For the ninth installment of our “Green Leaders Talk Green Sports”^ series — where we talk with luminaries from outside the Green-Sports world about its potential to impact the climate change fight — we bring you our discussion with Mindy Lubber, CEO of Ceres.
Ceres, a Boston-based sustainability nonprofit, works with the world’s most influential companies and investors to build leadership on climate change and drive climate solutions throughout the economy. Among other things, we talked about how sports can influence the increasingly busy intersection of Green & Business & Finance.
GreenSportsBlog: Mindy, thank you for talking with us; I’ve wanted to get your perspective on the potential power of sports to influence sustainable business for a long time. To start, what does Ceres do?
Mindy Lubber: Ceres works with influential corporations and investors to drive sustainable change in the economy. We advocate for the integration of climate risk, water scarcity and pollution, and human rights abuses from company supply chains to the board room. And our ethos is to Think Big! Many of the large companies we work with are changing and are moving the sustainability discussion forward — not necessarily fast enough or bold enough, but we are working on that — and we need to be having the discussion with a wider audience of folks. And who are more compelling than athletes — admired by many — to lend their powerful voices in support of addressing the future of our planet? (Editor’s Note: Emphasis is mine)
Mindy Lubber, CEO of Ceres (Photo credit: Karen Rivera, Ceres)
GSB: I like it all, especially that last bit! So how did you get to lead big thinking, big acting Ceres?
ML: Well, despite the admonition of my parents not to follow my MBA and Law degrees with a public interest/nonprofit career, I made that jump and, 35 years later; have not looked back. My question to myself always has been: How can I maximize my impact? So I started a long road in which I worked as a lawyer — a tortured litigator, in fact — regulator, researcher, and in politics, always looking to see how I can affect change. I worked for 10 years with the Public Interest Research Groups. In 1988, I was a senior staffer on the Dukakis for President campaign. Then, after we didn’t quite end up in the White House…
ML:…I founded and launched an environmental investment firm — this was very new at the time — focusing on investing in environmentally sustainable companies. The firm continues to this day — 17 years later — as does an entire industry around responsible investing. Years later, I found myself back in government, working for the Clinton Administration under Carol Browner as Regional Administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency. When I left the Administration, I took some time to think about what strategies and tactics I could employ that would have the most impact on climate change and environmental sustainability. My conclusion? Capital markets have to be involved in solving climate and environmental problems, especially companies in the Fortune 500. In fact, companies and investors are key to solving these problems – problems and challenges which are about the future of our families as well as our economy.
Much has changed in the world of corporate sustainability. When I got here in 2003, Ceres had a staff of eight. Now, we’re 107 people — because it is clear capital market leaders need to be and are becoming increasingly involved. Ceres works with hundreds of companies and investors to limit their carbon footprint, reduce water and other resource use, commit to clean energy and electric vehicles, support the Paris Climate Agreement and other environmental and social policies.
GSB: What drives Ceres’ success in helping move corporations to more sustainable behaviors?
ML: The best way to say it is we work as advocates to move the largest companies, as well as major investors, to integrate sustainability more quickly and more deeply, because it is a driver of shareholder value. Right now, 90 large companies and 140 large investors are Ceres members, along with the rating agencies and stock exchanges with whom we engage regularly. And, the truth is, leadership at these big organizations get climate change for the most part. They see the increased intensity of storms, wildfires, and other extreme weather and they know that it matters and has a direct impact on their businesses. The largest companies really get it. Apple, Citicorp, Dell and PepsiCo are all Ceres members. Now, not all of our members are doing everything well, sustainability-wise, but they’re moving in the right direction.
GSB: Are any companies in the sports industry Ceres members?
ML: Nike is an important partner of Ceres; they’ve been a leader on sustainable innovation in product design and materials, while also decreasing their environmental footprint. Disney, of which ESPN is a part, is a member, as is Time-Warner, with sports cable-casters TBS and TNT on their roster.
Ceres member Nike’s recently launched Flyleather shoe — a sustainable material made with 50 percent recycled leather fibers (Photo credit: Nike)
GSB: What are some of the major initiatives Ceres is working on with its members?
ML: We just launched a new initiative with our global investor partners– the Climate Action 100+. It is designed to engage the world’s largest corporate greenhouse gas emitters to curb emissions, strengthen climate-related financial disclosures and improve governance on climate change. Betty Yee, California State Controller and board member of CalPERS, CalSTRS and Ceres, announced the initiative at the One Planet Summit hosted by the French Government in December. Launching on the second anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement, Climate Action 100+ aims to realize the goals of that agreement by bringing together the world’s most influential institutional investors with a clear and coordinated agenda to get the biggest emitters to act more ambitiously on climate. We are tremendously excited about this initiative and the unprecedented global collaboration among investors that it represents.
We are also doing exciting work on water through Feeding Ourselves Thirsty, an analysis and ranking of the largest food sector companies on how they are responding to water risks and, in our most recent report, how performance has shifted since the first round of benchmarking in 2015. Feeding Ourselves Thirsty also serves as a resource to companies by offering insights on the water and climate risks food sector companies are exposed to and how these risks impact current and future profitability.
GSB: This is very important work, Mindy, but I always wonder, how big, really, is the awareness of corporate sustainability initiatives among the general public? My sense is that a very small percentage of the public, of small investors, are aware of any of this. Is my sense nonsensical?
ML: We are seeing extraordinary changes regarding sustainability within companies and investment firms, within cities and states, and, yes, with consumers and small investors. The world is changing – the reality of climate change is becoming ever more clear. Millennials, a larger demographic cohort than the baby boomers, are starting to act in big numbers — as are other groups.
GSB: In this case, I’m glad my instincts were off! Ceres must have a very full plate…
ML: No doubt about it. Every company is on its own journey — some doing a little and some doing a lot. Our job is to increase the pace and the size of the impact if we are going to successfully address the sustainability issues of our time. A good number of corporations are moving in the right direction and are doing so forcefully. What we are seeing is over 100 corporations committing to 100 percent renewables. Mars not long ago pledged $1 billion to fight climate change; Morgan Stanley committed to get all its energy from renewables by 2022; Bank of America pledged $125 billion dollars for a clean energy future; and dozens of companies have showed their support for the US commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement by joining Ceres at November’s COP23 in Bonn, Germany.
Mars climate change-themed promotional piece (Image credit: Mars)
GSB: Sounds like Ceres had a great 2017; what’s ahead for 2018 and beyond?
ML: Two big areas we’ll be focusing on are 1) Scaling the adoption of electric vehicles, and 2) Expanding finance to a renewable energy future.
GSB: Speaking of finance, how does Ceres work with investors?
ML: Investor engagement has been at the core of Ceres’ work since our founding. We work with investors on environmental, social, and governance issues to drive sustainable investment leadership and action through every level of the capital markets and government. In 2003, we launched the Investor Network on Climate Risk and Sustainability (originally referred to as INCR), which now numbers over 130 institutional investors, collectively managing about $15 trillion in assets. Facilitated by Ceres staff, network members participate in working groups, webinars, and more to advance leading investment practices, corporate engagement strategies and policy solutions. And by pressuring exchanges and capital market regulators to improve climate and sustainability risk disclosure, our Investor Network members are able to serve as advocates for stronger climate, clean energy and water policies.
Sustainability-related shareholder resolutions are also a big aspect of our work with large investors. Five years ago, we reached the 50 percent voting threshold on about 10 percent of our resolutions; now we’re at 66 percent. This past May, our investors had an historic win at ExxonMobil’s annual meeting with a 62 percent majority vote in favor of a shareholder proposal calling on the oil and gas giant to assess and disclose how it is preparing its business for the transition to a low-carbon future. We are expecting to see a lot more of that.
GSB: That’s a big deal! But, to me, this highlights a gap between what companies and large investors are doing sustainability-wise and the relative absence of consumers. What can be done? And can sports be part of the solution?
ML: Consumers certainly need information on what companies are doing on sustainability and what sustainable investment opportunities are available to them, in a clear, digestible fashion. There is no time to waste on this if the world is going to make the Paris Agreement’s 2°C target — buy in from consumers is a must. Sustainability messaging and messengers for consumers in many cases need to be different than for those involved with the capital markets. This is where popular culture and sports needs to play their roles as parts of the solution. Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si, was an extraordinary message of change.
Sports stars and leaders can play an important role in our work as so much of humanity follows and is passionate about sports…
GSB: Well, as Allen Hershkowitz, former President of the Green Sports Alliance often says, “13 percent of people care about science; 70 percent care about sports.”
ML: Allen is probably right. Thing is, even though athletes are often not seen as left leaning — a challenge the climate movement faces — I was heartened to see some sports stars get involved with the Flint (MI) water crisis. They were largely apolitical — they were there to get things done, to win. And, even when sports gets political, as in the Colin Kaepernick case, the conversation gets outsized attention because it is sports. For the world to make the 2°C target, climate change needs much more attention from consumers, from business and from government. Sports can provide a big platform.
GSB: My contention is the Green-Sports movement’s impact on climate will scale as it moves from Version 1.0 — the greening of stadia and arenas — to a more expansive 2.0 — engaging fans at the games and as well as the much bigger audience watching on TV and/or other devices. In the meantime, the world needs Ceres to continue to engage the sports industry where possible to help corporations and investors win their 2°C battles…
^ Here are links to the first eight installments of “Green Leaders Talk Green Sports”: 1. Joel Makower, executive editor of GreenBiz Group; 2. Jerry Taylor, leading libertarian DC lobbyist who was climate denier/skeptic, “switched teams” and is now a climate change fighter; 3. Dr. Michael Mann, one of the world’s foremost climate scientists and author of “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars”; 4. Caryl Stern, President and CEO of US Fund for UNICEF; 5. Paul Polizzotto, President and Founder of CBS EcoMedia; 6. David Crane, former CEO of NRG, who, in addition to moving one of the largest electricity generators in the US away from coal and towards renewables, also oversaw the “solar-ization” of six NFL stadia; 7. Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, climate scientist and the best climate change communicator I’ve ever seen/heard; 8. Freya Williams, author of “Green Giants” and CEO of sustainability consulting firm Futerra USA.