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Oct 08, 2020

Ceres launches sustainability action plan for companies

Advises on including sustainability in corporate governance, disclosure and strategy

Ceres on Wednesday launched a framework for what it hopes will be a decade of efforts by companies to make sustainability a central component of their business.

The Ceres Roadmap 2030 details steps it says companies need to take – starting now and continuing over the next 10 years – to tackle the climate crisis, defend natural resources such as water, and create a just and inclusive economy.

The aim is to guide companies on building sustainability considerations into all aspects of their business such as corporate governance, disclosures and planning. Ceres also wants to position companies as advocates on policies and regulations that influence corporate actions.

‘If companies act now to prepare their business and our economy against the greatest global threats, whether a deadly virus or a warming planet, they will better position themselves for the road ahead and help to prevent the next catastrophe from disrupting life and business as we know it,’ Ceres CEO and president Mindy Lubber says in a statement. ‘This is the decade companies must act, and they must do it today.’

The roadmap outlines the types of actions Ceres says companies need to take to create an effective sustainable business strategy in the necessary timeframe:

  • Critical impact actions – Ceres calls for companies to ‘minimize negative environmental and social externalities and maximize positive impacts across the value chain’
  • Business integration actions – Ceres says companies will need to ‘transition core business and internal corporate systems to support long-term success and value creation in a more sustainable economy’
  • Systems change actions – Ceres calls on companies to ‘drive the systems-level transformation needed to support and enable sustainable business practice.’

The group also launched a micro-site it intends to help companies and investors navigate the roadmap and see how it applies to them. It includes, among other things:

  • Performance milestones for 2020, 2025 and 2030 across each of the actions
  • Examples of how companies can be part of systems change
  • Tools and resources to support companies as they integrate sustainability into their business systems
  • Examples of companies already taking steps along the lines of those expressed in the roadmap.

The inclusion in the roadmap of the concept of companies as advocates on sustainability issues follows on from other recent Ceres initiatives. The group and other non-profits late last year issued an open letter to US CEOs calling for companies to adopt a framework centering on a science-based climate policy agenda in line with an increase in global temperatures of 1.5° C.

The letter asked companies to: advocate for policies at the national, subnational and/or sectoral level that are consistent with achieving net-zero emissions by 2050; align trade associations’ climate policy advocacy to be consistent with that goal of net-zero emissions by 2050; and allocate advocacy spending to advance climate policies.

Then in July Ceres released its own ‘Blueprint for responsible policy engagement on climate change’ in which it argues that this framework is part of the broader context of climate risk, including how direct and indirect lobbying based on climate science is key to tackling the systemic risks of climate change.

The blueprint also cites the importance of having governance systems in place to allow for aligning lobbying efforts across corporate structures – and calls for engaging corporate counsel and boards in these discussions.

The Ceres framework urges companies to:

  • Assess the impact of climate change on the company, including the ways in which its lobbying work may exacerbate or mitigate these risks. This entails assessing the risk that climate change poses to the company and conducting an internal audit of direct and indirect lobbying positions on climate change
  • Systematize decision-making on climate change across the company, including in all direct and indirect lobbying. This includes engaging the board on climate policy
  • Align both direct and indirect lobbying with science-based climate policies. This includes publicly stating that the company supports science-based climate policies, directly lobbying for science-based climate policies and engaging with trade associations on aligning their lobbying with climate science.

Veena Ramani, senior program director for the capital markets systems program at Ceres and one of the lead authors of the report alongside governance manager Hannah Saltman, told Corporate Secretary in August that general counsel can play key roles in each of these three areas.



Ben Maiden

Ben Maiden is the editor-at-large of Governance Intelligence, an IR Media publication, having joined the company in December 2016. He is based in New York. Ben was previously managing editor of Compliance Reporter, covering regulatory and compliance...