Question: Is shareholder pressure a meaningful lever for change? How can there be more of it? Or are other strategies smarter?
NPR reported this morning that corporate shareholders are putting increasing pressure on boards to deal with climate change. Across the United States, shareholders have “filed around 540 proposals as of mid-February asking companies to address environmental, social and corporate governance issues, according to Proxy Preview. Resolutions focused on climate change accounted for about a quarter of this year’s total, with the number increasing by about 12% from the same point in 2022.”
Up 12% year over year! That is not enough. But how do you relate to that? It’s a start (6 years to double to 1000 proposals?), but today’s news also includes stories about how Amazon lobbyists are playing a leading role in undermining state requirements for emissions controls that would match Amazon’s own company commitments! That seems super scandalous. And a new study in the UK finds that the government’s efforts to reduce home heating emissions are on target to hit the country’s goals…in 300 years.
At their root, all these stories feel like a real clear difference in values. For example, in a rare interview this week, Sultan Al Jaber, the oil company CEO chairing the COP28 climate conference, said that the climate movement needs “a business mindset,” like “clear KPIs [key performance indicators]” and “partnerships not polarization.”
But to what end? The author Derrick Jensen writes “the culture’s problem lies above all in the belief that controlling and abusing the natural world is justifiable.” He starts with the premise that “the needs of the natural world are more important than the needs of the economic system.”
What could that look like? We see inspiring examples flowing through Sunflower every day, from around the world. But here’s a great new one. The Registry of Forest Protection Foresters. This just-launched project led by long-time forest activist Deane Rinerman aims to bring forest science to bear in defense of the forest (imagine that!). Deane calls it a “journey of defining best practices for climate forests.” The project’s website explains how it’s different from the traditional paradigm of the Registered Professional Forester (RPF) and is building an alternative: “Registered Professional Foresters (RPFs) are experts in all the details of why cutting down trees is a benefit that perpetuates their job. Therefore Registered Forest Protection Foresters (RFPFs) are experts in all the details of why NOT cutting down trees is a benefit to our future planet.” Check out the articles throughout their site, including the bios of the current members of the new Registry, for a whole lot of inspiration you can apply in any part of the climate movement.
Where do you stand on the question of pressure inside or outside the business world? We can’t all start new organizations to advocate for fundamentally new paradigms. And some people argue that we don’t need a more fundamental paradigm shift than technology has already afforded us – that the transformation toward sustainability is now the profitable, rational, choice. This makes me think about the LEED principle of “Efficiency First.” Start by reducing the harm being done, decrease the lift required in a total transformation. Let’s each do what we can to get momentum going in the right direction. That may be necessary, but it sure isn’t sufficient.
Let us know your thoughts on these questions. Let’s think through this together.