Published On: June 1, 2021

Stakeholders Make an Example of Exxon Mobil – Last week’s shake-up of Exxon Mobil Corp.’s board of directors is a clear signal to corporate America that indecision and greenwashing will no longer be accepted by small or large stake shareholders.

Shareholders care about climate change and they want their investment holdings to care, likewise.

The movement to transform Exxon’s board of directors was led by a previously little-known hedge fund called Engine No. 1, which has just a 0.02% stake in Exxon and no history of activism in oil and gas.

The firm gained two board seats at Exxon’s annual shareholder meeting Wednesday and promised to push the crude driller to diversify beyond oil. Engine No. 1 was backed by two of the largest U.S. pension funds and some of the world’s biggest asset management firms, including BlackRock Inc.

The Exxon vote sends an important message not only to Exxon and the other big oil companies, but “also to ESG investors at large,” said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Rob Du Boff. “The fact that asset managers such as BlackRock were swayed by Engine No. 1’s cause is another sign that ESG issues, and climate change in particular, are now mainstream.”

The $255 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund and the $300 billion California State Teachers’ Retirement System have been promoting climate-friendly corporate policies and environmental, social and governance investment principles for years now, and both got behind Engine No. 1’s Exxon push.

So did the Church Commissioners for England and BlackRock, which has been criticized for its uneven track record on supporting environmental-related shareholder resolutions.

ESG advocates said the rebuke of Exxon is going to make it much easier for sustainability investors. “Just a few years ago we were ignored, but now companies know that they have to pick up the phone and speak with ESG investors,” said Kristin Hull, founder of Nia Impact Capital in San Francisco.

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