As we wrap up the annual meeting season, shareholders yet again prove that their voices have the potential to impact business practices in significant and material ways. Regulatory action to increase transparency in ESG reporting and make further progress toward fighting climate change is an ongoing and sometimes slow process. Investor voices, through choices within their portfolios, shareholder resolutions and board appointment votes, are pushing for action beyond what regulations alone may be capable of.
In the News
Big Oil’s Influx of Cash Opens Door to Clean-Energy Deals
Record profits may drive Europe’s biggest oil and gas companies to speed up their transition to renewable energy sources by acquiring smaller, dedicated renewable energy producers. Shell, TotalEnergies and Equinor ASA are among the companies that have considered these transactions. Some of the largest European wind and solar producers are likely targets, including Iberdrola SA, Orsted A/S and SSE Renewables. Historically, increased cash flows would have led to heavy investment in new fossil fuel projects, but European energy producers have committed to shifting their core business toward renewables.
Wall Street Journal
More Investors Vote Against Corporate Directors Over Climate Change
Investors are increasingly opposing board of directors nominees to push companies they see as slow to act on climate change to take a more active approach. Through July 2022, investors cited climate change as reason to oppose management-backed directors at 225 U.S. companies, up from 157 in 2021 and just 83 in 2020. Board appointment votes typically happen at annual meetings, but unlike the non-binding shareholder resolutions that are voted on at these meetings, shareholder votes have the power to remove board members. These votes are especially consequential now that large institutions like Nuveen and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System are joining in.
U.S. Sustainable Funds See Outflows for the First Time in Five Years
U.S. sustainable funds saw outflows of $1.6 billion in the second quarter of 2022. This was the first quarter showing outflows in more than five years. Despite this, flows into sustainable fixed-income funds remained positive, while traditional taxable and municipal bonds had outflows of $150 billion. U.S. sustainable funds also saw a higher organic growth rate than the overall market. This steady growth even during a stretch of down performance could indicate that investor demand is prepared to weather a variety of market conditions.
Investors Commit $7.1 Trillion of Assets in Pursuit of 1.5°C Climate Goal
The United Nations-convened Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance announced that 44 of its 74 members are setting 2025 targets that support the Paris Agreement objectives. This represents $7.1 trillion in assets these institutional investors have committed to manage according to the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The group comprises large investors such as pension funds and insurance companies and includes the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, Allianz SE and Zurich Insurance Group AG. The group has also signaled that it will make its target-setting approach more stringent. Early in 2022, it said it would require members to cut between 49% and 65% of their carbon footprint by the end of the decade. This importantly includes Scope 3, or financed, emissions.
New York Times
Fed Announces Plan to Assess Climate Risks to Banks
Six of the largest U.S. banks will assess their exposure to climate risks next year through a pilot program sponsored by the Federal Reserve. Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo will participate in the program, which is described as “exploratory in nature.” The program will not bring with it regulatory action in response to results but will provide information to regulators to assist them in designing further regulatory guidelines. The Fed also plans to publish aggregate insights from the pilot program.
New Zealand to Tax Agriculture Emissions at the Farm in World First
Farmers in New Zealand will pay for their methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions beginning in 2025. Agriculture is a significant portion of the New Zealand economy and the country is the world’s biggest dairy exporter with farming accounting for roughly half of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions. These fees will allow New Zealand to reach its target of reducing methane emissions to 10% below 2017 levels by 2030. Farm groups have expressed concern that the costs will lead to farmers leaving their land. The revenue generated by the levy will in part be used for incentive payments designed to encourage farmers to implement mitigation strategies like methane inhibitors, which will in turn decrease their bills.
Research & Reports
Institutional Shareholder Services
Racial and Ethnic Diversity on U.S. Corporate Boards – Progress Since 2020
Research shows visible progress since 2020 in the number of racially and ethnically diverse directors on U.S. company boards, both at large- and mid-cap companies. Russell 3000 companies with no racial and ethnic diversity on their boards went down from 38% in 2020 to 10% in 2022, while companies with two or more racially or ethnically diverse directors went up from 29% in 2020 to 55% in 2022. 2022 has set a record by being the first year when all S&P 500 companies included at least one racially or ethnically diverse director, with the number of non-diverse S&P 500 boards going from 11% in 2020 to 5% in 2021 and zero in 2022. The rate of progress was unevenly distributed, however. Based on 2020 census data, 18.5% of the U.S. population is Hispanic or Latino, but they represent only 5% of S&P 500 board seats.