The Report Report: Products, Packaging, CFOs, Cleantech, and More

Perhaps it’s seasonal, but the past few weeks have seen a gusher of studies, surveys, analyses, and reports from a wide range of organizations, including three of the Big 4 accounting firms. I’ve perused the latest crop and summarized six of them below.

While many of these reports are worthy of more lengthy articles by themselves, I’ve taken the resource-efficient approach, providing brief overviews and critiques, along with links to access the reports directly if you are interested.

All of the reports described below are free. Some require registration to access; I can’t warrant what happens after that.

Navigating the Product Mindset

Source: UL

What It Says: Today’s manufacturers feel confident about their abilities across a broad range of competencies, including the safety, reliability, sustainability and innovation of their products. Consumers are similarly satisfied with product quality, while product safety is stable or improving. Meanwhile, consumers are becoming more influential and gaining control across the supply chain, demanding more information and getting a more sophisticated understanding of products.

The environment is not yet a primary business issue for manufacturers, and is not seen as a key driver of global trade in the way product safety and performance are. But consumer interest in more sustainable, environmentally friendly products and practices will likely continue to influence manufacturers over time. Coupled with the fact that manufacturers are starting to see profits from environmental products, this will likely result in an increase in mindshare and significance in the future.

What We Say: While not necessarily groundbreaking, the research offers an interesting peek into companies’ future supply chains, which will be even more complex and disperse than today’s. That will complicate demands on companies to increase disclosure and transparency. Interesting takeaway: Manufacturers underestimate the importance of safety to consumers while overestimating the significance consumers place on innovation.

Access: Download here.

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Evaluation of Extended Producer Responsibility for Consumer Packaging

Source: Grocery Manufacturers Association

What It Says: Should extended producer responsibility — laws or regulations that shift the cost of managing post-use products to product manufacturers — be extended to paper and packaging? This study, conducted by SAIC, looks at various EPR models to assess how they change consumer behavior and waste-reduction outcomes. It concludes that EPR “does not provide a price signal that is sufficiently differentiated to cause producers to change package formats,” concluding that there is “no evidence to support the assertion that EPR causes changes in package design or selection.”

What We Say: Such a hard-and-fast conclusion against EPR is slightly suspect, especially given that GMA’s members, who make products sold in supermarkets, would bear the brunt of any EPR regulation. EPR has existed in Europe and Canada for years, and while those markets and social norms may differ from those in the U.S. in several ways, EPR has worked effectively in diverting packaging from the waste stream. GMA argues that city and state waste-diversion laws, which put the burden on households and trash haulers instead of GMA’s members, are more effective means for achieving these goals.

Access: Download here.

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What CFOs think about sustainability

Sustainability: Why CFOs are driving savings and strategy

Source: Deloitte LLP

What It Says: A confluence of forces is driving sustainability onto the agenda of chief financial officers. A survey of CFOs conducted by Verdantix for Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu found that 53 percent say their involvement in sustainability issues has grown in the last year; 61 percent expect their role to increase in the next two years. Rating agencies are requiring more information about firms’ sustainability practices; indexes such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and the FTSE4Good rank firms’ corporate responsibility standards; and stakeholders, including investors and employees, “continue to clamor for more nonfinancial information.”

The main drivers are economic: CFOs recognize the benefits of efficiency improvements with short paybacks, and are investing in telepresence, data center efficiency, and other technologies that further reduce environmental impacts while saving money. Moreover, sustainability measures are seen as linked to resiliency, guarding against impacts of climate change, droughts, commodity shortages, and other perturbations.

What We Say: A short (six-page), but very readable overview that will give financial and nonfinancial professionals visibility into CFOs’ increasing sustainability concerns. Of particular interest is the survey’s global perspective, with snapshots from CFO interviews in 14 countries across six continents.

Access: Download here.

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Implications of the Conflict Mineral Rule — Lessons Learned

Source: KPMG

What It Says: This 4-page Public Policy Alert provides a nuts-and-bolts description of the rule adopted last month by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that requires public companies to disclose the source of certain materials used in the production of their goods. Specifically, it covers the use of four “conflict minerals” — tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold — that are mined in areas of political unrest, defined as the Democratic Republic of Congo, and adjoining countries.

KPMG describes the specific requirements and deadlines involved with this, along with insights gleaned from companies that have been early adopters of conflict mineral disclosure and labeling. Among other things, it suggests that four separate corporate department need to work together to make this happen effectively: supply chain/procurement, legal counsel, finance, and internal audit (as well as a fifth, corporate social responsibility, where appropriate). It briefly talks through the kinds of pilot programs that have been effective, including a “risk rating protocol” to help manage large numbers of suppliers. There’s also a brief case study of a “U.S.-based, global manufacturer with more than 3,000 suppliers” that KPMG helped on this issue.

What We Say: If you need to get smart quickly about this topic, you won’t do much better than this clearly written and factual assessment. And what you won’t get here you can find easily through hyperlinks to SEC documents and other resources.

Access: Download here.

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Can sustainable forestry save the earth?

Forests, Forest Products, Carbon and Energy

Source: World Business Council on Sustainable Development

What It Says: Produced by the WBCSD’s Forest Solutions Group, it covers, as the title suggests, an overview of forests, forest products, carbon and energy. Topics include the production and trade of forest products, the forest carbon cycle, energy consumption by the forest products industry, the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions and where they occur along the value chain, and other aspects of forests and carbon. Each topic is laid out in two to four pages, supplemented with charts, tables, and bullet points.

What We Say: This is an excellent primer on the topic. It may leave you with more questions than it answers, in terms of how to assess the various decisions and trade-offs of paper and wood products by your company, though that’s not this report’s intended purpose. But if you want some well-researched data to undergird your decisions, or simply want to understand global trends, this is a sturdy resource.

By the way, the data and trends presented here are generally positive: While demand for biomass is growing, sustainable forest management is on the rise, forest cover seems to be stable in 8 of the top 10 producing countries, the industry is becoming more energy efficient, and paper recycling is up.  

Access: Download here.

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Cleantech Matters: Global cleantech insights and trends report

Source: Ernst & Young

What It Says: An overview and insight into the business of clean technologies, from understanding how they fit into a company’s energy mix, to assessing the current state of key technologies, to an appraisal of cleantech investments, mergers, and acquisitions. It includes the results of a global survey of corporate energy executives on how, and how much, energy has become a strategic issue at multinational companies, as well as key implementation challenges, risk concerns, and C-suite support.

The report’s facts and figures are supplemented with analysis from Ernst & Young’s global cleantech group as well as essays, interviews, and discussions with experts from Acciona Energy, Bloomberg, Deutsch Bank, General Electric, Goldman Sachs, NRG and other companies.

What We Say: This is as much a magazine as a fact-filled report — one of the better reads around on the state of clean technologies. The focus, like much of cleantech, is primarily on energy-generation technologies, with only a nod to transportation and buildings, so it’s hardly comprehensive. But there’s much to soak up in this 64-page report, and a great deal of depth in what is covered.

Access: Download here.

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