5 Top Sustainable Investment Stories of 2010

2. BP oil rig explodes in Gulf of Mexico.

That the worst environmental disaster in human history occurred in the controversial practice of deepwater drilling was not much of a surprise. Sustainable investors have called on companies to effectively address the risks associated with such practices, which are becoming increasingly prevalent as the clearly unsustainable global reliance on fossil fuels encounters limitations in conventional extraction.

That BP turned out to be the company that caused the disaster should not have come as much of a surprise either, given its lengthy history of health and safety violations, especially in the US. Yet despite the violations, which led to multiple deaths in Texas City and elsewhere, BP had remained a favorite of many sustainable investors, largely due to its reputation as an effective reporter. The latest disaster finally forced many investors to reconsider their assessment of BP as a top sustainable company, and 2010 saw the company's removal from several sustainable indexes. (Here is a sampling of BP coverage: Sustainability Investors Reconsider BP Holdings in Wake of Gulf Disaster, BP Among Companies Removed from Global Sustainability Index, Shareowner Resolution Addresses Risk Management at BP and Oil Spill Commission Asked to Recommend Improved Disclosure by Offshore Drillers.)

1. Supreme Court decision opens floodgates for corporate political spending.

The Supreme Court ruling in January on Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, which prevents the government from regulating corporate expenditures on election campaigns, sent a shock wave through the community of advocates for corporate accountability and shareowner rights.

In effect, the Court ruled that the rights of corporations are the same as those of private individuals, despite their clearly articulated legal status as separate entities.

Following the ruling, President Obama said, “With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans."

The Center for Political Accountability (CPA), launched in 2003, seeks to bring transparency and accountability to corporate political spending. Thus far, more than 75 companies have voluntarily adopted the framework for political disclosure, including half of those listed on the S&P 100.

In response to the Supreme Court ruling, Bruce Freed, President of CPA, said, "The Citizens United decision will place companies under immense pressure to use shareholder funds to support candidates, groups and causes whose positions and activities could threaten a company’s reputation and bottom line and shareholder value."

In November, a coalition of investors led by Domini Social Investments and Walden Asset Management submitted proposals for the 2011 proxy season addressing corporate political spending at four large corporations. The four companies sit on the Board of the US Chamber of Commerce, which reportedly poured $75 million into the 2010 election. (Articles on the decision and its impact include: Advocates for Corporate Accountability Denounce Supreme Court Ruling on Political Spending, In Wake of Controversial Supreme Court Decision, Shareowner Activists Develop Plan for Corporate Disclosure of Political Spending,Social Investors Brainstorm Responses to Citizens United and Shareowners Launch Campaign Against Corporate Political Spending.)

Image CC licensed by Flickr user Perpetualtourist2000.