Powerful Investors Push Big Companies to Plan for Climate Change

By David S. Rauf

Fortune 500 corporations like Chevron and Kinder Morgan are facing renewed pressure from climate-focused activist investors. This year some of the most powerful shareholders, which include giant mutual funds, are supporting the push for businesses to respond to climate change. And the prodding has had more effect than ever before.

The coming weeks are dubbed “proxy season” by corporate governance experts. Most publicly traded companies hold annual meetings in which shareholders, via nonbinding resolutions, signal their approval or dislike of proposed company policies. This year initiatives on climate change are among the most popular ballot items: Of the more than 420 shareholder resolutions initially proposed, about 20 percent focused on climate, tied for the largest of any proposal category, according to a report by the group Proxy Impact. Some reolutions ask companies to adopt greenhouse gas emission targets whereas others ask for reports on ways businesses could be affected by the Paris climate agreement’s global temperature goals.

Already, several companies have bowed to investor demands before votes are held. Why? Several major asset managers—like BlackRock and Vanguard Group—are now putting their heft behind climate resolutions, says Aaron Ziulkowski, a manager at Boston-based Walden Asset Management who works on shareholder engagement initiatives. It is a signal, he says, that Wall Street’s skepticism of climate science has dwindled: “It’s now widely recognized that climate change is a legitimate risk.” Still, some observers caution corporate reports do not equal policy changes.

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