While driving the new zero-emission semitrucks that Chattanooga-based Covenant Logistics has bought from Nikola Corp., truckers said they not only enjoyed the quieter, smoother ride on the battery-powered trucks, but they also were frequently approached by others wanting selfie photos to post on social media with the drivers and their innovative new carriers.
"It makes the driver feel really good and special to be driving these cleaner, more sustainable trucks," said Keesa C. Schreane, a Chattanooga native who is now an author and global partner for the London Stock Exchange.
In a speech Thursday to the Chattanooga Rotary Club, Schreane said the Covenant drivers demonstrate the importance of a company's brand voice and how much workers today want to be employed at a company that is sustainable, inclusive and socially responsible.
Schreane graduated in 1993 from the Chattanooga School for Arts and Sciences before going to college and building a career on Wall Street and in the United Kingdom, where she hosts the London Stock Exchange Group's Sustainable Growth Podcast. As a leading voice about environmental, social and corporate governance for publicly traded companies, Schreane has just released her latest book, "Gambling on Green: Uncovering the Balances among Revenues, Reputations and ESG."
A more diverse and inclusive workforce can help companies develop better products to serve a diverse population, Schreane said. In her new book, Schreane writes about how automakers created seat belts suited for the average male because that is who designed the seat belts. But the devices also created problems for many pregnant women, who were not considered during their design.
Businesses that are socially and environmentally responsible also are better able to recruit and retain quality workers and investors, Schreane said.
"What we have now is a generation of consumers who really care about where they buy from, the products that they use, the value alignment with their personal principles," she said. "The scoring, the reports that are generated -- they can gain access to this in a way that we couldn't gain access before."
The European Union has adopted the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation to require more disclosure about sustainability and equity and inclusion practices. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is also considering its own disclosure rules for publicly traded companies in America, especially with President Joe Biden's ambitious climate agenda.
But environmental, social and corporate governance goals and objectives from investors and consumers are not always clear. Tom White, a recently retired investment adviser for Unum Corp., said during Thursday's Rotary presentation that the objectives and measurements for environmental, social and corporate governance investors were not always clear in talking about Unum with such investors.
Investors pushing for corporations to move away from fossil fuels or handguns as environmental, social and corporate governance initiatives are also being denounced by many Republican governors and attorneys general as promoting a type of "woke capitalism" that may overlook investment returns in favor of a political agenda.
In August, 19 Republican state attorneys general wrote a letter to BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager, which manages $10 trillion. The letter accuses BlackRock of making decisions based on its alleged political agenda rather than the welfare of state pensions.
"BlackRock appears to use the hard-earned money of our states' citizens to circumvent the best possible return on investment, as well as their vote," the GOP attorneys general wrote to BlackRock CEO Larry Fink.
In its response, BlackRock called the attorneys general statements inaccurate and wrote, "We are disturbed by the emerging trend of political initiatives that sacrifice pension plans' access to high-quality investments -- and thereby jeopardize pensioners' financial returns."
"We are reasserting the authority of republican governance over corporate dominance, and we are prioritizing the financial security of the people of Florida over whimsical notions of a utopian tomorrow," DeSantis said.
Schreane said she works to try to counter such sentiment by educating more people about what businesses and investors are actually doing and how that can benefit businesses and their employees and customers, as well as society as a whole.
"They are usually not refusing to invest in Exxon and other fossil fuel companies, but they often are working with such companies together to develop a strategic plan about how they and the world can move to renewables," she said in an interview after the Rotary speech. "What we're really doing is communicating together about how we can look at things differently to make the changes that I believe investors, consumers and employees want for our future."