Just Capital on what drives their rankings

April 15, 2019

JUST Capital recently released its annual rankings, including the JUST 100 list of the top performing U.S. companies – across all industries – on issues of just business behavior. We talked with JUST Capital CEO Martin Whittaker to find out how their rankings are different from other sustainability scorecards.

This is an interview with Just Capital. NYSE presents the information for informational purposes, but does not endorse, represent nor warrant the accuracy of the narrative, which relies solely on material provided by Just Capital.

There is no shortage of rankings out there, how is yours different?

Part of what makes JUST Capital truly unique is that our work is directly anchored to the values and priorities of the American people.

Each year, we poll the American public to identify what matters most to them when it comes to just business behavior today, and have engaged over 81,000 people since 2015. With the priorities of the public in hand, we define metrics that map to those priorities, and use a robust and unbiased methodology to track, analyze, and rank the largest, publicly traded U.S. companies across 110,000 data points. From this research, we create tools to incentivize corporate behavior change – including our Rankings of America’s Most JUST Companies published in collaboration with Forbes, our investable indexes, the JUST ETF collaboration with GSAM, as well as groundbreaking issue analysis.

We’re a nonprofit, so it’s important to recognize that our Rankings are rooted in our mission to build a more just and equitable marketplace that better serves the needs of all people. There are three core beliefs that underpin all of our work: First, we believe in the democratic voice of the American people to inform business practice and shape the marketplace. Second, we believe that transparent, independent data drives accountability and positive action. And above all, we believe that, when we align business practice with the priorities of the American people, capitalism works for all.

What’s the universe of companies you track and analyze with your Rankings?

The JUST Capital Rankings aim to evaluate the 1,000 largest publicly traded U.S. companies (Russell 1000). We focus on the largest corporations because they:

  • Employ over 30 million people;
  • Generate billions of dollars in revenue;
  • Provide nearly 50% of healthcare coverage;
  • Represent nearly 90% of investable equities;
  • Exert immense influence over the economy; and
  • Affect millions of working families, both directly and via their supply chains.

In 2018, we specifically ranked 890 companies because we exclude companies that we cannot subject to common standards of measurement (e.g. REITs with less than 1,000 employees) as well as companies that have been acquired.

Can you talk about the process and what timelines companies should be aware of?

We are currently in the middle of our annual survey effort where we poll the American public to identify the issues that matter most when it comes to just business behavior, and fine tune the specific components and weights that will power the 2019 rankings model. From March through July, our research team will compile over 75 data points for each of the companies we evaluate, which will then form the basis for our Rankings.

We’re deeply committed to transparency and accuracy, so over a six-week period in August and September, we will share the data we’ve collected on each company with their teams, providing them with the opportunity to review and affirm it through our secure Corporate Portal. Once the data review period is complete, our analysts run the rankings model, using all the final data and survey weights, to produce the latest Rankings of America’s Most JUST Companies, which will be released in December 2019. The annual reconstitution of the JUST Index, reflecting the updated Rankings, will then follow before the end of the year.

How are your Rankings used?

Our Rankings provide the foundation for the tools we use to incentivize change, from our investable indexes to the JUST ETF. At $19 trillion, the private sector is four times the size of the public sector, and 40 times the size of the philanthropic sector.

In November 2016, we launched our flagship index – the JUST U.S. Large Cap Diversified Index (JULCD) – as a way to explore the connection between just corporate behavior and investor returns. The Index tracks the top 50% of Russell 1000 companies ranked by JUST Capital by industry, and is constructed to match its industry weights. The good news is that, since its inception, the JULCD has outperformed the Russell 1000 by 340 basis points while maintaining a low tracking error and similar volatility.

For more detail on the underlying research, I invite you to check out our ongoing financial analysis content series – JUST Alpha. I especially recommend Looking for Strong Returns? Ask the American People, which found that 83% of the outperformance in the JUST Index is driven by alpha – active, excess investment return – and not traditional investment factors like profitability, investment, value, size, growth, and momentum.

Over the four years you’ve been doing your survey, what shifts or trends have you seen in public sentiment?

One of the most interesting trends we’ve seen from our annual survey is that our country is not as divided as we might think. Despite the political and social upheavals of the past few years, we’ve found remarkable unity among Americans when it comes to how they want companies to behave and what a more just economy could look like. In 2018, Americans prioritized, in order of importance:

  • How a company pays and treats its workers – 25%
  • How a company treats its customers – 18%
  • The nature of the products it makes – 14%
  • Its impact on the environment – 13%
  • How a company impacts the jobs market – 12%
  • Its role in strengthening communities in the U.S. and abroad – 11%
  • Its leadership and shareholder return – 8%

Perhaps most surprising, we found in 2018 that Americans had less negative views on business overall than they did in 2017. More Americans believe that business is heading in the right direction, and most agree that business has an overall positive impact on issues like quality jobs and local communities – suggesting that that companies can be a force for greater good and have the potential to play a crucial role in addressing social challenges in our country.