By Matthew W. Patsky, CEO
Since our founding in 1982, Trillium has worked to redefine the role and responsibility of companies as stewards of the global environment and has encouraged investors to think of themselves as sharing that responsibility as owners of these companies.
March 24, 2014, marked the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska—one of the worst environmental catastrophes in history and a catalyzing moment for investors and environmentalists alike.
Trillium’s founder, Joan Bavaria, channeled the outrage over the disaster and soon after introduced The Valdez Principles (later renamed The Ceres Principles) a ten-point code of corporate environmental conduct. When companies signed on to the Ceres Principles, they were required to assess the impact that they had on the environment, employees, and communities and—importantly—to publicly report that impact using a standardized methodology.
Along with our shareholder engagement work, Trillium has a unique perspective on the long-term benefits of public policies that protect the environment, communities, and the people who live in them. We’ve found that many policymakers at all levels of government from local to international are interested in hearing the voice of socially responsible investors, and we continue to seek opportunities to promote public policies that advance the social and environmental goals of our clients.
A quarter century after the Exxon Valdez spill devastated Alaska’s Prince William Sound, environmentalists, businesses, and investors are working with local communities to protect the virtually untouched wilderness of nearby Bristol Bay, Alaska.
Beginning in 2011, investors representing over $170 billion in assets submitted comments to the EPA expressing concern about a colossal open-pit mine proposed for Bristol Bay (Pebble Mine) and requested a scientific review of the possible impacts of the mine, including the feared devastation of one of the world’s largest sustainable salmon fisheries. The Food Marketing Institute (FMI), which represents 26,000 retail food stores and $680 billion in annual revenue (three-quarters of US retail food store sales) also publicly supported the EPA review.
Published in January 2014, the review states that large-scale mining, such as the proposed Pebble Mine, has “potential for significant effects on Alaska Native cultures” and “the significant loss of Chinook salmon populations,” which “would have severe consequences.” Consequently, in March, the EPA announced that it would take the next step and initiate a more thorough Clean Water Act 404(c) review process for the proposed project. In April 2014, mining company Rio Tinto announced that it was withdrawing from the project, following Anglo American’s withdrawal in September 2013.
This type of collaboration between investors, companies, and communities can accelerate a move toward sustainable business practices beyond what any of us are able to achieve alone.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Trillium’s newsletter, Investing For a Better World.