At the end of November, Bloomberg News launched a Sustainability section “to uncover what businesses are doing, or what they need to be doing, to thrive as global competition intensifies for strategic resources.” Under the direction of editor Eric Roston (@eroston) and deputy editor Tom Randall (@tsrandall), the page features stories about energy, policy, natural resources, health & population, and corporate sustainability from Bloomberg reporters around the world. CJR’s Curtis Brainard spoke with Roston (bio) by phone.
Why did Bloomberg create this section?
The main thing that Bloomberg does, through the Bloomberg Professional service, is connect investors with data. And over the course of the last five or ten years, we’ve seen—particularly from the institutional investing community—a desire for data that fall under the categories of environment, social, and corporate governance; this is data not traditionally included in corporate reporting.
A large number of S&P 500 companies have started to have this little button up at the top of their homepages called ‘Sustainability.’ This reflects a deep strategy that companies are taking on that involves looking at measures in environment, social, and corporate governance and identifying new risks and new opportunities that they see emerging. We’re trying to serve this trend.
By tracking and evaluating what’s happening in that area?
Yes. For a long time, it was a space that people didn’t know what to do with, in part because the word ‘sustainability’ has many different definitions. But in the last couple of years there has been a lot of rigor, creativity, and seriousness assembled at companies and big investment houses. They are trying to really understand what sustainability is and how to keep track of it. I put up a post this morning about how sustainability is the Moneyball of the global economy. It’s in that phase where they’re looking for new kinds of stats to evaluate environment, social, and corporate governance.
Do you have a working definition of what sustainability means at Bloomberg News?
In two words, it would be “deep strategy.” Companies are looking very deeply into their supply chains, looking at the companies they’re doing businesses with, the countries in which they’re doing business, and trying to figure out where they are open to risks they hadn’t seen before. A longer answer would include asking the question, “What do I have to do to keep my business going indefinitely when there’s intensifying competition around the world for strategic resources?”
Who’s your target audience and why?
The target audience is the global population of smart, successful, savvy news
readers. It’s an audience that has questions about the term “sustainability” and understands that the world is changing pretty quickly.
One thing you encounter, particularly on the energy-environment-climate stage, is expectations and predictions about the future, and one thing that excites me about this project is that we can talk about the future in terms of what happened in markets yesterday. The strength that we have here is the ability to talk about the resource crunch with great specificity, and draw out what’s happening in markets and how markets are responding or behaving in this context.
Bloomberg sells a data-analysis product that helps clients measure progress toward sustainability goals they set for themselves. Does that present a potential conflict of interest for the news department, insofar as the company offers a service related to the performance you seek to evaluate?
Bloomberg the company undertook this supply chain and sustainability initiative years ago, and we’re completely editorially independent. I don’t report to anyone in that chain We’re all journalists here. I’ve worked at a bunch of different places and I don’t have an approach here that’s any different from what it would be if I were at another place, or if I were freelancing. It’s a profession, so we’re inoculated from those things and have an extremely low tolerance for those conflicts. The reason you’re asking this question is because it’s the first thing we’re concerned about [as journalists] and the first thing we should ask about in an interview.
Can you objectively cover the sustainability initiatives of companies that use Bloomberg’s services?
I don’t feel any commercial pressure. I don’t even know where it would come from. A big challenge right now is just to get everybody in the conversation on the same page about how to define the word sustainability. Given Bloomberg’s scale, the first opportunity we have is to bring some uniformity to the discussion. I think about that a lot. Then I think about stories, and as I think about stories, I don’t have the slightest idea of what Bloomberg-the-company’s relationships are.
Do you check to see whether a company you’re writing about is a client of Bloomberg?