Way back in 2016, the SEC issued a Concept Release requesting comment on an enormous variety of potential changes to Reg S-K, including sustainability. (See this PubCo post.) As reported by BNA, then-Director of Corp Fin, Keith Higgins, advised that the highest proportion of comments received on the Reg S-K Concept Release related to better environmental and social responsibility disclosure. He observed that, of the 360 “unique” comment letters (i.e., non-form letters) received, about 80% “were looking for improved sustainability disclosure.” The problem, he recognized, was that those types of sustainability disclosures were not necessarily amenable to one-size-fits-all rulemaking. According to Higgins, “[c]limate change tops the list of issues….” However, he acknowledged, the issues involved in sustainability “cut across 79 different industries and aren’t suited to a constant set of rules….‘Everyone recognizes that one-size-fits-all disclosure is likely not to be so effective in the sustainability area—others recognize the enormity of that task.’” (See this PubCo post.) Now, independent standard-setting organization SASB, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, seems to have come to the rescue, announcing that it has published a series of sustainability accounting standards specifically tailored for 77 industries. According to the SASB Chair, the publication of these standards represents an “important milestone” because they provide “codified, market-based standards for measuring, managing, and reporting on sustainability factors that drive value and affect financial performance.” Will the SEC now take up the challenge of sustainability disclosure?
Is board stability always a good thing? A new study from consultant Spencer Stuart showed that, in 2018, 428 new directors were elected to boards of companies in the S&P 500, the most new directors since 2004, representing an increase of 8% from 2017. What’s more, 57% of boards added at least one new director, and 22% appointed more than one new director. However, overall turnover remained “modest.” While these new directors added “fresh skills, qualifications and perspectives”—and many were women, minorities and/or first-time directors—nevertheless, the study concludes, “progress is mixed.”
The NYSE has proposed a change to Section 303A.00 of the Listed Company Manual related to the exemption from the compensation committee requirements applicable to smaller reporting companies. (See this Cooley Alert.) The amendment is intended to conform the Section to the new SEC rules related to SRCs.
It’s election day. Don’t forget to vote!
And given that it’s election day, it’s a good time to step back and consider the big picture. To that end, you might want to take a look at this DealBook column, which discusses CEOs’ perspectives on the role of business in politics and the impact of technology on society—all in one column no less.
The Center for Audit Quality, working with Audit Analytics, has just released a new edition of its annual Audit Committee Transparency Barometer, which, over the past five years, has measured the robustness of audit committee disclosures in proxy statements among companies in the S&P Composite 1500. The bottom line, according to the CAQ, is that the level of voluntary transparency has continued to steadily increase in most areas. The report includes several useful examples of the types of disclosure discussed.
In this report, EY discusses an analysis it conducted of voluntary cybersecurity-related disclosures in the 10-Ks and proxy statements of Fortune 100 companies (79 companies that had filed as of September 1, 2018). The analysis notes that, not only are regulators focused on cybersecurity risk management and disclosure, but investors consider cybersecurity risk management as critical to the board’s risk oversight responsibilities and boards are increasingly engaged on the topic. The analysis found a wide variation in the depth and nature of the disclosures.
Proxy advisor Glass Lewis has posted its 2019 Proxy Guidelines and 2019 Guidelines Regarding Shareholder Initiatives. One of the more striking points is that GL indicates that it may, albeit in limited circumstances, recommend against the members of the nominating/governance committee simply for successfully requesting no-action relief from the SEC to exclude (and presumably excluding) a shareholder proposal, where GL views the exclusion to have been detrimental to shareholders. GL’s new guidance includes the following updates: