The Network for Greening the Financing System (NGFS) – 90 Worldwide Central Banks and Growing – The Advent of Pricing Carbon into Lending Rates

According to a recent Wall Street Journal Article by Simon Clark, this past December saw the US Federal Reserve join various international central banks and supervisors in the “Network for Greening the Financing System” (the “NGFS”), an international assembly of central banks who set monetary policy around the globe. The NGFS includes central banks and regulators of major European countries as well as Japan, China and Russia. Started in 2007 with 8 members, the NGFS now has over 90 central banks and regulators in its membership and is planning to meet later this month (June) to discuss further policy changes in the climate and risk arena.

Central banks throughout the world are quietly, but more publicly, getting much more involved in climate change risk analysis when setting monetary policy. Some of the central banks are even taking on what some would consider activist stances on the environment and risk. Formerly behind the scenes discussions are evolving into various central banks stating publicly that climate change is a current fiscal and economic risk and, that it is time to take into account these risks when setting monetary policy.

This pivot is already finding its way into monetary policy that will impact US companies doing business overseas, as banks like the Bank of England, now specifically include environmental sustainability as well as price stability in their monetary policy. This policy change will result in US based companies doing business in the UK being impacted by these types of policy changes as it will affect their borrowing rates overseas. For instance, earlier this year the UK Treasury chief changed the Bank of England’s interest rate setting for its committee, to require inclusion of strong sustainable and balanced growth that is also environmentally sustainable as part of its pricing review.

In addition to the Bank of England, the European Central Bank which overseas monetary policy in the EU, has also publicly stated that climate change is within their purview and they will begin taking climate change into consideration when setting monetary rates.

As noted in the Wall Street Journal article, the Bank of France has also begun collecting data on the potential costs of climate change, having found that the cost of insurance claims due to flood and drought impacts are likely to rise by as much as 6x in various French provinces by 2050.

Some of the central banks that are members of the NGFS have adjusted policy based on climate considerations, including higher capital charges for lending to fossil-fuel based companies and including stress testing for climate risk and rising temperatures in their portfolio analysis.

The NGFS’ beginning of increasing of interest rates to address climate concerns, comes at a time where the inflow of investor capital into consumer products, green bonds and stocks of companies focusing more on ESG and products that support ESG and sustainability efforts is at an all-time high and exponentially continuing to show signs of a stable base of investors looking for climate considered attributes.

According to Mr. Simon, the risks being explored include loss of loans or a decline in asset value given locations at or near waterfronts as well as risk adjusting properties in areas that are and have been the subject of wild fire risks. The central banks are also considering charging higher interest rates to lenders that pledge carbon intensive assets as collateral. Meaning, those member banks who continue to lend to carbon intensive asset classes will see higher interest rates that they will pass along to their more carbon intensive customers seeking to borrow these funds

Some of the central banks are also considering whether to require their member banks to set aside additional capital for loans to fossil-fuel companies and less to those in renewable arenas. This would likely translate into loans being made to more carbon intensive user/borrowers having to have a higher loan to value for their assets than their less carbon intensive competitors; resulting in more lending capacity for less carbon use intensive borrowers than their carbon consuming rivals.

Historically, the central banks have always avoided, at least publicly, attempting to influence lending decisions of their member banks where the decisions would have political implications regarding whether climate change is a man-made event. This shift at the NGFS in taking a more public stance, would effectively shift direction for their central bank members and put them directly into the cross hairs of the political discussion of how and what to do about climate change and whether climate change is “man-made”.

Triple Bottom Line – as the NFSG continues to garner more members and, as these members, including the US Fed, start to really include carbon intensity in their pricing decisions for lending, companies that borrow funds internationally will begin to see the impact of their carbon use and will likely face increased risk and higher borrowing costs depending upon how intensive their impact is on the environment. Thus, one’s carbon footprint will actually begin to have a fiscal impact to their operations which will likely create additional disclosure around this risk and attendant result.

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. For more information, or if you have any questions about this post, please contact Brad A. Molotsky, David Amerikaner, Nanette Heide, Darrick Mix, Vijay Bange, Stephen Nichol, or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.

ESG: Carbon Footprint Labels – Helpful or Green Washing?

Major Fortune 100 and 500 companies and others continue to focus on their ESG efforts in various forms and arenas, including the continued evolution of carbon emissions disclosures on various products.

As noted by Saabira Chaudhuri in her Wall Street Journal column, consumers, investors, Boards and regulators are becoming more and more interested in emission levels in the context of growing concerns over climate change and its impact. 

Unilever PLC – intends to introduce carbon footprint details on 70,000 of its products, given that sales of sustainable products are growing faster than their lines of non-sustainable products.  They are currently working on obtaining direct information about their carbon footprint for each ingredient supplier that provides products that are used in Unilever products.

Colgate- Palmolive – continues to work with their supply chain providers of various ingredients that are inputting into their products in an effort to avoid allowing estimates of amounts of impact in favor or real numbers.  Colgate continues to work on ways to measure and verify their footprint, and to require that their supply chain actually measure and verify these impacts.

Quorn/Monde Nissin Corp – began displaying carbon-dioxide/kilogram on-package carbon footprint details in 2020 for certain of their meatless products.

Oatly AB, Upfield Holdings BV and Just Salad brands have also started listing carbon emissions figures on both their packaging and menus.

Logitech International began listing carbon emissions figures on their computer keyboard products.

Having labelled and provided on line environmental impact numbers for its Garnier hair products already, L’Oréal SA announced it will be adding carbon labels for all of its “rinse off” products, including shampoos, in 2022.

To date, there is no market based, agreed upon, uniform way to report or measure these various GhG impacts but, each of the above mentioned companies, have attempted to outline their methodologies and have given their rationales on how they measure and report – an excellent first step.  As others either desire to join them or feel the pressure from consumers, their Board and/or stakeholders to measure and report as well, one can only hope that a quasi uniform methodology for monitoring, measuring and reporting is agreed upon and utilized so that consumers can measure apples to apples rather than apples to oranges or kilograms to pounds.

The Triple Bottom Line: While personally I am a big fan of labeling (whether this be nutrition or calories on a menu or ingredients in a chemical mixture to enable the consumer to review the information and make an informed decision), and, in my view, the growing use of “carbon labeling” represents a good step in the right direction to enable better, more informed consumer choices, I am just not so sure that everyone’s motivation and nomenclature is the same when using phrases like “net-zero”, “carbon emissions” and “greenhouse gas impact”.  As such, the reported results will not be comparable as between products, at least not yet.  Again, I am very much in favor of solid attempts by various organizations to self report their impacts, I just look forward to the day when everyone is measuring outcome in a similar fashion so that real comparisons by brand and product will be possible, rather than merely smart marketing by some with a lack of a verifiable real methodology for measuring and reporting.  As such, I will put “carbon labeling” in the “growing in interest” category, likely to become more and more real and relevant as time and measurement systems are put in place during 2021 and 2022 and, very likely that regulators like the EU, the SEC or trade associations like the SASB continue to push for more required and verifiable disclosure. As such, an area to continue to pay attention to and keep attuned to the market dynamics that continue to push for more and better information.

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), Christiane Schuman Campbell, Darrick Mix, Dominica Anderson, Nanette Heide, David Amerikaner or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.

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.