Tag Archives: carbon disclosure

Analysis: Has Public Opinion About Conflict Minerals Impacted Consumer Electronics Sales?

The Elm Consulting Group International LLC has released an analysis of whether a discernible correlation exists between consumer sentiment on conflict minerals and consumer buying decisions in the electronics industry.  The report provides valuable insight to companies planning conflict minerals management programs, public messaging initiatives and related internal expectations.

We recognize that 2011 is the first year of broad public awareness about conflict minerals.  It is possible there has not been enough time for the topic to have permeated consumer consciousness and priorities.  In addition, perhaps the consumer sentiment rankings we relied on are not viewed as valid, credible, accurate or actionable by the general public*.  These points are valid, but this is the best information currently available.

The analysis concludes:

Based on the findings from this small sample, consumers are not likely to differentially punish or reward companies (in financially material sales figures) in response to conflict minerals disclosures or programs, at least in the near term.

Supporting this conclusion, we highlighted a contrast between HP and Apple.  For 2011, HP ranked number 1 in the Enough Project ratings; Apple ranked in the middle tier of the ratings and also was the subject of intense public criticism over corporate social responsibility matters, specifically including its conflict minerals status.  Yet HP’s consumer products revenues fell 2% (2011 compared to 2010), in contrast to Apple’s 66% increase in the same period.  Factors other than conflict minerals appear to be far more relevant to each company’s financial performance.

* Note:  Inclusion of and references to the Enough Project, Raise Hope for Congo and Getting to Conflict Free is not an endorsement, nor do we imply the rankings are valid, credible or accurate.  Our use of the rankings only reflects (a) the limitation that no other specifically-targeted indicators currently exist and (b) that they are intended for the general public/consumers.

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EHS Journal Article on Sustainability, Financial Valuation

Recently, Elm posted a piece discussing comments from Kevin Parker, the CEO of Deutsche Asset Management, an investment firm with three-fourths of US$1 trillion under management.

We expanded that original post for EHS Journal, who just published it.  The expanded version dives deeper into trends in the past decade supporting Parker’s assessment of why capital markets are bullish on carbon-intensive investment opportunities even in light of this era of sustainability.

View the article in its entirety here.

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An Inconvenient Reality For Environmental/Sustainability Professionals?

For years, those of us in the environmental/sustainability profession have sought credible ways and metrics for quantifying the economic value of our efforts, activities and programs.  A myriad of studies completed dating back to the late 1980s attempt to demonstrate “environmental value”.  Most of these studies have shown rather tenuous linkages or used meaningless metrics.

Interestingly, most of these studies link to equity markets – i.e., stock prices.  Maybe because stock prices grab headlines, are tied to compensation or are the target to which Boards and senior executive generally manage.

The problem is that environmental/sustainability matters don’t fit into this model, either because they tend not to be financially material, or they don’t develop economic certainty within the “current quarter” myopia of corporate management, financial markets and analysts.

A recent article on the topic was published in The International News.  The article includes an interview with Kevin Parker, CEO of Deutsche Asset Management (DeAM) on the subject of how capital markets currently view environmental/sustainability risks.  DeAM manages over US$775 billion in assets.

With simplicity, clarity and unquestionable credibility from the financial market viewpoint, Parker made key points in the article and interview:

  • Bond markets are poised to punish polluting companies in the aftermath of the Macondo oil spill and Fukushima nuclear crisis.
  • “The process of re-pricing carbon and environmental risk has begun, because these two events were catastrophic.”
  • By contrast, shorter-term equity and commodity markets have continued to chase high-carbon opportunities, including voracious emerging market demand for coal.
  • But investors in longer-term debt including bonds will increasingly avoid unsustainable companies … an inexorable trend that will push up their borrowing costs.
  • “What this boils down to be risk in capital markets, and capital markets know how to price risk once they understand it.”

Pension investment managers realized this years ago since they emphasize stability and a long-term investment horizon.

But there seems to be far less recognition of this by environmental/sustainability practitioners, as the amount of studies, white papers and pseudo-financial metrics is mounting, with continued emphasis on the equities side of capital markets.  Perhaps the driving forces for this are general economic pressures facing companies are pushing staff to find ways to justify their existence and cost, consultants are trying to come up with that elusive short-term ROI metric for the cost of their services to clients and much of the HSE/sustainability media are vying for limited attention on the part of their readership.

Given Parker’s comments – and the lackluster historical success of valuation of environmental/sustainability matters in the context of stock prices – perhaps it is time to redirect our efforts at finding relevant and credible metrics.

In limited circumstances, financial value of environmental/sustainability initiatives can manifest in material and short-term impacts.  Those instances give practitioners hope of riding those coattails.  But generally, the reality is a little inconvenient.

Are Your Internal Accounting Processes Ready for the SEC’s Climate Risk Interpretive Guidance?

Sure, there are some business risks that are readily identifiable to conform to the SEC’s Climate Risk Assessment Interpretive Guidance.  Things like:

  • Property damage from storms and sea level changes
  • Increased costs related to new pollution controls and fuels
  • Changes in customer procurement requirements.

But read about the supply chain constraint that the UK energy company E.ON brought forward in a Reuters report:

Lack of investment in the vessels used to build offshore wind farms could hinder Britain’s ambitions to shift to renewable energy, the head of E.ON UK’s Robin Rigg wind project told Reuters at the operations center in Workington, northwest England.

Britain aims to install 32 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind by 2020, enough to meet a quarter of the country’s electricity needs, and although there has been investment in turbines factories and ports, a lack of vessels could curtail targets.

“The targets are very ambitious and the supply chain isn’t there for it to materialize. It definitely has to grow,” Ian Johnson, Robin Rigg offshore wind farm project manager said. “Aside from turbines, vessels to install equipment are expensive,” said Johnson adding that a lack of predictability over upcoming wind farm projects in the past had caused a squeeze on construction vessels as builders rush to use the small stock already built.

Vessel builders in the past have asked: “When’s the next project going to come along? Where’s the continuity for me in the supply chain?”

Reliance on third parties – over which you have little control – to implement business plans could be an overlooked risk in the context of the Interpretive Guidance.  Further, entering into long-term contracts or guarantees with third parties to ensure infrastructure for deployment create additional financial risks.

McKinsey Study on Sustainability

Last month, McKinsey & Co. published a study titled “How companies manage sustainability”.  The survey was conducted in February 2010 and received responses from 1,946 executives representing a wide range of industries.

The fact that the topic of sustainability is significant enough for McKinsey to conduct this analysis is notable.  The study itself is short and it is easy to distill the major themes presented.

Theme 1:  “Sustainability” has no defined definition

… many [companies] have no clear definition of [sustainability]. Overall, 20 percent of executives say their companies don’t. Among those that do, the definition varies: 55 percent define sustainability as the management of issues related to the environment (for example, greenhouse gas emissions, energy efficiency, waste management, green-product development, and water conservation). In addition, 48 percent say it includes the management of governance issues (such as complying with regulations, maintaining ethical practices, and meeting accepted industry standards), and 41 percent say it includes the management of social issues (for instance, working conditions and labor standards). Fifty-six percent of all the respondents define sustainability in two or more ways.

Theme 2:  What gets measured gets managed, or vice versa

[E]xecutives [of proactive companies] … are more aware than executives at other companies of the metrics their companies track. For example, 84 percent of respondents at engaged companies are aware of whether their companies measure their carbon footprint, compared with 40 percent of respondents at less engaged companies. More importantly, among the group that is aware of what’s being tracked, the engaged companies are far more likely to be tracking relevant sustainability indicators such as waste, energy and water use, and labor standards for their suppliers and consumers.

Theme 3:  Implicit in sustainability leadership within the energy industry is risk management

… senior executives in the energy industry take an active approach to managing sustainability, likely because of the potential for regulation and increasing natural-resource constraints. Indeed, 10 percent of energy executives say addressing sustainability is the top priority on their CEOs’ agendas (versus 3 percent overall), and 31 percent say it’s a top-three priority (versus 22 percent overall). Further, energy executives are much likelier than others to be active in seeking opportunities to invest in sustainability (40 percent versus 28 percent), to integrate it into their companies’ business practices (43 percent versus 29 percent), and to shape regulation actively (29 percent versus 16 percent).

Theme 4:  Risk assessment and quantification is severely lacking

only about 35 percent of executives say their companies have quantified the potential impact of environmental and social regulation on their businesses; only 40 percent feel prepared to deal with regulation in the next three to five years and are personally confident about handling climate change issues.

Failure to reach an agreement in the recent Copenhagen UN Climate Change Conference was seen by respondents to this survey as twice as likely to increase uncertainty (30 percent) related to climate change regulation as to decrease it (15 percent); 55 percent say they saw no difference.

Those of us who have been in the EHS risk management/sustainability world for awhile will not find any of this new information.  But McKinsey’s brand behind this may bring valuable C-level credibility to the need to fill the information gaps.

“Surprised and Concerned” About Illegitimate Government-Sponsored CER Trading?

Environmental Leader has reported

that the Hungarian government sold 2 million previously used CERs, the market became tepid. Then when prices fell from more than 12 euro per credit to less than one euro, trading was suspended on two exchanges, Bluenext and Nord Pool.

The NYT provided more details of the transaction, stating

The credits appear to be part of massive blocks of CERs awarded to Eastern European states and Russia after the collapse of Soviet-era industry.  This created a loophole used by Hungary to reintroduce used CERs back into the market…

Carbon traders said countries like Hungary were exploiting the loophole to earn more money from the carbon trading system than they could by selling the credits that they had previously earned under the Kyoto system…

The traders said at least one other E.U. member state had acted similarly earlier this year.

The EU said they were “surprised and concerned” about the situation.  BusinessWeek quoted others who expressed more urgency about the matter:

“The supply and demand dynamics have been changed,” said Paul Kelly, chief executive officer of JPMorgan’s EcoSecurities unit. While the scope of the problem has yet to be determined, buyers are “questioning the authenticity” of what they are buying.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only recent development that may cause market participants concern.  This is just the latest in a barrage of credibility and financial damage for GHG emissions trading, including:

  • Last year swindlers robbed governments of about 5 billion euros in revenues — about $6.8 billion — by selling carbon credits and disappearing before paying the required Value Added Tax on the transactions.
  • In January, swindlers used faked e-mail messages to obtain access codes for individual accounts on national registries that make up the bloc’s Emission Trading System, and then used the stolen codes to gain access to electronic certificates that represent quantities of greenhouse gases.
  • In Australia, recent fraud enforcement involved forcing a green power company, Global Green Plan, to purchase carbon credits it had promised to buy on behalf of customers, but never did.  The government is currently pursuing action against carbon capture company Prime Carbon over allegedly misleading claims made by the firm.
  • In Belgium, authorities have charged three Britons suspected of value added taxes (VAT) fraud on CO2 emissions permits.

In the U.S.,  the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a group of Northeastern U.S. states that have a cap-and-trade program for utilities, faced its own demons.

  • The New Jersey government reallocated about $65 million in funds raised in the RGGI auction. The funds were intended for use in developing renewable energy projects, but instead are going to the state’s general fund, Reuters reports.
  • Last year, New York similarly took $90 million from its carbon fund.

So Now What?

Companies with a major stake in the GHG emissions game must conduct a detailed risk assessment of their GHG programs, solutions and exposures.  Given what has developed in the trading market in the past six months, it would be wide to carry out exposure identification, failure analyses, contingency planning and desktop exercises.

Such analyses and assessments may be critical for publicly traded companies in the United States due to SEC’s recent announcement and the newly effective EPA rule requiring reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel suppliers and industrial gas suppliers, direct greenhouse gas emitters and manufacturers of heavy-duty and off-road vehicles and engines.

Lawrence Heim, Director of The Elm Consulting Group International’s Atlanta office, said

Close to 10 years ago, I began posing the question ‘what if the GHG emissions trading market collapses?’  Assuming cohesive legally-enforceable emissions standards existed, the cost proposition presented by emissions trading in comparison to capital expenditures for pollution control equipment was quite attractive.  The impact of a material failure of the trading framework was significant.  This line of thought became incorporated into client risk assessments even back then.

In the US, we can look at the pollution control expenditures related to EPA’s New Source Review (NSR) enforcement initiative to provide insight into GHG control equipment costs.  Of course, NSR enforcement involves pollutants for which there are well-established and commercially-viable emissions control technologies.  We don’t have that luxury with carbon dioxide, which will likely translate into dramatically higher costs.

Further erosion of the viability of GHG emissions trading could have a significant impact on your company.  Please contact us if you would like to understand more about climate business risk assessments and potential risk mitigation options.

The Elm Consulting Group International, LLC and Sentiment360 Announce Solution to Reputational Risk Component of SEC Interpretive Guidance on Climate Risk Assessment

Use of New Technology Tracks Public Perception of Companies’ Sustainability/Climate Programs

In the Federal Register dated February 8, 2010 (75 Fed. Reg. 6290), The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) published its Interpretive Guidance on financial disclosure/reporting requirements as they apply to climate change matters, which is EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY.  Among the specific risk factors that SEC highlighted in this Interpretive Guidance is the potential business risk associated public opinion/reputational risk.  SEC stated:

Another example of a potential indirect risk from climate change that would need to be considered for risk factor disclosure is the impact on a registrant’s reputation. Depending on the nature of a registrant’s business and its sensitivity to public opinion, a registrant may have to consider whether the public’s perception of any publicly available data relating to its greenhouse gas emissions could expose it to potential adverse consequences to its business operations or financial condition resulting from reputational damage.

In response to this SEC mandate, The Elm Consulting Group International, LLC has partnered with Sentiment360, a global online monitoring company that delivers new media business intelligence SaaS solutions. With offices in the US, UK and the Philippines, Sentiment360 has a proven track record in collecting, analyzing, understanding and responding to online content, be it social media (mircrosites, blogs, forums, etc.), traditional media, video sites, image sites, and more.  Sentiment360 analysis can be delivered on-demand via a wide variety of customizable web dashboards.

“Combining the leading edge data tracking and analytics of Sentiment360 with Elm’s sustainability, climate and risk assessment expertise creates a unique solution to meeting SEC’s requirements,” said Lawrence Heim, Director in Elm’s Atlanta office.  “Our team can aggregate real-time unfiltered public opinion data without the need for surveys, screen it for relevance to sustainability/climate, and frame it in a business risk context. This will provide clients with ready-to-use information in a dramatic labor- and cost-saving manner.”

Heim continued, “Publicly-traded companies that sell products or services outside the US must assess their climate reputation risk globally to adequately determine their business risk and potential reporting needs.  Sentiment360’s worldwide data aggregation and tracking capabilities make this easy.  Elm’s global sustainability and risk expertise can assist in understanding cultural contexts of the subject matter as well.”

Sentiment360, with offices in the US, UK and the Philippines, delivers new media business intelligence SaaS solutions. As a spin-off from the Global Reach group of outsourcing companies, S360 has been offering new media analysis solutions through indirect channels since 2006. As of January 2010, S360 has begun selling directly to end-user clients under the Sentiment360 brand.

As a provider via 3rd party partners we have delivered new media analysis for a variety of entities including advertising and PR agencies, manufacturers, governments, law enforcement and more. As of January 2010, we have become the preferred provider for several global communications firms. More information is available at www.sentiment360.com.

Details and Excerpts from the SEC’s Climate Risk Disclosure Interpretive Guidance

As we previously reported, the SEC issued their interpretive guidance concerning the need for publicly-traded companies to identify, assess and (if necessary) report climate-related business risks within existing SEC reports.  This interpretive guidance document was published in the Federal Register of February 8, 2010.

Elm has reviewed this publication and provides the following excerpts that we feel may be most critical to companies who are looking to address the requirements of the new Interpretive Guidance.    These excerpts may be slightly edited for length and clarity, but we have attempted to ensure that substantive information remains as in the publication.

The Commission has not quantified … a specific future time period that must be considered in assessing the impact of a known trend, event or uncertainty that is reasonably likely to occur. As with any other judgment required by Item 303, the necessary time period will depend on a registrant’s particular circumstances and the particular trend, event or uncertainty under consideration.

[Management] should not limit the information that management considers in making its determinations. Improvements in technology and communications in the last two decades have significantly increased the amount of financial and non-financial information that management has and should evaluate, as well as the speed with which management receives and is able to use information. While this should not necessarily result in increased MD&A disclosure, it does provide more information that may need to be considered in drafting MD&A disclosure. In identifying, discussing and analyzing known material trends and uncertainties, registrants are expected to consider all relevant information even if that information is not required to be disclosed, and, as with any other disclosure judgments, they should consider whether they have sufficient disclosure controls and procedures to process this information.

If management cannot make a determination concerning the known trend, demand, commitment, event or uncertainty likely to come to fruition, it must evaluate objectively the consequences of the known trend, demand, commitment, event or uncertainty, on the assumption that it will come to fruition. Disclosure is then required unless management determines that a material effect on the registrant’s financial condition or results of operations is not reasonably likely to occur.’’  Identifying and assessing known material trends and uncertainties generally will require registrants to consider a substantial amount of financial and non-financial information available to them, including information that itself may not be required to be disclosed.

Registrants should consider specific risks they face as a result of climate change legislation or regulation and avoid generic risk factor disclosure that could apply to any company.

Management must determine whether legislation or regulation, if enacted, is reasonably likely to have a material effect on the registrant, its financial condition or results of operations.

Examples of possible consequences of pending legislation and regulation related to climate change include:

  • Costs to purchase, or profits from sales of, allowances or credits under a ‘‘cap and trade’’ system;
  • Costs required to improve facilities and equipment to reduce emissions in order to comply with regulatory limits or to mitigate the financial consequences of a ‘‘cap and trade’’ regime; and
  • Changes to profit or loss arising from increased or decreased demand for goods and services produced by the registrant arising directly from legislation or regulation, and indirectly from changes in costs of goods sold.

We reiterate that climate change regulation is a rapidly developing area.  Registrants need to regularly assess their potential disclosure obligations given new developments.

Registrants also should consider, and disclose when material, the impact on their business of treaties or international accords relating to climate change.

Depending on the nature of a registrant’s business and its sensitivity to public opinion, a registrant may have to consider whether the public’s perception of any publicly available data relating to its greenhouse gas emissions could expose it to potential adverse consequences to its business operations or financial condition resulting from reputational damage.

Significant physical effects of climate change, such as effects on the severity of weather (for example, floods or hurricanes), sea levels, the arability of farmland, and water availability and quality.

Possible consequences of severe weather could include:

  • For registrants with operations concentrated on coastlines, property damage and disruptions to operations, including manufacturing operations or the transport of manufactured products;
  • Indirect financial and operational impacts from disruptions to the operations of major customers or suppliers from severe weather, such as hurricanes or floods;

Clearly, SEC’s position is that such a risk identification and assessment framework be robust and extend far beyond a technical environmental scope.

These excerpts are presented for convenience and informational purposes only and should not be solely relied on in developing appropriate information/response to the SEC requirements.  Qualified expertise should be engaged to properly meet these requirements.

Legal Community Begins to Weigh in on SEC Interpretive Guidance

Now that SEC’s Interpretive Guidance has been published, legal experts are beginning to comment publicly about the Guidance, its meaning and implementation.  The legal analyses generally agree that publicly-traded companies will need to significantly change their current environmental risk assessment practices and/or should look to outside experts on risk assessment techniques.

Some of these comments were recently published in an article in Law.com.  Excerpts from that article are below:

Jane Kroesche, head of the West Coast environmental transactions practice at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom:

… meeting the new requirements will not just be a matter of “plugging language” into the business discussion or legal proceedings section, where companies usually make environmental disclosures.

“It is a very broad-reaching guidance.  It’s important for companies to understand that it’s not just about disclosing the impact from emissions regulations. It goes way beyond that.”

Robert O’Connor, head of the clean tech practice at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati:

… the challenge for corporations under these new guidelines will be twofold. Companies must have the infrastructure in place to know whether there is something to disclose. And, they must find out if they are responsible for carbon emissions along their whole supply chain, or just some of it.

“It is very early. For many companies, it will not rise to the level of materiality, but I do think that all companies need to ask the question, ‘Do I have the procedures and systems in place to know one way or the other?'”

Other leading firms have issued client alerts on the SEC’s action.

King & Spalding stated

… companies should ensure that they have sufficient controls and procedures in place to process relevant information. Most companies in the energy and insurance industries have in-house professionals that are well versed in climate change related issues and will be able to quickly make an assessment of whether additional disclosure is required in light of the guidance. However, the guidance could impact companies in a range of industries, some of which may not have regularly monitored these issues in the past. All companies should consider whether additional in-house training or periodic consultation with outside advisors is advisable to supplement existing controls.

McDermott Will & Emery made the following comments:

Under previous SEC guidance… known trends and other uncertain events do not need to be disclosed if they are not reasonably likely to come to fruition.  However, if management cannot make that determination, disclosure is required unless management determines that the occurrence of such known trend or other uncertain event would not be reasonably likely to have a material impact on the registrant’s financial condition or operations.  Registrants should also address in the MD&A, when material, the difficulties involved in assessing the effect of the amount and timing of uncertain events, and provide where possible an indication of the time periods in which resolution of the uncertainties is anticipated.

Elm is unique in our risk assessment experience and capabilities.  We have conducted environmental risk assessments in the past that included detailed reviews of climate risk exposures that are aligned with the SEC’s new guidance.  Please contact us with questions about how we can assist you.

Dark Clouds on the Climate Horizon

In 2009, there was a general sense in the US that some regulatory and economic certainty would finally be established relative to greenhouse gases, and CO2 in particular.  The current administration made highly public moves and statements to that effect, which were mirrored by action in Congress and the Senate.  EPA issued its finding of endangerment.  And there was significant optimism that the COP15 Copenhagen meeting would bear fruit.

Fast forward to February 2010.  There has been quite a shift in direction and now there is arguably more business risk related to CO2/GHG than there was going into 2009.  Among recent highlights:

  • Nike formally announced that they are abandoning the use of carbon offsets and Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), citing, among other concerns:

there is substantial scrutiny of the use of RECs, in particular related to whether they in fact help create new renewable power, or whether they are simply payment to a project that would have existed anyway. … Moving forward, however, our preference is to achieve climate neutrality through a combination of energy efficiency and the purchase of more direct forms of renewable energy, through on-site applications and other means.

  • The German Emissions Trading Authority (DEHSt) computer system was hacked and fraudulent European Union carbon allowance transactions were completed.  Read a report here.
  • Europol, the European law enforcement agency, reported on December 9, 2009 that

the European Union (EU) Emission Trading System (ETS) has been the victim of fraudulent traders in the past 18 months. This resulted in losses of approximately 5 billion euros for several national tax revenues.

As an immediate measure to prevent further losses France, the Netherlands, the UK and most recently Spain, have all changed their taxation rules on these transactions. After these measures were taken, the market volume in the aforementioned countries dropped by up to 90 percent.

  • The Copenhagen meeting failed to achieve the concrete results that had been expected.
  • The accuracy and veracity of data published by key climate scientists was called into question, creating the “Climategate” scandal.
  • The UK government published a report supporting a fixed price or auction reserve on carbon emissions over the current market-driven cap and trade.
  • National-level climate bills in the US are no longer getting the support they enjoyed in 2009.  Read more.
  • Arizona declined to participate in a regional GHG trading program, citing the difficult economy.

However, in contrast to the overarching trend, the US did see two important developments.  First, EPA promulgated its CO2 emissions reporting regulation in October 2009, which is effective calendar year 2010.  Second, SEC issued Interpretive Guidance on the inclusion of climate risks in financial disclosures.

There continues to be significant  uncertainty related to the financial value/risk of climate-related activities.  And that is not likely to change in the near future.