How ESG attention is changing the role of the board

Good morning.

Yesterday, Fortune and Diligent Corporation assembled a group of corporate directors to discuss how rising attention to environmental and social goals are changing the board’s role. There was unanimous agreement that pressure to perform against ESG (environmental-social-governance) goals is rising, and that the pressure is now coming from employees, customers and investors. Moreover, climate has become the top issue of concern.

“Every person who has spoken today has remarked upon the speed of this change. I don’t think there’s any reason to look forward and think that speed and focus is going to decrease. It’s going to be driven by customers, it’s going to be driven by employees, and…it’s going to be driven by the market, where people are going to want to put their money into companies that are focused on this.”
—Henry McGee, director, AmerisourceBergen

“A lot comes from the consumer. Lego announced recently that it was getting rid of its plastic bags holding the bricks and substituting paper. That came about because of letters from kids who were saying: ‘I know this isn’t good.’”
—Anne Sweeney, director, Netflix, Mayo Clinic, Lego Group

“What’s interesting is how this has evolved. A year ago, the number one topic, if you were to categorize shareholder proposals, was around diversity. This year…climate is now at the top of the list. We’ve flipped from social and diversity to climate.”
—Christa Quarles, CEO of Corel, director, Kimberly-Clark and Affirm

“Frankly, I think some of these carbon offsets are greenwashing. You know, buying offsets isn’t really carbon neutral. They’re just sort of paying guilt money. And if I were a board, I’d say let’s look at the real impact of our operations, not what we do with our guilt payments.”
—Seth Goldman, director, Beyond Meat

There is a lot of groping in the dark. I think there’s a lot of early thinking, there’s a lot of pledges. But I think across our client base, we would argue that there’s still a lot of people who are looking for more direction. Directors are looking to know what they should be doing to guide and push their companies in the right direction.”
—Brian Stafford, CEO, Diligent Corporation

And speaking of boards—a report from Pay Governance out yesterday shows U.S. boards have made huge progress achieving gender diversity in the last few years. A full 30% of directors at S&P 500 companies are now women, up from 18% just five years ago. In 2021, the advisory firm forecasts that while 1,400 men will be recruited to join boards, 1,800 men will depart. Among women, 1,200 will be recruited and only 460 will depart.

Alan Murray


American Airlines

American Airlines won't be running so many international flights next summer, thanks to Boeing's Dreamliner production problems. With deliveries of the new craft delayed, the carrier won't be serving Edinburgh, Shannon, or Hong Kong. Wall Street Journal

Daimler Truck

Daimler Truck started trading in Frankfurt today. The Daimler spinoff will take on Tesla and Geely in the nascent electric-truck market. The debut started alright for Daimler Truck, whose share price rose from €28 to €29. As for Daimler itself, the proud parent's share price dropped as much as 17%. Reuters

Chinese censorship

Beijing has ordered the removal of 106 smartphone apps that allegedly broke data-protection laws. The list includes Douban, a liberal social-media platform that hosts discussions about topics the government sees as sensitive. South China Morning Post

Starbucks unionization

Workers at a Starbucks near Buffalo have voted to form the first union in the company's history, by 19 votes to eight. The National Labor Relations Board is still counting votes from another two Buffalo cafés. Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson claims this won't turn into wider unionization movement. Fortune


Sacklers scrubbed

New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art will no longer have a Sackler wing. In a move that may inspire other museums to disassociate themselves from the Purdue Pharma family and its role in the opioid epidemic, the Met said it will remove the Sackler name from the wing and six other exhibition spaces. Members of the family said: "Our families have always strongly supported the Met, and we believe this to be in the best interest of the Museum and the important mission that it serves." BBC

Musk shares

Elon Musk is still selling Tesla shares. Eleven million down, six million to go before he achieves his pledge, which has so far lopped 18% off the company's share price. Fortune

Travel ban

Cheikh Oumar Seydi, who leads the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s work in Africa, writes for Fortune that Omicron-inspired travel bans on southern African countries are seen in the region as punishment: "We don’t know where Omicron really originated. But we do know that once scientists began looking for it, they found it in at least 24 countries. Yet so many travel bans target southern Africa alone. Those decisions by other countries have a profound economic effect here." Fortune

Chinese decarbonization

China could reduce global warming by as much as 0.3°C if it achieves net-zero by 2060, as it has pledged to do—but it's not enough, according to independent research group Climate Action Tracker. That's largely thanks to China's addiction to coal. (See also: India, the actions of which highlight questions around who should foot the decarbonization bill.) Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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