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Investors Pressure Companies on Environment

FILE - Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz delivers remarks at the Starbucks 2016 Investor Day in New York, Dec. 7, 2016.
FILE - Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz delivers remarks at the Starbucks 2016 Investor Day in New York, Dec. 7, 2016.
Investors Pressure Companies on Environment
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Investors are increasingly demanding companies outside of the oil and gas business to consider the environment in their decisions.

In a few weeks, Amazon investors will vote on a proposal to push the company to show how it is reducing its use of fossil fuels. In the American state of Kentucky, Yum Brands stockholders want to know what the parent company of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell is doing about deforestation.

Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) studies corporate governance and responsible investing. The group found that outside of the energy and utility industries, investors only looked at 33% of such proposals five years ago. So far this year, that number nearly doubles to 60%.

Kosmas Papadopoulos is the executive director of ISS Analytics. “Climate change will affect all industries,” he said. “And I think we’ll see more in other sectors.”

Peter Reali is head of responsible investing at Nuveen, a global investment company. “You’re definitely seeing investors ask for it, but you’re also seeing companies wanting to talk a lot more about it, in particular on climate change issues,” he said. “We have meetings or phone calls with hundreds of companies annually, and boards are really interested in what investors think about this stuff.”

Most stockholder proposals pushing for environmental action fail to pass. Company managements usually suggest voting against them. Many say they are already paying increased attention to the environment.

At Starbucks’ annual meeting in March, stockholders voted against a request for a progress report on recycling cups and reducing waste that ends up in the ocean.

Starbucks’ management said that it already has planned to eliminate plastic straws, among other environmental-friendly moves. The proposal lost by a five-to-four vote.

Papadopoulos notes that getting support for such proposals is difficult “even for some of the issues where you may have seen consensus in the market.” He added, “anything above 30%, we generally consider as significant.”

But the biggest successes for investors may not take place at stockholder meetings at all. They may come, instead, during the private conversations between stockholders and companies.

For example, the investing group Green Century Capital Management said it recently withdrew a proposal made to Royal Caribbean Cruises. The proposal concerned the cruise operator’s food waste management. After the withdrawal, Royal Caribbean still agreed to document annually how much food waste it has and what it is doing to reduce it.

I'm John Russell.

Stan Choe reported on this story for the Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.


Words in This Story

investor – n. a person who uses money to earn more money : a person who uses their money to purchase stock in a company, to buy property, etc., in order to make future profit

sector – n. an area of an economy : a part of an economy that includes certain kinds of jobs

board – n. a group of people who manage or direct a company or organization

recycle – v. to make something new from (something that has been used before)

consensus – n. a general agreement about something : an idea or opinion that is shared by all the people in a group

significant – adj. very important

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