We believe investors can play an important role in raising awareness of environmental concerns through direct dialogue with companies as well as government and community stakeholders. Following is a list of communications recently undertaken.
In conjunction with other investors, Portfolio 21 requested that The International Organization of Securities Commissions work more closely with regulators, stock exchanges, and other related parties to improve the disclosure of material environmental, social and governance information.
Palm oil is an issue with which Portfolio 21 is very engaged. In an effort to educate and encourage industry best practices, Portfolio 21 and other investors collectively engaged members of the Palm Oil Manifesto Group, including Kuala Lumpur Kepong (KLK), Sime Darby, IOI Group and Asian Agri Resources, to request an immediate moratorium on clearance of any potential high carbon stock and peat land areas. The group also urged members to adopt a time bound plan by which to receive third party certifications for all of the palm oil produced. (For more on this topic, read our report on the Palm Oil industry, “Perspectives on ‘Sustainable’ Palm Oil.”)
For several years, Portfolio 21 has joined other investors in providing comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) expressing concerns about large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska. With the proposed determination released, we wrote urging the EPA to issue a final determination that provides long-term protections for this natural area. Additionally, the final determination would help remove regulatory risk and uncertainty surrounding mining in the region.
Portfolio 21 is one of many signatories to the Investor Statement on Climate Change, which was prepared by a coalition of institutional investors seeking to expand opportunities for low carbon and climate resilient investments. Ways in which institutional investors can contribute include: working with policy makers, identifying and evaluating low carbon investment opportunities, developing capacities to assess risks and opportunities, and company engagement and increased transparency. For more information on the Investor Statement on Climate Change, visit http://investorsonclimatechange.org/.
Recognizing the challenge that climate change will have on economic activity, Portfolio 21 joined other investors and corporations to collectively voice our concern through the Climate Disclosure Standards Board on the lack of “comprehensive and comparable” climate related information in mainstream corporate reports. To address this gap, the Climate Change Reporting Framework has been developed. Together we urge companies and organizations to utilize this framework “as a practical step enabling positive change in economic and financial market activity at scale.”
Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20 year time period. The oil and gas industry is the largest emitter of methane in the U.S.1 Due to methane’s significant contribution to global climate change, Portfolio 21 joined with other investors to urge the EPA to regulate methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, electric power plants are the single largest source of carbon pollution in the United States. Despite this impact, there are currently no federal limits on the amount of carbon pollution power plants can emit. Portfolio 21, in conjunction with other concerned investors, wrote President Barack Obama to share our strong support for the creation of carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants. The Carbon Pollution Standards will be key to reducing this significant source of emissions.
Solar power generates clean electricity without the toxic pollution or global warming consequences created by fossil fuels, however, solar power still creates an environmental impact. Potential impacts include land use and habitat loss, water use, and the use of hazardous materials in manufacturing. For this reason, Portfolio 21 joined other investors to show our support of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition’s research and survey. We encourage solar companies to participate in this project to improve transparency and best practices.
The appointment of Lisa Jackson, former Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to Vice President of Environmental Initiatives at Apple, Inc. was strong signal from Apple that it is taking its environmental responsibility more seriously. Recognizing Ms. Jackson’s educational background as a chemical engineer as well as a senior manager at Apple; Portfolio 21 joined other investors in encouraging Ms. Jackson to influence Apple “to be the first major electronics brand to disclose and eliminate the most dangerous chemicals from [its] manufacturing processes and ensure better protections for workers who are exposed to chemicals.”
On March 20, Danish nongovernmental organization, DanWatch released a report that stated most of the mica used by global cosmetics companies originates from illegal mines in India where child labor is commonly used. More specifically, this report identified two of L’Oréal’s suppliers. Portfolio 21 has written L’Oreal requesting the company’s response. Moreover, we inquired how these suppliers were evaluated against L’Oréal’s Code of Business Ethics, its “Buy & Care” program, and its social audits.
Portfolio 21 engaged Oregon’s Senators and Representatives to express our strong support for the Oregon Clean Fuels Program (CFP) and to advocate lifting the existing 2015 sunset provision. We believe that the CFP advances Oregon’s economic and environmental interests by encouraging investment in clean fuel technology. Independent economic analysis has shown that the CFP should significantly benefit Oregon’s economy, Oregon’s fuel cost savings, employment rate, personal income and gross state product.1
In an effort to further promote the development and use of more sustainably produced palm oil, in conjunction with other concerned investors, engaged Bunge (not a Portfolio 21 holding) on our concerns regarding one of its main palm oil suppliers – Sarawak Oil Palms Berhad (SOP). SOP has been actively fighting recent industry initiatives to protect forests, peatlands and local communities. Portfolio 21 believes that sustainable palm oil is essential to the long term viability of this industry and recognizes that the suppliers are an essential component in achieving this goal. Given SOP’s lagging sustainability efforts we have asked Bunge to sever ties with SOP.
In an effort to further promote the development and use of more sustainably produced palm oil, Portfolio 21 joined other investors to applaud Wilmar, (not a Portfolio 21 holding) the world’s biggest palm oil trader, for its groundbreaking new forest conservation policy. If fully implemented, Wilmar’s policy would set a new standard for agricultural commodity production that protects forest and peatland ecosystems as well as local communities. Portfolio 21 encourages other companies to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable agricultural production and tackling climate change by adopting similar policies that pledge to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains.
As of September 2013, Portfolio 21 established a position in New Britain Palm Oil, a palm oil producer that we believe has shown leadership on environmental, social, and governance management. Our research into this industry strengthened our understanding of the ecological consequences unsustainable practices have on the ecosystems that support this commodity. To this end, Portfolio 21 signed an investor letter urging major stakeholders in the palm oil industry to adopt policies that would ensure palm oil development does not contribute to deforestation, development on peatlands, or human rights violations.
Google has been a holding in Portfolio 21’s Global Equity Strategy since 2008 and is currently our largest position. Recently Google has been criticized for its membership and participation in ALEC – the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is an organization that has been thoroughly researched and documented by the Center for Media and Democracy and subsequently criticized by the Center for its “shameful assaults on democratic principles.” Portfolio 21 wrote to inquire why Google has chosen to establish membership in ALEC and participate on its Communications and Technology Task Force. Moreover, we want to know what specific actions ALEC supports that align with Google’s “Don’t be evil” business approach.
Note: As of March 31, 2014, Portfolio 21 has not garnered a response, despite sending a follow up correspondence on this matter.
As reflected in our Agricultural Biotechnology policy, Portfolio 21 perceives genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as high risk. Therefore, in conjunction with other concerned investors, we addressed the top 50 companies who had previously spent the most to defeat Prop 37, a California ballot measure that would have provided consumers with GMO labelling information. We urged these companies not to use treasury funds to oppose legislation that mandates labeling of foods containing GMOs.
Portfolio 21 originally submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in May 2013 on the proposed Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants. Now, in collaboration with other investors with combined assets under management of $900 billion, we urge President Obama to finalize the EPA’s rule for a national carbon pollution standard for electric power plants. Moreover, we encourage the President to proceed with a program to reduce carbon pollution. Currently electric power plants are the largest individual source of carbon pollution in the United States, and there are no federal limits on the amount of carbon pollution these plants can emit. Portfolio 21 would prefer to see comprehensive legislative action rather than EPA regulations to govern this area but so far legislation has not been forthcoming.
Portfolio 21 wrote to Apple after the publication of a recent report by China Labor Watch that highlights numerous violations by the Pegatron Group, one of Apple’s major suppliers. Based on the organization’s findings, the supplier appears to be violating a number of Chinese laws as well as Apple’s Supplier Code of Conduct. We wrote to Apple to ask about the company’s Code as it relates to varying rules in different countries and to understand its auditing, verification, and corrective action processes.
APPLE RESPONDS: According to Apple, the China Labor Watch report makes new claims not captured by Apple’s own audits. The company says it will investigate these issues immediately, take corrective actions where needed, and report any violations to its Code of Conduct.
As a member of the Investor Network on Climate Risk, Portfolio 21 joined investors in writing to the EPA to demonstrate our strong support for the proposed Tier 2 Motor Vehicle Emission and Fuel Standards.
In response to the tragic incident at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh that took the lives of more than 1250 garment workers, Portfolio 21 joined other concerned stakeholders in writing Secretary of State John Kerry to urge support of the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. The Accord is a legally binding agreement that includes all of the components essential to be effective: independent safety inspections with public reports, mandatory factory building renovations, the obligation by brands and retailers to underwrite the cost of repairs, and a vital role for workers and their unions in protecting their own safety.
Portfolio 21 wrote to Samsung regarding two recent releases of hydrofluoric acid gas, which killed one worker and injured others. In addition, the company has come under general criticism for its chemical management and potential health impacts of factory workers. Portfolio 21 has written to Samsung to seek better understanding of the company’s health and safety policies and chemical management practices and procedures.
Google is a product innovator and one of the world’s most well-known companies. Yet, the company lags in terms of its political spending disclosures. We believe that opacity in political spending can mask conflicts of interest and policy conflicts as companies find themselves funding opposite sides of the same campaign, or the same issue. Consequently, we believe that investors should be provided access to this information. We would like Google to end its membership from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as this organization provides financial support for a host of regressive policies that seemingly do not align with Google’s innovative and progressive brand image.
Portfolio 21 is an official signatory of the Climate Declaration. The Climate Declaration brings together companies and individuals to demonstrate support for a national strategy to tackle climate change. The Declaration is framed around a single statement: “Tackling climate change is one of America’s greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century.” To add your support, visit Ceres.org and Sign the Climate Declaration.
In February 2013 Oxfam published a report on labor rights in Unilever’s supply chain, focusing on a factory in Vietnam. The results showed labor rights violations, low pay, and hazardous working conditions. We support Unilever’s decision to partner with Oxfam to evaluate its factory conditions and have the results be made public. However, Portfolio 21 has written Unilever to inquire about what specific next steps will be taken to improve the working conditions in its factories globally.
Portfolio 21 and other institutional investors representing over $1.3 trillion in assets, in addition to many of the nation’s leading women’s organizations, joined together to send a letter to the 41 companies within the S & P 500 that have no women on their boards. Together we urged these companies to take steps to embrace gender diversity.
The S&P 500 Index is a broad-based unmanaged index of 500 stocks, which is widely recognized as representative of the U.S. equity market. It is not possible to invest directly in an index.
Portfolio 21 wrote to the state legislators and Governor Kitzhaber to express our support for the Oregon Clean Fuels Program (CFP) and to advocate lifting the existing 2015 sunset provision. As an Oregon-based investment company and active member in the business community, we view the CFP as a significant opportunity for statewide economic growth. The CFP advances Oregon’s economic and environmental interests by encouraging investment in clean fuel technology. We view this program as an important tool in minimizing the risks of climate change.
On January 21, 2013 President Obama was inaugurated for his second term. During his address, the President noted that climate change is a top priority. To encourage the President to move quickly on this pressing matter, Portfolio 21 supports the Climate Summit 2013 Coalition.
Diversification does not assure a profit nor protect against loss in a declining market.