RI ESG Briefing, March 9: Vermont, Impax, Trillium, Norges Bank, Theranos, Ceres

The round-up of the latest ESG news


The Vermont Pension Investment Committee will form a subcommittee to study fossil fuel divestment, according to a report in the Burlington Free Press citing State Treasurer Beth Pearce. It added Pearce had invited several interested groups, including the Vermont State Employees’ Association and divestment campaingers 350 Vermont to a meeting on March 18 to discuss the composition of the subcommittee. However, the report said the Senate Government Operations Committee would hold no vote on a bill to force Vermont’s retirement funds to exit coal and Exxon-Mobil – effectively killing the bill.

Oil cartel OPEC’s recent stance appears to suggest that oil producers agree their assets are becoming “stranded” – according to environmental investment specialist Impax Asset Management. “The Paris Climate Agreement has further heightened awareness of many of the issues of burning fossil fuels and the recent stance from OPEC is interesting,” it says in a new analysis called ‘Cheap oil: the winners and losers in Environmental Markets’. It continues: “It appears to be an acknowledgement from major producers that many fossil fuel assets will inevitably become stranded.”

Sustainability advocacy group Ceres has said investors are filing record numbers of climate-related shareholder resolutions this year with major US energy companies following the Paris climate agreement. Companies under scrutiny include ExxonMobil, Chevron, AES Corp. and Southern Co. who face filings ranging from two-degree stress test resolutions, stranded asset risk resolutions and resolutions to end executive compensation linkages with fossil fuel reserve replacement. Link


Prudential Financial, the US finance giant, has announced a three- to five-year investment of $350m in life insurance companies in African countries such as Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria. The investment will be managed by LeapFrog Investments, a for-profit private equity fund that is based in Mauritius and has invested heavily in microinsurance.

The UK’s minister for civil society, who oversees social investment policy, has said social impact bonds will shortly be the most talked about method of public funding. Civil Society Media reports that Rob Wilson, in a speech in London to the Social Investment Academy, said “the time for social investment has arrived” and described social impact bonds as a “no-brainer”.h6. Governance

SRI fund firm Trillium Asset Management has published its 2016 proxy voting guidelines. “Our proxy voting guidelines are designed to reflect the fiduciary duty of Trillium to vote proxies in the best interest of our clients. Our goal is to ensure that we vote our clients’ proxies in accordance with both their financial interests and their values,” the firm says.

Norges Bank, the manager of Norway’s giant sovereign wealth fund, has announced the exclusion of San Leo Energy on ethical grounds. The decision on exclusion was made on the basis of the recommendation of the Council on Ethics, an independent body which decides on the exclusion or observation of companies from the fund’s investment universe.

UK think tank High Pay Centre has accused oil major BP of ‘losing contact with reality’ after its CEO Bob Dudley earned £14m last year despite record losses and the loss of 7,000 jobs. BP said Dudley deserved his raise because he and his fellow directors had performed strongly at a difficult time.

Law firm Kessler Topaz Meltzer & Check says it has expanded its investigation of US medical technology firm Theranos on behalf of investors. The latest move follows a report in the Wall Street Journal on March 8 alleging erratic quality control and innacuracies in patient results. Theranos, headed by billionaire Elizabeth Holmes, has come under intense scrutiny since late 2015.

Dutch pension investment giants APG and PGGM have reportedly written to the European Commission over potential liquidity concerns of new regulations. Chief Investment Oficer said APG CEO Eduard van Gelderen and PGGM CIO Eloy Lindeijer have written to financial services commissioner Jonathan Hill saying declining bond liquidity and higher cash-holding requirements could exacerbate any future liquidity crisis.

This week, to mark International Women’s Day (8 March), Women in ETFs (WE) rang the bells at 34 stock exchanges around the world for gender equality. WE was joined by the UN Global Compact, UN Women, the Sustainable Stock Exchanges Initiative, IFC and the World Federation of Stock Exchanges to “Ring the Bell for Gender Equality”.