Should sustainability concerns get their own board-level committee?

Intel moves to require regular committee reports to board
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

The number of high-profile companies, especially high-profile tech companies, that has created some sort of sustainability oversight position or begun publishing ongoing carbon disclosure and environmental information keeps growing. But I never fully pondered the issue of board-level responsibilities until I read this article by SocialFunds.com about Intel's move to create a board committee on sustainability.

Apparently, after two years of pressure from Harrington Investments, Intel will now require its Governance and Nominating Committee to report to Intel's board on "matters of corporate responsibility and sustainability performance, including potential long and short term trends and impacts to our business of environmental, social and governance issues, including the company's public reporting on these topics."

Harrington Investments put forth a shareholder resolution both last year and this year requesting the creation of a board-level committee on sustainability issues. Intel initially opposed both requests, saying they were redundant in the face of its ongoing operations work on sustainability. The resolution has been withdrawn, because of Intel's move not only to require the committee oversight but ALSO its move to make sustainability reporting and related matters part of the "fiduciary duty of company directors."

The Intel decision follows the Securities and Exchange Commission's declaration earlier this year that climate change issues, when relevant, should be considered part of a public company's risk management concerns.

Mind you, I have absolutely no idea which companies do and don't require board-level accountability for sustainability concerns. Apparently, Google has pooh-poohed a similar idea put forth by shareholders, saying that sustainability is engrained in its operational DNA.

Um, isn't that the point though: If sustainability is a high-enough profile consideration -- and risk -- to get attention deep within every major company, then board members better be in on the act.

Methinks that many of the same companies who have protested the creation of such a position may succumb, like Intel, because sustainability absolutely will have a fiduciary impact over time. Better to keep tabs proactively rather than be left in the dark until something goes wrong.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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