Nearly 40 percent of all shareholder proposals filed in 2013 came from the environmental and social (E&S) category, representing the largest category overall, according to a recent report by Ernst & Young.
Taking flight: Environmental sustainability proposals gain more attention identifies the specific requests investors are making in environmental sustainability proposals, company practices referenced by shareholder proponents in their supporting statements and examples of company actions that have led to withdrawals.
The top five E&S proposal topic areas were:
1. Political spending / lobbying – 36%
2. Environmental sustainability – 35%
3. Corporate diversity / EEO – 8%
4. Labor / human rights – 7%
5. Animal testing / animal welfare – 4%
Within the subcategory of “Environmental sustainability” (#2 above) the following proposal topics were prominent:
- Climate change / sustainability: these proposals accounted for nearly half of the environmental proposals submitted.
- Energy efficiency / recycling: 14% of proposals submitted.
- Energy extraction-related risks: 12% of proposals submitted.
The report shows that investors most commonly requested cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, greater supply chain transparency and enhanced sustainability disclosure. It is these proposals that drive the relatively high rate of withdrawals connected to dialogue or action.
"Companies are using engagement to respond to investor concerns," said Allie Rutherford, Director of the Corporate Governance Center at Ernst & Young. "Constructive dialogue on environmental and social topics often leads to increased disclosure, accountability and ultimately withdrawal agreements."
Besides encouraging dialogue and action, environmental sustainability shareholder proposals also are being used to reference what other companies are doing to create a point of comparison. This practice shares information and creates a baseline point for companies to use for their own E&S programs.
"Shareholder proposals are highlighting sustainability best practices to show results are achievable," said Steve Starbuck, Leader Climate Change and Sustainability Services, Ernst & Young LLP. "For example, leading companies are incorporating environmental risk into their planning and reporting. Companies that identify and manage these types of risks are appropriately planning for their future."
This year, shareholder proposals grew overall, Ernst & Young says.
In May, Ernst & Young released a joint report with Boston College that found firms around the world are increasingly treating sustainability reporting as a core business practice because it can provide advantages over competitors. Other motivations include transparency, risk management and stakeholder pressures.