Issue Papers: Environmental Topics
Church Council Actions
Caring for Creation: Environmental Topics
Recommended by by the Advisory Committee
on Corporate Social Responsibility
September 5, 2003
Endorsed by the Board of the Division for Church in Society,
October 24, 2003
Approved by Church Council
November 2003 (see 2003 version)
Updated by ACCSR
September 28, 2007
Approved by Church Council
Updated by ACCSR
September 10, 2010
Approved by Church Council
The earth is a planet of beauty and abundance; the earth system is wonderfully intricate and incredibly complex. But today living creatures, and the air, soil, and water that support them, face unprecedented threats. Many threats are global: most stem directly from human activity (“Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope and Justice” [ELCA, 1993], section 2.B-1).  As Christians we understand human beings as being fundamentally responsible before God. With the reach of our contemporary human knowledge and the power we employ in new technologies, this responsibility in terms of caring for creation now includes the global future itself.
Caring for a global future includes a range of issues from health to environment to biotechnology. Over the past few decades, hundreds of companies have begun to issue statements about their environmental policies and practices. One could even say that a shift has been occurring where companies no longer see environmental stewardship as an externally imposed burden but rather, as a market-driven opportunity that enhances productivity, corporate image, and shareholder value. The key questions for investors then become:1) whether these policies and practices genuinely result in reducing negative environmental impact, and 2) whether one can glean from a company’s report enough meaningful information about the environmental performance and sustainable development strategies.
The faith-based investment community for many years has been addressing environmental issues. A way of evaluating environmental and sustainability reporting is found in the Global Reporting Initiative’s Reporting Framework.  These, along with the extensive set of Ceres comparative reports,  set the framework for the environmental dimension of sustainability concerns that an organization’s impact has on living and nonliving systems.
Companies are challenged to analyze their actions with a view toward minimizing local and global environmental damage. Clean-up is sought when damage has occurred, and stakeholder consultation is desirable at every step along the way.
II. ELCA Social Policy
“Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope, and Justice” (ELCA, 1993): The social statement develops the Church’s vision of creation, while showing us the gift of hope. It calls us to justice through principles of participation, solidarity, sufficiency, and sustainability. Specifically this social statement calls (section 5.E.1-1) the church to engage in dialogue with corporations on how to promote justice for creation. This includes dialogues around implementing comprehensive environmental principles, healthy environments, and cooperation between the public and private sector regarding sustainability.
The 2001 Churchwide Assembly (CA01.07.57)  reaffirmed the commitment of this church to the care of creation, including global warming, as part of the web of complex interwoven environmental concerns. Previously, the 1999 Churchwide Assembly (CA99.06.30)  expressed great concern about the destructive practice of mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining and urged our church to advocate ending it.
The social statements, “Caring for Health: Our Shared Endeavor” (ELCA, 2007)  and “Sufficient, Sustainable Livelihood for All” (ELCA, 1999)  as well as the social policy resolution, “Genetically Modified Organisms in the Food Supply” (CC04.11.57)  support this issue paper.
III. Corporate Response
Good corporate environmental stewardship begins with comprehensive environmental reporting. This reporting would include articulating a corporate vision, outlining policies, and providing methods and benchmarks to measure environmental performance. Companies must move from being compliance-oriented to engaging in best practices in environmental management.
IV. Social Criteria Investment Screens
A screen is a pre-existing framework of principles specific to an issue by which a company’s activities are evaluated. The environmental social criteria investment screen approved by the ELCA in 1990 and updated in 2007 addresses this issue. 
V. Resolutions Guidelines for ELCA – Issue specific
1. We support reports for the gas and oil industry, including: environmental impact assessments detailing legal, regulatory risks and plans to mitigate these risks; the assumptions made in deciding to proceed; the possible long-term risks to the finances and operations of companies; the financial impact of accidents and spills: and the likely and/or actual impact of hydraulic operations, including air, water, and soil hazards.
2. We support reports that ask for risk assessments and propose measures to reduce risks of nuclear storage.
3. We support reports assessing (a) the impact of MTR mining by a company’s clients on the environment and (b) the adoption of a policy concerning future financing of companies engaged in MTR mining or the construction of new coal-burning power plants that emit carbon dioxide.
4. We support reports on a company’s efforts, above and beyond legal compliance, to reduce environmental and health hazards associated with coal combustion waste ponds, impoundments and mines, and how those efforts reduce the company’s financial and operational risks.
5. We support requests for reporting on the development of renewable energy sources.
B. Environmental Reporting
6. We support proposals asking for endorsement of the Ceres Principles  and preparation of sustainability reports.
7. We support reports identifying environmental hazards and their impact on the communities as well as reports on the development of a company’s policy about such hazards and their work in environmentally or culturally sensitive areas, including land procurement.
8. We support reports on a company’s progress in implementing the reforms required under a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the commitments stated in a company’s CSR report.
9. We support reports on the effects of a company’s marketing on the purchasing practices of people living in poverty and what might be done to mitigate harm.
10. We support reports on the policies and procedures that guide a company’s assessment of host country laws and regulations with respect to their adequacy to protect human health, the environment and the company’s reputation.
11. We support reports regarding antibiotic use in the food supply chain.
12. We support reports regarding long term sustainability in the growing procurement and delivery of food, including seafood and organic products.
13. We support reports evaluating the impact of a company’s operations on land, water usage, water resources, waste management, including the potential environmental and public health impacts of each of its company-owned plants, those of its affiliates as well as proposed ventures that extract water from water-scarce areas.
14. We support reports on the impact of a company’s hydraulic fracturing operations, including reduction or elimination of hazards to air, water, and soil quality from such fracturing.
15. We support reports on policy options to respond to the public concerns regarding bottled water, including, but not limited to, providing additional information to consumers, or further modifying the production, delivery or sale of bottled water products so as to minimize environmental and energy impacts.
16. We support reports on a company’s food product supply chain, including:
a) Strategies to significantly reduce waste, energy and water use throughout the supply chain;
b) Resource conservation programs and pollution prevention measures for the full product life-cycle;
c) Labeling products for country of origin and presence of genetically modified ingredients;
d) Internal controls related to potential adverse impacts associated with genetically engineered organisms;
e) Safety testing and systems to ensure identity preservation and traceability from production to consumption; and
f) Respect for and adherence to seed saving rights of traditional agricultural communities.
17. We support reports studying ways for a company to take leadership on the environmental aspects of paper procurement, including stronger national paper recovery goals, setting goals for recycled content in its magazines and books, and goals for a majority of its supply chain to adopt strong forest management certification procedures, and the development of a sustainable paper purchasing policy. This might include reports on costs and benefits, greenhouse gas impact, and implementation.
E. Product Safety
18. We support requests for reports or policies on exposure to, the reduction of and/or elimination of toxins, pesticides, and/or radioactive materials in the environment, including product safety or toxicity.
19. We support reports on product stewardship policies, including recycling strategies.
20. We support reports on the implications of a policy for reducing the potential harm and the number of people in danger from potential catastrophic chemical releases by increasing the inherent security of a company’s facilities through steps including reducing the use, storage and transportation of extremely hazardous substances, re-engineering processes, and locating facilities outside high-population areas.
21. We support reports on a company’s policies on the use of nanomaterials in product packaging and product safety.
22. We support reports on policy options to reduce consumer exposure to and increase consumer awareness of mercury and any other toxins contained in a company’s compact flourescent products.
VI. Resolution guidelines for ELCA – General
23. We support practices of good governance, specifically:
- a company having an independent chair or independent lead director;
- reports on policies and procedures for political contributions and expenditures (both direct and indirect made with corporate funds;
- reports on any portion of any dues or similar payments made to any tax exempt organization that is used for an expenditure or contribution which might be deemed political; and
- guidelines or policies governing the company’s political contributions and expenditures.