Insight Sharing from World Benchmarking Alliance – Allies Assembly 2024 in Bangkok

【Certified ESG Analyst Insights Sharing】 Ericson Lee, CESGA

The World Benchmarking Alliance – Allies Assembly in Bangkok from June 10-13, 2024 provided a crucial platform for global stakeholders to come together and share insights on the role of business in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As a Certified ESG Analyst (CESGA) representing Friends of the Earth (HK), it is my honor to attend this premier sustainability conference and gaining firsthand perspectives on the progress, challenges, and collaborative efforts underway. The 4-day program, covering critical issues such as social challenges in supply chains, the evolving role of investors in driving sustainability, and the pressing need to develop globally accepted ESG standards and frameworks. The insights gleaned from this assembly offer valuable lessons and a roadmap for businesses, investors, policymakers, and civil society organizations to accelerate progress towards a more sustainable and equitable future.

無圖片說明

Social Issues in Supply Chain

Southeast Asia plays a pivotal role in the global supply chain, especially in food and marine products. The environmental and social status of this region requires urgent attention due to small-scale, dispersed suppliers with low education and technological adoption, leading to challenges in supply chain engagement and data collection. The fishing industry, dominated by small-scale suppliers, is problematic in terms of human rights violations[1], with weak law enforcement and ineffective whistleblowing mechanisms.

Just transition in the supply chain is also critical, ensuring fairness while pursuing environmental and social improvements. Small-scale suppliers may face increasing production costs to meet sustainable standards, impacting their vulnerable income and living conditions. Participants proposed collaborative efforts from large companies, governments, and NGOs are essential. Companies must ensure fair profit distribution, invest in sustainable practices, and support small-scale suppliers with tailor-made education and technological assistant.

NGOs are working for human rights and support vulnerable communities on-site, like The Labour Protection Network (LPN) combating human trafficking in the fishing industry. LPN operates centers for migrant workers, investigates wage disputes, and provides legal services. Raising awareness and educating employees is crucial, as victims may be unaware of their rights. LPN faces challenges such as fake documents, difficulty reaching small-scale supplier employees, and accusations of damaging Thailand’s image. The organization advocates for transparency in supply chains and data sharing but struggles to obtain compensation and evidence for long-term cases involving workers on boats.

During our visit to LPN, government representatives emphasized the importance of private sector support reaching those in need and enforcing laws. Collaboration between ministries, police, and trade unions is crucial for social welfare and whistleblowing. The ministry partners with NGOs to provide education, training, and facilities for victims, but comprehensive mechanisms and law enforcement to protect migrant labor are insufficient.

Stewardship and Engagement

Foreign investors play a pivotal role in driving sustainable development through the effective utilization of their shareholder power. Participants in the discussion emphasized the significance of finance in unlocking sustainable business opportunities in Asia, highlighting the evolving skills and knowledge required for effective stewardship. Institutional investors are increasingly adopting a proactive approach, engaging with companies as collaborators to drive meaningful changes in sustainable development practices. Rather than simply divesting from companies, investors are holding them accountable to develop and implement real transition plans. Given that Asian companies tend to be less open to engagement compared to their Western counterparts, investors are encouraged to leverage shareholder resolutions and co-file with NGOs to amplify their influence.

Initiatives such as Climate Action 100+ have made significant progress in persuading companies to make net zero commitments and improve their governance and disclosure practices. Investors are gradually shifting their emphasis from mere compliance and disclosure to integrating sustainability commitments into the core business strategy of the companies they invest in. Additionally, there is a growing recognition of the importance of addressing social issues, as investors understand the impact of these issues on economic systems and company performance.

Transparent and globally comparable standards and frameworks are essential for engaging stakeholders effectively, particularly when addressing complex social issues such as wages and inequalities. By adopting a comprehensive approach that encompasses both environmental and social considerations, investors can play a vital role in shaping a more sustainable and equitable future for businesses and communities alike.

Allies in Action Discussion – Addressing the Gap in ESG Standards and Frameworks

At the Allies in Action session, I was invited to co-lead a table discussion on addressing the gap in “Standards and Frameworks”. The primary issue is the absence of globally accepted reporting standards that align with global agendas, resulting in a lack of transparency and comparability of ESG performance among companies.[2]

Challenges identified for this topic such as lack of primary data, standardized quantifiable units of measurement, and consensus on ESG concepts and expectations due to diverse cultures and values across countries and sectors.

Participants suggested collaboration and communication on unified standards and frameworks, also making them more layman and accessible to ordinary people. However, reporting standards for corporates should be detailed and formal as it is a legal obligation, while performance metrics and scores can be easily understood and comparable by the general public despite the risk of “Black box”.

Establishing a globally accepted reporting standard for ESG disclosure is just the first step towards meaningful sustainability practices. The real challenge lies in developing a performance standard that drives actual change and improvement. While reporting standards ensure comparability, they do not guarantee active efforts towards better ESG performance, as seen with the slow improvement in lifecycle assessment despite the ISO 14040 standard being the sole internationally recognized framework for this issue.

Developing a globally accepted performance standard is significantly more difficult due to the subjective and context-specific nature of ESG issues. Achieving consensus requires the active participation and buy-in from diverse stakeholders with different priorities and concerns. Nevertheless, a robust and widely accepted performance standard is essential for driving meaningful change, ensuring credibility and effectiveness of ESG practices, and creating a level playing field for companies to compete on ESG performance.

Conclusion

While ESG and sustainability have made significant progress, there are still numerous areas that require improvement. The Allies Assembly in Bangkok provided a valuable platform for stakeholders from various sectors to collaborate and share insights. The conference highlighted the critical social issues faced by small-scale suppliers deeply embedded in supply chains, emphasizing the need for immediate action. Investors are increasingly leveraging their influence through engagement and stewardship to drive meaningful changes in sustainable development practices. However, the key to achieving consensus and establishing globally accepted standards and frameworks for ESG reporting and performance setting lies in collaboration. By fostering partnerships among diverse stakeholders, including companies, governments, NGOs, and investors, we can work towards addressing the complex challenges in the ESG landscape and create a more sustainable and equitable future for all. The Allies Assembly served as a catalyst for fostering partnerships and accelerating collective action towards a more sustainable and equitable future.

Article is written by EFFAS Certified Environmental, Social, and Governance Analyst (CESGA). CESGA is highly recognized in Europe and globally which has been steadily increasing in the worldwide. If interested in enrolling, please refer to https://bit.ly/3tFUQ1M


[1] https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/01/23/thailand-forced-labor-trafficking-persist-fishing-fleets

[2]https://assets.worldbenchmarkingalliance.org/app/uploads/2023/09/WBA2023_whitepaper_corporate_accountability_summary.pdf

企業漂綠行為與監管回應

[意見交流園地] 章逸飛博士(港大經管學院經濟學高級講師)、葉梓淇女士(港大經管學院本科生)

近年環球市場對可持續投資的需求有增無減,反映氣候變化和環保的議題備受重視;與此同時,亦令人關注「漂綠」(greenwashing)問題,其中包括企業為求吸引消費者和投資者、提升商譽,在宣傳與行銷過程中,過度誇大產品或服務的環保成效。漂綠行為通常透過誤導或虛假的陳述、廣告或標籤,使消費者和投資者誤以為某產品或服務對環境有益,儘管事實並非如此。放眼全球,企業漂綠事件屢見不鮮。為防被誤導,我們應關注產品的實際環保效果,而非只專注於廣告和宣傳。

中外企業漂綠案例

歐洲最大汽車製造商福士(Volkswagen,內地稱大眾汽車)在2014年推出了氫燃料電池車,贏得業界的廣泛讚譽。然而,一次廢氣排放測試的結果揭示有異常情況,美國國家環境保護局為此作出調查,發現大眾汽車在全球1100萬輛柴油車中安裝了減效裝置,可自動偵測車輛是否正在接受環保測試,並相應地減少車輛的廢氣排放,以符合環保標準。實際上,這些車輛的廢氣排放量竟高出美國標準40倍,足以致命。

最終,福士因欺詐被聯邦法院罰款28億美元,並須回收所有涉案車輛。這宗造假醜聞曝光後,該公司股價暴跌30%,市值縮水350億歐羅,不但嚴重損害企業形象和聲譽,也大大削弱消費者的信心。福士聲稱出廠綠色產品,其實以偽造數據欺騙公眾,此舉隨後成為企業漂綠的經典例子。

至於作為世界五百強之一的建築公司,中國中鐵(00390)不僅獲得了環境、社會及管治(Environmental, Social, and Governance,ESG)評級的AAA級,並獲中國上市公司協會選為ESG最佳實踐案例。其業務項目多與環保有關,更投入大筆資金研發綠色科技,將可持續發展作為企業使命。可惜現實偏偏相反,中鐵經常收到環境罰單,更在2022年因違法使用和破壞林地,被罰款約65萬元人民幣;同年,中鐵子公司也因排污和噪音問題違規,罰款逾160萬元人民幣。

確立綠色認證標準

歐洲方面,為了打擊企業漂綠行為,歐盟議會在本年1月17日正式通過《為綠色轉型賦權消費者指令》(The Directive on Empowering Consumers for the Green Transition,ECGT)。這項指令作為歐盟循環經濟計劃的一部分,旨在透過取締誤導性產品資訊和籠統環境聲明,協助消費者作出較佳購買選擇。

這項新法例的重點,是在當前歐盟的綠色轉型過程中,保障消費者免受有害商業行為的侵害。因此,ECGT將尋求禁止未經驗證計劃支持的籠統環境聲明、基於排放抵消計劃的環境聲明、毫無根據的耐用性聲明,以及其他廣泛的漂綠營銷行為。

ECGT透過確保行銷方面的產品綠色聲明更加透明可靠,以便消費者作出明智選擇,購得真正更耐用、可維修和可持續的產品。含糊的綠色承諾也將受到限制;只有當整個產品確實比傳統產品更環保,並通過像歐盟生態標籤這樣可靠的認證時,生產商才能將產品標記為「生態友善」或「綠色」。此外,如果產品或企業只是在某一細微部分變得比較永續,也不能將產品或企業宣傳為「綠色」。

除此之外,ECGT也透過規管永續標籤用途來實現這一目標,使它們更可信有效。為了提高生態標籤的可信度,該指令將禁止使用籠統的環境聲明(如「環保」、「可生物降解」、「氣候中性」和「生態友善」),若能證明整個產品確實比傳統版本更環保,則不在此列。在推行時,這意味着歐盟產品上的生態標籤需要通過批准的認證計劃或認可機構的獨立驗證。

至於中國內地,儘管目前沒有專門立法機關監管漂綠的不實廣告,但現存多項法規足以保障消費者和投資者。假使企業塑造虛假的綠色形象,企圖欺騙消費者,監管機構可按《廣告法》規管的虛假廣告、《消費者權益保護法》規管的損害消費者權益、《反不正當競爭法》規管的虛假商業宣傳,以及《產品品質法》規管的偽造和冒用認證標誌等法例加以起訴。違法者輕則被罰款並須作出賠償,重則或被吊銷營業執照,而且須承擔刑事責任。

加強資訊法規保障

針對不實披露環境資訊的情況,中國自2016年簽署《巴黎協定》以來,已經根據協定的綠色分類目錄來評估業界的綠色行為,涉及案例多達100萬宗。隨着綠色行為日漸普及和社會關注度提升,2021年中國修訂了《上市公司資訊披露管理辦法》,要求公開對環境違法行為的行政處罰。隨後一年實施《企業環境資訊依法披露管理辦法》,規定企業披露相關資訊,以確保環境資訊的明確性。

今年,國務院最新頒布了《碳排放權交易管理暫行條例》,對不實、偽造、篡改環境資訊和資料等行為設定罰款,並要求排放單位公開環境資料,這大大增加了對企業漂綠行為的威懾力和進一步預防漂綠行為。

(本文同時載於《信報》「龍虎山下」專欄 及港大經管學院網頁)

Source: https://www.hkubs.hku.hk/research/thought-leadership/hkej-column/corporate-greenwashing-and-regulatory-response/

Investing in Natural Regeneration Projects: Insights from Hong Kong’s Private Sector

Mr. Anthony Cheung CESGA, Vice-Chairperson & Green Finance Convenor of Friends of the Earth (HK)

On World Environment Day, I had the privilege of serving World Vision and FoE(HK) as a panelist in a thought-provoking discussion titled “Supporting Natural Regeneration Projects: The Role of the Private Sector.” 

  • Mr. Tony Rinaudo, the Forest Maker, Principal Climate Action Advisor, World Vision Australia 
  • Mr. Daniel Misson, Carbon Programming and Partnerships Manager, World Vision Australia 
  • Mr. Ken Chiu, Head of Carbon & ESG Products, HKEx 
  • Mr. Calvin Wong, Head of Sustainability Assurance Services, SGS Hong Kong 

During our engaging conversation, we delved into the benefits, challenges, and opportunities for corporations and investors interested in engaging in Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) and other natural regeneration initiatives. I would like to highlight several key takeaways from this insightful exchange: 

1. Return on Investment and Realizing Impacts 

Panelists emphasized the relatively swift realization of tangible benefits in these initiatives, often surpassing expectations compared to traditional tree planting projects. For instance, Tony shared instances where farmers experienced remarkable increases in crop yields, sometimes doubling, within the first year of FMNR projects. The advent of remote sensing technology enables more frequent monitoring and verification of carbon projects, allowing investors to witness carbon credit generation sooner. Moreover, natural regeneration projects contribute to multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), enabling corporations to showcase their ESG investments. Implementing robust monitoring and evaluation frameworks facilitates the tracking of environmental, economic, and social impacts over time. 

2. Reporting Impact and Elevating biodiversity Considerations 

Accurately quantifying and reporting impacts emerged as a significant concern for stakeholders. Calvin underscored the significance of not merely presenting narratives but also adopting new ESG reporting frameworks such as GRI. Given the growing importance of ESG reporting and frameworks, companies must proactively address these issues. The panel further emphasized the need for corporations to mitigate environmental and biodiversity risks, highlighting the extensive economic value at stake due to biodiversity loss. Initiatives like the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) emphasize the mounting focus on biodiversity. Companies that proactively integrate biodiversity considerations within their reporting will be better equipped to navigate emerging risks and opportunities. 

3. Collaborating with Stakeholders To Foster Sustainability

The panel explored how corporate partnerships can support carbon reduction initiatives. Ken remarked that HKEx adopts a multifaceted approach, leading by example in setting ambitious targets for carbon neutrality and net zero. HKEx focuses on engagement, awareness, and practical implementation through educational initiatives.  
 
In my view, it is essential for corporates to recognize the interconnection of Sustainability reporting, biodiversity, and financial performance, and take action to address these issues in a comprehensive and proactive manner. 

Greenwashing poses one of the biggest risks in the sustainability transition. To tackle this, developing robust measurement metrics, KPIs, and a comprehensive framework is crucial. Sharing and standardizing these tools among all stakeholders will be essential in combating greenwashing and ensuring genuine progress towards sustainability goals. 

4. Balancing Risks and Ensuring Long-Term Viability 

In his keynote speech preceding the panel, Daniel highlighted FMNR’s low-risk nature, based on decades of experience. The key lies in designing projects with appropriate long-term economic incentives for communities and accounting for challenges expected over a project’s 30 to 40 years lifespan. This entails local assessments, adaptive management plans, and empowering local teams to make informed decisions. Addressing potential obstacles necessitates counterparty risks consideration, implementing effective ongoing monitoring, and engaging stakeholders to articulate project relevance and impact. 

In conclusion, this audience instilled a sense of urgency and inspiration, urging concrete action in safeguarding the environment and biodiversity. FMNR and natural regeneration projects offer exciting opportunities for the private sector to effect transformative environmental and social change. By designing projects with appropriate long-term incentives, addressing potential risks, and partnering with key stakeholders, responsible companies can generate meaningful returns while restoring landscapes and empowering communities. As mandatory sustainability reporting continues to evolve, companies must proactively develop robust measurement frameworks to track progress, combat greenwashing, and demonstrate genuine sustainability commitments. 

A Huge Step Forward in Our Mission for a Sustainable Future

Bien Wong, Governor and Honorary Treasurer, Friends of the Earth (HK)

Happy World Environment Day! I hope this message finds you all in good spirits and ready to make a positive impact on our planet. As the Board Governor of Friends of the Earth (HK), I am delighted to share with you a groundbreaking collaboration.

Together with the Lingnan University, we have launched the Executive Certificate in Sustainable Finance & ESG Analytics, a programme that I firmly believe will be a turning point in the realm of environmental sustainability.

By aligning the programme with the globally recognised professional CESGA qualification, this not only lays the foundation for the graduates’ success in their careers but also signifies a crucial step forward in our mission to drive sustainable change.

The curriculum has been meticulously crafted to be both engaging and practical, with seasoned instructors from the finance and business sectors sharing their invaluable expertise. Moreover, all learning hours are qualified to earn Continuing Professional Development (CPD) hours.

If you are interested in learning more about the Executive Certificate in Sustainable Finance & ESG Analytics, I encourage you to visit the website and explore. For the programme details, please visit: https://bit.ly/3VbUXOt

For the press release, please visit: https://bit.ly/3yJVKPo

Our dedicated team will be able to provide support and guidance to help you succeed in this exciting field.

Let us stand together, side by side, and make a difference.

新舊樓宇推行綠色建築 實現源頭減碳

[意見交流園地] 劉兆光

面臨樓宇老化問題以及近年極端天氣頻繁,政府必須盡快檢視於2021年公布的《香港氣候行動藍圖2050》(「藍圖」)及其落實進度。該藍圖的實際進展,尤其是在舊樓翻新和綠色建築方面,似乎面臨重重挑戰。

政府的減碳策略,是以藍圖「零碳排放.綠色宜居.持續發展」為願景,當中提出推廣綠色建築為一大應對氣候變化和實現碳中和的策略。這包括減少用電量,目標是到2050年把商業及住宅樓宇用電量分別減少30%至40%及20%至30%。此外,環境及生態局在2023年成立了氣候變化與碳中和辦公室,同年政府亦成立了碳中和及可持續發展委員會,就減碳策略提供意見,並推動社會各界參與減碳工作。

然而,從以上的策略可見,政府的減碳焦點主要放在了節能措施上,未有着墨如何減少在建築物的建造階段所產生的隱含碳排放(Embodied carbon)。隱含碳排放是建築物碳生命周期中的重要組成部分,尤其是在建築物的早期階段,即來自建築材料的生產、運輸、施工過程等。根據關注氣候變化的組織Architecture 2030的數據,全球隱含碳排放佔年度溫室氣體總排放的11%,以及佔建築行業排放的28%。這可見隱含碳排放是不能忽視的主要碳排放來源,然而現時的藍圖中並未有所提及。

在新建建築物方面,不少發展商均把環保元素融入新建樓宇設計中,爭取獲得由香港綠色建築議會推出的「綠建環評」認證以及國際綠色建築認證。以本港的「綠建環評」為例,該認證公平客觀地評估建築物的可持續發展表現,包括能源使用和碳排放、氣候適應和韌性、土地使用和交通、生態保護、材料和廢物、用水、健康和安舒、污染管理、整合設計、智慧技術和創新等。涉及建築物項目類別廣闊,包括新建建築、既有建築、數據中心、學校等,為可持續建築設計提供指引。

不過,為老舊樓宇進行「綠建環評」尚不普遍。據統計,現時有8700幢私人樓宇的樓齡已達或超過50年,超出了其原設計的使用壽命;樓齡超過30年的樓宇數量也逾2.7萬幢。研究顯示,香港目前約80%的樓宇在建造時並未遵循綠色建築的標準。建築材料自有其壽命限制,例如混凝土結構的壽命大約為50年,而防水層的壽命則約為10年。一旦防水層因年久失修而出現問題,便可能導致滲水,加速內部鋼筋的銹蝕,從而引起混凝土剝落,危及建築的結構安全。此外,許多老舊建築的排水管道和電力設施效能低下,加上管理不善等因素,可能出現老化或損壞的情況。這些問題使得這些老舊樓宇成為都市安全隱患,也可能成為實現2050年碳中和目標的障礙。

要將老舊樓宇轉化為綠色建築,拆卸重建是一種最徹底的方法,但這種做法不但需要花費大量的時間和資源,為受影響的居民尋找臨時住所也是一大挑戰。因此,利用綠色建築技術進行樓宇翻新和延長使用壽命,顯得更為可行。這不僅涉及到提升建築物的硬件設施,還包括改進其管理模式。在翻新過程中,筆者建議可推廣使用綠色建材,引進「材料護照」的概念。此概念源自2015年,歐盟資助的「建材銀行」(Building as material bank)計劃,材料以護照形式,詳列各項產品或建築結構所含的材料及其相關特徵數據,讓材料將來具資源回收、循環利用、和重複使用的價值,支持循環經濟市場。

政府的減碳策略也需同步向內地綠色建築的發展。今年3月,國家發展改革委、住房城鄉建設部提出了《加快推動建築領域節能降碳工作方案》。該方案確定了目標為:「到2025年,建築領域節能降碳制度體系更加健全,城鎮新建建築全面執行綠色建築標準,新建超低能耗、近零能耗建築面積比2023年增長0.2億平方米以上,完成既有建築節能改造面積比2023年增長2億平方米以上,建築用能中電力消費佔比超過55%,城鎮建築可再生能源替代率達到8%。」該方案不僅提出減碳願景,更量化了近零能耗建築面積比,確實比香港的藍圖落地得多。

在管理模式和能源效益方面,隨着數碼技術的普及和建築系統的整合,當局可以推動政府建築及私人樓宇廣泛採用市場上已有的智能建築管理系統(SBMS)。透過人工智能,SBMS能為建築物的運行和維護提供趨勢分析、故障檢測及預防性維護等功能。當出現漏水問題時,管理員可以即時接收警報,迅速處理漏水,並對大樓可能需維修的部分進行全面分析,探索提升效能的方法。這樣不僅提升建築的運行效率,還能在減碳方面發揮重要作用。此外,政府可使用更環保的材料如回收鋼材、竹材或低碳混凝土維修大廈外牆,可大幅減少建築整體的隱含碳排放。

筆者期待政府見樹又見林,在牽頭討論垃圾收費及全城走塑之時,不忘關注綠色建築,不斷檢視及創新行動藍圖,引領社會向着更清潔、更安全、更綠色的未來邁進。

本文早前亦於HKEJ 轉載

https://www1.hkej.com/dailynews/commentary/article/3773843/