The Decade We Stopped Climate Change

By Aaron Ziulkowski, Walden Asset Management

A New York Times Magazine published in August included one single article: “Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change.” The title contains the spoiler that we all already knew: We are not stopping climate change. But the focus of the article by Nathaniel Rich—a whopping 30,000 words—is a historical recounting of how close the U.S. and global community came to establishing a binding framework that would have set us on a path to limit warming to what scientists consider manageable. Several decades later, we have still not accomplished this feat.

While some readers likely found the article depressing, it gave me a bit of hope. Rich chronicled a time when the risks of climate change were appreciated and regulations to limit emissions were recognized as the prudent action to take. This knowledge was accepted and embraced by conservatives and liberals as well as leaders of business and advocacy groups. While this promising response eventually derailed, investors may be able to help return the U.S. to a 1980s context—poised to act to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change.

Here’s what we can do.      

Ask companies to set emissions reduction goals that align with climate science. While this may sound outlandish, it is not. Many companies recognize that climate change presents both risks and opportunities and are committed to doing something about it. Forty-eight percent of Fortune 500 companies have set public targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve energy efficiency, source more renewable energy, or some combination of the three. While some of these targets are not science-based (i.e., aggressive enough to reach carbon neutrality by the second half of the century), nearly five hundred companies from around the globe have publicly committed to set science-based targets, and over one hundred have already done so.

Ask companies to be more transparent about their political spending and lobbying, as well as lobbying done on their behalf by trade associations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The business community wields significant influence over public policy, for better and for worse. Transparency breeds accountability. As investors, we need to know how a company is lobbying, both because the reputational risk it might entail for the companies we invest in, as well as the risks that lobbying may create for the broader economy. According to AFSCME, more than 40 companies engaged by investors have strengthened their corporate lobbying policies, practices (e.g. a decision to end ties with a third party involved in controversial lobbying activities), and transparency.

Ask companies to proactively advocate for comprehensive climate legislation. While at the federal level it is unlikely there will be an opportunity in the near-term to pass comprehensive climate legislation, there is important groundwork that needs to be done to prepare for when the political moment is right. There are also numerous opportunities to influence state- and local-level policies related to climate change. We should ask companies, especially those that are setting their own goals and targets to reduce emissions, to support legislative and regulatory efforts that are consistent and indeed facilitate achieving their goals. For example, recently, in my home state of Massachusetts, the business community successfully mobilized to support strengthening climate legislation, including the sourcing of renewable energy. Groups like the Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), organized by Ceres, can help companies identify and participate in such efforts.

What we did not achieve in the past provides us our current goal and focus. The business community can be a supportive partner in fighting climate change, and investors have an important role in catalyzing that action.

How Well Are Your Financial Service Companies Incorporating ESG?

by Frank Sherman

Of US institutional investors, 43% incorporate ESG factors into their investment decision-making process, according to the sixth annual ESG survey by Callan. This percentage has almost doubled since the survey was first launched in 2013. Yet many financial service companies only pay lip service to these issues. How well do your financial advisors and money managers incorporate ESG best practices?

The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment (US SIF) is committed to advancing sustainable, responsible and impact (SRI) investing across all asset classes. One of the core deliverables from their strategic plan is to identify and disseminate information about best practices within the field and provide tools for practitioners to undertake a rigorous and comprehensive approach to sustainable and impact investing. They published a Roadmap for financial advisors earlier this year on how to incorporate SRI investing into their practice. US SIF released a second Roadmap this month, this time focused on money managers. This Roadmap describes steps to establish board and senior level oversight; identify sources of ESG data, research and training; develop an ESG incorporation strategy; implement an investor engagement strategy; measure impact; and participate in building the field. Due to come out later this year, the third and final guide in the US SIF series will focus on asset owners.

I recommend that SGI members read and share these guides with their Investment Committees and question them on how well your financial advisors and asset managers have incorporated these best practices into their services.

Seventh Generation Interfaith will continue to support your corporate engagements and public advocacy on your community’s priority social and environmental issues. . . a key part of your SRI investment strategy.

Member statement at Kohl’s AGM

Yesterday, Frank Sherman, Chris Cox, and Tim Dewane attended the annual shareholder meeting at Kohl’s. For Kohl’s, the shareholder meeting was the closing of a significant chapter in the company’s history and the beginning of a new chapter. Having begun his career with the company in 1982, Kohl’s CEO Kevin Mansell retired, a post he has held since 2008. With the retirement, Michelle Gass is the company’s new CEO.

Tim Dewane

ICCR and SGI have a long history of engagement with Kohl’s. At the shareholder meeting, Tim Dewane, the JPIC director for the School Sisters of Notre Dame of the Central Pacific Province offered a statement:

Good morning Mr. Chairman and Kohl’s Board members. My name is Tim Dewane, I am the JPIC Director for the School Sisters of Notre Dame of the Central Pacific Province. The School Sisters of Notre Dame CPP are a long time shareholder of Kohl’s and a member of Seventh Generation Interfaith, an ICCR-affiliated coalition of faith-based institutional investors that has engaged in positive dialogue with Kohl’s for nearly 20 years. Our members first sat down with Kevin Mansell and Rick Schepp in 2000 to provide input into the language of Kohl’s Terms of Engagement, a set of standards on worker rights and working conditions for its suppliers throughout the world. Since 2000, faith-based shareholders have met with the company annually and have seen improvements its supplier’s performance on workplace human rights as well as significant improvement in its’ environmental sustainability of your operations through a variety of programs that are described in its 2017 CSR report.

We welcome Michelle Gass as Kohl’s new Chief Executive Officer, the first woman to occupy this important position at the company. We look forward to working with you and your staff. As you build on the legacy of Kevin Mansell we encourage you to expand and deepen the integration of Kohl’s commitment to corporate social responsibility throughout the company’s business strategy and messaging to customers, investors and to society. In the current environment, stakeholders and rating agencies, who have incorporated social and environmental criteria into their valuation of companies, are expecting more transparency of Kohl’s and other companies. Kohl’s has a good story to tell, one that we are working on to improve with every meeting we have with you.

We encourage you to apply ‘human rights due diligence,’ based on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the new global norm, to identify potential risks to people and communities, especially where your business partners operate in high risk countries where rule of law is weak. In addition, we encourage Kohl’s to join a number of companies in aligning its CSR strategies to the realization of the UN Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015 to eradicate poverty, gender inequity, child and forced labor, adverse impacts of climate change, among others, by 2030.

Larry Fink, Chair and CEO of Blackrock, stated in his Letter to CEOs entitled, A Sense of Purpose, “Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose. To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.” Pope Francis has echoed the understanding of many our own Kohl’s customers when he said that purchasing is not simply an economic act, but also a moral one. We are called to love and care for our neighbors as our selves and in today’s world our neighbor includes not only the folks in this room, or those here in Menominee Falls, but all those whose lives touch ours – including the garment workers in Bangladesh and elsewhere.

We look forward to working with you to build on Kohl’s solid commitment to quality and community – with profits we can all live with. Thank you!

A PDF version of Tim’s statement can be found here.

Shareholders work for racial justice

Four SGI members participated in ICCR‘s Spring Conference: Sr. Ruth Battaglia, C.S.A., Chris Cox, Frank Sherman, and Friar Robert Wotypka, O.F.M., Cap. We will report back what we heard and learned in a variety of ways in the coming weeks.

Today’s tweet from Pope Francis reminds us that preventing evil is not enough; we must take positive action together. Since its inception, SGI has endeavored to make the voices and concerns of those who suffer injustice the center of our reflection and action. I see it reflected as well in the work of the new Racial Justice Investing group within ICCR.

National events in 2017 intensified focus on racial, ethnic, and gender equality. The #MeToo movement, protests concerning the Confederate Flag and Confederate statues, the Women’s March, and the Black Lives Matter movement all contributed to this shift in focus. While personal conversion is vital to change, it is not enough. Addressing systemic injustice requires changes in structures at the level of policy, economics, and worldviews.

A session at the recent ICCR conference included a session from the newly formed Racial Justice Investing group. Pat Tomaino of Zevin Asset Management chaired the session. We also heard from Lisa Hayles of Boston Common Asset Management, Susan Baker of Trillium Asset Management, and Mari Schwartzer of NorthStar Asset Management. Hayles spoke of The 30% Coalition (that corporate boardrooms reflect the gender, racial and ethnic diversity of the United States workforce). Susan Baker discussed workforce diversity and the case for pressing companies to make the composition of the workforce transparent. Schwartzer voiced concerns about prison labor (NPR reported on some of the issues). Finally,  Tomaino addressed diversity and inclusion, especially within the tech workforce.

Pat Tomaino

The Racial Justice Investing group has monthly/semi-monthly calls and has a webpage within ICCR’s member area where SGI members can sign up to participate and to receive regular updates. Previously, the group drafted a Mission Statement:

Racial Justice Investing is a group of socially responsible investors and others in the business community who are taking action for racial justice within our own organizations, as well as in our engagements with portfolio companies.

This important work will contribute to our corporate engagements. We heard about success from Johns Hopkins in hiring of ex-offenders. We talked about resolutions asking tech companies to tie portion of executive compensation to diversity and inclusion goals among other sustainability goals. We also heard about work from the American Friends Service Committee investigating corporate investments in the prison industry. Much remains to be done, but it is exciting to see our partners deeply engaging this issue.

“Come now, let us set things right”

“Come now, let us set things right, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 1:18)

Upon hearing those words from Isaiah, my heart was drawn to the recent events in Parkland, Florida. How can we, how can I “set things right?” We cannot bring back those 17 who died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Nor can we bring back the two killed at Kentucky’s Marshall County High School (Jan 2018), nor the three at New Mexico’s Aztec High School (Dec 2017), nor the six at California’s Rancho Tehama Elementary School (Nov 2017), nor any of those many tragedies among school shootings in the U.S.

The youth from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have undertaken a herculean task: getting Congressional action on guns. At this point, Congress remains crippled. If Congress passes comprehensive background checks for gun sales, raises the minimum legal age for gun purchases, and restricts the sale of certain firearms, the inspired leadership from students Emma González and David Hogg will have accomplished a miracle of biblical proportions.

Do Not Stand Idly By details actions that local and state public officials can take, including identifying “bad-apple” gun dealers and changing firearm procurement policies for local law enforcement. They also have some modest and meaningful proposals for firearms manufacturers, including building a network of reputable dealers and deploying smart technologies in firearm safety. In spite of the availability of new technologies, gun makers have not chosen to deploy them. A simple way to see it is to compare a common firearm and a cell phone. The average cell phone has greater and more extensive security than any firearm on the market in the U.S., but the firearm is much more lethal than the cell phone.

For our part as shareholders, how can we “set things right?” Some (under the hashtag of #BoycottNRA) have pressured companies to break agreements and preferences extended to the National Rifle Association (NRA). A host of firms have ended partnerships with the NRA. Axios.com has provided a running list of companies that have ended their agreements with the NRA hereBlackstone, a large private equity asset management group, called its outside fund managers to make a report over the weekend about investments in firearms.  FedEx seems to gone further than most other companies who merely ended partnership agreements. FedEx offered a statement that expressed specific values about assault weapons.

Barron’s Reshma Kapadia outlined a strategy in a recent article: “We’re All Gun Owners, and Here’s Why.” Kapadia explains that even Florida teachers, via their retirement funds, hold shares in the companies that make the AR-15 rifle. Vanguard and BlackRock hold major stakes in the three manufacturers of firearms. The gun makers are small relative the size of the two large funds, the value of a “rounding error” according to Kapadia, but she notes: “The gun makers may not matter to asset managers, but the reverse isn’t true. The fund giants help keep the stocks of gun makers afloat.” At least 16 banks, including Bank of America, Capital One, JPMogran Chase, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo, also are significant shareholders in firearms manufacturers.

Reuters reports that BlackRock has not remained idle: “BlackRock puts gunmakers on notice after Florida school shooting.” The article duly notes that BlackRock has not defined what actions it will take. For my part, I’d recommend that BlackRock join with Sr. Judy Byron, O.P. who filed resolutions with American Outdoor Brands (Smith & Wesson) and Sturm Ruger. The resolutions ask the companies to report on their activities related to gun safety measures and the mitigation of harm associated with gun products, including efforts to research and produce safer guns and gun products, and to assess the reputational and financial risks they face from gun violence in the U.S.

Let us commit ourselves to “set things right.” Even the words from Isaiah that precede it deeply resonate with our work in corporate social responsibility: “Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). Let us not be deaf to the cries of school children. Let us not fail to act.

ICCR has a press release about the resolutions here

SGI members score progress with utilities on climate change

This year, SGI members filed resolutions with two midwestern utilities: CMS Energy and WEC Energy Group. Each resolution aimed for the public disclosure of an assessment of the long-term business impacts of limiting global warming to under 2-degrees Celsius, as adopted by the Paris Climate Agreement.

We have great news: both resolutions have been withdrawn as the companies agreed to the main components of the resolutions. Despite the Trump administration’s decision to end the Clean Power Plan, both midwestern utilities rise to meet the challenges of climate change. In fact, CMS announced last week that they reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent and no longer using coal to generate electricity by 2040.

Sr. Ruth Geraets, PBVM of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Aberdeen, SD who led the filing of the resolution at CMS Energy said, “My congregation is concerned about climate change and the critical need to reduce greenhouse emissions because our mission calls us to care for creation. As longterm shareholders in CMS, we believe having a strategy in place to meet climate challenges head-on will improve CMS’ competitive position over the long term. We were pleased to see CMS step up to this challenge with its recently announced clean energy breakthrough goals.”

With respect to the dialogue with WEC Energy Group, on behalf of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, Central Pacific Province, Tim Dewane said, “Pope Francis has said, ‘Reducing greenhouse gases requires honesty, courage and responsibility.’ We thank WEC Energy Group for its efforts in this regard so far. We believe they are not only good for the planet, but they are also in the bottom-line best interests of the company, its customers and shareholders.”

“These two utility companies are climate leaders in the Midwest,” said Frank Sherman, Executive Director of SGI. “They recognize that market forces and their customer base are pushing them to exceed federal climate regulations and state renewable portfolio standards. Although they are big companies, utilities have a very local focus and are highly dependent on the social license granted by the communities where they operate.”

Our partners at ICCR shared a press release about this win which can be found here.

SGI members join investor letter to Walt Disney regarding tobacco depictions in films

When CEO Bob Iger said, during a Q&A session at Disney’s 2015 annual shareholder meeting, the company will “absolutely prohibit” the use of smoking in Disney films rated PG-13 and under, faith-based investors lauded the decision. It built on a prior commitment from 2007 that prohibited smoking in Disney films, but not yet across their brands.

The 2015 commitment was not a decision limited to certain labels: “We are extending our policy to prohibit smoking in movies across the board: Marvel, Lucas, Pixar, and Disney films,” said Iger. Iger offered only two exceptions: films which involve historical figures known for smoking, or scenes that portray smoking in a negative light (emphasizing the detrimental health consequences of smoking). Disney’s full policy can be found here.

In December of 2017, Disney acquired Fox film and television for $52 billion. It remains unclear what Disney will do with the new acquisitions.

SGI and its members joined other investors in a letter to Disney that calls upon the company to apply the same standards to the film and television properties acquired from Fox that it applies to other film and television holdings already within its portfolio.

Again, read the full investor letter here.