ESG Investing  

Environmental issues ignored by majority of companies

Environmental issues ignored by majority of companies
Photo: Chris LeBoutillier [Pexels]

Companies looking to improve their environmental, social and governance credentials have been focussing on the governance aspect to the detriment of environmental and/or social issues. 

The research, conducted by financial think tank Planet Tracker, analysed over 12,000 proposals and votes cast between 2012-2021, and found there has been an 80 per cent increase in proposals submitted in annual shareholder meetings over the past decade.

Yet both environmental and sustainability issues rarely made it onto the agenda at shareholder meetings, at 2 per cent and 5 per cent, respectively.  

Planet Tracker has found that over the last five years, concerns over plastic have been just raised eight times and the word ‘biodiversity’ has made it to the agenda only once. 

The companies' public statements make them appear committed to responsible ownership and stewardship, top asset managers often struggle to present a unified approach, voting very differently by region, the research added.

John Willis, director of research at Planet Tracker, comments: “Planet Tracker welcomes the growing importance of ESG proposals at shareholder meetings. However, the ESG headline figures for these annual meetings over the past decade can deceive. 

"Hopefully, this year we will witness a new momentum on an assortment of ESG issues, not least on environmental topics where many CEOs have made public statements on net zero targets.”

However, he noted the scarcity of proposals on a number of important global issues.

Wills added: "If the investment giants are unprepared to engage with corporations on these topics, they should promptly introduce direct voting for the many investors they represent."

This comes at the same time as private bank Coutts, reports that Britain's millionaires are prioritising micro efforts, such as recycling, as a method of being environmentally friendly rather than their investments, as 85 per cent have not made changes to their investment portfolio.

Leslie Gent, head of responsible investing at Coutts, said: “We know from speaking to our clients that they want to do their best for the planet.

"But what our study reveals is many of Britain’s millionaires do not realise they can make a far bigger difference to the planet with their investments and pensions than they can by sorting their recycling.”

"We’re urging people to have a simple conversation with those who look after their money, starting with their pension provider, about the impacts their investments can and do have.”

Mollie Thornton, senior investment manager at Parmenion said: “It’s good to see a significant increase in shareholder proposals on ESG topics over recent years."