In the 1980s, when members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) first began talking to companies about global warming, they urged companies to adopt the "precautionary principle" as the science was still in debate. At the same time, members asked companies to leave the Global Climate Coalition, an industry association that was discrediting climate science and actively opposing calls for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Shareholder advocacy calling on corporations to be accountable for their GHG emissions and to take steps to address climate change continues. In 2012, ICCR members filed 28 climate-related shareholder proposals for the 2012-13 shareholder proxy season. Several proposals focus on obvious industries like extractives and utilities. Others, targeting big box retailers, food retailers, the energy-intensive IT sector, and the financial services sector – with its power to drive investments in green energy solutions – move into new territory.
While climate change resolutions have garnered increasing support over the years, industry as a whole has been slow to adopt meaningful changes in spite of intensifying weather events and the documented savings that result from a reduced carbon footprint. ICCR members are exhorting shareowners to exercise their votes this proxy season in order to send a signal to management that heel dragging on climate change will no longer be tolerated.
Shareholders filed proposals at ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips calling for the companies to adopt goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their operations and products.
Chevron and ExxonMobil received proposals requesting a report on their disaster risk management and the adaptation steps they are taking to reduce exposure and vulnerability to climate change.
Natural gas producers Oneok, Range Resources and Spectra were asked to deal with the problem of methane leakage by measuring, mitigating and disclosing methane emissions and setting emission reduction targets.
Shareholders called on Continental Resources, with operations in the huge Bakken shale oilfield in North Dakota, to adopt goals to reduce/eliminate flaring in all its operations and facilities.
IBM, which has invested in reducing carbon emission from its own operations, but has fallen behind other IT companies by not having targets to increase sourcing of renewable energy, is urged to set company-wide targets to increase renewable energy sources and/or productions.
The financial sector was also addressed. PNC Bank, which finances four of the top nine coal companies involved in mountain top removal mining, received a proposal calling on the bank to assess the GHG emissions resulting from its lending portfolio and its exposure to climate change risk. Shareholders asked the board of JP Morgan Chase, one of the largest financiers of energy worldwide and the leading underwriter in the global coal industry, to give an assessment of, and develop programs to address, the greenhouse gas emissions related to its lending, financing and investing portfolios.
Dean Foods, Yum! Brands and Starbucks received proposals requesting the companies adopt and implement a comprehensive sustainable palm oil policy. Deforestation and the burning of peatlands caused by industrial palm oil production is one of the main reasons that Indonesia is now the third largest global emitter of greenhouse gases.
Starwood Hotels, Men’s Warehouse, Gentex, Emerson, Simpson Manufacturing and Coherent, Inc. were among the companies getting shareholder proposals calling for sustainability report that describe the company’s environmental, social and governance performance including greenhouse gas reduction targets and goals.
Sr. Patricia Daly of the TriState Coalition for Responsible Investment and a leader in ICCR’s climate efforts, said: "Climate change is a moral issue for many, but particularly so for the religious investors at ICCR who have made it a priority since the 1980s. While some companies we engage, like ExxonMobil, clearly lag behind their peers, there are others, like Ford, that are setting the bar for their sectors on emissions targets and on new product development. As a result of ICCR’s advocacy, climate risk calculations and GHG reduction targets are now accepted industry norms."
ICCR calls on shareowners to use their voices and their votes to push for stricter GHG reduction goals and to accelerate investments in renewable energy.
For more information on the history of shareholder advocacy and climate change, see the ICCR Corporate Examiner issue, "The Price of Denial" which can be downloaded for free at http://www.iccr.org.