Many Boards Are Playing Catch-Up on ESG and Green Issues | Kanebridge News
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    HOUSE MEDIAN ASKING PRICES AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $1,526,212 (+1.41%)       Melbourne $950,600 (-0.81%)       Brisbane $848,079 (+0.39%)       Adelaide $783,680 (+0.69%)       Perth $722,301 (+0.42%)       Hobart $727,777 (-0.40%)       Darwin $644,340 (-0.88%)       Canberra $873,193 (-2.75%)       National $960,316 (+0.31%)                UNIT MEDIAN ASKING PRICES AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $711,149 (+0.79%)       Melbourne $480,050 (-0.07%)       Brisbane $471,869 (+1.52%)       Adelaide $395,455 (-0.79%)       Perth $396,215 (+0.44%)       Hobart $535,914 (-1.67%)       Darwin $365,715 (+0.11%)       Canberra $487,485 (+1.06%)       National $502,310 (+0.25%)                HOUSES FOR SALE AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 8,985 (+170)       Melbourne 11,869 (-124)       Brisbane 8,074 (+47)       Adelaide 2,298 (-22)       Perth 6,070 (+20)       Hobart 993 (+24)       Darwin 282 (-4)       Canberra 809 (+43)       National 39,380 (+154)                UNITS FOR SALE AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 7,927 (+125)       Melbourne 6,997 (+50)       Brisbane 1,822 (+3)       Adelaide 488 (+5)       Perth 1,915 (-1)       Hobart 151 (+3)       Darwin 391 (-9)       Canberra 680 (+5)       National 20,371 (+181)                HOUSE MEDIAN ASKING RENTS AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $750 (-$20)       Melbourne $580 ($0)       Brisbane $590 (+$10)       Adelaide $570 (-$5)       Perth $600 ($0)       Hobart $550 ($0)       Darwin $700 (+$5)       Canberra $670 (+$10)       National $633 (-$1)                    UNIT MEDIAN ASKING RENTS AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney $700 (-$20)       Melbourne $558 (+$8)       Brisbane $590 ($0)       Adelaide $458 (-$3)       Perth $550 ($0)       Hobart $450 ($0)       Darwin $550 ($0)       Canberra $540 (-$10)       National $559 (-$4)                HOUSES FOR RENT AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 5,224 (-134)       Melbourne 5,097 (+90)       Brisbane 3,713 (-84)       Adelaide 1,027 (-3)       Perth 1,568 (-46)       Hobart 471 (-3)       Darwin 127 (+13)       Canberra 658 (-32)       National 17,885 (-199)                UNITS FOR RENT AND WEEKLY CHANGE     Sydney 8,171 (-343)       Melbourne 5,447 (-170)       Brisbane 1,682 (-22)       Adelaide 329 (+3)       Perth 561 (-11)       Hobart 159 (-6)       Darwin 176 (+16)       Canberra 597 (-12)       National 17,122 (-545)                HOUSE ANNUAL GROSS YIELDS AND TREND         Sydney 2.56% (↓)       Melbourne 3.17% (↓)     Brisbane 3.62% (↑)        Adelaide 3.78% (↓)       Perth 4.32% (↓)     Hobart 3.93% (↑)      Darwin 5.65% (↑)      Canberra 3.99% (↑)        National 3.43% (↓)            UNIT ANNUAL GROSS YIELDS AND TREND         Sydney 5.12% (↓)       Melbourne 6.04% (↓)       Brisbane 6.50% (↓)     Adelaide 6.02% (↑)        Perth 7.22% (↓)     Hobart 4.37% (↑)      Darwin 7.82% (↑)        Canberra 5.76% (↓)       National 5.79% (↓)            HOUSE RENTAL VACANCY RATES AND TREND       Sydney 1.0% (↑)      Melbourne 0.7% (↑)      Brisbane 0.8% (↑)      Adelaide 0.4% (↑)        Perth 0.4% (↓)       Hobart 1.2% (↓)     Darwin 0.5% (↑)      Canberra 1.5% (↑)      National 0.8% (↑)             UNIT RENTAL VACANCY RATES AND TREND         Sydney 1.3% (↓)     Melbourne 1.6% (↑)      Brisbane 0.9% (↑)      Adelaide 0.5% (↑)      Perth 0.7% (↑)      Hobart 2.2% 2.0% (↑)      Darwin 1.0% (↑)        Canberra 1.7% (↓)     National 1.3% (↑)             AVERAGE DAYS TO SELL HOUSES AND TREND       Sydney 27.0 (↑)        Melbourne 28.3 (↓)     Brisbane 32.3 (↑)      Adelaide 26.3 (↑)      Perth 34.9 (↑)        Hobart 33.4 (↓)     Darwin 48.7 (↑)        Canberra 27.6 (↓)     National 32.3 (↑)             AVERAGE DAYS TO SELL UNITS AND TREND         Sydney 27.0 (↓)       Melbourne 29.0 (↓)     Brisbane 33.0 (↑)        Adelaide 27.5 (↓)     Perth 38.2 (↑)      Hobart 33.4 (↑)      Darwin 48.3 (↑)      Canberra 33.2 (↑)      National 33.7 (↑)            
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Many Boards Are Playing Catch-Up on ESG and Green Issues

Company board directors say ESG efforts have brought about real benefits, but the political backlash has had an impact

By ROB SLOAN
Sun, Sep 17, 2023 7:00amGrey Clock 5 min

Many corporate board directors aren’t confident about their ability—or their board’s—to oversee sustainability and social impact issues, even as companies pursue such goals and regulators want more disclosures on environmental, social and governance impact.

Eighty-three percent of directors surveyed said ESG topics were critical knowledge for directors, but less than half considered themselves to have “advanced” or “expert” level knowledge, according to a survey of board directors conducted in July by WSJ Pro in collaboration with the National Association of Corporate Directors.Directors of larger firms and listed companies expressed higher confidence, as did those in the energy industry.Respondents relied on external advisers to build their knowledge.

Other findings were that most believed sustainability efforts had brought real benefits and said ESG engagement with investors had been mostly positive. Directors also said the anti-ESG movement had an impact. They also reported that while about half of big companies had ESG targets—many linked to executive compensation—smaller, private companies lagged behind.

The survey’s 506 respondents covered a range of company sizes and included public, private and not-for-profit organizations from many sectors, with a concentration in financial services, industry, tech and energy. They said their ESG maturity level was across the spectrum: 4% self-identified as industry leaders, 27% as well developed, 36% as somewhat developed, 28% as early stage and 5% hadn’t started with ESG. Overall respondents rated their own ESG expertise slightly higher than that of their fellow board members.

Training up on sustainability

“As a board member, if you’re hoping that ESG is just a fad that will pass with time, we have enough data now from the last 2½ decades to know ESG is here to stay and boards need to be ready,” said Kristin Campbell, general counsel and chief ESG officer of Hilton Worldwide Holdings and board director at ODP and Regency Centers.

Campbell said boards must evaluate ESG as part of the company’s long-term strategy, otherwise activists, regulators, customers or someone else might do it for them, perhaps in a way that will be painful operationally or harmful to their reputation. “It’s that classic story of either you’re at the table or you’re on the menu, said Campbell.

Alan Smith—responsible for the strategic management of the Church of England’s £10.1 billion (equivalent to $12.6 billion) perpetual endowment fund—said many boards had brushed up on ESG knowledge with in-house training, e-learning packages or advisers to run workshops. A former senior adviser at HSBC on climate and ESG risk and current First Church Estates Commissioner, Smith said he also found it helpful to see projects, such as offshore-wind farms, and speak to their operators in person.

“I think an integrated approach to board director education—of which one important part is getting on the ground and in the mud or on the boat—is very important,” he said.

More than two thirds of directors said their organisations brought in external advisers to complement or build board’s ESG skills, with most advisers providing subject matter expertise (44%), education and training (41%), or research and analysis (37%).

“What we know about ESG will change today and will probably change tomorrow,” Hilton’s Campbell said. “It’s the job of an external adviser to know what’s going to happen next week and next year, which is useful in keeping the board ahead of the game.”

Stakeholder engagement

Overall, investors were the most influential stakeholders on board decisions related to ESG strategy, followed by company executives, regulators and customers. For public companies investors were most influential, followed by regulators, while directors of private businesses ranked their customers as top with investors in second place.

Respondents ranked their ESG-related interactions with investors as largely positive or neutral. Seventy-one percent of directors of organisations with investors said their largest ones had engaged with the board over the past 12 months on ESG topics.

However, public and private businesses approached this engagement quite differently. Private company investors most often engaged with the full board or directly with management, whereas public company investors worked most often with individual directors or sometimes with the full board, but rarely with management.

Anti-ESG impact

The survey also examined the impact of the rising anti-ESG movement in the U.S. Many boards started their ESG journey in 2020, but, particularly in the last six to 12 months, the extent of the political backlash in the U.S. has made it more complicated, said Smith. “You had a wind that was giving companies and boards energy, and now you have a countervailing wind of political backlash,” Smith said.

As the pressure has mounted, there have been numerous reports of green-hushing—when a company scales back what it says about its climate and social initiatives in corporate communications. The survey found evidence to support this: 7% of directors said their company no longer publicly communicates about its ESG activities, and 14% said their board and management no longer use the term ESG when referring to relevant activities.

Respondents report substantive changes too. One in five said their companies are reassessing their approach to ESG, 12% said they have deprioritised ESG as a critical business issue, and 15% of directors, primarily in smaller private businesses, believe ESG is negatively affecting their business decisions and strategy.

Despite those changes, half of respondents believe ESG will continue to be an important driver of their business decisions and strategy. Nearly as many say their board and management remain committed to ESG as an opportunity for growth and a driver of long-term risk reduction.

Driving ESG performance

While most respondents said ESG is critical knowledge for directors, only 37% of their organisations have set a climate-impact reduction target, although that was 54% for large organisations. Nine out of 10 of those companies with a target said their boards monitored their progress toward those goals and four out of five believed they were achievable.

To encourage management to hit targets, over one quarter of respondents said their company had linked executive pay to ESG goals, and a further 29% were considering doing so in the next 12 months.

“If we’re going to be more serious about ESG and building it into a company’s long-term strategy then I think it needs to be tied to executive compensation like any other [key performance indicator],” Campbell said.

Nearly a fifth of directors surveyed said reducing the impact of climate change is a priority regardless of financial performance. Almost half said it is a priority but not at the cost of financial performance, while the remaining third said it isn’t a priority at all.

Many directors report real benefits from their ESG efforts. In particular it has enhanced their company’s reputation and brand value (57%), risk management and resilience (54%), and ability to attract and retain talent (44% and 40%, respectively).

Climate change was talked about more frequently in 43% of the boardrooms, while in 31% it actually decreased. The topic was discussed at most or every board meeting for 29% of respondents, 36% said it came up at some meetings, and 23% said it was rarely talked about. Only 11%—primarily small, private companies—hadn’t discussed it at all.

Smith said it was particularly important for smaller companies to keep climate change front of mind: “Those that say they aren’t doing anything yet are paradoxically the ones that may be hit first because they’re downstream of big companies setting more immediate net zero carbon neutral targets.”

As well as calling it a business differentiator for small businesses, Smith said a focus on climate impact reduction was “a survival mechanism.”



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First, the good news for office landlords: A post-Labor Day bump nudged return-to-office rates in mid-September to their highest level since the onset of the pandemic.

Now the bad: Office attendance in big cities is still barely half of what it was in 2019, and company get-tough measures are proving largely ineffective at boosting that rate much higher.

Indeed, a number of forces—from the prospect of more Covid-19 cases in the fall to a weakening economy—could push the return rate into reverse, property owners and city officials say.

More than before, chief executives at blue-chip companies are stepping up efforts to fill their workspace. Facebook parent Meta Platforms, Amazon and JPMorgan Chase are among the companies that have recently vowed to get tougher on employees who don’t show upIn August, Meta told employees they could face disciplinary action if they regularly violate new workplace rules.

But these actions haven’t yet moved the national return rate needle much, and a majority of companies remain content to allow employees to work at least part-time remotely despite the tough talk.

Most employees go into offices during the middle of the week, but floors are sparsely populated on Mondays and Fridays. In Chicago, some September days had a return rate of over 66%. But it was below 30% on Fridays. In New York, it ranges from about 25% to 65%, according to Kastle Systems, which tracks security-card swipes.

Overall, the average return rate in the 10 U.S. cities tracked by Kastle Systems matched the recent high of 50.4% of 2019 levels for the week ended Sept. 20, though it slid a little below half the following week.

The disappointing return rates are another blow to office owners who are struggling with vacancy rates near record highs. The national office average vacancy rose to 19.2% last quarter, just below the historical peak of 19.3% in 1991, according to Moody’s Analytics preliminary third-quarter data.

Business leaders in New York, Detroit, Seattle, Atlanta and Houston interviewed by The Wall Street Journal said they have seen only slight improvements in sidewalk activity and attendance in office buildings since Labor Day.

“It feels a little fuller but at the margins,” said Sandy Baruah, chief executive of the Detroit Regional Chamber, a business group.

Lax enforcement of return-to-office rules is one reason employees feel they can still work from home. At a roundtable business discussion in Houston last week, only one of the 12 companies that attended said it would enforce a return-to-office policy in performance reviews.

“It was clearly a minority opinion that the others shook their heads at,” said Kris Larson, chief executive of Central Houston Inc., a group that promotes business in the city and sponsored the meeting.

Making matters worse, business leaders and city officials say they see more forces at work that could slow the return to office than those that could accelerate it.

Covid-19 cases are up and will likely increase further in the fall and winter months. “If we have to go back to distancing and mask protocols, that really breaks the office culture,” said Kathryn Wylde, head of the business group Partnership for New York City.

Many cities are contending with an increase in homelessness and crime. San Francisco, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., which are struggling with these problems, are among the lowest return-to-office cities in the Kastle System index.

About 90% of members surveyed by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce said that the city couldn’t recover until homelessness and public safety problems were addressed, said Rachel Smith, chief executive. That is taken into account as companies make decisions about returning to the office and how much space they need, she added.

Cuts in government services and transportation are also taking a toll. Wait times for buses run by Houston’s Park & Ride system, one of the most widely used commuter services, have increased partly because of labor shortages, according to Larson of Central Houston.

The commute “is the remaining most significant barrier” to improving return to office, Larson said.

Some landlords say that businesses will have more leverage in enforcing return-to-office mandates if the economy weakens. There are already signs of such a shift in cities that depend heavily on the technology sector, which has been seeing slowing growth and layoffs.

But a full-fledged recession could hurt office returns if it results in widespread layoffs. “Maybe you get some relief in more employees coming back,” said Dylan Burzinski, an analyst with real-estate analytics firm Green Street. “But if there are fewer of those employees, it’s still a net negative for office.”

The sluggish return-to-office rate is leading many city and business leaders to ask the federal government for help. A group from the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition recently met with elected officials in Washington, D.C., lobbying for incentives for businesses that make commitments to U.S. downtowns.

Baruah, from the Detroit chamber, was among the group. He said the chances of such legislation being passed were low. “We might have to reach crisis proportions first,” he said. “But we’re trying to lay the groundwork now.”

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