Tag Archives: Environment

We Haven’t Forgotten What We Do

Although Elm has invested much time and effort into our conflict minerals services over the past three years, we continue to provide our core services of HSE auditing and program development.

We gain new clients and engagements each year with much of that growth outside the US.

Those who have come to know us in the conflict minerals arena, we would be pleased to talk with you about how Elm can assist you with HSE audit program support.

Please do not hesitate to contact us with questions. We look forward to talking with you.

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.

Revision to SICMAP℠ Tool for Conflict Minerals, OECD Incorporates California Supply Chain Law

The Elm Consulting Group International LLC has released a new revision to the Self Implemented Conflict Minerals Audit Preparation Tool.  The update, Revision 1.33, incorporates

  • Minor changes in response to feedback obtained from the late June EICC Extractives Supply Chain Workshop VI in Washington DC;
  • Further clarifications on the OECD framework, its relationship to SICMAP℠  and SEC auditor standards; and
  • Related elements of California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010.

Lawrence M. Heim, CPEA, is leading the firm’s conflict minerals services and SICMAP℠ development:

In our discussions with various companies and workshop attendees, we obtained feedback on a few minor changes and clarifications to improve the tool.  In addition, we decided to incorporate the new California law as there are many similarities between those mandates and the conflict minerals requirements.

The video introduction and overview of SICMAP℠ can be viewed here.

Voluntary Environmental Management Standard Turns Into Third Party Whistleblower

It is not uncommon for EHS auditors to be asked (or ask themselves) “If you find a noncompliance during your audit, do you report it to the regulators?”

The answer depends on the company and audit program, but a recent news item caught our attention due to a variation on the theme.

We have no information other than what is publicly available here, but it appears that an organization managing a voluntary electronic waste management certification program found alleged significant non-conformities at a specific company seeking certification.  As a result, the organization declined to issue its certification to that company.

So far, so good, but the story doesn’t end there…

In its declination letter to the company, the organization states:

Further, there is substantial reason to believe that such exports may violate Public Act 095-0959 (Electronic Products Recycling and Reuse Act, recycler requirements) of the State of Illinois, the Federal CRT Rule, (40 CFR Parts 9, 260, 261, 271; Cathode Ray Tubes; Final Rule) as well as the waste importation laws of Hong Kong/China. Further, while it is not our policy to disclose the results of certifying body audits, we can state that the audit only further substantiated all of our concerns.

In an apparent contradiction to the “policy” referred to in the above statement, the organization’s cc’d “Selected news media”, the Illinois State Environmental Protection Agency and the US Environmental Protection Agency Enforcement on its letter, which can be seen below the signature block.

It is certainly possible that the company themselves had made prior disclosure to the regulators on this issue.  But this event may cause companies pursuing voluntary programs/certifications to carefully consider how the company and auditor will manage regulatory non-compliances that are found or alleged in the course of related audit activities.

UPDATE:  Reports today indicate that the company is taking legal action against the certifying organization stating that the allegations on which the organization based its decision – as well as its disclosure to the press and regulators – are false.

Elm Launches Groundbreaking Low Cost Conflict Minerals Audit Preparation Tool

Updated March 2012:  See our most recent announcement.

The Elm Consulting Group International LLC today announces a groundbreaking cost effective tool to support companies preparing for conflict minerals traceability audits or customer inquiries.

The delay in SEC’s final rule triggered many questions from companies about planning and pre-audit preparation.  This led us to a solution that is valuable in almost any foreseeable final regulation scope/content and companies planning responses to customer inquiries – yet significantly reduces costs during this period of uncertainty.

Elm’s Self-Implemented Conflict Minerals Audit Preparation© (SICMAP℠) is conceptually similar to a self-audit checklist.  SICMAP℠ is a spreadsheet tool that maximizes the use of internal company staff for cost reduction and implementation flexibility to develop and review conflict minerals programs in advance of third party auditing.

SICMAP℠ focuses on basic program elements equally relevant to companies responding to customer inquiries/procurement requirements and those working to comply with the upcoming SEC regulations on conflict minerals.   Successive and more complex tasks – for both program development and audit preparation – are identified based on initial SICMAP℠ findings, lessons learned from working through the SICMAP℠ process, and the final regulatory requirements once they are known.  The final rule, when published, will clarify the level of detail for some of the efforts.

Screenshots (which can be enlarged by clicking on them) show some of the features and functionality in SICMAP℠ include:

  • “At a glance” color-coding indicates progress/status of both program development and audit preparation
  • Live links to reference materials on the internet
  • Summaries of language from the U.S. legislation (which will not be changed by SEC’s final regulations)
  • Step-by-step pragmatic guidance on specific program elements
  • Highlights of emerging international initiatives in comparison/contrast to SEC audit standards
Sample Page Showing Detailed Guidance

Topics covered in an intuitive and pragmatic way include:

  • Initial scoping
  • Reasonable assurance and representative sampling concepts reflecting SEC auditor standards
  • Information management systems
  • Internal controls
  • Supply chain mapping
  • Communications planning and content
  • Scrap materials – special definitions and challenges in traceability efforts
  • Considerations in selecting an auditor and preparing for the site visit
Summary Tracking Page With Color Coding. This image shows covered topic tabs along the bottom.

The tool is based on Elm’s experience as one of four firms worldwide that have completed conflict minerals traceability independent audits. Elm’s tantalum traceability audits in 2010 resulted in the first ever “Conflict-Free Smelter” designation*, covering sites in the US and Japan.

We continue to recommend that companies move forward with planning activities, but defer third party audits until planning is substantially complete and the SEC regulations are final.  As with almost any new management program, a formal third party audit should be the last step of the implementation process – not the first.

SICMAP℠ will be commercially available beginning June 6, but feel free to contact us beforehand with questions.

* Issued by the industry association sponsoring the audits.  The Conflict Free Smelter (CFS) program is emerging as the leading conflict minerals third party certification program for smelters by the electronics industry.

Elm to Make Major Conflict Minerals Service Announcement May 31

On Tuesday May 31, The Elm Consulting Group International LLC will formally announce a major development in our conflict minerals traceability services.

Lawrence Heim, Elm Director and leader of the firm’s conflict minerals services:

SEC’s delay in promulgating their final conflict minerals rule has resulted in a significant amount of uncertainty within affected companies.  Many of these companies are challenged by cost constraints as they seek information, guidance and solutions to yet-unknown compliance standards.  Our announcement next week provides a highly cost-effective solution in balancing these challenges.

If you would like to receive the announcement and related information directly, send an email to Lheim@elmgroup.com.

Elm Featured in iPhoneLife Magazine for iPad Use

The new issue of iPhoneLife magazine highlights Elm’s use of iPads for environmental, health and safety audits in a short feature.

Unfortunately, the article indicates we use them for energy audits, which is not the case.  We have contacted the editor to inform them of their error.

Interestingly enough, the current issue also reviews various notetaking apps for anyone interested in reading up on the subject.

SEC Provides Preview of April 15 Final Rules on Conflict Minerals Supply Chain Traceability

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FOR AN UPDATE ON SEC’S DELAY OF THE FINAL RULE, CLICK HERE.

As veterans of regulatory research, we are accustomed to spending hours poring over a plethora of governmental regulations, background documents, guidance and other reports.  Our work with conflict minerals supply chain traceability and SEC’s regulations has been no different.  In addition to having completed such audits, we have read and re-read

  • the proposed SEC regulation and its preamble;
  • the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Materials from Conflict-Affected and High Risk Areas, and the Supplement on Tin, Tantalum and Tungsten;
  • the ISO 19011 standard;
  • comments submitted to the SEC on the proposed regulation (approximately 700 total comments were submitted, of which 433 were standard form letters.  Of the remaining 270, approximately 75% provide substantive content);
  • hundreds of relevant media reports, legal advisories and NGO documents;
  • various auditor standards under SEC, including Government Accounting Office Government Accounting Standards GAO-07-731G, AICPA Statements on Standards for Attestation Engagements (SSAEs); and
  • industry commentary and alerts on the topic.

Yesterday, we completed an analysis of the 263-page report from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) titled US Securities and Exchange Commission Organizational Study and ReformMarch 10, 2011 to see what insight might be hidden therein on the upcoming final conflict minerals regulations.

BCG’s report establishes the ultimate context for the other documents which, in turn, essentially provides a preview of the final rule.  Our opinion is that SEC will meet the statutory deadline of April 15 with a rule that will:

  • clarify procedural aspects, such as applicable audit standards (i.e., GAO-07-731G, AICPA SSAE, etc), the need for annual audits and the question of “furnishing” versus “filing” the report;
  • establish a materiality threshold for conflict minerals content in products;
  • specifically exclude retailers and contract manufacturing arrangements under certain conditions;
  • defer most substantive compliance requirements to allow further study; and
  • defer the initial reporting compliance date.

By doing this, SEC can meet competing priorities with which it is currently struggling.  Such a rule would appease the regulated community and buy SEC time, while allowing SEC to claim victory in meeting the legal deadline.  During the deferral period, we expect SEC will implement its overarching organizational restructuring and internal risk assessment processes spelled out in the BCG report, then come to a final position on Section 1502(b).

What does this mean for companies impacted by the due diligence/audit requirements?

We have written and directly counseled clients and others on business risks associated with completing the audits in advance of the final SEC rules.  As we see it, the risks are somewhat different depending on your company:

  • Companies directly regulated by SEC. Audits conducted “pre-rule” risk being non-compliant with the final SEC requirements.  Early adopters may be faced with paying for audits a second time to achieve compliance.  Reputational damage is possible where companies publicize or market the results of audits that are non-conforming to the final rule.  At an extreme, companies could face lawsuits over nonconforming audits in a manner similar to lawsuits filed for non-GAAP financial reporting or certain corporate social responsibility reports.
  • Privately-held companies responding to customer demands. For these companies, the risk is not compliance oriented, but centers on unnecessary costs and reputational damage.  Where customers demand this information of suppliers, the demands must be met.  The question becomes is SEC compliance driving the customer’s request?  If so, (assuming our prediction is correct) the customer’s need may not be so urgent or burdensome as originally thought; and early adopter efforts on the supplier’s part may be overkill/overly expensive in light of a rule deferral period.  Legal action from customers who rely on the “pre-rule” audit information and reputational damage are both possible where companies publicize or market the results of audits that are non-conforming to the final rule.  Suppliers would be wise to work with customers to find an acceptable balance between the drivers, timing, scope and cost.

Companies want to be proactive and responsible corporate citizens.  But we live in a command-and-control legal setting – combined with third-party lawsuits and governmental performance metrics that incentivize fines, penalties/aggressive enforcement.  Early action in a time of regulatory uncertainty carries risk.  In US corporate sustainability activities, this is perhaps most vividly demonstrated by last year’s complete collapse of the voluntary US GHG emissions trading market – specifically established in advance of US legal requirements on GHGs to create “first mover advantage”.

Elm continues to recommend that companies move forward with implementation evaluation, scoping and planning activities, but wait for SEC’s rule to be finalized before conducting audits.

Elm’s iPad Auditing Featured in One of the World’s Most Visited Websites

Elm is featured in today’s issue of the on-line news source Mashable for our innovative use of the iPad for HSE auditing.  The article can be read here.

With a reported 30+ million monthly pageviews and an Alexa ranking under 250, Mashable ranks as one of the world’s largest websites. The website has a large following on many social networks.  As of February 2011, it has over 2 million Twitter followers and over 425,000 fans on Facebook.

Elm Hosts Webinar on Using the iPad in HSE Auditing

Join us for an upcoming webinar Friday, February 25 about using the iPad in HSE audits.  We will present an overview of our experiences in using the device on actual audits over the past 6 months.

Included in the presentation will be a discussion of

  • evaluating its potential use and fit within organizations/existing audit processes;
  • benefits and limitations; and
  • a detailed step-by-step simulation of an audit using Elm’s selected application (smartNotes), including actual screen shots.

The hour-long presentation will be followed by an open question and answer period.

Click here for a full description.  There will be a morning session and an afternoon session.  Click here for the afternoon session.

We hope you can participate.