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Mounting investor demands for enhanced environmental performance

Business leaders at the world's largest listed companies have been facing growing pressure from investors to embrace environmental best practices, following the launch of the Carbon Disclosure Project reporting season and the publication of new research showing shareholder support for environmental resolutions is on the rise.

The CDP announced that it has kicked off its annual disclosure season, writing to more than 5,000 public companies around the world requesting information on their carbon emissions and climate change strategy.

Significantly, the group said the number of institutional investors supporting the annual requests for information has increased 10 percent to 722 separate investors, meaning that the initiative is backed by institutions with $87 trillion of assets under management — equivalent to around one-third of the world's invested capital.

A nonprofit, the CDP aims to help investors manage climate risks and encourage businesses to measure their climate impacts and develop mitigation and adaptation strategies by requesting relevant information from listed companies.

As part of its annual disclosure season, companies will now have until May 30 to submit climate information to the organization using a standardized approach to measurement.

Last year, more than 80 percent of the Global 500 companies responded to CDP requests for information and the group is seeing a growing number of organizations around the world providing data on their emissions performance.

"Since pioneering a system for corporate climate disclosure a little over 10 years ago, the number of investor signatories to CDP programs has grown more than twentyfold and growth in the number of companies using CDP has nearly matched this rate," said Paul Simpson, chief executive of the CDP. "This is testament to the economic relevance of environmental data to investment decisions."

Alongside the requests for climate information, the organization will also send companies requests for information on their impact on forests, their water use and the steps they are taking to curb their greenhouse gas emissions.

The group said that in the past year the number of investors backing its calls for water footprint information had increased 13 percent to 530 institutions managing $57 trillion of assets, while the number calling for information on forest impacts had doubled to 184 firms with $13 trillion of assets.

"Our expansion into different areas of natural capital, and our efforts to provide integrated information to the global market, represents vital progress toward a sustainable economy in which natural resources are valued efficiently," said Simpson.

In addition, the number of investors supporting the Carbon Action initiative, which not only requests climate-related information but also calls directly on the CEOs of the world's largest 301 public companies to embrace cost-effective emission reduction measures, has also increased to 190 institutions managing $18 trillion of assets, including new signatories such as JPMorgan Chase and Banco do Brasil.

The launch of the CDP reporting season comes in the same week as the Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute and Ernst & Young published a new report detailing how support for environmental and social shareholder proposals has drastically increased in the U.S. in recent years.

The study shows that between 2005 and 2011 the proportion of shareholder resolutions going to a vote that addressed environmental and social issues rose from 30 percent to 40 percent, while the level of average support secured by these resolutions more than doubled from less than 10 percent to more than 20 percent.

"Investor attitudes about extrafinancial issues seem to be undergoing a sea change," said Jon Lukomnik, IRRCI executive director, in a statement. "It wasn't that long ago that these were regarded by most mainstream investors as abstract issues, viewed as only tenuously linked to bottom-line concerns.

"Today, however, an increasing number of investors seem to regard some E&S proposals as an early warning system for issues that will demand attention from corporate managements and boards because of the implications for corporate sustainability and long-term shareholder value."

Photo of stock floor trading provided by ene via Shutterstock.

This article originally appeared at BusinessGreen and is reprinted with permission.

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