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It’s Time for Corporate America to Rewrite Its Responsibility to Sustainability

September 3, 2019, 9:16 PM UTC
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Welcome to The Loop—a weekly newsletter and Fortune’s ear to the ground on sustainability and business.

Each week, The Loop will deliver the latest on environmentalism in the boardroom, call out corporations that aren’t pulling their weight, and highlight advances in tech and policy designed to usher in greater sustainability.

This is The Loop’s first edition and its launch coincides with the opening of Fortune’s inaugural Global Sustainability Forum, which is about to get underway in China’s southern Yunnan province.

The Loop and the forum were both born of the idea that environmentalism is no longer the purview of counterculture activists—that corporations have taken note and, increasingly, are aligning shareholder interests with the health of the planet.

That guiding notion was validated just two weeks ago when the Business Roundtable—a lobby group representing the interests of over 180 leading American companies—redefined what it means to be a business and included a commitment to sustainability fourth on their list of five defining characteristics.

Fourth isn’t great, but it’s better than nothing.

However, some critics disagree with even that. Detractors argue that environmental protection should be left to the government and that mindfulness of stakeholders will reduce corporate efficiency. Others think signing up to promote sustainability is an empty promise that’s too hard to enforce and it’s better, not to mention easier, to hold businesses accountable to shareholder profits.

The criticisms are all valid. Corporate environmentalism, really, is still in its infancy and exactly how businesses align shareholder interests with those of a broader group of stakeholders still needs to be hammered out. That’s the job Fortune has committed to at the Global Sustainability Forum, and that’s the process The Loop will chronicle—cajoling slackers along the way.

While the newsletter gets up and running, feel free to send in suggestions on what we can do better, questions on what you’d like to know more on, or tips on what we should look into.

More below.

Eamon Barrett

In the Loop

Steady money. Sustainable investing has grown into a $30 trillion market, but a report from McKinsey suggest few investors really know what they’re getting into. That’s because reporting practices for environment, social and governance issues have no standard. There are too many guidelines to choose from, making corporate portfolios impossible to compare. However, it’s not just investors complaining: corporations want uniform rules too, in order to “level the playing field.” With both sides asking for it, it might just happen. McKinsey

Endangering act. The Interior Department recently announced rules that weaken how the Endangered Species Act is applied. The White House claims the Act protected “very few” species but opponents of the amendment say the changes make it harder to shield endangered species from the effects of commercial activities like logging and oil drilling. New York Times

Thirsty and underwater. The Greater Bay Area (GBA) is the title bestowed upon an integrated economic zone with a GDP the size of South Korea being created in South China’s Pearl River Delta. But the $1.6 trillion economy is built on a sprawling mass of low-level concrete that is susceptible to floods. Meanwhile, in terms of potable water, the GBA is as dry as the Middle East and getting thirstier as more people add to the zone’s 68 million strong population. What’s the plan for growth? China Water Risk

Worth Your While

From Fringe to Core: The ‘Green’ Economy Grows Up Fortune
The Change the World Sustainability All Stars Fortune
How a State Plans to Turn Coal Country Into Coding Country NYT
Change the World 2019 Fortune
An Insider Takes Aim at Corporate America’s ‘Elite Charade’ Fortune

Data Dive

415 parts per million

That’s the record high volume of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere as of May this year. Scientists trace atmospheric CO2 levels by measuring deposits of the compound in layers of glacial ice, so the figure makes a fitting epitaph for Iceland’s first glacial demise. The number was printed recently week on a plaque commemorating the Okjoull glacier in Iceland, which measured 38 square kilometres in 1901 but has now melted completely.