our venti-double-caff-mocha-cappuccinos.

Endless opportunities in ESG management for KKR (and other private equity firms)

Today, KKR released its 2012 ESG Report, which highlights that the firm faces significant obstacles as it continues to integrate ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) management throughout its investment process.  It also shows that KKR is prepared to live up to the challenge.

The firm's investment focus is increasingly global in nature and includes large investments in critical services like energy, healthcare and infrastructure, investments with enhanced responsibilities for the management of environmental and social issues.  In addition, recent developments including the Bangladesh clothing factory collapse and explosion at a natural gas well site in West Virginia have awakened more and more leading investors to the fact that environmental and social risks are increasingly material to investment performance.   

KKR’s latest report clearly shows that the firm has the necessary systems, processes and human capital to continue to evolve its already impressive ESG efforts.

In particular, the third annual ESG report highlights how an ESG effort can evolve at a committed private equity firm:

1)      The power of capital allocation: One action that stands out is KKR’s acknowledgement of the power of utilizing an ESG lens in the due diligence process.  Examples include not only better identifying potential ESG risks but also identifying new investment opportunities in renewable energy.  On page 21, KKR lays out its diligence process providing a framework for others to adapt.

2)      Acknowledging a need to further support natural gas investments:  Reducing the risks to public health and the environment from surging natural gas development is a top priority for EDF.  We see numerous opportunities for investors across the natural gas value chain to improve environmental management in these investments and we’re excited to see this commitment shared publicly by KKR.

3)      Green Portfolio Program kickstarted growth in other areas:  We are very proud to have partnered with KKR’s Green Portfolio program over the past five years.  Here’s why:

  1. As an environmental advocacy group, we feel the environmental results are meaningful.
  2. The financial results have excited the private equity sector about the opportunity that environmental management provides and inspired others to follow KKR’s lead.
  3. The impressive results of the Green Portfolio Program prompted KKR to expand its ESG efforts, launching new initiatives and partnerships that are positively impacting human rights, employee health and our nation’s veterans.

But perhaps the most informative part of this year’s report is on its very last pages.  KKR reports against its commitment to the United Nation’s Principles for Responsible Investment and highlights its goals for the coming year.  And it doesn’t appear KKR has any plans to slow down.

KKR's full report can be found at kkresg.com.

Malk Report highlights increasing influence of Institutional Investor on ESG in Private Equity

When Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) started its partnership with KKR five years ago, it would have been hard to anticipate the dramatic findings from Malk Sustainability Partners' report “ESG in Private Equity – 2013,” released Monday.

The private equity sector has rapidly shifted to understand the business imperative of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) management, with many different firms now making a public commitment to delivering measurable results.

What’s driving this trend?  The report suggests a few factors that we’ve also been seeing in the industry recently:

1)      A dramatic increase in the level of interest and leadership of a small but influential group of limited partners (LPs).  Fifty eight percent of the LPs surveyed said that they had increased their commitment.

2)      Since LP expectations are now cited as the largest driver for general partner (GP) action, increased LP focus likely is the primary force leading 74 percent of GPs surveyed to boost their commitment to ESG in the past 12 months.

3)      As is evidenced by the 14 different professionals quoted in the study, responsibility for ESG management is spreading to include several different job functions and operational areas, beyond the traditional domains of investor relations and general counsel.

Perhaps even more exciting is the indication from several of the participants that this interest from LPs is only growing stronger. While cost savings, revenue growth and reputation all are excellent drivers for increased ESG activity, hearing from a growing number of your clients about the importance of ESG management builds a sense of urgency that can drive even stronger results.

Overall, the report highlights a growing ecosystem within the sector that is driving firms to act now to deliver stronger environmental, social and financial results.

Carlyle's Annual Report Highlights $7 Million in ESG Savings

The Carlyle Group's annual report, released last week, highlights significant savings and environmental impact from the sustainability programs ongoing at Carlyle portfolio companies.  In addition, as Carlyle continues to branch out beyond buyouts it's showing an interest in integrating ESG into investment decisions in other asset classes, beginning with real estate.

Environmental initiatives have saved or are anticipated to save Carlyle portfolio companies $7 million while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by more than 31,000 metric tons, Carlyle said. This report marks the first year Carlyle has released measurable results and the third year of reporting on its environmental, social and governance (ESG) program.

We're excited to see these concrete results from the ESG initiatives that we’ve worked with Carlyle to develop in recent years.  By leveraging EcoValuScreen early in the due diligence phase Carlyle is able to create financial and environmental value from the beginning of their investment period.

The annual report describes more than a dozen portfolio companies' sustainability efforts including Yashili Group, Syniverse, RAC and Booz Allen Hamilton, with initiatives and status or outcome clearly listed — an important development for future accountability. We're particularly proud of the integral role that EDF's Climate Corps fellows have had in driving results.   Fellows have identified compelling energy efficiency opportunities at Carlyle's real estate portfolio and at specific portfolio companies including Booz, Dunkin Brands and Syniverse.

By integrating sustainability into the firm's annual report, Carlyle emphasizes that ESG is central to the investment direction and strategy, rather than a separate or peripheral interest area.

We’re excited to see Carlyle expand this effort and continue to demonstrate that sustainability can create value across multiple asset classes.