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RI ESG Briefing, March 13: New shareholder joins Desertec initiative

The round-up of environmental, social and governance news

Environmental

First Solar, the Arizona-based, Nasdaq-listed solar photovoltaic systems firm, has joined the Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII) as a new shareholder. It was previously a partner. Desertec seeks to create an industrial-scale market by 2050 for renewable energies from the desert regions of North Africa and the Middle East.

Trade bodies the American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE) and Australia’s Clean Energy Council have announced a partnership to help advance clean energy deployment. The pair aim to build a “collaborative platform” to assist stakeholders to create successful policies, finance mechanisms, and market drivers. ACORE kicked off a week of meetings in Australia this week; firms involved include Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, First Solar, IBM, Lockheed Martin, Sungevity, SolarReserve, Sunpower, and Skadden Arps.

Social

Canadian banking giant the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) has launched a C$10m (€7.5m) pool of capital to finance enterprises tackling environmental or social challenges while generating a financial return, called the ‘RBC Generator’. The bank has almost C$2.1bn in loan and trading line exposures to companies whose predominant business is renewable energy (hydro, wind, solar and biomass) – up from C$1.7bn a year ago. Link to 2012 CSR Report

The PRI Association, the UK-registered entity which oversees the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), says it is budgeting for £3.2m (€3.7m) in fees from signatories in the 2012/2013 period. Total income including grants comes to £3.3m while total expenditure will be £3.8m – leaving a deficit of £352,000.

Oikocredit, the Dutch social investor, says loan approvals in 2012 reached a new high of € 234m – up 11% on 2011. Inflows from members increased 35% to €60.9m while the development financing portfolio grew 2% to €530m.h6. Governance

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway and online auction giant eBay are among the five lowest S&P100 companies rated on corporate diversity, according to a new study by US sustainable funds house Calvert Investments. The highest rated were Citigroup, Merck & Co., Coca–Cola and J.P. Morgan Chase. The report is called Examining the Cracks in the Ceiling: A Survey of Corporate Diversity Practices of the S&P 100. Link

More than 40 investors with $2.6trn in assets under management have signed a statement in support of the new Access to Nutrition Index (ATNI) that was launched this week. Investors including Boston Common, F&C and others have been part of ATNI’s Expert Group or Advisory Group since 2011.

More than half (52.3%) of the 1,610 companies that make up the MSCI World stock index do nothing or very little in the interest of sustainable development, a new study by Oekom research, the German ESG rating agency, shows. And among those firms in the index (31%) that had embraced sustainable development, the study said the principle was still not firmly anchored in their business. As a result, no MSCI World member had been given the top rating of “very good,” it said.

The Securities and Exchange Commission, the US regulator, is “searching for opportunities to shower money in large quantities on individuals who bring in particularly productive evidence” in corporate whistleblower cases, according to a new posting by Lawrence West of law firm Latham & Watkins on the Harvard Corporate Governance Forum. “How should you deal with a disgruntled employee who is or could be an award-seeking SEC whistleblower?” West asks. “The short answer is, of course, very carefully.”

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines now rank among the most widely recognized Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) instruments among large European companies, according to new research published by the European Commission.
 A survey of the public CSR statements of 200 randomly selected large companies suggests that the GRI Guidelines are now referred to almost as frequently as the UN Global Compact.