Public company focus on environmental, social, and governance issues has been trending upward for years, largely at the insistence of investors, employee, regulators, and other company stakeholders. A recent report entitled Turning Point: Corporate Progress on the Ceres Roadmap for Sustainability does a nice job of quantifying, and providing context for, that trend.

Ceres is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “… transform the economy to build a sustainable future for people and the planet.” Turning Point reflects Ceres’ analysis of how 600 of the country’s largest public companies – representing more than 80 percent of the total market capitalization in the United States – are responding to various sustainability challenges and positioning themselves for the future.

Here is a summary of some of Turning Point’s key findings for 2017 (and as compared, in some cases, to a similar Ceres study in 2014):

  • 32 percent of companies conduct assessments of their material sustainability risks (7 percent in 2014).
  • 65 percent of companies hold senior executives accountable for sustainability performance (42 percent in 2014), though only 8 percent link their compensation to sustainability issues other than compliance (3 percent in 2014).
  • 38 percent provide employee sustainability training.
  • 51 percent discuss climate change risk in annual financial filings (42 percent in 2014).
  • 32 percent have committed to increasing renewable energy sourcing and 64 percent have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • 55 percent have committed to managing water use.
  • 49 percent have formal policies protecting employee human rights (31 percent in 2014).
  • 69 percent set sustainability performance requirements for their suppliers (58 percent in 2014).
  • 66 percent have formal training or employee resource groups focused on diversity and inclusion.

Although some of these numbers may not be overwhelming as absolute percentages, the trend lines are surprisingly strong over the past three years. Mindy Lubber, president and CEO of Ceres, provides this perspective:

“We have reached a turning point. It is no longer just about raising the ceiling. It is about lifting the floor. The time has come for bold and scalable solutions, not just from a few leading companies, but from companies of all sizes and across all sectors …”

She may be right.

Doug Harmon
704.335.9020
dougharmon@parkerpoe.com