ESG Today: Week in Review

This week in ESG news: The SEC looks to update climate disclosure rules; Italy joins the growing sovereign green bond market; IOSCO backs creation of a sustainability standards board; Union Bank enables bank deposits to be directed to ESG projects; GM appoints new sustainability head; new private company ESG assessment tools from ISS ESG; new midcap and smallcap ESG ETFs from DWS; 3 top Canadian banks join climate finance organizations, and more.
See below for the highlights of the past week, and get all your ESG news at ESG Today:
Sustainability Goals, Initiatives and Achievements
RBC Commits to Net Zero Lending, Sets $500 Billion Sustainable Finance Target
TD Joins RMI’s Center for Climate-Aligned Finance
CIBC Joins PCAF, Committing to Measuring and Reporting GHG Impact of Loans and Investments
JetBlue Launches Equity, Inclusion, Diversity and Career Access Initiatives
Santander Aims for Net Zero by 2050, Including Financed Emissions
Government, Regulators and Politics
SEC Announces Review of Climate Disclosures
Italy Joins Growing Sovereign Sustainable Finance Market With New Green Bond Framework
Reporting and Disclosure
OneConnect and SGX Partner to Launch an ESG Reporting Platform
IOSCO Commits to Work with IFRS on Development of a Sustainability Standards Board
Sustainable Finance
H&M’s €500 Million Sustainability Linked Bond Nearly 8x Oversubscribed
Luxembourg Green Exchange Launches Climate-Aligned Issuers Debt Section
MUFG Launches Green Deposits, Enabling Clients to Direct Bank Deposits into ESG Projects
ESG Services and Tools
GRI and B Lab Partner to Enable Alignment of ESG Reporting, and Impact Management
ISS ESG Launches ESG Performance and Risk Scorecards for Private Companies
Funds and Investors
DWS Launches ETFs Tracking New S&P DJI MidCap and SmallCap ESG Indices
Barclays and Solactive Launch Index Targeting Low Carbon Economy-Aligned Investments
BNP Paribas Launches Fund Focused on Diversity and Inclusive Growth
Cowen Raises over $900 Million for Inaugural Sustainability Fund
Exec Appointments
GM Appoints Kristen Siemen to Lead Sustainability Strategy
ING Names Anne-Sophie Castelnau as New Global Head of Sustainability
Impact Cubed Hires Former Morningstar Head of Sustainability Libby Bernick as CEO
Reports, Studies & Surveys
AIGCC Survey: Asian Investors Becoming More Sophisticated on Climate Strategies

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Past Pot Use OK For Some White House Jobs Under New Policy

The Biden administration announced a new policy on Friday that will allow some appointees to be hired for White House jobs in spite of previous recreational marijuana use. The new guidelines for political appointees were put in place in response to challenges faced filling White House positions for the new administration, according to a report from NBC News.
Under the new policy, the White House will be able to waive a requirement that potential appointees to positions in the Executive Office of the President (EOP) be eligible to receive a “Top Secret” security clearance. Waivers would only be granted on a limited basis for candidates being considered for positions that do not actually require a security clearance. 
Because of the continued illegality of cannabis at the federal level, those who acknowledge past recreational marijuana use are routinely denied “Top Secret” security clearances. As the Biden administration began the task of filling White House positions following the November election, the transition team realized the requirement for eligibility for a “Top Secret” clearance was eliminating otherwise qualified candidates solely for marijuana use.
“President Biden is committed to bringing the best people into government — especially the young people whose commitment to public service can deepen in these positions and who can play leadership roles in our country for decades to come,” a White House official told NBC News. “The White House’s policy will maintain the absolute highest standards for service in government that the President expects from his administration, while acknowledging the reality that state and local marijuana laws have changed significantly across the country in recent years.”

The new policy applies only to marijuana and candidates who admit to extensive use would not qualify for a waiver. Appointees granted waivers would be required to agree to end their cannabis use while employed by the government and to submit to random drug testing. A White House official said that the new guidelines would “effectively protect our national security while modernizing policies to ensure that talented and otherwise well-qualified applicants with limited marijuana use will not be barred from serving the American people.”
Policy For Other Federal Jobs Also Updated
Only days before the administration policy was announced, Kathleen McGettigan, the acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, sent a memo to executive branch officials to outline criteria for evaluating candidates for employment in federal government jobs.
“It would be inconsistent with suitability regulations to implement a policy of finding an individual unfit or unsuitable for federal service solely on the basis of recency of marijuana use,” McGettigan wrote. “The nature and seriousness of the use and the nature of the specific position …. are also likely to be important considerations.”
Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said in a statement about McGettigan’s memo that the federal government’s prohibition of cannabis “continues to have ripple effects.”
“Placing civil service employees and others in the workforce under undue scrutiny because of their past use of cannabis,” Armentano said, “and imposing disciplinary action for those employees who consume cannabis while off-the-job in accordance with the laws of their states, are among the many negative consequences facing Americans as a result of the federal government’s ‘Flat Earth’ policy toward cannabis and those who consume it.”

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Morocco Expected To Pass Cannabis Legalization Soon

After failing at previous efforts, Morocco is set to open the door for the production of medical cannabis. 
The stage is set after “the co-ruling PJD party, the largest in parliament, dropped its opposition,” according to Reuters.
The PJD shifted its position following a decision by the United Nations in December to remove marijuana from the list of the world’s most dangerous drugs.
The U.N. Commission for Narcotic Drugs reclassified cannabis under the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, under which it was categorized as a Schedule IV drug, the same classification as heroin and other more dangerous substances.

The move was backed by the United States and European member states, while countries such as Russia, China, Egypt, Nigeria, and Pakistan opposed the change in classification. Morocco voted in favor of the change. It passed narrowly, by a vote of 27-25. 
While the change in classification did not impose any direct changes on the respective cannabis laws in U.N. member states, experts did predict that the move would in December – which came after 53 member states convened in Vienna – would embolden countries to take the type of action seen in Morocco this week.
The Bill Could Pass Next Week
According to Reuters, the Moroccan bill is expected to pass next week and will aim “to improve farmers’ incomes, protect them from drug traffickers who now control the trade in cannabis and gain access to the booming legal international market for the drug.”
Reuters, which reviewed the draft law, said that the bill “envisages a national agency to monitor production, transportation and sales.”
It will still require approval from the PJD, but Reuters notes that cannabis has “long been tolerated” in Morocco, which “is among the top global producers.”
Reuters reported that Morocco’s interior ministry said that the country “reduced the amount of land where cannabis is cultivated from 134,000 hectares in 2003 to 47,000 hectares six years ago.” Despite that, recreational pot will remain illegal in Morocco.
The move by the Moroccan government comes nearly a year after Lebanon became the first Arab country to legalize marijuana.
The country’s parliament took up the matter last March, citing marijuana as a means to turn around its sluggish economy.
As in Morocco, marijuana had long been cultivated in Lebanon despite its illegal status, and its hashish exports are ubiquitous throughout Europe.
In April of last year, it became official, with Lebanon’s parliament eschewing opposition from Islamist groups and passing a proposal that made cannabis farming legal.
While Morocco was spurred to act after a policy change by the United Nations, Lebanon’s motivation came from an elite consulting group. In 2018, McKinsey & Company prepared a report for the Lebanese government on a number of actions it could take to restore the country’s troubled economy, including an assessment of “the economic impact of shifting Lebanon’s illicit market to a regulated market for medicinal use.”
McKinsey didn’t explicitly recommend legalization, though it did – as Business Insider reported at the time – ”detail the positive economic benefits.”

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Recreational Cannabis Bill Heads to New Mexico House Floor

New Mexico just passed a recreational cannabis bill through committee in the House, and the next step is the House floor for debate. House Bill 12 passed through the House Taxation and Revenue Committee at an 8-4 margin. The bill is sponsored by Javier Martínez and Andrea Romero, both Democrats. 
The bill now features some concessions from those who voted on it in committee. Instead of specifying that cannabis taxes would go specifically to medical cannabis patients and communities disproportionately affected by the war on drugs, it doesn’t specify where the tax money will go. Those supporting the bills want to support those communities, but they also want fewer specifics set in stone. The provisions also changed the date that adult-use sales would start, and made it easier for employers to enforce anti-drug rules. 
Protecting Medical Marijuana and Moving Towards Equity
Martínez emphasizes that the key, important issues this bill takes care of are protecting the state’s medical program, focusing on equity for the future industry, and establishing the ground rules for the new industry. It is important to the bill’s sponsors that New Mexico cannabis truly offers equal opportunities. 
“Of course, the most important component as to why this is the best way to do it, is because of how we’re trying to reduce the harm in our communities and really soundly address the social justice and access to justice components of this, while we’re trying to create a brand new industry,” Romero explained. 

For the most part, the bill was supported after the provisions were made, but a few Republicans are concerned. Jason Harper, an opposing representative, feels that legalization is not the right move. 
“I do believe that 10 years from now, we’ll look back at the impact this has had on New Mexico and I just really believe, deeply, that we will all regret doing this,” Harper said. 
He also remembered a talk with a Colorado politician regarding legalization. 
“I can’t remember what political party she was, so I’m not even going to guess. But she did say that she was hoping that we would legalize marijuana so that her homeless camps would all move to New Mexico where it’s warmer,” Harper said. “So just something, something to think about.”
Another concern is that cannabis would lead to vice spending from the community, causing people to neglect more important things. However, Martínez thinks that is unfair. 
“There’s a host of other things that we make decisions on, and I don’t think that would be any different,” Martínez said. “This is a new industry and I think people will make decisions based on their income and based on their priorities.”
Now, the bill will get debated, and if it survives the floor, it will move through the Senate. If the bill is able to clear both those hurdles, Governor Lujan Grisham is expected to sign it, as she has pushed several times for legal cannabis. 
If New Mexico legalizes cannabis, many can look forward to increased economic prosperity and more social equity. However, the proposal will have to make it through several hurdles first. 

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Chevron Launches $300 Million Low Carbon Technology Fund

Energy company Chevron’s venture arm Chevron Technology Ventures (CTV) announced the launch of Future Energy Fund II. The new $300 million fund aims to invest in technologies that have the potential to enable affordable, reliable, and clean energy, with a focus on industrial decarbonization, emerging mobility, energy decentralization and the growing circular carbon economy.
CTV was launched in 1999 with the mission to identify and integrate externally developed technologies and new business solutions to enhance the way Chevron produces and delivers affordable, reliable and ever-cleaner energy. The new fund is the eighth launched by CTV, and follows its first $100 million Future Energy Fund in 2018. Along with more than 150 investors, the fund invested in companies targeting innovations in carbon capture, emerging mobility and energy storage.
Barbara Burger, Vice President, Innovation and President of Technology Ventures at Chevron, said:

“We continue to take meaningful actions to address the challenges and opportunities of the global energy transition. I’m proud that our second Future Energy Fund has the potential to make energy and global supply chains more sustainable by helping industries and our customers build a lower-carbon future.”

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GM KristenSiemen

GM Appoints Kristen Siemen to Lead Sustainability Strategy

Automaker General Motors announced today that it has appointed Kristen Siemen as its new Vice President of Sustainable Workplaces and Chief Sustainability Officer. Siemen replaces current CSO Dane Parker, who will be retiring in May.
GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra, said:

“Dane has helped the company strengthen our work to address climate change and efforts to realize a future with zero emissions, and we wish him every success. I look forward to Kristen’s leadership in driving our ongoing actions to create a safer, more sustainable world.”

In her new role, Siemen will lead GM’s company-wide sustainability strategy, including integration of its vision to reach a zero-emissions future. Earlier this year, GM announced a series of ambitious climate initiatives, including targets to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040, and an aspiration to eliminate tailpipe emissions from new light-duty vehicles by 2035. The company has made major investment commitments towards electrifying its fleet, with capital allocated to AV and EV efforts through 2025 expected to reach $27 billion.
Siemen has held several senior roles at GM, most recently serving as Executive Director – Global Energy Strategy, Certification & Compliance, and Test Labs. In that role, she worked closely with Parker to commit to setting science-based targets for a net-zero carbon future and led a cross-functional leadership team responsible for setting corporate energy strategies.
Siemen said:

“As one of the world’s largest automakers, we aim to set an example of responsible leadership. I am honored and humbled to have the opportunity to help lead GM in our plan to reach a zero-emissions future and am excited for all we plan to accomplish in the coming years.”

Parker added:

“The chief sustainability officer plays a vital role in navigating our company on the path toward a future with zero emissions. Thanks to the leadership of so many passionate team members and leaders within GM we have been able to outline a clear roadmap for GM’s net-zero carbon future. I’m incredibly proud of the team here and look forward to cheering Kristen and GM on as I transition into the next phase of my own journey.”

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DWS Launches ETFs Tracking New S&P DJI MidCap and SmallCap ESG Indices

Asset manager DWS announced today that its exchange traded funds business Xtrackers has launched Xtrackers S&P MidCap 400 ESG ETF (NYSE: MIDE) and Xtrackers S&P SmallCap 600 ESG ETF (NYSE: SMLE), two new funds providing exposure for investors to the new midcap and smallcap ESG indices recently unveiled by index provider S&P Dow Jones Indices (S&P DJI).
Arne Noack, DWS’s Head of Systematic Investment Solutions, Americas, said:

“At DWS, we have made ESG-centric investing integral to our value proposition for our clients and the launch of MIDE and SMLE is a logical follow-on. We seek to provide investors with transparency around relevant ESG-metrics of a potential investment. Investors can, for example, easily view the reduction in carbon footprint of the underlying companies, compared to a non-ESG benchmark. This level of transparency is important for investors and intermediaries seeking credible ESG alternatives to mainstream equity indices.”

S&P DJI announced the launch of the new S&P MidCap 400 ESG and the S&P SmallCap 600 ESG indices earlier this month, expanding its range of ESG indices from its headline largecap S&P 500 ESG index to its smallcap and midcap counterparts. The new indices are designed to closely replicate the risk and return profile of their underlying benchmarks, the S&P MidCap 400 and the S&P SmallCap 600, while providing a significant boost in ESG score performance, using methodologies consistent with other S&P DJI ESG indices.
The new DWS ETFs are the first released in the U.S. that track the new indices, complementing the Xtrackers S&P 500 ESG ETF.
Mona Naqvi, Senior Director, Head of ESG Product Strategy, North America, S&P Dow Jones Indices, said:

“We’re very pleased to collaborate with DWS as it launches these new ESG ETFs in the U.S. By representing the U.S. mid- and small-cap equities market with improved sustainability profiles, the S&P MidCap 400 ESG and S&P SmallCap 600 ESG indices signify a new sustainable frontier in a space left largely untouched by sustainable indexing to date. As the first of their kind, these indices are poised to help raise reporting and sustainability standards among medium and small-sized companies as they seek to join the ranks of ESG indices. As such, ESG investing is no longer just a large-cap solution, it is now an all-cap solution.”

Amanda Rebello, DWS Head of Passive Sales, U.S. onshore, said:

“We are pleased to be the first in the industry to launch ETFs for the S&P MidCap and SmallCap ESG indices. With their competitive net expense ratios, the ETFs can be used as core portfolio building blocks.”

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Italy Joins Growing Sovereign Sustainable Finance Market With New Green Bond Framework

Italy’s Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF) announced the publication of a new Green Bond Framework (BTP Green), enabling the issue of green bonds by the country. According to the MEF, the publication of the framework is aimed at illustrating Italy’s environmental strategy, and outlines the core mechanisms of green bond issues, including eligible use of proceeds, and monitoring the environmental impact of expenditures.
Eligible categories for expenditure under the new framework include Renewable electricity and heat, such as transitioning to a carbon neutral electricity grid, or the production of low carbon hydrogen; Energy efficiency, including smart grid investments; Transport, supporting the shift to sustainable modes of transport such as EVs and public transport; Pollution prevention and control and circular economy, including waste reduction and wastewater management, and; Protection of the environment and biological diversity.
With the publication of the new framework, Italy joins the growing number of participants in the rapidly expanding market for sovereign sustainable bonds. Germany issued its inaugural green bond in September 2020, followed by an announcement by the UK in November of plans to issue green bonds in 2021.  The European Union is set to become a central region for sovereign sustainable finance, with 30% of the European Commission’s €750 billion NextGenerationEU multi-year recovery budget earmarked to be finance through green bonds, and an announcement in October that it will issue issue up to €100 billion of social bonds under the EU SURE program.
The MEF said that it has received a second party opinion on the new framework from Moody’s affiliate V.E. (formerly Vigeo Eiris). Juliette Macresy, Executive Director for Sustainable Finance at V.E., said:

“In our assessment, the bonds issued via this framework will provide a ‘robust’ contribution to sustainability. Italy has committed to conduct due diligence on the environmental contribution of the projects that it chooses to finance. The financed expenses have clear benefits in terms of climate mitigation, climate adaptation, pollution prevention and control, transition to a circular economy, the responsible management of natural resources, and the protection of ecosystems and biodiversity. Looking forward, we expect sovereign issuances to continue expanding and diversifying in order to raise capital for sustainable development activities, ranging from climate action to ongoing pandemic recovery.”

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Alabama Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill

The Alabama state Senate approved a bill to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana on Wednesday, after spending only about 15 minutes to debate the measure. The bill, SB46, was approved by a vote of 21 to 10. The legislation must also be passed by the Alabama House of Representatives and signed by Republican Gov. Kay Ivey to become law.
Under the measure, physicians would be permitted to recommend cannabis for their patients with one of more than a dozen serious medical conditions including seizures; spasticity associated with certain diseases or spinal cord injuries; anxiety or panic disorder; and terminal illnesses. Qualifying patients with a doctor’s recommendation would receive a medical marijuana identification card from the state.
The bill would also establish a state Medical Cannabis Commission, which would be tasked with issuing licenses for the cultivation, processing, distribution, transporting, lab testing, and dispensing of medical marijuana. The commission would also maintain a seed-to-sale tracking system to monitor the production, distribution, and sale of regulated cannabis products.
Smoking Weed Not Allowed
The medical marijuana products permitted by the measure are tightly controlled. Oral tablets and tinctures, topicals, transdermal patches, gummy cubes, lozenges, liquids for inhalers, and suppositories are specifically allowed. Herbal or smokable forms of cannabis and edibles such as baked goods and candies are not authorized by the act.

The Compassion Act, as SB46 is also known, was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Tim Melson, a Republican who is also a medical researcher and anesthesiologist. He believes that existing evidence supports giving the residents of Alabama the right to choose medical marijuana products, particularly when more traditional treatments have not been successful.
“I was skeptical five years ago,” Melson said. “I started listening to patients instead of the biased people, and this is where we’re at today.”
Wednesday’s passage of the Compassion Act marks the third time the Senate has approved legislation legalizing the medical use of cannabis. The bill passed in March 2020, also introduced by Melson, is essentially the same as this year’s measure.
Opposition In The Alabama House Expected
Despite the repeated success of medical marijuana legalization bills in the Alabama Senate, members of the state’s House of Representatives have failed to approve the measures. But Melson believes things may be different this time around, even with expected opposition. Polling shows strong support for medical marijuana in Alabama, and the personal experiences of some lawmakers may help change minds.
“They had that family member that needs it,” Melson said. “Or they realize they have a friend or neighbor that needs it.”
Although the bill prevailed in the Senate, the vote was not unanimous. Another physician in the body, Republican Sen. Larry Stutts, voted against the Compassion Act. He said that cannabis products should not be considered “medical.”
“First, there’s no such thing as medical marijuana. It’s just marijuana,” Stutts said. “From a medical aspect, it’s just marijuana. And we have a process for products, for drugs, for medications to be approved, and we’re bypassing that entire process.”
Stutts added that the list of qualifying conditions, which includes maladies such as chronic pain and sleep disorders, is too broad and general.
“Anybody that wanted marijuana could get a cannabis card and can qualify for one of these medical conditions and get it,” he said. “So, it’s a backdoor way of saying we’re going to increase the availability of marijuana.”
But Melson said that is not the intent of the bill.
“I’m not a recreational marijuana person,” Melson said. “I don’t want that in this state. I just want the patients who need it to have it.”

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Red White & Bloom Announces Florida Acquisition

Multi-state cannabis operator Red White & Bloom (CSE: RWB) (OTC: RWBYF) announced on Thursday that it had acquired the Florida operations of fellow industry powerhouse Acreage Holdings in a deal worth $60 million in cash, stock, and other cash considerations. The transaction continues Red White & Bloom’s bid to become one of the top three cannabis multi-state operators in the country.
Under the deal, Red White & Bloom (RWB) will acquire licensed medical marijuana manufacturer and retailer Acreage Florida, an entity owned by a subsidiary of Acreage Holdings. The acquisition includes eight leased store locations and ownership of a 113,000 square foot facility for cultivation and processing situated on 15 acres of land in Sanderson, Florida.
In a statement from the company, RWB noted that it planned to immediately introduce its award-winning Platinum Vape products to the Florida market, as well as a line of offerings sold under the High Times Brand name in accordance with a previously announced licensing agreement.
“Our core strategy has always been to focus on a limited number of markets within which to operate at scale, and Florida has always been one of those targeted markets,” said RWB CEO Brad Rogers. “Today we have our path to entry into the third-largest market by revenue in the US and are excited with what we can do with the brands we have amassed as well as the skill to execute on our vision.”

Earlier this month, RWB announced that it had arranged the financing to secure assets in Illinois under a previously announced deal, including a “super license” to operate a cultivation facility of up to 220,000 square feet.
“Surpassing US $1 Billion of adult-use sales in only its first year, Illinois has quickly developed into one of the most robust revenue markets in the United States,” Rogers said in a press release at the time. “With the financing now secured, we are thrilled to be one step closer to bringing Red White & Bloom’s nationally-recognized brands to this market. The renewed optimism around the state permitting an additional 75 retail locations further highlights the enormous opportunity Illinois offers.”
RWB Lineup Includes High Times Branded Products
Late last year, RWB announced that it was launching a new line of products in Michigan to be sold under the High Times brand name. The lineup of premium cannabis flower, vapes, gummies, and pre-rolls continues RWB’s drive to assemble the best portfolio of brands for Michigan consumers.
“There is no cannabis brand in the world like High Times,” Rogers said in December. “As the most well-known brand in the community, High Times helped light the way before many of us had even thought about the space. We are on the cusp of a new beginning for both our brands. One that will define RWB and High Times as the best-in-class for generations to come. We are very excited to bring this important goal to fruition and have plans for many other instantly recognizable High Times initiatives. With the rights to High Times and Platinum Vape, RWB has the most recognizable cannabis brands in the market  today.”

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NFL Finally Exploring Cannabis and CBD as Pain Management

After years of drug testing and letting players go for cannabis use, the National Football League and NFL Players Association are looking into how THC-containing cannabis and CBD can work as pain medicine alternatives, as well as how cannabis impacts athletic performance. 
Specifically, the proposed study looks into “the potential therapeutic role of medications and non-pharmacological interventions that are considered adjunctive to routine post-surgical orthopedic pain management in NFL football players.”
Changes In NFL Policy
The NFL made changes to their drug-testing policy last year, now penalizing all drugs equally and not singling out cannabis, but they still weren’t taking cannabis seriously as a possible alternative remedy. Now, all that might change. The decision shows that rather than penalize drug users, they want to take a more proactive approach, acknowledging when a substance is being used to treat pain, and recommending users to treatment and rehab instead of punishing them. 
The official statement released by the NFL claims that their goal is “to identify investigators who have the current capability to carry out studies aimed at supplementing the NFL-NFLPA Pain Management Committee’s (‘PMC’) knowledge about pain management and athletic performance in NFL players.”

When evaluating this new, potential treatment, the NFL’s areas of interest include how cannabis can work as an alternative to opiate pain medication, which has proven to be dangerous and addictive, and then whether using CBD or THC-containing cannabis would have any impact on athletic performance. They also want to see how cannabis can help with post-surgical pain management. 
Last year, the NFL-NFLPA committee held informational forums on CBD to learn more about the science behind the medicine. They now want more information on the specifics of how CBD can help, and they are finally ready to branch out and also look at how THC-containing cannabis can have an impact. 
“CBD is a promising compound, but the level of its use in the United States outpaces the level of research at this point,” the committee claimed. “Most of the hype about CBD is based upon results from animal studies.”
However, at this time, the NFL won’t be funding any specific studies. In general, they want to seek out qualified scientists who can assist with research projects in the future. They are giving scientists who may want to work with the NFL until March 31 to submit information. 
Currently in the NFL, those who test positive for substances face salary loss, but no suspension. This is similar to moves made by other sports organizations. The MLB no longer lists cannabis as  a banned substance, and cannabis can be consumed as long as it is not during game play. The NBA has not been doing any random drug testing during COVID, and have stated they don’t see a problem with casual cannabis use and want to help those with substance abuse problems. 
The NFL is not entirely revising their views on cannabis, but they are opening their minds to new concepts about how THC, CBD, and other cannabis compounds can help heal or those in pain. 

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Connecticut Governor Makes Plan To Legalize Cannabis

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont would like to see legal cannabis in his state, both because he would like to bring more money into Connecticut, and because he hopes legalization will help end racial disparity in arrests in the state. To make this a reality, he has introduced a bill to the legislature. 
While Lamont realizes that this plan may take some extra convincing, since Republicans are likely to fight back throughout the legislative process, and Democrats would like to see an even more liberal bill, he feels good about being able to come up with a solution. 
“This is the beginning of a discussion, not the end of a discussion,” he said regarding the proposal. “This has been a long time coming. We have been talking about this for ages,” Lamont said. “I think now is the time for legalized adult-use recreational marijuana in a carefully regulated way with an emphasis on equity and justice.”
The bill focuses on decriminalization, regulation, and generating revenue when it comes to the proposed, legal industry. This Friday, the state will hold a public hearing about the proposal. 

If legalization passes, sales could begin in May of 2022. Projections reveal that Connecticut could raise as much as $33.6 million for the 2023 budget, and $97 million by 2026. 
In order to ensure equity in the legal industry, the plan is to pivot police, prosecutors, and judges to focus only on dangerous criminal activity and forgo persecuting cannabis possession. Just last year, 7,500 people were arrested in Connecticut just for cannabis possession, which made up almost 10 percent of the total number of arrests.
Additionally, the new legislation would set up a method for clearing prior cannabis possessions from records, so that folks whose only crime was possessing cannabis can have equal opportunity in the job market. 
Criticism Regarding Legalizaton
However, not everyone is on board with legalization. Rep. Holly Cheeseman, a Republican, supports the idea of being more lax on those whose only crime is expunging convictions, and she wants to see prior convictions cleared. However, she also worries about statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that claim one of 10 cannabis users will become addicted. For that reason, she is not in favor of full legalization. 
“Let’s look at ways to increase economic opportunity and create jobs that don’t destroy lives,” Cheeseman said.
Still others are undecided about whether Connecticut is ready for adult-use legalization. Sen. Heather Summers, another Republican, is concerned about the implications for military contracts if the state becomes legal. She is concerned that there could be negative impacts to Connecticut acting as a home base for the design and manufacture of nuclear submarines. 
“We have to weigh one of the largest employers in Connecticut vs. the revenue Connecticut would get,” said Somers, whose Senate district includes Electric Boat. “It puts us at a disadvantage when competing for Navy contracts,” she said.
If Connecticut does decide to legalize, it looks like there is more work to do to pass the proposal, but there are lots of possibilities for revenue if the state pulls the trigger. 

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Schneider Electric Launches Supply Chain Decarbonization Service

Sustainability-focused energy and automation digital solutions provider Schneider Electric announced today the launch of an enhanced global supply chain decarbonization service aimed at helping organizations address the significant emissions volume contained in their value chains.
The new launch forms part of Schneider Electric’s recently formed Climate Change Advisory Service. Announced in January, the new consulting service is designed to help companies in their climate-related sustainability strategies and initiatives,and spans energy management, resource efficiency, renewable energy procurement, carbon offsetting, value chain decarbonization, and AI-driven data collection and disclosure.
While companies increasingly commit to reducing their environmental footprints, measuring, assessing and reducing supply chain emissions, where most impact actually occurs, is often the most challenging aspect of their decarbonization efforts. In order to address these challenges, Schneider Electric’s new service provides a combination of supplier engagement, measurement, strategy setting, and implementation via efficiency, renewable energy procurement, and carbon offsetting.
Steve Wilhite, SVP for Schneider Electric, said:

“The momentum on corporate climate action today is tremendous, driven in large part by increasing investor pressure for environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks transparency and disclosure. For a majority of companies, the next frontier beyond their own operations is the supply chain. The good news is that by engaging suppliers in decarbonization efforts, companies can not only respond to these pressures but also identify cost-savings, develop innovations, and increase the value of their supplier relationships.”

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OneConnect and SGX Partner to Launch an ESG Reporting Platform

Technology-as-a-service platform and PingAn Group associate OneConnect Financial Technology and Singapore Exchange (SGX) announced today an agreement to collaborate and build an ESG platform aimed at facilitating and simplifying the ESG disclosure processes of companies listed on SGX.
Ms Tan Bin Ru, CEO (SEA), OneConnect Financial Technology, said:

“With ESG taking centre-stage in the global scene, companies are increasingly subject to a set of non-financial reporting of ESG factors to meet investors’ demands and regulatory requirements. This is an opportune time and an esteemed privilege for OneConnect to join hands to develop the ESG platform with SGX. This is a remarkable moment for us to be able to tap on our expertise and work alongside SGX in creating and implementing a robust platform for SGX-listed companies to better their journey on ESG reporting and strengthen their sustainability risk management.”

According to the companies, the new platform will help companies to efficiently manage sustainability reporting, and help improve transparency for possible benchmarking. Features of the platform are expected to include workflow management systems, report and visualisation modules, and an ESG disclosure framework mapping to meet listed companies’ ESG reporting and data processing needs. OneConnect and SGX stated that the platform will help overcome common challenges faced by companies and investors when dealing with ESG information, including a lack of comparability, changing investors’ demand, and an evolving regulatory landscape.
Mr Michael Syn, Senior Managing Director and Head of Equities, SGX, said:

“Investors globally are placing increasing importance on sustainability considerations, leading to significant growth in capital allocated to ESG strategies. As a result, both investors and issuers desire ESG data to be more transparent, standardised and accessible. The data and workflow platform will help SGX-listed companies report with more effective alignment to major disclosure standards. The focus is on a core set of indicators that are quantitative in nature and normalised for comparability. This complements issuers’ materiality-based reporting that are highly specific to each listed company’s business context. For investors, the benefit is more seamless integration of this core set of indicators into their investment strategies and capital allocation across portfolios, lowering the information friction they currently face.”

Ms Jessica Tan, Co-CEO of Ping An Group, added:

“As a champion of ESG, Ping An believes in ‘tech for social good’ where technologies can aptly enable every company to become a responsible corporate citizen. With the development of Ping An’s own artificial intelligence-driven ESG framework in China – we see the synergy in sharing and integrating our expertise in ESG into a platform that can be adopted by other companies, thereby bolstering the ESG culture across Asia Pacific.”

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RBC Commits to Net Zero Lending, Sets $500 Billion Sustainable Finance Target

Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) announced today a series of new climate and sustainable finance commitments, launched at the bank’s inaugural Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) Conference. The company also announced that it will join climate-focused organizations Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials (PCAF) and RMI’s Center for Climate-Aligned Finance.
Among the key goals announced by RBC is a new commitment to achieve net zero emissions in its lending by 2050, aligned with the global goals of the Paris Agreement, and a pledge to set interim targets to reduce financed emissions and to build out climate-related stress testing programs. The bank also committed to measure and report financed emissions for key sectors starting in its 2022 TCFD report. In addition, RBC will mobilize $500 billion in sustainable finance by 2025, after achieving its $100 billion target in 2020.
The PCAF is a global collaboration of nearly 100 financial institutions, representing roughly $20 trillion in total assets. In joining the initiative, members have committed to measuring and reporting the greenhouse gas emissions associated with loans and investments. RBC is the second Canadian Bank to join PCAF this week, following an announcement by CIBC.
RBC is the third major bank this week to join RMI’s Center for Climate-Aligned Finance, following announcements by TD and CIBC. Clean energy organization RMI founded the Center in July 2020, aiming to enable financial institutions, corporations, and experts overcome practical obstacles to climate alignment. The Center works across industries to shape sectoral climate alignment initiatives for high-emitting industries and contributes to the development of global solutions, practices, and frameworks, aligning financial decision-making with the decarbonization of the real economy.
Dave McKay, President and CEO, RBC, said:

“Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time, requiring us to work more closely with our clients, peers, across industry sectors and with government to help build a sustainable economy for future generations. Our updated climate strategy reinforces the important role RBC has to play in helping clients and communities through the transition to a net-zero economy by 2050. Our commitment to advancing our clients’ ESG goals and accelerating society’s progress is underpinned by our belief that capital can be a force for positive change.”

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ING Names Anne-Sophie Castelnau as New Global Head of Sustainability

Global Bank ING announced today the appointment of Anne-Sophie Castelnau as its new Global Head of Sustainability, succeeding Amin Mansour, who fulfilled the role on an interim basis. She will assume the new role in April 2021.
Castelnau joined ING in 2005 as a senior banker, and has held a variety of senior roles at the bank, most recently serving as ING’s Head of Wholesale Banking in France.
According to ING, Castelnau has had a strong focus on sustainable finance while at the bank, helping to bring over 25 sustainability deals to fruition, including the first sustainability linked loan in France in 2017.

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Cognizant Launches $250 Million Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative

Professional services company Cognizant announced today a series of new corporate social responsibility initiatives, including a commitment of $250 million towards efforts to advance economic mobility, educational opportunity, diversity and inclusion, and health and well-being in communities around the world.
According to Cognizant, the company will provide philanthropic funding, volunteer programs, in-kind contributions and business expertise focused on several key goals. These include providing equitable educational opportunities to equip students, learners, and workers with 21st-century skills needed to succeed in the digital economy; advancing economic mobility, working toward a future where all communities have the resources, opportunities, and infrastructure needed to thrive; ensuring the health and well-being of individuals and families to ensure communities are healthy and can achieve their fullest potential, and; championing initiatives that advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, particularly for underrepresented and underserved populations around the world.
Cognizant stated that the company and its foundations will expand their grantmaking in the U.S. and India to new global markets where the company is expanding operations, including Australia, Canada, Germany, and the UK, and the company will also introduce new philanthropic programs to advance diversity and inclusion efforts in partnership with Cognizant’s Affinity Groups, supporting African American, Latinx, LGBTQ, Pan-Asian, women, and veteran communities. Additionally, new programs will expand opportunities for employees to contribute their time and skills, and deploy additional COVID-19 relief funds, building on commitments made last year.
Brian Humphries, CEO, Cognizant, said:

“As a global company, we care deeply about unlocking human potential. We are determined to live our purpose of improving everyday life and apply our technology and business expertise to help tackle global problems. This $250 million initiative aims to create conditions for people to thrive by expanding access to education, healthcare, and technology, and by advancing diversity and inclusion in communities around the world.”

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After Two Years, American Hemp Experts Applaud USDA Rules While Waiting On Further Clarity

After two years of deliberating and listening to the public, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its final rule on hemp production on January 19, 2021. The rules, which take effect on March 22, 2021, replace the regulations set in place after the 2018 Farm Bill passage. Much of the industry appears behind the ruling, signaling that American hemp is moving in the right direction. 
That said, one step forward does not equate to a completed process. The USDA’s rules are significant but remain just one piece to a more extensive regulatory puzzle for the billion-dollar industry. 
Several Significant Rule Changes Announced
The USDA’s announcement will soon establish a concrete framework for the hemp market, removing the state-by-state model in place today while leaving states the right to make alterations on specific facets of the law. 
The USDA listened to thousands of public comments, ranging from politicians to advocates to hemp owners. The National Law Review highlighted six key areas the USDA revised: 

While hemp products remain capped at .3% THC, producers received an increase in the negligent threshold. Under the new rules, hemp containing more than .3% THC but less than 1% won’t be labeled as negligent, though remediation or disposal is still required. 
Noncompliant hemp used to require its disposal or remediation be conducted by a government official from an agency like the DEA. Under the new rules, producers are allowed several other means, including composting, burial, and burning. 
Hemp must be tested at DEA-registered laboratories, as previous rules state. However, a lack of sites continues to cause producers’ pain, leading the DEA to delay enforcement of this rule until December 31, 2022. 
Samples are now to be collected by authorities 30 days before harvest. Previously rules called for collection 15 days prior to harvest. 
Producers are now allowed to adopt a performance-based sampling approach, which sets an objective for operators to reach. The National Law Review said the rule enables states and tribes “considerable freedom” with their sampling and which part of the plant is used to achieve the stated objective. 
Tribes are granted the right to invoke their jurisdiction and authority on their territory.
However, the rules could be subject to change, as the Biden administration instituted a regulatory freeze on regulations published before his inauguration. That said, The National Law Review saw the potential as an opportunity for the industry to work with the incoming Biden administration on additional aspects of the rules.
Support For The Final Rule Comes With Several Concerns
Most in the industry seem to support the ruling, saying it provides clarity for cultivators, allowing farmers to operate with clearer rules and regulations. That said, opinions differed on certain rules as well as the two-year window needed to reach the determination. 
“It’s about time that the USDA released rules for the hemp space,” said AJ Payack, president of hemp extraction lab and CBD brand Vermont Organic Science. Payack said it was nice to see “actual rules” that eliminate the guessing in the market. 
“I have had people in the past contact me about what to do with hot hemp or other growing questions, and I really couldn’t lead them in the right direction,” said Payack, adding, “But now I can.” 
J Mitchell, president of hemp producer NuSachi, supports the decision, calling it “extremely critical” for industry guidelines. “The rules are not perfect, but they represent a solid foundation on which to grow the industry,” added Mitchell. 
Mitchell commended regulations focused on delta-9 THC thresholds but called the .3% an extreme limit for hemp genetics and cultivators, positing that the rule will limit innovation and plant research. He also worried that guidelines could encourage operators’ bad behavior in a bid to earn a passing certificate of authenticity. 
Did The USDA Need Two Years To Make Its Determination?
Opinion split over the decision timeline, with some supporting the two-year window and others saying it hampered the industry. 
Michelle Donovan, senior counsel at law firm Clark Hill, supported the timeline. “It’s a process, like anything else, to legalize a new market while making sure all foreseeable hiccups are addressed at the onset of a harvest,” said Donovan. 
Brenda Verghese, vice president of research and development for Colorado cannabis brand Stratos, supported the timeline as well. She said, “Two years was likely necessary in order to fairly assess all of the information provided by the public.”
Operators like Payack disagree, saying the window allowed bad actors into the market. “This industry has really been the wild west, and it is good that there is some regulation now,” he said. 
Roger Brown, CEO and president of ACS Laboratory, considers the wait unfair and unjustified. He said the result left states to make their hemp programs. “Some brave souls moved forward, with the help of a gang of lawyers, but many had to put plans on hold for two years,” said Brown of operators in less defined state marketplaces. 
What’s Next For American Hemp?
The primary focus appears to now be on securing clarity from other influential regulatory bodies. However, concerns over the impact of regulations have some worried that the market may not be long for capital-light companies. 
Verghese said next steps need to include addressing extraction and manufacturing of finished goods. Naturopathic Doctor and CEO of HempFusion, Jason Mitchell, agrees, saying U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clarity is now needed. 
“Farming is the tip of the iceberg,” stated Mitchell. He added, “Farmers now need to be able to sell their crops to processors for use in many different products including Dietary Supplements, Foods and Beverages.”
Brown sees the industry moving towards good manufacturing practices (GMP) standards, which cite the FDA’s guidance on production aspects, including quality and consistency. 
He sees an influx of competition in the market, with more biomass produced. “We’re going to see companies innovating faster and creating ancillary hemp products that utilize the entire plant–not just the cannabinoid-rich flower,” said Brown. 
For his part, Payack highlighted worries over the evolving market and the future of the “little guy,” and the belief that CBD is increasingly considered a supplement. 
“There will be extreme testing that needs to be done on CBD products for GMP compliance,” said Payack. While he supports high testing standards, the capital needed could be too immense for smaller operations. He said, “While I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing companies are going to need a lot of capital for GMP compliance.”

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Pennsylvania State Senators Introduce Bipartisan Cannabis Legalization Bill

Two Pennsylvania state senators announced on Wednesday the introduction of a bipartisan measure to legalize cannabis for use by adults. The legislation from Democratic Sen. Sharif Street of Philadelphia and Sen. Dan Laughlin, a Republican from Erie, “prioritizes safety, community reinvestment, social and economic equity, agriculture, and creates vital tax revenue streams for the Commonwealth,” according to a statement from Street’s office.
“While my colleague Senator Street and I come from different political parties, we see a bipartisan way forward on marijuana legalization that is premised on safety and social equity,” said Laughlin. 
“As the marijuana movement reaches Pennsylvania, legalization must be done the right way,” he added. “This bill ensures a legalized market in the Commonwealth is implemented safely and responsibly, with a thoughtful approach that provides opportunities to medical and recreational consumers, farmers, and small, medium and minority-owned businesses.”
If the bill is passed by the Pennsylvania legislature and signed into law by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, cannabis possession would be decriminalized for adults, and convictions for some nonviolent marijuana convictions would be expunged. The measure would also create a regulated and taxed adult-use marijuana economy. The bill also creates social and economic equity licenses for marijuana businesses and mandates that a majority of new licenses be granted to social and economic equity applicants.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues in the legislature and with the administration to build support for this critical legislation that aims to make Pennsylvania’s cannabis market the most diverse and inclusive in the country while enabling those who have been harmed by prohibition to seal their records and rebuild their lives,” said Street.
The measure also protects the state’s existing medical marijuana industry by allowing licensees to help meet the demand for recreational cannabis on an expedited timetable. Registered medical marijuana patients would be permitted to grow up to five cannabis plants at home under another provision of the legislation.
Pennsylvania Governor Supports Cannabis Policy Reform
Earlier this year, Wolf called on state lawmakers to prioritize the legalization of adult-use cannabis during the new legislative session, noting that neighboring states have already acted on the issue.
“In 2017, Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana through bipartisan legislation,” Wolf’s office wrote in an announcement of his 2021 agenda. “Now as our neighbors move toward legalizing recreational marijuana, Pennsylvania cannot afford to be left behind. Legalizing adult-use cannabis has strong bipartisan support among Pennsylvanians.”
The governor added that social and economic change could be advanced with the tax revenue raised by cannabis reform.
“The revenue generated from legalization will be used to support historically disadvantaged small businesses through grant funding and provide them the assistance they need to build back from the economic crisis and strengthen our economy,” the announcement continued. 
“Additionally, a portion of the revenue will support restorative justice programs to help the individuals and communities that have been adversely harmed by the criminalization of marijuana.”
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, another Democrat, has also been an ardent advocate for marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania, even flying a pot leaf flag from his Capitol office balcony in violation of state law. In an interview with a local television station last year, he noted that public opinion about cannabis has evolved over time.
“Marijuana prohibition is a truly minority viewpoint in Pennsylvania,” Fetterman said. “A significant majority of Pennsylvania are for legalization and I would just ask anyone who’s not – it’s like, well, you sure don’t want to pay more in taxes.”

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Virginia Lawmakers Pass Bills Allowing Herbal Forms Of Medical Marijuana

The Virginia legislature has passed bills to modify the state’s medical marijuana program to allow for the production and sale of herbal forms of cannabis. The measures, House Bill 2218 and Senate Bill 1333, were approved this week with overwhelming majorities in both the House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate.
The legalization of medical marijuana in Virginia began with a strictly limited 2015 law that allowed for CBD and THC-A oils to be used by patients with severe epilepsy. The regulations have been loosened since, and medical marijuana dispensaries selling products with up to 10 milligrams of THC per dose opened in the state last year.
Under Virginia’s current laws, the state medical marijuana program only allows processed forms of cannabis, such as tinctures, edibles, and oils. Herbal forms of cannabis including smokable marijuana are not permitted. With the new change, regulated medical marijuana producers will be permitted to offer products made from “cannabis oil or botanical cannabis,” according to the text of the legislation.
The medical marijuana industry and advocates lobbied for the addition of herbal forms of cannabis to the roster of legal products as a way to improve affordability for patients. The change is expected to greatly increase the number of patients with physician recommendations for medical cannabis, which now totals about 10,000.

Activists Laud The Change
Jenn Michelle Pedini, the executive director of the Virginia chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said in a press release that the change will make patients’ medicine accessible in the form many prefer.
“Botanical cannabis remains the most popular formulation among consumers and among older consumers in particular. Limiting patients’ options to extracted oral formulations is not in their best interests,” Pedini said. “Botanical cannabis contains more than 100 distinct cannabinoids, many of which act synergistically with one another, producing an effect many scientists believe is necessary in order for patients to achieve maximum therapeutic benefit.”
The bills legalizing herbal forms of medical marijuana now head to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, a vocal advocate of cannabis policy reform. If he signs the bills as expected, the change is scheduled to go into effect on July 1, with smokable forms of marijuana hitting dispensary shelves as soon as September.
The Virginia legislature is also considering other amendments to the state’s medical marijuana program, including a measure that would make it easier for patients in assisted living facilities to obtain medical marijuana products and doctors who write recommendations for medicinal cannabis to conduct telehealth visits. Additionally, the Senate is considering a House bill that would prevent employers from firing registered patients for failing a drug test as long as the worker was not impaired on the job.
Adult-Use Legalization Also In The Works
Virginia lawmakers are also in the process of legalizing marijuana for adults and establishing a regulated cannabis economy, a move also supported by Northam. The House of Delegates and the Senate have approved separate bills, which are now being considered by a conference committee. 
Both bills would legalize the production and sale of recreational marijuana by 2024. The Senate version would legalize personal possession in June, while the House bill would delay legal possession until other provisions of the measure go into effect in 2024.

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