Tag Archives | US SIF

Internet Will Drive Public Opinion and Proxy Voting to Reflect American Values

American values were recognized as at risk in 1932 when Adolf Berle and Gardiner Means argued that with dispersed shareholders, ownership has been separated from their control. (The Modern Corporation and Private Property) Ironically, concentration of equities under the umbrella of three or four indexed funds presents an opportunity to end that divide and make companies better reflect American values by being more accountable to their beneficial owners. Accomplishing that goal depends on transparent governance, such as proxy voting, and fostering real dialogue on the issues faced by corporations and investors. As I have argued, real-time disclosure of proxy votes could drive these huge funds to compete with each other based on not only profits and costs but their governance efforts, as reflected in proxy voting records. Continue Reading →

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ESG Assets Surging but at Risk

US SIF study documents environmental, social, and governance — ESG assets — under management surging. ESG assets now account for one in every four investment dollars. Demand for ESG asset focus is coming from real people.

In contrast, the Main Street Investors Coalition [funded by the National Association of Manufacturing (NAM)], insists on “maximizing performance ahead of pursuing social and political objectives.” If NAM gets its way, ESG assets will be cut to a trickle.

In a letter to the SEC ahead of an upcoming Staff Roundtable on the Proxy Process NAM writes,

Investment advisers should have policies and procedures in place that require the identification of a clear link to shareholder value creation before voting in favor of any proxy proposal, including those focused on ESG topics.

However, as you will read below, the public wants to move in a different direction. The public wants to invest in ESG assets – those geared toward not only making money but creating a better world.

The US SIF Foundation’s 2018 biennial Report on US Sustainable, Responsible and Impact Investing Trends, found that sustainable, responsible and impact investing, SRI assets, now account for $12.0 trillion—or one in four dollars—of the $46.6 trillion in total assets under professional management in the United States. This represents a 38 percent increase over 2016.

The Trends Report—first compiled in 1995—is the most comprehensive study of sustainable and impact investing in the United States. From the first report when assets totaled just $639 billion to today, the sustainable and responsible investing industry has grown 18-fold and has matured and expanded across numerous asset classes.

The 2018 report identified $11.6 trillion in ESG incorporation assets under management at the outset of 2018 held by 496 institutional investors, 365 money managers and 1,145 community investing financial institutions. The largest percentage of money managers cited client demand as their top motivation for pursuing ESG incorporation, while the largest number of institutional investors cited fulfilling mission and pursuing social benefit as their top motivations.

In addition, 165 institutional investors and 54 investment managers collectively controlling nearly $1.8 trillion in assets filed or co-filed shareholder resolutions on ESG issues between 2016 and the first half of 2018.

Eliminating double counting for assets involved in both ESG incorporation and filing shareholder resolutions produces the net total of $12.0 trillion in SRI strategies at the start of 2018.

Money managers and institutions are utilizing ESG criteria and shareholder engagement to address a plethora of issues including climate change, diversity, human rights, weapons and political spending,

said Lisa Woll, US SIF Foundation CEO.  Additionally, retail and high net worth individuals are increasingly utilizing this investment approach with $3 trillion in sustainable assets.

Ellen Dorsey, Executive Director of the Wallace Global Fund, a leading foundation endowment that has embraced sustainable investing and supported the Trends Report since 2010, noted,

We support this research as a critical tool to track crucial trends in the industry and benchmark our own goal of 100% mission alignment, as we promote an informed and engaged citizenry, help fight injustice and protect the diversity of nature.

According to Amy O’Brien, Global Head of Responsible Investing at Nuveen, the investment management division of TIAA:

What the US SIF Trends Report shows incontrovertibly, is that investors are truly beginning to understand the value of ESG considerations as an effective means of managing risk and improving investment performance. With an intensified focus on important issues such as climate change and corporate board gender diversity, we hope to see creative solutions that will help address these challenges, and in turn, drive shareholder value in the years ahead.

Top ESG Asset Criteria

The relative prominence of specific ESG criteria differed between money managers (firms that manage assets on behalf of others) and institutional asset owners (entities like pension funds, foundations and educational endowments that own and invest assets, often via money managers).

The report breaks out the top ESG issues by types of investment vehicles, including registered investment companies, such as mutual funds and exchange traded funds (ETFs), private equity and venture capital funds, community investing institutions and others.

The report also provides detail on the top ESG criteria by each of nine types of institutions: public funds, insurance companies, educational institutions, philanthropic foundations, labor funds, hospitals and healthcare plans, faith-based institutions, other nonprofits and family offices.

Asset managers:  Climate change was the most important specific ESG issue considered by money managers in asset-weighted terms; the assets to which this criterion applies more than doubled from 2016 to 2018 to $3.0 trillion. Other top ESG categories included tobacco, conflict risk, human rights, and transparency/anti-corruption. Concern among money managers and their clients about civilian firearms was also on the rise.

Asset owners:  For institutional asset owners, conflict risk was the top specific ESG criteria, up 8 percent from 2016 to $3.0 trillion followed by tobacco, carbon/climate change, board issues, and executive pay.

Investor Advocacy for ESG Issues

From 2016 through the first half of 2018, 165 institutional investors and 54 investment managers collectively controlling nearly $1.8 trillion in assets at the start of 2018 filed or co-filed shareholder resolutions on ESG issues. “Proxy access” was the leading issue raised in shareholder proposals, followed by disclosure and management of corporate political spending and lobbying.

The proportion of shareholder proposals on social and environmental issues that receive high levels of support has been trending upward. During the proxy seasons of 2012-2015, only three shareholder proposals on environmental and social issues that were opposed by management received majority support, while 18 such proposals received majority support in 2016 through 2018.

In addition, the number of survey respondents that reported engaging in dialogue with companies on ESG issues increased notably since 2016.

Other Findings

Both the number and assets under management of registered investment companies incorporating ESG continued to grow at a strong pace. Assets in mutual funds reached $2.6 trillion, up 34 percent over 2016, and the number of ETFs more than doubled from 25 to 69.

ESG assets under management in 780 alternative investment vehicles, including private equity and venture capital funds, hedge funds, and real estate investment trusts (REITs) or other property funds, totaled $588 billion at the start of 2018. This is nearly triple the assets identified in 2016, and an 89 percent increase in the number of funds.

With assets of $185.4 billion, the community investing sector, which includes community development banks, credit unions, loan and venture funds, has experienced rapid growth over the last decade, nearly doubling in assets between 2014 and 2016, and growing more than 50 percent from 2016 to 2018.

The National Association of Manufacturing claims to have formed the Main Street Investors Coalition to ensure the individual investor’s interests are considered. Yet, money is pouring into ESG assets because more and more individuals are investing their values.

That letter from NAM to the SEC also asks that proxy proposal resubmission levels be raised from 3% of the vote in year one, 6% after two years and 10% after three to new thresholds of 6%, 15% and 30% respectively. Additionally, “NAM supports increasing the existing $2,000 threshold to a level that more appropriately reflects true ‘skin in the game’ for a shareholder sponsoring a proposal.” At least one bill in Congress aims at setting that level at 1% of the total value of the company

In summary, at a time when the public is clamoring for ESG assets and shareholder proposals to address ESG issues, NAM is calling on the SEC to:

  • double or triple resubmission thresholds on proxy proposals,
  • eliminate most proposals through high thresholds required for initial submissions,
  • prohibit investor advisors from voting for shareholder proposal unless they have identified the proposal is clearly linked to “shareholder value creation.”

Can NAM stem the flood of ESG assets? The SEC was created to protect investors. NAM seems to be asking the SEC to protect corporate managers from investors.

   

 Corporate Governance (CorpGov.net) on Facebook

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Clean Power Roll Back Generates March for Science

Clean Power Plan InfographicTrump’s clean power roll back could lead to millions of deaths around the world if the US abrogates its leadership and all such efforts to address climate change. Investors, businesses and scientists express their dismay. The executive order drew a rebuke from the European Union. “Now, it remains to be seen by which other means the United States intends to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement,” said Miguel Arias Canete, climate action and energy chief at the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm. (Donald Trump Signs Order Rolling Back Obama’s Climate-Change Rules)

Investors for Clean Power

Lisa Woll, CEO of US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment released the following statement today in response to the Trump Administration’s executive order to roll back the Clean Power Plan:

On behalf of our 300 plus members, US SIF believes the Administration should be working aggressively to reduce carbon in the atmosphere and that this executive order accomplishes the opposite.

Already, the United States is paying a high economic price from the ravages of severe drought, wildfires and storms associated with increased atmospheric levels of carbon.  This is not the time to retreat from the call to protect current and succeeding generations from the catastrophic implications of further, unrestrained climate change. Continue Reading →

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Global Sustainable Investment Up 25%

Global Sustainable Investment ReviewThe Global Sustainable Investment Alliance (GSIA) released its biennial Global Sustainable Investment Review 2016, showing that global sustainable investment assets reached $22.89 trillion at the start of 2016, a 25% increase from 2014.

Sustainable investment encompasses the following activities and strategies:

  1. Negative/exclusionary screening,
  2. Positive/best-in-class screening,
  3. Norms-based screening,
  4. Integration of ESG factors,
  5. Sustainability themed investing,
  6. Impact/community investing, and
  7. Corporate engagement and shareholder action.

Yet, many in the mainstream press continue to disparage sustainable investing. This morning, Justin Baer of the Wall Street Journal reported that “interest in so-called environmental, social and governance investing is surging.” (State Street Offers New Tool to Gauge Environmental, Other Social Risks) There is nothing “so-called” about the movement to ESG investing. It is real.

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US SIF Comments on DOL Guidance Update

DOLThe Department of Labor (DOL) rescinded Interpretive Bulletin 2008-2 relating to the Exercise of Shareholder Rights and replaced it with Interpretive Bulletin 2016-01 which reinstates the language of Interpretive Bulletin 94-2 with some modifications. US SIF supports this change as IB 2008-2 was not only inconsistent with prior guidance, but may have discouraged ERISA plan fiduciaries from exercising their shareholder rights.

The guidance appropriately notes the positive role fiduciaries play through the exercise of shareholder rights. Additionally, this guidance also reinforces the language of IB 2015-1 on economically targeted investments which clarified that environmental, social and governance (ESG) impacts can be intrinsic to the market value of an investment. Continue Reading →

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US SIF Foundation Issues SRI Report

US SIF Foundation 2016 btrends reportUS SIF Foundation Releases 2016 Biennial Report on UA Sustainable, Responsible and Impact Investing Trends. Sustainable, responsible and impact investing (SRI) assets now account for $8.72 trillion, or one in five dollars invested under professional management in the United States according to the US SIF Foundation’s biennial Report on Responsible and Impact Investing Trends 2016, which was released today. Continue Reading →

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Positive Impact of SRI Investors

SRI InvestorsSustainable, responsible and impact, SRI investors, have influenced the investment industry, companies, governments and other actors to address environmental, social and governance (ESG) challenges in four major areas, according to The Impact of Sustainable and Responsible Investmenta report released today by the US SIF Foundation.

Influence of SRI Investors

Drawing upon a range of data, surveys and examples, the report focuses on four significant impacts of sustainable, responsible and impact – SRI investors over the past 25 years.  SRI investors have:

  • changed the investment industry, leading to more SRI products and greater access to expert practitioners;
  • improved public companies by stepping up active shareholder ownership and engagement on ESG issues;
  • aided communities and individuals via community investing and other initiatives; and
  • influenced public policy and launched organizations to promote sustainable investment.

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US SIF: Fundamentals of Sustainable and Responsible Investment 

US SIFThe US SIF Foundation’s Center for Sustainable Investment Education will provide a training on the Fundamentals of Sustainable and Responsible Investment. The classroom training will be held at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, CO on Tuesday, November 3 from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM followed by lunch from 1:00 – 1:30 PM. This training will be held immediately before the SRI Conference. Continue Reading →

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Proxy Access Lite: Victories at Whole Foods, H&R Block

Proxy Access Road Building (photo by Erik Johansson)

Proxy Access Road Building (photo by Erik Johansson)

In response to proxy access proposals filed this year, both Whole Foods Market (WFM) and H&R Block (HRB) have adopted proxy access. While I had filed standard proposals seeking the ability of shareholders with 3% of shares held for 3 years to be able to nominate up to 25% of the board, both companies adopted bylaws allowing nominations only up to 20% and limiting nominating groups to 20, whereas my proposals had no such restrictions on the number of participants in nominating groups. Continue Reading →

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Video Friday: Where is the SEC on Dark Money?

Dark MoneyI think most Americans have a very limited attention span when it comes to investing, the SEC and especially corporate governance. When I came across SECDisclose.org earlier this week, I was delighted with a series of videos they have uploaded on dark money and with their byline: Because the S.E.C. shouldn’t stand for “S-E-C-RET.”

In a few paragraphs below lifted from SECDisclose and a press release from the Corporate Reform Coalition, I hope to perk your interest in this project so that you’ll share their links with your friends. I love their campaign. It is very creative. However, one thing the campaign fails to do, at least as far as I could tell in a quick look, is to call their viewers and readers to action. I’ve practically hounded my readers to death on this issue but will do so once again. Continue Reading →

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Sustainable, Responsible, Impact Investing: Part 6

Sustainable, Responsible, Impact InvestingThis is the last in a multi-part series on the main program of the 25th annual SRI Conference on Sustainable, Responsible, Impact Investing held November 9–11, 2014 at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. See also Video Friday: What is Sustainable, Responsible, Impact Investing?Violating Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Increases Industry RisksSurveys: Nonprofit Board Members & SRI 2014 Conference Attendees25th Annual Conference on Sustainable, Responsible, Impact Investing, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5. The Agenda page of the Conference site now has links to video, audio and presentation slides. Be sure to mark your calendar for November 3-5, 2015. Don’t miss it. Continue Reading →

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25th Annual Conference on Sustainable, Responsible, Impact Investing

Sustainable, Responsible, Impact InvestingThe 25th annual SRI Conference on Sustainable, Responsible, Impact Investing was held November 9–11, 2014 at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. I’ve been working with many of the organizers, sponsors and participants for years but this was my first time to the SRI annual conference. I attend a lot of conferences every year but this one was the most fun — and probably the most informative. I’ll be back. In fact, I’ve already blocked out November 3-5 on my calendar for next year. This is the first of a several part series on the conference. Continue Reading →

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Green Investing

green investingWhat is Green Investing?

“Green Investing” is the phrase I use to describe the process of aligning your investments with your values, social as well as environmental. Many people don’t know that they own companies in their mutual funds and retirement plans that conflict with their beliefs.

Financial advisors who specialize in this area use different terms to describe what we do: socially responsible investing, ethical investing, sustainable investing and many more. Whatever term we use, most of us would agree there are three key components of green investing: social screening, shareholder activism and community loans.

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Environmental and Social Shareowner Proposals Gain Traction

Key Characteristics of Prominent Shareholder-sponsored Proposals on Environmental and Social Topics, 2005-2011, released by the IRRC Institute (IRRCi) and researched by Ernst & Young LLP finds environmental and social (E+S) shareowner proposals are gaining increased support from investors at US companies. Download the report, presentation, press release and even replay the webinar from IRRCi’s website. Continue Reading →

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