U.S. and Chinese mayors are discussing climate action this week. One idea sure to come up: sustainability reporting. In fact, cities should disclose sustainability data as a minimum legal expectati…
U.S. and Chinese mayors are discussing climate action this week. One idea sure to come up: sustainability reporting. In fact, cities should disclose sustainability data as a minimum legal expectation if they want to be part of the roughly $3.7 trillion U.S. market in municipal securities.
Boston, Massachusetts and Warsaw, Poland are among the many cities making a wide range of city data very accessible – including statistics on energy and water use and recycling. Whether you care about efficiency, education, prosperity, safety, or health, isn’t it desirable to be able to check your community’s stats and trends?
This is especially true when it comes to environmental impacts. The idea of getting to #NetZero harm – the practically self-evident idea that humanity has to neutralize its negative effects on the climate and ecosystems – is finally getting traction. Eliminating environmental harms requires better efficiency and begets innovation, and can lead to prosperity and improvement in well-being. Cities – foremost among them coastal cities – have much to lose and much to gain from unmitigated climate chaos, and therefore have to be champions for better measurement and tracking of environmental data. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it and you can’t fix it,” as former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has summarized.
Even for the most strictly short-sighted, financially-motivated, and narrowly self-interested among us, awareness of the long-term viability of a city is something that a reasonable investor should expect when purchasing municipal securities, as explained in City Sustainability Reporting: An Emerging & Desirable Legal Necessity (soon to be published by Pace Environmental Law Review).
Scalia: big gov’t liberal interpreter of Constitution gone; real conservative pragmatism now may have a chance.
Unusual and unnecessary written commentary issued prior to hearing arguments in landmark cases. Alleged vulgar gesticulations on the steps of a church. “Quack quack” as a closing comment when defending his controversial refusal to recuse himself from a case involving his duck-hunting buddy, Dick Cheney, and transparency and corruption. By all accounts Antonin Scalia enjoyed riling folks with different views.
There was plenty with which to disagree. First, he supported using federal power to override state power. Example: Bush v. Gore exposed Scalia’s willingness to flip-flop on his long-professed commitment to federalism and to, from the bench in DC, override a state supreme court ruling on a matter of state law – a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution (Art II, Sec 1, Cl 2). Remember? 585 law professors signed a full-page denunciation of Bush v. Gore in the New York Times.
Next, he was a liberal interpreter of the U.S. Constitution. In a 2008 Second Amendment case his rationale for disregarding text of the Constitution prevailed. He was not a strict constructionist. Well, few USSC justices ever have been, really: the power of the Supreme Court to tell elected representatives when they are out-of-bounds is based on the Court’s own decision in Marbury v. Madison). Yes, the power to interpret the Constitution is based on an interpretation of the Constitution. “Strict constructionist Supreme Court justice” is a therefore a bit of an oxymoron. They all interpret. Scalia interpreted a lot.
Finally, as explained in this journal article, Scalia did not favor devolving power from big federal government bureaucracy to citizens. Congress passed environmental protection laws specifically allowing citizens to sue – not to collect damages, but to fight for their health and security by upholding the law. Scalia’s open and visceral anti-environmental emotions drove him to write an article imagining – and when in power, to implement – a creative new vision of standing requirements. This created roadblocks to citizens enforcing environmental laws that are a matter of life-and-death. The irony? Citizen enforcement is cheaper (to the taxpayer), more democratic, and allows for LESS pervasive and permanent federal bureaucracy to monitor, regulate, and enforce environmental, health, and safety rules.
To sum-up: do you want to breathe? Drink water? Pay lower taxes and have more power as a citizen to fight for your health, safety, and security, within a predictable system, consistent with the U.S. Constitution? Then Scalia’s legacy is not one to embrace.
What will come next? Among other things, a major decision – an unprecedented attempted interference by the Court – involving obsolete 18th Century technology and mass death, suffering, disease, and national security. Now is the time for traditional American pragmatism, not ideology, from whomever is nominated and confirmed as a replacement. The new SCOTUS justice will help decide the safety of the air we breathe, among other weighty cases affecting generations to come.
It’s a time for real conservatism in a Supreme Court nominee: conserving democratic functioning, conserving Constitutional structures, conserving constructive federalism, and, in the spirit of (old-school) Republican Teddy Roosevelt, conserving environmental life-and-spiritual support systems. Disrupting these traditions is not pro-life, pro-Constitution, nor pro-business.
It’s also a time for conserving decorum and dignity. It used to be uncontroversial to suggest that a justice on the highest court have a consensus-building and calming disposition and cool predictability in the application of the law to disputes. In two decades of working with businesspeople and entrepreneurs, I’ve never met one (of any party) who would dispute that these are virtues they value from someone adjudicating a dispute of any kind.
To sum-up, a big government liberal interpreter of our laws (who clearly delighted in antagonizing others) is gone. It’s a chance for pragmatism and cool-headedness to prevail on upcoming decisions. Not to delight in the passing of a fellow being, but if you’re also fairly traditional in that you are pro-prosperity, pro-predictability, and pro-law-and-order, we should look with optimism to what comes next.
Warsaw’s Latest Sustainability Report: thanks to those who made it happen (and why every city should do something like this)
Warsaw – capital of Poland and home to +1.7 million residents – recently published its latest sustainability report (a press release, executive summary, and the entire Warsaw Sustainability Report are available in English and in Polish / po Polsku).
The significance of this in the greater global trend of city sustainability reporting was explained in Cities Today. Benefits of such reports have been summarized well by the ISO. Warsaw’s report is intended as a pragmatic, apolitical summary of economic, societal, and environmental health and related goals, policies, and the areas of stakeholders concern as measured in surveys and open fora. Ahead of the COP21 summit in Paris, we should be asking why every city is not doing something so imminently reasonable? How can we manage well what we don’t measure?
Members of Warsaw’s most recent sustainability reporting team, clockwise from top left: Adam Sulkowski, Joanna Wakulinska, Magdalena Obłoza, Leszek Drogosz, Joanna Gajda, Liliana Anam, Magdalena Kraszewska. Photo credit: Michał Ozdoba
Huge congratulations are due to a fantastic team of graduate students: Joanna Gajda, Alicja Marcinek, Magdalena Obłoza, Magda Skrocka-Kołodziejska, and Joanna Wakulińska taking a course in CSR management at Collegium Civitas with Liliana Anam, manager at CSRInfo. They worked tirelessly with a team at Warsaw City Hall led by Director of Infrastructure Leszek Drogosz to research, condense, format, and verify data about material concerns of residents. Thanks to Magdalena Kraszewska as well for her coordination. Finally, I’d be remiss not to thank the Warsaw University of Life Sciences and the Polish-American Fulbright Commission for their making my participation possible!
Warsaw’s latest sustainability report cross-references both the predominant global standard, the Global Reporting Initiative, and the new ISO standard for city sustainability reporting.
Since about 2005 I’ve kicked around this phrase: “Sustainability reporting is like taking the blinders off our great beasts – helping our institutions see that eliminating harms and improving societal and environmental conditions is actually in their own interest.” It took (what I perceived to be) a positive reaction from one of the respected authorities at the Boston Security Analysts Society‘s recent conference on sustainable investing to get me to “put this out there.”
This analogy is an apt one. Maybe it’s even useful. Consider using it the next time we’re asked: “what, really, is the ultimate goal you hope to achieve with sustainability reporting?” Here’s why you might like it:
Under law, an old and accepted idea is that an organization is treated as a single person – a concept that dates back at least to Roman times and facilitates things like contracting (i.e., an agreement can be made with an organization that may outlast any single human representative; of course, treating a corporation as a person in every context – e.g., constitutional or campaign finance law in the U.S. – may not be desirable).
Yet clearly, whether we consider public entities or private corporations, due to their vast size and power and durability, and despite management’s best efforts to steer them well, they can have an unwieldy tendency to sometimes trample over other interests and do harm – the analogy of an enormously industrious (but potentially lumbering and damaging) beast therefore comes to mind as a more appropriate metaphor.
The blinders in our analogy above – especially in the case of for-profit corporations – is the legal mandate of “putting the interests of the corporation and shareholders first” and the duty to report financial results quarterly and annually. Disciplined focus is a virtue. But it can make the best of us (willfully or unintentionally) blind to side effects of our actions, especially if negative side effects are diffuse and felt over longer periods of time.
When we consider Enron, Lehman Brothers, BP, Monsanto, or VW, or any of the plethora of examples of harmful and costly corporate malfeasance or negligence, it’s clear that actually what you don’t know (or fail to monitor and control) can kill. Or at least cost billions of dollars. Or lead to your own organization’s collapse. Or to creating an enormous economic, environmental, or societal hazard.
Sustainability reporting functions as “taking the blinders off the beast” because the practice encourages an organization and its leaders to find out what matters to all those upon whom it has an effect and to consider the environmental, societal, and economic side effects of its functioning, in addition to evaluating and describing its governance.
By systematically and regularly quantifying those side effects and publishing performance metrics and plans for their improvement, the ultimate aim is to help the organization eliminate negative side effects, and ultimately to even see that its best profit-making opportunities may be related to solving problems.
So, to paraphrase the quote above and re-cap: sustainability reporting is like “taking the blinders off our beasts to help them see their long-term success as aligned with solving problems and improving societal and environmental conditions.” Please feel free to comment if you agree, disagree, or would restate this. Thanks!
First: THANKS for a great decade, UMass Dartmouth! The mission of providing accessible higher education is a great one. Thank you students, alumni, colleagues, and those who gave the freedom to work on meaningful projects that involved students and research in sustainability on campus and in local communities.
Next: THANKS to my new colleagues at Babson College – it’s been inspiring to start to get to know you! I can’t say enough about the kindness and consideration shown to us new arrivals.
Friends have asked: “why leave the security of a tenured and comfortable job?” Below are factors I considered and the answers. For those ever similarly considering a career change, these may be questions that are helpful to ask yourself:
(1) do your values and vision align with those of the new group of people that you are considering joining? It’s been great to realize that Babson’s approach to education 100% aligns with what I believe to be optimal – to paraphrase the core aspects: (a) inform students about societal, environmental, and sustainability challenges in the world (b) help students appreciate who they are and their context and (c) challenge students to imagine and realize “win-win-win” solutions that solve problems while allowing themselves and others to prosper.
(2) is there external validation of the approach of your potential new teammates? In this case, there are many: not just #1 rankings in entrepreneurship and return-on-investment and other accolades from multiple sources including US News & World Report, Financial Times, PayScale, The Princeton Review, and Entrepreneur magazine, but also the only “A” rating for “value added” out of the best 5 – and #2 ranking overall – out of about 1,500 colleges and universities by Money magazine in 2015 (which rated Babson #1 in 2014). Sure, rating methodologies and the value of rankings are disputed, but when multiple sources consistently say a team is delivering a superlative service, that suggests one may learn a thing or two by joining it.
(3) think about what brought you joy and inspiration in the past, and ask whether your new context is likely to deliver more of those rewards. The greatest gratification during a decade of teaching is watching students flourish as alumni – to name just a few: Cassie, Jacob, Jason, Jonathan, Josh, Kevin, Marven-rhode (running for City Council in Lynn already, partially on a sustainability platform!), and Natika – especially when they innovate and even start-up booming new companies that solve big problems, like Waste Hub. These people inspire me as much (or more) than I might have influenced them – here’s hoping for many more similarly inspiring friendships at Babson – that seems likely with a list of notable alumni like this one.
(4) if you think, in some small way, that you make the world better through your career, does the switch have the potential to magnify your impact? Specifically, (a) are you likely to grow and improve as a result of contact with this new circle of acquaintances, and (b) conversely, are you likely to impact a wider circle of people and bigger slice of reality in the new context that you are considering? In both respects, I think the answer is yes, considering Babson’s faculty, Babson’s multiple centers, and Babson’s mission.
(5) finally, emotionally, are you (and those closest to you) ready for some excitement? A fresh challenge can be invigorating and new colleagues and a new culture can be stimulating. It felt like the right time for a new adventure.
So, again, many thanks to all those at UMass for support and inspiration during the past decade, and looking forward with much excitement to a new chapter with those of you at Babson!
In case you missed them, here are links to two of my recent opinion pieces in the Huffington Post:
Does Pope Francis and his “Eco-Encyclical” matter? My answer: maybe. As illustrated by the example of Pope John Paul II inspiring the Solidarity movement in the 1980s, when a movement has been building a long time, even against a massive and entrenched power, a charismatic leader’s words can play a vital role as a catalyst.
Why even strictly self-interested businesspeople should oppose the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism in many trade treaties, including the leaked draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP), and the original intent of Investor-State Dispurte Settlement (ISDS)
Alarm and criticism has been published about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP). Among other well-founded concerns about the process of negotiating the trade treaties, what they may include, and their impacts, is the fact that they are likely to include some form of Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism.
These kinds of mechanisms allow foreign investors and companies to seek, through a supra-national arbitration, compensation from governments for actions that interfere with the profitability of business ventures, including, for example, instances where legislatures or agencies enact laws or rules to protect human health and the environment.
It’s interesting to look back on the early days of ISDS. One of my first articles – NAFTA’s Indirect Expropriation Protections: Will Compensation Be Required When Ecological Protections Are Applied? Mealey’s International Arbitration Report, Vol.15, No.2 (2000) – explained the original motivation for such provisions: to provide a means of redress in cases of nationalization of assets, especially when foreign investors are restricted in how they may seek compensation in the host nation’s courts.
The recent trend toward increased use of ISDS procedures by foreign businesses to (1) effectively veto (or discourage a government from even trying to pass) rules to protect citizens or the environment and (2) seek compensation for losses arising from the passage of laws and rules should therefore be seen as beyond what was originally intended when ISDS was initially imagined.
As U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren succinctly summarized, the recent increase in use of ISDS and its likely inclusion in the TPP should disturb conservatives because of the undermining of state sovereignty, libertarians because it forces taxpayers to pay for non-market risks, and progressives because of resulting discouragement of policies that protect human health and ecology. The article linked above on the roots of ISDS in NAFTA’s indirect expropriation provisions should further give pause and help us realize that ISDS procedures are being exploited in a way that less than two decades ago was deemed surprising, novel, and unintended. This should further contribute to a consensus that, if there are to be free trade pacts, and must be ISDS procedures included, that common sense safeguards against their abuse should be included.
As the author of the article linked above, I need to thank Professor David A. Wirth of Boston College, for whom I worked as a research assistant, for having me research issues of trade and the environment in law school (his publications are linked here).