ESG – Lending Costs Tied to Internal Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Goals – a Coming Trend?

Mid week last week, Dawn Lim reported in the Wall Street Journal that BlackRock Inc. had cut a 5 year, $4.4 Billion dollar deal with its lending consortium that ties its lending costs on its credit facility to BlackRock’s ability to meet certain diversity, equity and inclusion goals (“DEI”).

The deal, as reported, ties its borrowing costs to meeting targets for women in senior leadership and to meeting numeric goals regarding Black and Latino employees within its work force. The stated goals for Black and Latino individuals as a percentage of its workforce are 30% of its workforce by 2024.  Their goal on women in senior management is to increase numerics by 3% each year through 2024.  

BlackRock also is focused on growing its environmental, social and governance assets under management from $200 Billion currently, to over $1 Trillion (with a “T”) by 2030.  The goals noted are focusing on aligning its own practices with that of the companies BlackRock invests in as CEO Larry Fink continues to push the envelope on ESG investing and increasing workforce DEI.  

The result of the credit facility loan covenants will seek to more closely align the company’s ESG investing goals with its internal corporate goals and impose costs on its asset managers via higher costs in its revolver by not achieving their stated goals.  

The Triple Bottom Line: A bit too early to call this evolution of tying lending costs to internal ESG goals as a trend (vs. a reaction to public scrutiny elsewhere), but in my view, it is a big step and a signals to the broader market that such self imposed costs can be achieved and that BlackRock is willing to take this type of risk, that align its investment decisions with its internal policies.  Big and bold steps indeed. 

Duane Morris has an active ESG and Sustainability Team to help organizations and individuals plan, respond to, and execute on Sustainability and ESG planning and initiatives within their own space.  We would be happy to discussion your proposed project with you.  Contact your Duane Morris attorney for more information.

If you have any questions about this post, please contact Brad A. Molotsky  (bamolotsky@duanemorris.com), Nanette Heide, Darrick Mix, Michael Schwamm, David Amerikaner or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.

ESG – Global ESG funds flow increases to $80.5 B in Q3 of 2020 and $2.5 Trillion in ESG AUM

Per a neat article in Funds Fire last week, Moody’s Investor Services issued a February 2021 report  that showed Global ESG flows increased to $80.5 billion in the third quarter of 2020, up 14% from the previous quarter, with sustainable fund assets under management reaching a new high of $1.23 trillion.

In the third quarter, U.S.-based sustainable equity funds saw net inflows of $3.8 billion, even as overall U.S. equity funds saw net outflows of $118.5 billion, the Moody’s report shows.

Clean energy was the top-performing U.S. equity sector, with a total cumulative return of 185%, followed by consumer discretionary, which returned 48.3% last year. Meanwhile, despite entering 2020 with a low valuation, the energy sector lost 33% last year.

President Biden’s focus on renewable infrastructure, along with key political appointments that are likely to influence investment regulations, are likely to have further impact on ESG investing, according to Moody’s.

Per the report, Invesco, which manages $1.37 trillion and oversees $35 billion in dedicated ESG mandates, has targeted 2023 for full ESG integration. BlackRock aims to increase its $200 billion in sustainable investment assets to $1 trillion by the end of the decade.

Further, according to the report, AllianceBernstein was among the firms that had positive momentum in ESG in 2020. At the end of 2020, the firm’s suite of ESG strategies jumped to $16.5 billion, an increase of 60% over the prior year.

According to Funds Fire, Institutional ESG flows, as tracked by eVestment, increased to $109 billion in 2020 from $27.6 billion in 2018. Institutional ESG assets increased to $2.55 trillion from $1.79 trillion over the same period.

The Triple Bottom Line: While numbers can sometimes be manipulated to make a point, in this instance, the sheer numbers and upwards trajectory speaks for itself.  An increase from $27 Billion to over $109 Billion in 3 years; and an increase in ESG assets from 1.79 Trillion to over $2.55 Trillion is significant no matter how  you chose to view ESG investing.

Duane Morris has an active ESG and Sustainability Team to help organizations and individuals plan, respond to, and execute on Sustainability and ESG planning and initiatives within their own space.  We would be happy to discussion your proposed project with you.  Contact your Duane Morris attorney for more information.

If you have any questions about this post, please contact Brad A. Molotsky  (bamolotsky@duanemorris.com), Nanette Heide, Darrick Mix, Michael Schwamm, David Amerikaner or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.

ESG – Calvert tightens its proxy voting standards to require Diversity by Gender and by Color on Boards

In a post earlier today, the President and CEO of Calvert Research and Management, Jon Streur, discussed his view on why Calvert “raised” their standards for proxy voting on board diversity.  Calvert, with over $31 Billion in assets under management, is one of the foremost fund managers who have been utilizing an ESG lens within which to evaluate companies for decades.

Per John, “[a]t Calvert, we have used the power of our proxy vote to hold boards accountable for their attention to diversity for three decades. This year, expectations for corporate diversity are rising, and we are more aware than ever of the value of diverse leadership for long-term corporate performance. For this reason, we are increasing our standards for board diversity.”

As a result of their change in voting standards, Calvert will vote AGAINST the nominating/governance committees of public companies that have fewer than 2 women on the board.

Previously, they voted against the nomination of directors for company boards that lacked representation of women.

They also indicated that for companies in the US, the UK, Australia and Canada, Calvert will also vote AGAINST the nominating/governance committee at public companies that have fewer than 2 people of color on the Board or are less than 40% diverse.

Previously, Calvert’s minimum standard was 1 person of color and a board that was 30% diverse.

Research indicates that diversity is a financially material ESG issue. In research begun in 2019 and continuing currently, Calvert found that in “evaluating the financial materiality of gender diversity factors” that gender diversity factors are associated with improved equity returns for both the U.S. and non-U.S. markets.

Per their data, companies with at least 2 women on the board outperformed when compared to those with fewer women on the board, and U.S. large-cap companies with more than 2 women saw even greater improvement. In the U.S. and certain like markets, similar results were found for ethnically diverse boards.

The Triple Bottom Line: According to Jon and Calvert, “proxy voting is a vital way to hold companies accountable for their commitments to board diversity. This and other tools of structured engagement can help encourage positive change”.

Duane Morris has an active ESG and Sustainability Team to help organizations and individuals plan, respond to, and execute on Sustainability and ESG planning and initiatives within their own space.  We would be happy to discussion your proposed project with you.  Contact your Duane Morris attorney for more information.

If you have any questions about this post, please contact Brad A. Molotsky  (bamolotsky@duanemorris.com), Nanette Heide, Darrick Mix, David Amerikaner or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.

Green Infrastructure Stormwater Management Rules Take Effect in New Jersey

Amendments to New Jersey’s Stormwater Management Rules, N.J.A.C. 7:8, requiring the use of “green infrastructure” measures for stormwater management took effect on March 2, 2021.

Green infrastructure encourages the infiltration of stormwater into the ground, promoting natural filtration of pollutants and sediment and thereby reducing discharge impacts on streams, rivers, and other waterways. The new rules make green infrastructure the preferred and predominant method for managing stormwater for all regulated residential and non-residential projects.

Previously, the state’s Stormwater Management Rule had allowed projects to use traditional engineered structures such as pipes and culverts to manage stormwater, although the Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) had encouraged property owners and project proponents to make use of green infrastructure through financial and technical assistance. The rule change formalizes the state’s requirement that new projects implement green infrastructure measures, such as rain gardens, bioretention basins, vegetated swales, pervious paving, and green roofs, as part of project planning and design.

NJDEP adopted amendments to the Stormwater Management Rule on March 2, 2020; the amendments allowed a year before the rule took effect to allow projects in the system to proceed under existing rules, and to allow municipalities to adopt revised local ordinances and to train municipal review staff.

Going forward, any application for a residential development in the state will be reviewed under the revised Stormwater Management rules. Any application for a non-residential project will be reviewed for compliance with the local stormwater control ordinance, which is required under a municipality’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit. Under the MS4 permit, the stormwater control ordinance must be at least as stringent as NJDEP’s Stormwater Management rules.

Additionally, any applications submitted to NJDEP under its Flood Hazard Area, Freshwater Wetlands, and Coastal Zone Management programs will be reviewed by NJDEP under the new rules.

By making green infrastructure a requirement in new development, New Jersey is taking decisive action to advance Governor Murphy’s stated commitment to improving the management of the state’s watersheds.  The change will improve the sustainability of the state’s waterways and will reduce the runoff of harmful pollutants and sediments.

Governor Murphy Selects 20 Member NJ Council on the Green Economy

Early today, February 25, 2021, Governor Phil Murphy announced his 20 picks to the newly created NJ Council on the Green Economy (“NJCOGE“). 

This Council on the Green Economy and the umbrella organization of the Office of Climate Action and the Green Economy are focused on “building a roadmap for transitioning the workforce into high-quality, family-sustaining clean energy jobs that will provide opportunities for all New Jerseyans” per Governor Murphy.

As announced in the 2021 budget discussions, various state leaders believe that NJ’s recovery from the pandemic will be partly driven by the clean energy economy – one centered around clean power sources and offshore wind and on shore solar.

Governor Murphy’s $44.8 billion plan discussed in his Budget Address on February 23rd calls for $200 million to be invested in an “offshore wind port” in Camden County along the Delaware River. This wind port is intended to serve as a staging area for supply chains related to the growing wind industry and provide a place to ship wind turbines across the country.

Separately, NJ is enjoying a bit of a renaissance in the solar installation arena given its current TREC program.

The 20-members of the NJ COGE are:

Honorary Chair: First Lady Tammy Murphy
Executive Director: Jane Cohen, executive director, Office of Climate Action and the Green Economy
Co-Chair: Shawn LaTourette, acting commissioner, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
Co-Chair: Robert Asaro-Angelo, commissioner, New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development
Co-Chair: Joseph Fiordaliso, president, New Jersey Board of Public Utilities
Donnel Baird, founder, BlocPower
Tom Churchelow, president, New Jersey Utilities Association
Francisco Cortes, president, NJ State Veterans Chamber of Commerce and Corporate Advisory Board Member of the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce New Jersey
Dave Daly, president, PSE&G
Kim Gaddy, environmental justice organizer, Clean Water Action
Aisha Glover, vice president of urban innovation, Audible
Lisa Jackson, former Environmental Protection Agency administrator and vice president of environment, policy, and social initiatives, Apple
Sean Jackson, chief executive officer, Isles
Andrea Jung, president and chief executive officer, Grameen America
John Kennedy, chief executive officer, New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program
Kevin Lyons, associate professor of supply chain archaeology, Rutgers University
Debra Coyle McFadden, executive director, New Jersey Work Environment Council
Bill Mullen, president, New Jersey Building and Construction Trades Council
Alli Gold Roberts, director of state policy, Ceres
Charlie Wowkanech, president, AFL-CIO

The goal of the NJ COGE will be to provide sustainable energy career options for thousands of NJ workers.

Just this past September, Governor Murphy signed a first of its kind “environmental justice” bill which will focus resources and attention environmentally on many lower-income, minority neighborhoods long plagued by some of the worst pollution in the state according to NJ BIZ.

That measure requires large-scale projects – whether new construction or an expansion to an existing building – that produces heavy pollution in lower-income, typically African American and Latino communities, to report on and consider the local impact.

Duane Morris has an active ESG and Sustainability Team to help organizations and individuals plan, respond to, and execute on Sustainability and ESG planning and initiatives within their own space.  We would be happy to discussion your proposed project with you.  Contact your Duane Morris attorney for more information.

If you have any questions about this post, please contact Brad A. Molotsky,  (bamolotsky@duanemorris.com), Seth Cooley, Lori Mills, David Amerikaner or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.