Drawing on many faith communities’ belief in the importance of stewarding the earth and caring for its inhabitants, faith-based shareholders have taken strides to mitigate the harmful effects of climate change by engaging corporations to take notice of the scientific and financial case for reducing climate risks.
In the 2018 proxy season, faith-based groups put forward several resolutions requesting more proactive and transparent policies regarding climate change. Here are four that represent the range of work being done by these investors.
Valero Energy Corporation
Several faith-based shareholders, including the US Presbyterian Church, Mercy Investment Services, and Dignity Health, urged Valero Energy Corporation to develop a business plan detailing how international efforts to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement would affect its business model and financial outlook. The resolution noted that keeping global warming under 2 degrees Celsius (as mandated by the agreement) is predicted to decrease oil demand by up to 23% over 15 years. This would pose a significant challenge for the world’s largest independent oil refiner. In a win for faith-based activism, shareholders withdrew this resolution when the company agreed to their request.
Cisco Systems, Inc.
The Unitarian Universalist Association spearheaded a resolution asking Cisco Systems, Inc., to disclose its lobbying activities related to the climate. Activists are concerned that this tech leader’s payments to trade associations, which could fund lobbying campaigns, might jeopardize its reputation if they become public. For example, the resolution pointed out that Cisco is a member of the Chamber of Commerce, which took the EPA to court in opposition to the Clean Power Plan.
Shareholders requested that Cisco reveal all of its trade memberships and contributions to campaigns so that stakeholders can assess risks to its long-term financial prospects and public image. They also asked that it report on the decision-making process that determines lobbying contributions.
Shareholders from multiple faith communities, including Friends Fiduciary Corporation, Glenmary Home Missioners, and Community Church of New York, petitioned Emerson Electric to adopt time-bound goals for reducing its greenhouse-gas emissions and to report on its plans to reach those goals.
The resolution also argued that most companies see higher returns on carbon-reduction investments than on corporate capital investments as a whole, suggesting that setting emissions-reductions targets would be a financially sound move.
United States Steel Corporation
Mercy Investment Services and Portico Benefit Services asked United States Steel Corporation to set quantitative goals for lowering its greenhouse-gas emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement targets and to report on how it plans to meet them. Given that the steel industry produces 7% of greenhouse-gas emissions due to human activity, shareholders argued that the company has a responsibility to reduce emissions. The resolution also noted that many of US Steel’s peers, including ArcelorMittal and ThyssenKrupp, have announced plans to limit their greenhouse-gas emissions.
With these resolutions, shareholders are encouraging companies to develop a plan, outline measurable goals, and disclose data for environmental issues that could impact the bottom line. If businesses don’t take proactive steps to address environmental risks, they may start hearing from faith-based shareholders.