Published 2 years ago.
About a 4 minute read.
Image: The Fixers/The Yes Men
Two recent releases by a noted activist group put tough questions in front of one of the world’s largest financial institutions — which would be wise to pay
On October 19, a notable press release from investment behemoth Vanguard
Group made the rounds in the
financial world and to a range of media outlets. In short, it announced a big
shift in the company’s investment strategy to align with Paris climate
Among the highlights was the announcement of a new target-date fund for “young
investors” entitled “Vanguardians of the Galaxy” — which was not only a sizable
move for an “old money” company, but also took advantage of a popular film
series to get across Vanguard’s “new objectives.”
sounded promising; and it struck a chord with those clamoring for real change in
big finance. 60 of the world’s largest financial institutions have more than
in fossil fuel-related
and those industries rely on that major financing to stay profitable. A shift
like this from Vanguard would be significant and perhaps start a domino effect
for other institutions.
There was just one problem. It was all fake.
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“While Vanguard wields massive influence over so many global industries,
including fossil fuels, they seem to hide in the shadows,” activist Jeff
Walburn told Sustainable Brands™. “They lag far behind their
competitors on climate risk to the investments they manage — odd
short-sightedness for a firm that talks a big game about responsibly managing
risk in the long term.”
Walburn, who uses the name as a pseudonym, is an organizer with The Yes
Men — an activist group focused on driving attention
towards the intersection of big business and climate change. He and The Fixers, an emergent faction of The Yes Men, were largely
responsible for the recent PR stunt.
Walburn didn’t stop there. He drafted and released a fake “response” from
Marvel (which owns the “Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise) denouncing
the original fake Vanguard release, essentially trying to add further
credibility to both efforts.
“The fake response was a fun way to stir the pot,” Walburn said. “Marvel was not
a target; they are part of the thematics of the action. And I like the idea that
Vanguard lags so dreadfully behind even most other corporations — to the point
that another giant corporation would be embarrassed to be standing next to
Vanguard, given their role in financing planetary doom.”
Neither Vanguard nor Marvel returned SB’s request for comment.
The “back and forth” between the companies attracted some media attention, but
many outlets took down their stories or stopped reporting once they became aware
of the hoax. A couple outlets did report on the fake releases — noteworthy
considering the origin was the same person who fabricated a 2019
claiming to be from BlackRock CEO Larry
These endeavors are largely meant to draw attention to the role large financial
institutions play in climate change. Walburn told SB that he thinks there are
simple things Vanguard could be doing to change their complicity in “climate
collapse,” but the company isn’t showing any real climate leadership.
While stunts like these are not an everyday occurrence, they do show how easy it
is to adjust public
and catch the eyes and ears of those with influence. The dual releases surely
drew attention to Vanguard’s ongoing fossil fuel investments (totaling more
than $350 billion);
and drawing Marvel (unwillingly) into the conversation opens the door to an
entirely different audience, as well.
On the business side, it’s clear consumer demands are changing rapidly and
activism-level work will only move the needle faster. Consumers are spending
more money than ever with companies that are not only transparent about their
climate-related objectives, but actively doing work to help mitigate their
negative impact and create lasting value for the world.
Although big finance is lagging far behind in the climate conversation, it would
be wise for Vanguard and its peers to take heed of the awareness this recent
stunt brought on — because the questions The Yes Men are raising will likely
move front and center sooner, rather than later.
Published Nov 15, 2021 1pm EST / 10am PST / 6pm GMT / 7pm CET
Geoff is a freelance journalist and copywriter focused on making the world a better place through compelling copy. He covers everything from apparel to travel while helping brands worldwide craft their messaging. In addition to Sustainable Brands, he's currently a contributor at Penta, AskMen.com, Field Mag and many others. You can check out more of his work at geoffnudelman.com.