Activist shareholders sound the alarm on climate change in corporate filings

For the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Aberdeen, South Dakota, the prairie has been their home since 1880.

They were invited from Dublin by Bishop Martin Marty of St. Cloud, Minnesota, in what was then Dakota Territory to teach children of the Lakota people and French settlers.

From those early days, the order has developed an “inner awareness that we depend on the land and are saved by the land,” Presenting Sister Pegge Boehm told Catholic News Service.

“We are formed by the prairie. We know the lands of the prairies are fragile and we have learned that it is a fragile ecosystem,” said Boehm, socially responsible investment coordinator for the congregation.

This connection to the prairie guides the sisters’ efforts to encourage one of the world’s largest companies, Amazon.com Inc., to become more transparent in its lobbying efforts regarding climate change and compliance with the Paris Agreement. on the climate of 2015.

The sisters joined Seattle-based Newground Social Investment as lead filers of a shareholder resolution ahead of Amazon’s annual general meeting that asks the company to report whether and how its lobbying aligns with the goal of the landmark 2015 agreement to limit average global warming to 2.7 degrees. Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels.

The filing was intended to help shareholders better understand how Amazon is “good or bad with the earth and its people,” Boehm explained.

“Once we identify maybe where there is not a good order, we need to be the moral voice to make them aware that someone is watching them and hold them accountable,” she said. .

The resolution calls for more information than Amazon already provides each year about its contributions of $10,000 or more to political candidates, trade associations, social welfare organizations and nonprofit groups.

“The report should address direct and indirect lobbying … and actions Amazon has taken or will take to mitigate the risks associated with any misalignments that may be found,” the resolution states.

An Amazon spokeswoman declined to specifically address the Introducing sisters’ resolution.

Instead, she pointed to “sustainability activities” that support the Paris Agreement. Among them are investments in wind and solar farms and more efficient machinery; plans to power all operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025; a commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040; and ordering more than 100,000 all-electric delivery vehicles.

Amazon is among dozens of companies where members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility have filed climate and environment-related resolutions. The ICCR said there had been 103 such deposits as of February 16.

Oblate Father Seamus Finn, director of the Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation for his order and former chairman of the board of the ICCR, said shareholders of many companies see an urgent need for corporate leaders. business to more quickly adopt practices that mitigate climate change, to more resolutions tabled this year.

Shareholders are learning from the failed attempts of years past and are now refining resolutions to address specific rather than general concerns, he said.

Some of the resolutions are expected to be withdrawn as conversations begin between activist investors and company representatives, but many will be debated at annual meetings in the coming weeks.

The ICCR reported during a webinar in February presenting its proxy resolutions and 2022 voting guide that a record 436 resolutions at 246 companies had been tabled. In 2021, 244 shareholder resolutions were filed.

Last year also saw a record number of ICCR member resolutions – 23 – gain majority shareholder support. And in a move that sent shockwaves through corporate boards, other activist investors elected three of their own to the board of oil giant Exxon Mobil in hopes of accelerating the pace of the company’s response to climate change.

This success has raised hopes among investors such as religious congregations, labor unions and progressive asset management firms for more of the same this spring.

The South Dakota congregation’s resolution is just one of 17 filed with Amazon by ICCR members. Other resolutions address concerns such as employee rights, racial and gender pay gaps, surveillance technology and tax transparency.

Similar issues have been raised with other companies as shareholders seek greater accountability and actions that promote justice.

Still, concerns about climate change top the list this season. In total, 20 resolutions were tabled on climate lobbying aligned in Paris. Other environmental concerns include disclosure of greenhouse gas emissions and funding for fossil fuel development.

Mary Minette, director of shareholder advocacy at Mercy Investment Services, credited religious women for staying the course on the environment for years, long before many investors recognized the growing threats to people and society. creation.

“The sense of urgency is growing. We keep hearing reports and reports and reports and reports that our time is getting shorter and shorter to act,” Minette said.

The Benedictine Sisters of Boerne, Texas, were among co-filers of a resolution with San Antonio-based Valero Energy Corp., calling for disclosure of short- and long-term greenhouse gas reduction goals . He said that the company’s exposure to climate risks can endanger its activities and therefore have a negative impact on investors.

Benedictine Sister Susan Mika, director of the Benedictine Coalition for Responsible Investment, told CNS the resolution is the latest in a year-long campaign to engage company leaders on environmental issues.

“We are concerned about climate change and everything that is happening on Earth. These are some of the reasons why we would file with any of the oil and gas companies and refineries,” Mika said.

Conversations can get technical, especially when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions during drilling operations, but Mika said she and other shareholder institutions want to continue to engage with officials. companies to protect the planet.

“We’re here for the long haul,” she said.

The ICCR has seen greater success this year, particularly after the Securities and Exchange Commission proposed a rule on March 21 to improve climate-related disclosures to investors.

The landmark rule, which will be subject to public comment in the coming weeks, would require companies to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions and the risks they face due to climate change.

In a statement, Christina Herman, program director for climate and environmental justice at the ICCR, welcomed the rule, which will standardize for the first time how companies report their emissions.

The proposal “will be key in setting a floor to ensure that investors of all sizes have access to firm-level and portfolio-level climate risk data, essential for making investment decisions as the economy pivots to a future clean energy,” Herman said.

The rule, which is not expected to come into effect until December once finalized, does not affect shareholder actions this year, but it will go a long way to addressing investors’ environmental concerns in the future.

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