Tag Archives: GHG reporting

McKinsey Study on Sustainability

Last month, McKinsey & Co. published a study titled “How companies manage sustainability”.  The survey was conducted in February 2010 and received responses from 1,946 executives representing a wide range of industries.

The fact that the topic of sustainability is significant enough for McKinsey to conduct this analysis is notable.  The study itself is short and it is easy to distill the major themes presented.

Theme 1:  “Sustainability” has no defined definition

… many [companies] have no clear definition of [sustainability]. Overall, 20 percent of executives say their companies don’t. Among those that do, the definition varies: 55 percent define sustainability as the management of issues related to the environment (for example, greenhouse gas emissions, energy efficiency, waste management, green-product development, and water conservation). In addition, 48 percent say it includes the management of governance issues (such as complying with regulations, maintaining ethical practices, and meeting accepted industry standards), and 41 percent say it includes the management of social issues (for instance, working conditions and labor standards). Fifty-six percent of all the respondents define sustainability in two or more ways.

Theme 2:  What gets measured gets managed, or vice versa

[E]xecutives [of proactive companies] … are more aware than executives at other companies of the metrics their companies track. For example, 84 percent of respondents at engaged companies are aware of whether their companies measure their carbon footprint, compared with 40 percent of respondents at less engaged companies. More importantly, among the group that is aware of what’s being tracked, the engaged companies are far more likely to be tracking relevant sustainability indicators such as waste, energy and water use, and labor standards for their suppliers and consumers.

Theme 3:  Implicit in sustainability leadership within the energy industry is risk management

… senior executives in the energy industry take an active approach to managing sustainability, likely because of the potential for regulation and increasing natural-resource constraints. Indeed, 10 percent of energy executives say addressing sustainability is the top priority on their CEOs’ agendas (versus 3 percent overall), and 31 percent say it’s a top-three priority (versus 22 percent overall). Further, energy executives are much likelier than others to be active in seeking opportunities to invest in sustainability (40 percent versus 28 percent), to integrate it into their companies’ business practices (43 percent versus 29 percent), and to shape regulation actively (29 percent versus 16 percent).

Theme 4:  Risk assessment and quantification is severely lacking

only about 35 percent of executives say their companies have quantified the potential impact of environmental and social regulation on their businesses; only 40 percent feel prepared to deal with regulation in the next three to five years and are personally confident about handling climate change issues.

Failure to reach an agreement in the recent Copenhagen UN Climate Change Conference was seen by respondents to this survey as twice as likely to increase uncertainty (30 percent) related to climate change regulation as to decrease it (15 percent); 55 percent say they saw no difference.

Those of us who have been in the EHS risk management/sustainability world for awhile will not find any of this new information.  But McKinsey’s brand behind this may bring valuable C-level credibility to the need to fill the information gaps.

“Surprised and Concerned” About Illegitimate Government-Sponsored CER Trading?

Environmental Leader has reported

that the Hungarian government sold 2 million previously used CERs, the market became tepid. Then when prices fell from more than 12 euro per credit to less than one euro, trading was suspended on two exchanges, Bluenext and Nord Pool.

The NYT provided more details of the transaction, stating

The credits appear to be part of massive blocks of CERs awarded to Eastern European states and Russia after the collapse of Soviet-era industry.  This created a loophole used by Hungary to reintroduce used CERs back into the market…

Carbon traders said countries like Hungary were exploiting the loophole to earn more money from the carbon trading system than they could by selling the credits that they had previously earned under the Kyoto system…

The traders said at least one other E.U. member state had acted similarly earlier this year.

The EU said they were “surprised and concerned” about the situation.  BusinessWeek quoted others who expressed more urgency about the matter:

“The supply and demand dynamics have been changed,” said Paul Kelly, chief executive officer of JPMorgan’s EcoSecurities unit. While the scope of the problem has yet to be determined, buyers are “questioning the authenticity” of what they are buying.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only recent development that may cause market participants concern.  This is just the latest in a barrage of credibility and financial damage for GHG emissions trading, including:

  • Last year swindlers robbed governments of about 5 billion euros in revenues — about $6.8 billion — by selling carbon credits and disappearing before paying the required Value Added Tax on the transactions.
  • In January, swindlers used faked e-mail messages to obtain access codes for individual accounts on national registries that make up the bloc’s Emission Trading System, and then used the stolen codes to gain access to electronic certificates that represent quantities of greenhouse gases.
  • In Australia, recent fraud enforcement involved forcing a green power company, Global Green Plan, to purchase carbon credits it had promised to buy on behalf of customers, but never did.  The government is currently pursuing action against carbon capture company Prime Carbon over allegedly misleading claims made by the firm.
  • In Belgium, authorities have charged three Britons suspected of value added taxes (VAT) fraud on CO2 emissions permits.

In the U.S.,  the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a group of Northeastern U.S. states that have a cap-and-trade program for utilities, faced its own demons.

  • The New Jersey government reallocated about $65 million in funds raised in the RGGI auction. The funds were intended for use in developing renewable energy projects, but instead are going to the state’s general fund, Reuters reports.
  • Last year, New York similarly took $90 million from its carbon fund.

So Now What?

Companies with a major stake in the GHG emissions game must conduct a detailed risk assessment of their GHG programs, solutions and exposures.  Given what has developed in the trading market in the past six months, it would be wide to carry out exposure identification, failure analyses, contingency planning and desktop exercises.

Such analyses and assessments may be critical for publicly traded companies in the United States due to SEC’s recent announcement and the newly effective EPA rule requiring reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel suppliers and industrial gas suppliers, direct greenhouse gas emitters and manufacturers of heavy-duty and off-road vehicles and engines.

Lawrence Heim, Director of The Elm Consulting Group International’s Atlanta office, said

Close to 10 years ago, I began posing the question ‘what if the GHG emissions trading market collapses?’  Assuming cohesive legally-enforceable emissions standards existed, the cost proposition presented by emissions trading in comparison to capital expenditures for pollution control equipment was quite attractive.  The impact of a material failure of the trading framework was significant.  This line of thought became incorporated into client risk assessments even back then.

In the US, we can look at the pollution control expenditures related to EPA’s New Source Review (NSR) enforcement initiative to provide insight into GHG control equipment costs.  Of course, NSR enforcement involves pollutants for which there are well-established and commercially-viable emissions control technologies.  We don’t have that luxury with carbon dioxide, which will likely translate into dramatically higher costs.

Further erosion of the viability of GHG emissions trading could have a significant impact on your company.  Please contact us if you would like to understand more about climate business risk assessments and potential risk mitigation options.

The Elm Consulting Group International, LLC and Sentiment360 Announce Solution to Reputational Risk Component of SEC Interpretive Guidance on Climate Risk Assessment

Use of New Technology Tracks Public Perception of Companies’ Sustainability/Climate Programs

In the Federal Register dated February 8, 2010 (75 Fed. Reg. 6290), The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) published its Interpretive Guidance on financial disclosure/reporting requirements as they apply to climate change matters, which is EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY.  Among the specific risk factors that SEC highlighted in this Interpretive Guidance is the potential business risk associated public opinion/reputational risk.  SEC stated:

Another example of a potential indirect risk from climate change that would need to be considered for risk factor disclosure is the impact on a registrant’s reputation. Depending on the nature of a registrant’s business and its sensitivity to public opinion, a registrant may have to consider whether the public’s perception of any publicly available data relating to its greenhouse gas emissions could expose it to potential adverse consequences to its business operations or financial condition resulting from reputational damage.

In response to this SEC mandate, The Elm Consulting Group International, LLC has partnered with Sentiment360, a global online monitoring company that delivers new media business intelligence SaaS solutions. With offices in the US, UK and the Philippines, Sentiment360 has a proven track record in collecting, analyzing, understanding and responding to online content, be it social media (mircrosites, blogs, forums, etc.), traditional media, video sites, image sites, and more.  Sentiment360 analysis can be delivered on-demand via a wide variety of customizable web dashboards.

“Combining the leading edge data tracking and analytics of Sentiment360 with Elm’s sustainability, climate and risk assessment expertise creates a unique solution to meeting SEC’s requirements,” said Lawrence Heim, Director in Elm’s Atlanta office.  “Our team can aggregate real-time unfiltered public opinion data without the need for surveys, screen it for relevance to sustainability/climate, and frame it in a business risk context. This will provide clients with ready-to-use information in a dramatic labor- and cost-saving manner.”

Heim continued, “Publicly-traded companies that sell products or services outside the US must assess their climate reputation risk globally to adequately determine their business risk and potential reporting needs.  Sentiment360’s worldwide data aggregation and tracking capabilities make this easy.  Elm’s global sustainability and risk expertise can assist in understanding cultural contexts of the subject matter as well.”

Sentiment360, with offices in the US, UK and the Philippines, delivers new media business intelligence SaaS solutions. As a spin-off from the Global Reach group of outsourcing companies, S360 has been offering new media analysis solutions through indirect channels since 2006. As of January 2010, S360 has begun selling directly to end-user clients under the Sentiment360 brand.

As a provider via 3rd party partners we have delivered new media analysis for a variety of entities including advertising and PR agencies, manufacturers, governments, law enforcement and more. As of January 2010, we have become the preferred provider for several global communications firms. More information is available at www.sentiment360.com.

Details and Excerpts from the SEC’s Climate Risk Disclosure Interpretive Guidance

As we previously reported, the SEC issued their interpretive guidance concerning the need for publicly-traded companies to identify, assess and (if necessary) report climate-related business risks within existing SEC reports.  This interpretive guidance document was published in the Federal Register of February 8, 2010.

Elm has reviewed this publication and provides the following excerpts that we feel may be most critical to companies who are looking to address the requirements of the new Interpretive Guidance.    These excerpts may be slightly edited for length and clarity, but we have attempted to ensure that substantive information remains as in the publication.

The Commission has not quantified … a specific future time period that must be considered in assessing the impact of a known trend, event or uncertainty that is reasonably likely to occur. As with any other judgment required by Item 303, the necessary time period will depend on a registrant’s particular circumstances and the particular trend, event or uncertainty under consideration.

[Management] should not limit the information that management considers in making its determinations. Improvements in technology and communications in the last two decades have significantly increased the amount of financial and non-financial information that management has and should evaluate, as well as the speed with which management receives and is able to use information. While this should not necessarily result in increased MD&A disclosure, it does provide more information that may need to be considered in drafting MD&A disclosure. In identifying, discussing and analyzing known material trends and uncertainties, registrants are expected to consider all relevant information even if that information is not required to be disclosed, and, as with any other disclosure judgments, they should consider whether they have sufficient disclosure controls and procedures to process this information.

If management cannot make a determination concerning the known trend, demand, commitment, event or uncertainty likely to come to fruition, it must evaluate objectively the consequences of the known trend, demand, commitment, event or uncertainty, on the assumption that it will come to fruition. Disclosure is then required unless management determines that a material effect on the registrant’s financial condition or results of operations is not reasonably likely to occur.’’  Identifying and assessing known material trends and uncertainties generally will require registrants to consider a substantial amount of financial and non-financial information available to them, including information that itself may not be required to be disclosed.

Registrants should consider specific risks they face as a result of climate change legislation or regulation and avoid generic risk factor disclosure that could apply to any company.

Management must determine whether legislation or regulation, if enacted, is reasonably likely to have a material effect on the registrant, its financial condition or results of operations.

Examples of possible consequences of pending legislation and regulation related to climate change include:

  • Costs to purchase, or profits from sales of, allowances or credits under a ‘‘cap and trade’’ system;
  • Costs required to improve facilities and equipment to reduce emissions in order to comply with regulatory limits or to mitigate the financial consequences of a ‘‘cap and trade’’ regime; and
  • Changes to profit or loss arising from increased or decreased demand for goods and services produced by the registrant arising directly from legislation or regulation, and indirectly from changes in costs of goods sold.

We reiterate that climate change regulation is a rapidly developing area.  Registrants need to regularly assess their potential disclosure obligations given new developments.

Registrants also should consider, and disclose when material, the impact on their business of treaties or international accords relating to climate change.

Depending on the nature of a registrant’s business and its sensitivity to public opinion, a registrant may have to consider whether the public’s perception of any publicly available data relating to its greenhouse gas emissions could expose it to potential adverse consequences to its business operations or financial condition resulting from reputational damage.

Significant physical effects of climate change, such as effects on the severity of weather (for example, floods or hurricanes), sea levels, the arability of farmland, and water availability and quality.

Possible consequences of severe weather could include:

  • For registrants with operations concentrated on coastlines, property damage and disruptions to operations, including manufacturing operations or the transport of manufactured products;
  • Indirect financial and operational impacts from disruptions to the operations of major customers or suppliers from severe weather, such as hurricanes or floods;

Clearly, SEC’s position is that such a risk identification and assessment framework be robust and extend far beyond a technical environmental scope.

These excerpts are presented for convenience and informational purposes only and should not be solely relied on in developing appropriate information/response to the SEC requirements.  Qualified expertise should be engaged to properly meet these requirements.

Walmart’s Supplier Sustainability Squeeze Starts

The Financial Times reported that the retailer has announced an initiative to eliminate 20 million metric tons of CO2 emissions from its supply chain over the next 5 years.  All but 10% of the reductions will come from Walmart suppliers rather than direct Walmart operations.  The article stated that:

Mike Duke, chief executive repeated Walmart’s view that its efforts would ultimately lower prices for its customers, chiefly through resulting savings in energy use.

The company is in the process of developing GHG emissions/reduction quantification standards.  What remains to be seen is the extent to which the methodology will align with existing – and regulatory – calculation standards.

Clearly, suppliers will be expected to pass emissions-related cost savings on to Walmart, while concurrently addressing the additional administrative requirements related to the sustainability/emissions reduction programs.  The company has stated that vendor sustainability will become incorporated into its buying decisions.

As we mentioned in an earlier post, some suppliers may choose not to take on the additional efforts and costs associated with implementing Walmart’ sustainability and CO2 emissions requirements.  But before making such a decision, suppliers should conduct a thorough assessment of it environmental profile to identify where the opportunities and risks lie.  This information will assist in making more informed decisions, especially in the context of being a supplier to the largest retailer in the world.

Legal Community Begins to Weigh in on SEC Interpretive Guidance

Now that SEC’s Interpretive Guidance has been published, legal experts are beginning to comment publicly about the Guidance, its meaning and implementation.  The legal analyses generally agree that publicly-traded companies will need to significantly change their current environmental risk assessment practices and/or should look to outside experts on risk assessment techniques.

Some of these comments were recently published in an article in Law.com.  Excerpts from that article are below:

Jane Kroesche, head of the West Coast environmental transactions practice at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom:

… meeting the new requirements will not just be a matter of “plugging language” into the business discussion or legal proceedings section, where companies usually make environmental disclosures.

“It is a very broad-reaching guidance.  It’s important for companies to understand that it’s not just about disclosing the impact from emissions regulations. It goes way beyond that.”

Robert O’Connor, head of the clean tech practice at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati:

… the challenge for corporations under these new guidelines will be twofold. Companies must have the infrastructure in place to know whether there is something to disclose. And, they must find out if they are responsible for carbon emissions along their whole supply chain, or just some of it.

“It is very early. For many companies, it will not rise to the level of materiality, but I do think that all companies need to ask the question, ‘Do I have the procedures and systems in place to know one way or the other?'”

Other leading firms have issued client alerts on the SEC’s action.

King & Spalding stated

… companies should ensure that they have sufficient controls and procedures in place to process relevant information. Most companies in the energy and insurance industries have in-house professionals that are well versed in climate change related issues and will be able to quickly make an assessment of whether additional disclosure is required in light of the guidance. However, the guidance could impact companies in a range of industries, some of which may not have regularly monitored these issues in the past. All companies should consider whether additional in-house training or periodic consultation with outside advisors is advisable to supplement existing controls.

McDermott Will & Emery made the following comments:

Under previous SEC guidance… known trends and other uncertain events do not need to be disclosed if they are not reasonably likely to come to fruition.  However, if management cannot make that determination, disclosure is required unless management determines that the occurrence of such known trend or other uncertain event would not be reasonably likely to have a material impact on the registrant’s financial condition or operations.  Registrants should also address in the MD&A, when material, the difficulties involved in assessing the effect of the amount and timing of uncertain events, and provide where possible an indication of the time periods in which resolution of the uncertainties is anticipated.

Elm is unique in our risk assessment experience and capabilities.  We have conducted environmental risk assessments in the past that included detailed reviews of climate risk exposures that are aligned with the SEC’s new guidance.  Please contact us with questions about how we can assist you.

Dark Clouds on the Climate Horizon

In 2009, there was a general sense in the US that some regulatory and economic certainty would finally be established relative to greenhouse gases, and CO2 in particular.  The current administration made highly public moves and statements to that effect, which were mirrored by action in Congress and the Senate.  EPA issued its finding of endangerment.  And there was significant optimism that the COP15 Copenhagen meeting would bear fruit.

Fast forward to February 2010.  There has been quite a shift in direction and now there is arguably more business risk related to CO2/GHG than there was going into 2009.  Among recent highlights:

  • Nike formally announced that they are abandoning the use of carbon offsets and Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), citing, among other concerns:

there is substantial scrutiny of the use of RECs, in particular related to whether they in fact help create new renewable power, or whether they are simply payment to a project that would have existed anyway. … Moving forward, however, our preference is to achieve climate neutrality through a combination of energy efficiency and the purchase of more direct forms of renewable energy, through on-site applications and other means.

  • The German Emissions Trading Authority (DEHSt) computer system was hacked and fraudulent European Union carbon allowance transactions were completed.  Read a report here.
  • Europol, the European law enforcement agency, reported on December 9, 2009 that

the European Union (EU) Emission Trading System (ETS) has been the victim of fraudulent traders in the past 18 months. This resulted in losses of approximately 5 billion euros for several national tax revenues.

As an immediate measure to prevent further losses France, the Netherlands, the UK and most recently Spain, have all changed their taxation rules on these transactions. After these measures were taken, the market volume in the aforementioned countries dropped by up to 90 percent.

  • The Copenhagen meeting failed to achieve the concrete results that had been expected.
  • The accuracy and veracity of data published by key climate scientists was called into question, creating the “Climategate” scandal.
  • The UK government published a report supporting a fixed price or auction reserve on carbon emissions over the current market-driven cap and trade.
  • National-level climate bills in the US are no longer getting the support they enjoyed in 2009.  Read more.
  • Arizona declined to participate in a regional GHG trading program, citing the difficult economy.

However, in contrast to the overarching trend, the US did see two important developments.  First, EPA promulgated its CO2 emissions reporting regulation in October 2009, which is effective calendar year 2010.  Second, SEC issued Interpretive Guidance on the inclusion of climate risks in financial disclosures.

There continues to be significant  uncertainty related to the financial value/risk of climate-related activities.  And that is not likely to change in the near future.