Across the country, manufacturers are deeply involved in efforts to improve their climate stewardship and take action on a wide range of environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. Manufacturers are leaders in everything from combatting climate change to enhancing diversity and inclusion in the workforce—and in ensuring that investors understand everything that goes into this critical work.
Recently, the Securities and Exchange Commission began considering a disclosure framework that could require companies to provide standardized information on their climate and ESG commitments. The agency has opened a comment period to receive public input on what the framework could include, and the NAM is making sure that manufacturers’ voices are heard.
NAM Senior Director of Tax and Domestic Economic Policy Charles Crain recently spoke to us about this issue, describing manufacturers’ priorities and concerns. Here’s what you need to know.
The challenge: Many companies already voluntarily disclose a great deal of information about their climate and ESG efforts—both because they are proud of the work they do, and because they believe it’s important for investors to have all the information available, Crain says. However, a one-size-fits-all SEC mandate could create more problems than it solves by imposing costly or overly broad requirements that do not provide useful information to shareholders.
Our move: This week, the NAM laid out the manufacturing industry’s perspective for the SEC, including a list of principles that should guide the agency’s decision-making. Those principles include the following:
- Materiality: The NAM believes that companies should be required to disclose information only if it is material to their business—that is, company-specific, relevant, useful information that would change a reasonable investor’s view of a company.
- Flexibility: Different items are material for different companies. Disclosures shouldn’t be one-size-fits all, but should instead include the kind of company-specific information that will reflect the diversity of risks and opportunities that businesses face and thus be useful to investors.
- Clarity and comparability: The current lack of standardization can create costs and uncertainty for both companies and investors. Within a flexible, materiality-driven framework, the SEC can enhance the clarity and comparability of climate and ESG information disclosed by businesses.
- Limiting company costs and liability: New SEC mandates shouldn’t overburden companies with high costs or a strict liability burden—both of which could result in limited or boilerplate reporting that isn’t useful to investors. Many of companies’ climate and ESG goals are aspirational and rely on evolving reporting methodologies, and the SEC shouldn’t disincentivize aggressive goal-setting on these issues.
- Appropriate scope and reasonable timelines: The data the SEC is describing isn’t just sitting on the shelf. In order to disclose climate and ESG information under a new framework, many companies could have to build out data collection infrastructure, go deep into the supply chain, and get information through standardized methodologies that may not currently exist. This process will be time-consuming and difficult, and the SEC will need to tailor any requirements accordingly and give companies time to adapt.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel: Many companies are already disclosing climate and ESG information based on existing methodologies, and there are plenty of third-party standards for reporting this data. Rather than starting from scratch, any SEC framework should align with existing practices that many companies are already using.
Next steps: The SEC will consider the NAM’s recommendations, along with other feedback, as it works toward a potential rule proposal—and the NAM will continue to engage with the SEC throughout the process.