Lending institutions will increasingly factor firms’ ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) ratings into their capital lending requirements, according to a panel discussion at National Grain and Feed Association’s (NGFA) 127th Annual Convention at the La Quinta Resort & Club in La Quinta, California.
The panel discussion How Consumer Preferences on Sustainability and Diversity are Shaping your Business kicked off NGFA’s opening ceremony on March 22, 2023.
Steven Wittbecker, CoBank’s chief sustainability officer, said that while the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) doesn’t require companies to disclose their ESG performance right now, that will soon change. The SEC is currently taking public comment on a requirement that will mandate companies to disclose “whether and how they address environmental and social issues.”
The mandate would apply to all sectors and industries, including agriculture. ESG ratings are determined by independent vendors, like Moody’s, and not only are lenders looking at these scores, but so are consumers.
That’s why the nation’s largest farmer-owned ag cooperative, CHS, hired its first chief sustainability officer in 2022. Megan Rock, CHS’s VP of sustainability and innovation and chief sustainability officer, spoke alongside Wittbecker on the panel about her role in leading the development and execution of CHS’s sustainability strategies across the $48 billion enterprise.
Rock said that ESG ratings and corporate sustainability reports may offer new standards for consumers and lenders to evaluate, but the practices that make up the ratings aren’t new to agriculture.
“Sustainability isn't anything new; It still means doing more with fewer resources and passing farms and businesses on from generation to generation,” Rock said. “Except now we phrase it using terms like ESG and corporate responsibility.”
“At CHS, we’re looking at outcomes-based approaches to our long-term impact on people, communities, economic viability and environmental success. You need all of those for sustainability to work -- to be rooted in communities and to do well financially so you can give back to your employees,” Rock said.
Rounding out the discussion, Erin Condon, director of culture, diversity and inclusion for CGB, Enterprises Inc., spoke about CGB’s newest program, LIFT (Leveraging Inclusion by Fostering Talent). LIFT gives back to employees from underrepresented groups by creating opportunities within the organization through mentorship.
Condon also oversees CGB’s women’s mentoring program, Lead Retain Grow, now in its 8th year.
“The women in our program often report that mentorship is career changing for them,” Condon said. “They get stuck in a rut, or maybe they’re raising a family while also spanning their careers and they lose sight of where they're going, as we often do with the daily grind. Having a mentor forces them to think about the future of their careers.
“These women recognize the investment and effort the company has placed on them and they’re happy to stay on board for life. So yes, we are doing the right thing for our employees, but we’re also seeing significant retention long-term, which in turn affects the bottom line.”
NGFA’s Annual Convention gathers hundreds of grain industry leaders in the business of “Transforming America’s Harvest” to discuss the state of U.S. transportation, emerging trends in agribusiness, upcoming policy changes and geopolitical issues influencing U.S. commodity markets.
The 127th Annual Convention, held March 21-23, 2023, at La Quinta Resort and Club, reached the highest attendance since NGFA’s 2010 convention in Lahaina, Hawaii.