Three-quarters of chief sustainable roles under two years old; plus, missing Cop26

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President-elect Joe Biden has promised a cabinet and administration as diverse as America is, which judging from the latest corporate diversity numbers from BoardEx, the relationship mapping and executive intelligence service, will be a low bar.

BoardEx, which I used to work with when I ran TheStreet, Inc., released its latest Global Leadership Team Diversity Report this week, and the numbers are startling. Only 19% of leadership roles in corporations worldwide belong to women. Australia, Malaysia and South Africa lead the pack, with about 27% of their leadership roles going to women. The U.S. and UK are both about 21%, and Japan brings up the rear with a pathetic 4%.

“Women may be found in numbers in specific functions, but as a whole they still only amount for a disappointing 19% of leadership team positions” said Dominick Sutton, the chief data officer of BoardEx and the author of the report. According to the report, women, on average account for 60% of HR and 37% of legal roles across the globe, but those job functions only account for 6% and 8% of leadership team headcount, respectively. 

I asked Sutton, and Neil Carter, who also worked on the report, about sustainability roles in the U.S. They found there are 50 chief sustainability officers in the S&P 500 companies, and that 60% of them are women. What’s more, three quarters of those roles were created in the past two years.

For example, Jennifer Motles joined Philip Morris International (MO) as chief sustainability at the start of this month, according to BoardEx. Chris Raymond joined Boeing (BA) in a similar role at the start of October.

The sustainability officer’s role is one of the fastest-growing on management teams, with seasoned veterans finding themselves now in the board room or the C-suite vs. an inward-facing office down the hall from HR. It’s a dynamic we’ll be watching closely in coming months as more and more companies redefine their sustainability missions, and the ratio of women in those roles will become a key diversity indicator. . . .

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. . . . This week would have been the start of Cop26, the international climate summit, in Glasgow. What a buzz there would have been with the Biden election news coming over the weekend. But alas, Covid ruined those plans, and most of the UK is instead hunkered in the union’s second lockdown as infections soar.

Still, officials did their best to create an impact even without a big meeting, as the UK government launched its first sovereign green gilt (bond) and announced plans to build a green yield curve. A bit late compared to the rest of Europe, according to Bloomberg’s Marcus Ashworth and Mark Gilbert, but at least the UK is on the scoreboard. Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak also announced the UK would introduce mandatory climate disclosures by 2025.

And former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, speaking at the Green Horizon Summit in his new role as United Nations Special Envoy for Climate Action, set out a private finance framework for Cop26, planned now for next November in Glasgow. The framework will require every bank, pension manager, insurance company or other investment company to alter their business models by this time next year along the lines of reporting, risk management, partnerships, and transition returns.

The weather in Glasgow this week was a balmy 11°C. (about 51°F.) and wet. Perhaps it will be nicer next year, but don’t count on it. . . .

. . . . At least there is some climate action in Scotland this week. Scottish Widows, the Edinburgh-based life insurance and pensions company, announced it will divest about £440 million ($580 million) worth of holdings in companies tied to fossil fuels. The asset manager said it would sell any company that derives more than 10% of its revenue from coal or tar sands, unless it can convince them to move out of those businesses by themselves.

The figure would only impact about 0.3% of the company’s total assets, but even that might take a while. No timeframe was given, but a UK pensions bill making its way through Parliament would mandate that pension funds disclose climate-related risk assets in their portfolios by the end of 2022.

The gesture might seem small, but in asset management circles it is one of the biggest pledges yet to date. Most fund managers have simply said they will work with their holdings to help move them away from fossil fuels. It shows that divestment, while probably not the best policy in managing change, is still increasingly popular. As we move toward Glasgow next November, we can expect a lot more of these. . . .

. . . . Not to be outdone by the Brits, the U.S. Federal Reserve released its Financial Stability Report on Monday and for the first time it included climate risks. Lael Brainard, one of the board of governors for the U.S. central bank and a candidate to become Biden’s new Treasury Secretary, created a special section in the twice-yearly report saying that the economy was vulnerable to climate risk. While those of us in California, or in Florida this week as Hurricane Eta hits, might be tempted to say “Huh?”, the inclusion of climate risk in the Fed’s report underscores that it has come of age as a priority, at least here in the U.S. . . .

. . . . Coal for Christmas? Peabody Energy Corp. (BTU), the world’s largest coal producer, whose shares have fallen more than 90% year to date, said this week it faces bankruptcy for the second time in five years as it struggles to pay its debts amid a collapsing coal business worldwide. As renewable energy is expected to overtake coal generation this year for the first time, Big Coal faces the proverbial existential crisis. Watch this space. . . .

. . . . All aboard! American Airlines (AAL) jumped on the ESG express this week, publishing its first ESG report. OK, well, it simply renamed its existing corporate responsibility report, but the thought was there. American said over the past year it made progress deciding where ESG goes in its management structure. It recruited a managing director for ESG, Jill Blickstein, from JP Morgan, and assigned climate change oversight to its board’s corporate governance and public responsibility committee. The report contains a cool graphic on page 11 about the carbon anatomy of a single flight, and claims that 48 million metric tons of CO₂ could be saved annually through improvements in air traffic control efficiencies. It also breaks down the airline’s total emissions of 63.5 million metric tons of carbon equivalents, some 84% of which come from burning jet fuel. . . .

Data driven: What’s driving emissions

. . . . Visual Capitalist, using information from Climate Watch and the World Resources Institute to analyze greenhouse gas emissions by sector, reports that the latest data show total emissions reached 49.4 billion metric tons of CO₂ equivalents in 2016. Digging down, it’s estimated the transport sector accounts for a 16.2% share of global GHG emissions. Within the sector, 11.9% comes from road emissions, 1.9% from aviation, 0.4% from rail, 0.3% from pipeline emissions, and 1.7% from ship emissions. . . .

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Latest findings: New research, studies and projects

An asteroid worth more than the entire economy of Earth?

A new study published in The Planetary Science Journal takes a closer look at Asteroid 16 Psyche, an unusual metallic asteroid, using data from the Hubble Telescope. CNN notes the asteroid, located between Mars and Jupiter, is one of the most massive objects in the asteroid belt in the solar system, and with a diameter of about 140 miles, it is roughly the same length as Massachusetts (if you exclude Cape Cod). Scientists are not certain about the asteroid’s composition, but it’s believed to be made mostly of iron and nickel — and it’s been estimated that a piece of iron that size would be worth an estimated $10,000 quadrillion. NASA is scheduled to send an unmanned craft to Psyche in 2022 to study it and determine what it’s made of.

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