April 7, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – Shareholders in public corporations have a unique privilege, opportunity, and responsibility: to use their proxy ballots to shape the values and decisions of those corporations.
That was the message of Adrian Dominican Sister Corinne Florek, OP, Executive Director of the Religious Communities Investment Fund, in a live-streamed April 3 talk, “How One Checkmark Can Influence Corporate Policy.” Her address was given in the auditorium of Weber Retreat and Conference Center on the Motherhouse campus of the Adrian Dominican Sisters.
She noted the strong economic influence that corporations carry: of the 150 largest economic entities, she said, 87 are corporations. Some 91 million U.S. adults own some stock, she noted, adding that most throw away or recycle their proxy votes rather than voicing their values.
“If you own shares, you have a voice – and I’m here today to ask you to use your influence to improve corporate decision-making and creating change in the issues you care about,” Sister Corinne said. “After all, investments are your money and should be working for you.”
Sister Corinne encouraged individual shareholders to consider the values they support and the industries they would like to avoid supporting, and to ask their financial advisers to craft a portfolio that reflects these choices. Then, as individual investors, they have the right to guide the corporation’s decisions through their proxy vote.
“Proxy is just another name for a ballot that contains resolutions that are up for a vote,” Sister Corrine explained, adding that proxies also include a slate of candidates running to serve on the corporation’s Board of Directors. Resolutions can deal with issues such as environmental impacts and disclosure of the corporation’s lobbying expenses and treatment of workers.
If shareholder resolutions receive support of 3 percent of the proxy voters, the corporation will remain in dialogue about those issues. “The proxy voting is the incentive for the corporation to stay in the dialogue,” Sister Corinne explained. When shareholders don’t vote at all, their votes are considered to be in favor of the view of the corporation’s management rather than of shareholders who are trying to make changes, she added.
Using proxy voting to help bring more justice into the economy is not a new practice. Sister Corinne noted that the Adrian Dominican Sisters have been involved in economic justice through corporate responsibility for more than 40 years through the Congregation’s Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB). The Congregation is also working with hundreds of other faith-based organizations, members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), to ensure that the corporate world reflects values of justice, care for the environment, and concern for workers and low-income people.
A panel of Adrian Dominican Sisters spoke on their own experience of voting proxies for the Congregation. Sisters Frances Lombaer, OP, Joan Marconi, OP, and Thérèse Haggerty, OP, encouraged listeners to vote their proxies, noting that the process becomes easier with practice. “We do proxy voting because we want to support the choices that the Congregation makes through the PAB, our Portfolio Advisory Board, Sister Thérèse said. “These choices are in line with our vision statements.”
Sister Corinne concluded her talk by giving investors some ideas on how they can both diversify their portfolio and make a difference in the world.
“Please join us in this effort to create more justice in our economy,” Sister Corinne concluded.
To watch her presentation, click here.
October 4, 2016, Adrian, Michigan – Numerous aspects of the issue of climate change and its effects on Earth have been discussed and analyzed in recent years. A presentation, sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB), focused on a unique but vital slant: how finance can be used as a tool in the fight against climate change.
Geeta Aiyer, CFA, founder and president of Boston Common Asset Management, spoke on “The Climate Finance Landscape – Mitigating the Impact of Climate Change” in the auditorium of Weber Center, before an audience of PAB members, Sisters, Associates, and Co-workers. Geeta has worked closely with the Congregation for about 20 years as an investment manager.
She began by setting her talk in context, noting the urgency of climate change, which can bring about “disruption of climate cycles” and severe weather, as well as “food scarcity, the extinction of species, and the displacement of populations.”
For many years, faith-based organizations have tried to persuade people to address climate change and to change from using fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar. Financial motivation also plays a role, Geeta said. “I firmly believe there is no sustainability without finance,” she said. “Hence, your role as the Portfolio Advisory Board remains central.”
During her talk, Geeta focused on how finance tools can be used as part of a strategy to persuade corporations such as energy companies to lessen the effects of climate change on our planet.
Geeta gave a mixed review of the effectiveness of one popular tool: divestment, selling off your stocks and having nothing to do with a fossil-fuel company, for example. Divestment is a “values statement that says you don’t want to participate in it.” However, she added, the stocks could then go to other owners who don’t care what effects the fossil-fuel companies are having on the environment. In addition, other companies besides fossil fuel corporations put carbon into the air through their operations.
Geeta pointed out that activist shareholders — those who want to make a difference to the environment or social justice through their investments — have a range of tools to persuade corporations to take the environment into account, from dialoguing with the companies to engaging in shareholder resolutions. The PAB, through its Corporate Responsibility arm, engages in those actions to bring about greater social justice and enhance the common good.
Geeta noted the powers of persuasion that shareholders have with the corporations that they invest in because the shareholders would want to make decisions that benefit the corporation as well as the world. As shareholders, “we have a very different voice,” she said. “We want [the corporations] to do well. …We’ll sit with them and talk with them in a voice that can be heard.”
Dialogues between activist shareholders and the companies in which they invest can take many forms, Geeta said. She emphasized the importance of working with fossil-fuel companies to begin to produce renewable energy, with other companies to reduce their use of carbon and to be more efficient, and with insurance companies and banks, who enable continual construction that can increase the use of fossil fuels.
Geeta expressed her own optimism that fossil fuel companies and other corporations will eventually act to make the environment more sustainable. “When we know people are watching, we change how we do things,” she said. For example, if fossil fuel companies realize that the demand for carbon-based energy has been reduced, they might supply more energy through renewable sources. Companies in every sector could become aware of opportunities to make a difference through more efficient use of energy or through technology that helps consumers to measure their own use of energy.
To hear more about this complex issue, watch the video of Geeta’s entire talk below.