By Jerilyn Klein Bier
Whether or not you've got environmentally conscious clients, it pays to know the financial and public health risks associated with a corporation's toxic chemical policies. And one of the better go-to places for that information is the Investor Environmental Health Network (www.iehn.org).
IEHN is a collaborative partnership of different investment organizations that in aggregate manage more than $30 billion in assets. Its goal is to encourage companies to adopt policies that reduce and/or eliminate toxic chemicals in their products and operations.
IEHN's operating principle is that safer chemical policies can help companies anticipate and avoid "toxic lockout" from the marketplace in the form of government bans or restrictions on products. In turn, that can reduce reputational and legal risks, as well as enhance brands and create greater long-term shareholder value.
"We needed to move beyond the chemical to chemical [approach] and look at the larger picture of what companies are doing," says IEHN executive director Richard Liroff, who founded the network in 2004. "We're trying to change the underlying ground rules that apply to all companies worldwide."
IEHN's members include Calvert Investments, Domini Social Investments, Parnassus Investments, As You Sow Foundation, First Affirmative Financial Network, faith-based institutional investors and other leaders in sustainable and socially responsible investing. The network is advised by scientific, policy and technical experts from roughly a dozen environmental health organizations.
Liroff, who spent more than two decades directing projects on toxic chemicals and other issues at the World Wildlife Fund, serves as a technical resource for IEHN and has helped develop the rationale for resolutions and written letters to companies.
Body Of Work
IEHN, which analyzes corporate, government and scientific data, gets most of its funding through smaller philanthropic organizations concerned about environmental health. In addition to working on environmental issues involving corporations, the organization does outreach and develops tools such as reports and fiduciary guides for pension plans and other investors.
Among its activities, IEHN has pressed regulators to close corporate liability accounting loopholes that enable companies to conceal damaging scientific findings and their full potential liabilities associated with toxic chemicals. It has also provided suggestions to the Global Reporting Initiative on how it can better address toxic chemicals in its upcoming guidelines.
IEHN's résumé includes tackling issues such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates used in plastic products, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in packaging, pesticides in food, and nanomaterials in cosmetics.
One of the coalition's pressing tasks of late has been calling out energy companies on the environmental and business risks of hydraulic fracturing technology used in oil and natural gas drilling. And IEHN member Domini filed resolutions with Coca Cola in 2010 and 2011 asking it to disclose how it's responding to safety concerns about BPA used in its can linings.