As I mentioned in the last blog in this series on ESG, back in September 2019, when I first wrote about environmental, social and governance (ESG) matters (see HERE), and through summer 2020 when the SEC led by Chair Jay Clayton was issuing warnings about making ESG metric induced investment decisions, I was certain ESG would remain outside the SEC’s regulatory focus.
Enter Chair Allison Herron Lee and in a slew of activity over the past few months, the SEC appointed a senior policy advisor for climate and ESG; the SEC Division of Corporation Finance (“Corp Fin”) announced it will scrutinize climate change disclosures; the SEC has formed an enforcement task force focused on climate and ESG issues; the Division of Examinations’ 2021 examination priorities included an introduction about how this year’s priorities have an “enhanced focus” on climate and ESG-related risks; almost every fund and major institutional investor has published statements on ESG initiatives; a Chief Sustainability
Over the past few years, the term “Environmental, Social and Governance” or “ESG” has been both first used and brought into daily use by capital market participants. Multiple publications have been written on the subject, Nasdaq has published an ESG Reporting Guide, the House Financial Services Committee has debated multiple bills that would require various ESG disclosures and the SEC top brass is vocal, and divided, on the subject. SEC Chair Jay Clayton and Commissioner Hester M. Peirce both believe that ESG matters are too abstract and undefined to result in meaningful disclosure while Commissioners Robert J. Jackson Jr. and Allison Herren Lee just issued a joint statement expressing disappointment in the recently proposed changes to Regulation S-K (see HERE) for omitting the topic of climate risk.
It is clear that ESG matters are an important factor for analysts and investors and thus for reporting companies to consider. It is also clear that companies have increasing pressure to