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Social Capitalists: Ceres

43 entrepreneurs who are changing the world
Social Capitalist 2008 Winner


Mindy S. Lubber, president
Boston, Massachusetts
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Ceres is a groundbreaking public interest group catalyzing U.S. companies and investors to respond to critical sustainability challenges such as global warming. The Ceres network comprises some of the world’s largest institutional investors, leading Fortune 500 companies and environmental organizations who share a concern for the planet’s future and understand that meeting the sustainability challenges of the 21st century is both good public policy and good business. In this regard, Ceres has bridged the philosophical gap that has often cast sustainability issues as a confrontation between business and the public interest.

Bringing investors, companies, environmentalists and other key stakeholders together to build a sustainable and prosperous future is at the core of Ceres’ mission. And building the bridges needed to achieve that mission is its core competency. To realize Ceres’ long-term vision, it employs four key strategies.

Ceres Leads: Ceres has created many of the key building blocks for weaving social and environmental challenges into company and investor decision-making. For example, Ceres has developed reporting tools and disclosure standards that are now the gold standard by which a company’s sustainability performance can be measured. One of its biggest achievements was launching the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), which is now the de-facto international standard for corporate reporting on the environmental and social impacts of their businesses. Today, more than 1,200 corporations around the world are issuing GRI-based sustainability reports.

Ceres Connects. Through its four-year-old Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR), Ceres has connected institutional investors managing more than $4 trillion in assets so they can use their leverage to impact corporate and Wall Street practices on climate change. In March 2007, Ceres brought together 65 leading companies and investors in a joint Call to Action, urging the U.S. Congress to adopt a strong national policy to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which causes climate change. Ceres has also connected Wall Street firms with information about climate change business impacts so that climate risks become an integral part of evaluating companies. For example, in 2007, investors played a major role in persuading TXU Corp. not to build 11 coal-fired power plants in Texas that would have increased the company’s greenhouse gas emissions by hundreds of millions of tons. Emerging carbon-reducing regulations that will impose high costs on carbon dioxide emissions would have made those coal plants far more expensive to operate.

Ceres Solves. Long-term profitability and sustainable business practices go hand in hand and Ceres has helped dozens of companies develop strategies to help them achieve both. Ceres has pioneered the use of stakeholder teams that help companies assess and improve their environmental impact, typically while making their operations more efficient and, therefore, more profitable. Among its recent successes: Time Warner implementing a vendor code of conduct that thousands of suppliers must adhere to in addressing social and environmental issues; Dell Computer’s recent support for electronics product recycling legislation and a new requirement that its top suppliers measure and report their greenhouse gas emissions; Timberland placing ‘nutritional labels’ on all footwear boxes describing the company’s environmental and social impacts; Marsh launching a training program to educate US corporate directors on the risks and opportunities from climate change.

Ceres Informs. Ceres’ cutting-edge reports give investors an early advantage in understanding key business sustainability trends, such as the wide-ranging business impacts from climate change. Recent Ceres reports on the vast potential of energy efficiency to reduce global warming pollution, how insurers are responding to climate change, and how leading global companies are managing the risks and opportunities from climate change have all garnered widespread attention from investors and major media alike.