Investor Activism on Climate Shows No Sign of Slowing

Investor Activism on Climate Shows No Sign of Slowing

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The number of environmentally-focused shareholder resolutions filed with public companies continued growing in the 2010 proxy season as investors sought more disclosure and action on risks related to climate change and energy.

Eighty-eight U.S. and Canadian companies received 101 shareholder resolutions (PDF) in the 2010 proxy season, a 48.5 percent increase over the year before, according to the Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR) . Of those, 51 were withdrawn by investors after their demands were met with action or commitments. In comparison, investors filed 68 climate and energy resolution in the 2009 proxy season, 31 of which were withdrawn following corporate commitments.

Generally, it is considered a success when resolutions are withdrawn because the company took steps to address the demands, or agreed in full.

Forty-two resolutions went to a vote in the 2010 proxy season, including 16 that received support of 30 percent or more. The top vote involved Layne Christensen, where 60.3 percent of the company's shareholders supported a resolution asking the company to issue an environmental, social and governance (ESG) report covering topics such as greenhouse gas emissions and water management.

The 42 resolutions that went to a vote achieved an average vote of 24.6 percent, which Rob Berridge of investor coalition Ceres called a victory.

"If company management sees more than 20 percent of shareholders want them to do something, it generally gets their attention and sends an important signal that they need to take action," Berridge said in an email.

Thirty-four resolutions called for sustainability reports that included strategies related to climate change, eight asked for sustainability reports with information on how they are handling other ESG challenges, and 10 requesting the adoption of climate change principles.

Notable resolutions include one filed with Kroger asking the retailer to disclose how it will assess and manage climate change impacts on its company and supply chain. The resolution received 40.7 percent support.

A resolution asking Massey Energy to adopt quantitative greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals received 25.1 million supporting votes, compared to 22.2 million votes opposing it, translating to a 53.1 percent majority. The company reported the vote as a 36.8 percent report because it included the 20.9 million votes abstained with those voting in opposition.

Two resolutions filed with ExxonMobil and Chevron sought information on the financial risks the companies faced from climate change. In October, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission voted on a rule change that made it easier for shareholders requesting information on financial risks from environmental and social issues.

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