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Oct 15, 2020

Highlights from the ESG Integration Forum – Summer 2020

ESG discussions continue to evolve

As publishers of both Corporate Secretary and IR Magazine, we relish the opportunity to bring our two audiences together to hear different perspectives and stories of effective collaboration on ESG integration.

This was in evidence at the ESG Integration Forum – Summer 2020, held virtually on July 29. The event looked at how Covid-19 has shone a spotlight on human capital management issues and how it will fundamentally change off-season engagement this year, in terms of both the meeting venues and the focus of the conversations. We also looked at the outcomes from this year’s proxy season and explored the pros and cons of the SEC’s proposed changes to the 14a-8 rule, which governs who can file shareholder proposals.

Click here to access recordings of each of the main sessions.

What does Covid-19 mean for ESG and long-termism?
In this session we heard about how Covid-19 is influencing investors’ thinking about ESG and asked whether the increased focus on human-capital management issues will detract from the recent emphasis placed on environmental issues. The speakers in this session were:

  • Jessica McDougall, vice president of investment stewardship and corporate governance, BlackRock
  • Dottie Schindlinger, executive director, Diligent Institute
  • Ariel Smilowitz, analyst in investment stewardship, BlackRock
  • Laurie Havelock, editor-at-large, IR Magazine (moderator)

Outcomes of proxy season: Which ESG proposals received widespread support?
Due to the timing of this event, we were able to review data from the majority of the US annual meetings that had already taken place. In this session, our panelists discussed the most notable takeaways from the season. The speakers were:

  • Alexandra Higgins, managing director, Okapi Partners
  • Ron Schneider, director of corporate governance services, Donnelley Financial Solutions
  • Laurie Havelock, editor-at-large, IR Magazine (moderator)

A debate for and against reforming shareholder proposal thresholds
In November 2019 the SEC voted in favor of proposed amendments to rule 14a-8, which governs the shareholder proposals that make it onto the ballot. The proposal has been controversial, with thousands of comment letters submitted during the comment period. During this session, we explored arguments for and against the suggested changes. The speakers were:

  • Andrew Behar, CEO, As You Sow
  • Patrick Foley, securities counsel, General Motors
  • Arielle Katzman, associate, Shearman & Sterling
  • Ben Ashwell, editor, IR Magazine (moderator)

Telling your ESG story in a virtual environment
Covid-19 means off-season engagement this year will happen virtually. In this panel we explored whether that will affect director involvement and the topics that are discussed during engagement. The speakers were:

  • Evan Barth, general counsel, IBM
  • Maureen Wolff, CEO, Sharon Merrill
  • Brian Tomlinson, director of research, CECP’s CEO Investor Forum
  • Laurie Havelock, editor-at-large, IR Magazine (moderator)

Ratings and reporting: A look at best practices
This session aimed to detangle the ESG ratings and reporting landscape by providing an outline of the central reporting frameworks and how disclosure can influence a company’s ESG scores with ratings agencies. The speakers were:

  • Ben Kruse, director of global ESG reporting & insights and CSR, AT&T
  • Nicolai Lundy, director of partnerships and market outreach, Sustainability Accounting Standards Board
  • Huub Savelkouls, chief sustainability officer, Philip Morris International
  • Janice Warren, managing director and head of ESG reporting solutions, Nasdaq
  • Ben Ashwell, editor, IR Magazine (moderator)

Developing an ESG program during a pandemic and building support internally
It’s often the case that our ESG events present the stories of companies that have had long-established ESG programs – even if they were labelled as sustainability or CSR efforts in the past. But for many IR professionals and corporate secretaries, the world of ESG reporting and engagement is new and can be overwhelming. In this session we heard from companies that are earlier in their ESG journey, and took away practical tips and considerations. The speakers were:

  • Yonni Fushman, executive vice president, chief legal officer and secretary, Aecon Group
  • Karen Keyes, senior investor relations professional
  • Sean Wilson, chief administrative officer and corporate secretary, Gibson Energy
  • Ben Ashwell, editor, IR Magazine (moderator)

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