Domini Chief Investment Officer Steve Lydenberg, in collaboration with Jean Rogers of the consulting firm Arup and David Wood of the Initiative for Responsible Investment, has published From Transparency to Performance: Industry-Based Sustainability Reporting on Key Issues.
The authors believe that mandatory sustainability reporting is urgently needed in the U.S. and that the development of industry-based key performance indicators can play a crucial role in any such mandatory reporting scheme.
"It is our hope," they write, "that establishing KPIs [key performance indicators] for all sectors will enable companies to move from a compliance driven 'disclosure' mindset to one of managing — and even competing on — performance on the sustainability issues that matter most."
The reports builds on the important work done by the Global Reporting Initiative in establishing a "credible set of universally applicable indicators" and outlines a method for the development of KPIs within the context of this broader set of indicators.
This method for developing KPIs relies on three principles: simplicity, materiality, and transparency. This method should be useful for regulators and stock exchanges considering target requirements, corporations seeking to improve their sustainability reporting, and stakeholders and investors who wish to improve their assessment of the progress of companies toward sustainability.
Domini Chief Investment Officer Steve Lydenberg and sustainability investment strategist Graham Sinclair of Sinclair & Company have published "Mainstream or Daydream? The Future for Responsible Investing" (PDF) in the April 2009 issue of the Journal of Corporate Citizenship,
The article begins by surveying the state of responsible investing today, then poses — and answers — three key questions for each of three stakeholders: corporations, institutional investors, and financial and academic communities:
- Can the widely accepted definition of the role of the corporation as a short-term profit-maximizing machine be changed, and, if so, how?
- Will corporations come to recognize that rule-setting by government can enhance their abilities to address social and environmental challenges, and, if so, why?
- Can corporations work cooperatively with government to define the relationship between these two powerful forces so that the pursuit of private goods does not undercut the creation of public goods?
- Should the goal of investing encompass broad benefits to society as well as short-term, price-based returns, and, if so, in what ways?
- Should politics be separated from investment decision-making, and, if so, who is to make this distinction?
- Should the practice of responsible investment be applied across asset classes, and, if so, is this practice the same for all classes?
Financial and academic communities
- Should the value of investments be assessed in terms other than stock price, and, if so, what is the yardstick for such measurement?
- Should responsible investing be legitimized as a key part of the investment process, and, if so, through what means?
- Can individual investors be active enough "financial citizens" to make responsible investing a reality, and, if not, why not?
The answers to these questions, the authors say, could point the way to fundamental changes in the relations between corporations, government, and society in general, as well as the basic principles on which the financial community operates.
Domini officials contributed two chapters to Finance for a Better World: The Shift Toward Sustainability, a new book on sustainable investing published by Palgrave Macmillan. The two chapters focus on how socially responsible investing can address short-term thinking in our financial markets and improve corporate human rights performance, respectively.
Steve Lydenberg, Domini's Chief Investment Officer, argues that socially responsible investing can remedy the short-term thinking that has plagued our financial markets. "An excessive focus on short-term profits has various detrimental effects," writes Lydenberg. "It causes corporate managers to misallocate assets. It introduces dangerous volatility into financial markets. It means society must divert productive resources to repairing environmental and social damage done in the headlong pursuit of profits." Lydenberg suggests that social investing, with its focus on long-term social and environmental sustainability, can help to refocus finance on the long-term.
Adam Kanzer, Domini's Managing Director and General Counsel, draws on his experience as the head of Domini's shareholder activism program in a chapter examining the use of shareholder proposals to address corporate human rights performance. His chapter outlines the legal basis for these proposals and shows how nonbinding shareholder proposals have successfully influenced corporate behavior even when they fall far short of a majority vote. He points out, for example, that the shareholder proposals that helped bring Reverend Leon Sullivan to the Board of General Motors received less than 3% of the vote. Sullivan later authored the Sullivan Principles to guide businesses in apartheid-era South Africa, which played an important role in ending apartheid.
- Steve Lydenberg, "Building the Case for Long-Term Investing in Stock Markets: Breaking Free from the Short-Term Measurement Dilemma" (Read pdf)
- Adam Kanzer, "The Use of Shareholder Proposals to Address Corporate Human Rights Performance" (Read pdf)
According to its publisher, Finance for a Better World "provides an overview of current advances regarding the integration of sustainability in the financial sector. Its originality lies in the fact that it does not focus exclusively on a particular aspect of this emerging trend, but instead, presents various illustrations — or instance in the fields of SRI, sustainable banking or innovative investments — of what can be considered as the beginning of a paradigm shift in global finance."
The book was edited by Henri-Claude de Bettignies, the EU Chair Distinguished Professor of Global Governance and China-Europe Business Relations at CEIBS, Shanghai, China and François Lépineux, a Research Fellow at INSEAD, and Professor and Head of the Center for Responsible Business at ESC Rennes School of Business, Brittany, France.
From Finance for a Better World: The Shift Toward Sustainability (Palgrave Macmillan, April 2009)
(Earthscan, December 2008)
GreenMoney Journal, May/June 2007
Originally Appeared in the Journal of Corporate Citizenship (Autumn 2002)
Within the past five years, socially responsible investing ( SRI ) along with the related discipline of corporate social responsibility ( CSR ) have attracted worldwide attention. The strong momentum behind these two movements implies that they will soon work their way into the mainstream of the financial and corporate worlds. Much needs to happen, however, before they are fully integrated...
In 2002, Amy looked to the future of socially responsible investing, noting that we stood at a tipping point in history.
New York, NY – Domini Social Investments, manager of the Domini Social Equity Fund (NASDAQ: DSEFX), the nation's oldest and largest socially responsible index fund, announced today that it has filed nine shareholder resolutions for the 2002 proxy season and is engaged in ten separate dialogues with companies on a range of social and environmental issues.
"Responsible investing requires responsible ownership," said Amy Domini, Founder and a Managing Principal of Domini Social Investments. "By filing shareholder proposals on social and environmental issues, and through constructive dialogue with companies, we are helping to make corporations more accountable to their stockholders, employees, communities and the environment."
Several of Domini's 2002 shareholder initiatives involve the sweatshop issue, on which the firm has been active for a number of years. In addition to filing shareholder resolutions with The Gap (NYSE: GPS) and Sears, Roebuck (NYSE: S) this season, Domini is also engaged in dialogue with The Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS), McDonald's (NYSE: MCD) and Nordstrom (NYSE: JWN) regarding international labor standards. Domini's resolution with The Gap (NYSE: GPS) was withdrawn when the company agreed to work with Domini and other concerned investors to explore the development of assessment methods for benchmarking and reporting vendor compliance activities and progress. Also as a result of dialogues, McDonald's has produced its first public report on its vendor standards compliance program, and Nordstrom recently announced that it would be adding "freedom of association" to its global code of conduct.
Domini's 2002 shareholder activism initiatives also focus on environmental issues. Domini's two-year dialogue with Merrill Lynch (NYSE: MER) about the social and environmental impacts of Merrill's investments showed signs of progress when Merrill's CEO & Chairman cited China's Three Gorges Dam at the recent World Economic Forum Summit in New York. "One important goal of our dialogue has been realized - our concerns about the disastrous impacts of this dam have been raised to the highest levels of the firm," said Adam Kanzer, Director of Shareholder Advocacy at Domini Social Investments. Domini also initiated a dialogue with Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG) asking the company to refrain from using old growth timber and to set goals for using recycled content in popular paper products such as Bounty paper towels and Charmin bath tissue.
Domini was a co-filer this year on resolutions calling on The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE: KO) to report on progress in meeting beverage container recycling goals, and on Pepsi Co. (NYSE: PEP) to adopt a comprehensive recycling policy. Coca-Cola has agreed to increase the recycled content in its plastic bottles and participated in a project, along with recycling companies, environmental organizations and government agencies, to comprehensively evaluate recycling opportunities throughout the beverage container value chain. Pepsi recently followed Coca-Cola's lead by announcing that it would begin including recycled content in its plastic bottles sold in the United States.
Domini is also working to encourage corporations to improve the way they treat their employees. For the second consecutive year, Domini is asking AT&T (NYSE: T) to revise its employee pension plan so as not to discriminate against longer-term employees. Domini also co-sponsored a resolution with Emerson (NYSE: EMR) for the second consecutive year, asking it to adopt a written policy barring discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Emerson resolution received 10.2% of the shareholder vote at the company's annual meeting on February 5, ensuring the right to return to Emerson for a third year with this issue.
Domini also co-filed a resolution with Cooper Industries (NYSE: CBE) to issue annual sustainability reports; with Household International (NYSE: HI) asking it to link executive pay to progress on eliminating predatory lending practices; and with Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), concerning the firm's global code of conduct. This resolution was withdrawn after the firm committed to a dialogue with proponents. The Cooper Industries resolution received a very strong 21.85% vote at their annual meeting on April 5. Management has agreed to meet with proponents.
In addition to filing shareholder resolutions and initiating dialogues with companies, Domini has been extremely active on shareholder disclosure issues of late. Three years ago, the firm became the first mutual fund manager in America to publish its proxy votes. Last December, Domini filed a Petition for Rulemaking with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), urging adoption of a rule requiring all mutual funds to publicly disclose their proxy votes. The firm also recently revised its Proxy Voting Guidelines to emphasize greater corporate transparency on auditor independence and other issues.
"We think mutual fund shareholders have a right to know how their shares are voted on important issues of corporate governance and social and environmental responsibility," says Ms. Domini. "In light of revelations about corporate practices at Enron and other companies, where small groups of management insiders seemed more interested in self-enrichment than in benefiting shareholders, we think shareholder vigilance and increased corporate transparency are more important than ever."
Domini Social Investments manages more than $1.8 billion in assets for individual and institutional investors seeking to create positive change by integrating social and environmental values into their investment decisions. Its flagship fund, the Domini Social Equity Fund, was the first socially and environmentally screened index fund and is the nation's largest socially responsible index fund. The Fund includes companies with positive records in community involvement, the environment, diversity and employee relations, and excludes companies deriving significant revenues from alcohol, tobacco, gambling, nuclear power and weapons contracting. In addition to the Domini Social Equity Fund, the company also offers the Domini Social Bond Fund (NASDAQ: DSBFX) and an FDIC-insured money market account (in partnership with ShoreBank), both of which focus on community economic development.
Domini is working with a number of concerned investor groups and non-governmental organizations on its 2002 shareholder initiatives, including the As You Sow Foundation, Friends of the Earth, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, the International Rivers Network, the National Wildlife Federation, the Pride Foundation, Walden Asset Management, and a number of large institutional investors, including the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits of the United Methodist Church.
For additional information on Domini's shareholder activism and proxy voting initiatives, information on the Domini Funds, or a free copy of the firm's 44 page Proxy Voting Guidelines & Shareholder Activism booklet, call (800) 762-6814, or visit the firm's web site www.domini.com.