When was the last time that there was so much buzz about coal. First, there was news that Stanford, one of the major university endowments in the country, was divesting from coal. More recently, the EPA announced new regulations on coal emissions. Both are very big and very interesting announcements. However, coal is entrenched in our utility grid and coal provides 50% of electricity in the United States and even 100% in some states. Divestment & even the new regulations won’t solve our problems with fossil fuels but there is a solution – Integrated Reporting.
This is an important and interesting addition to the responsible investing – divestment discussion. The Smith School issued a report on stranded assets, that is investments that “have suffered from unanticipated or premature write-downs, devaluations or conversion to liabilities.”
Four years after the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United, surveys and polls continue to show the American people believe the decision was wrong. Those polls also reflect a deep concern that big money contributions by corporations and wealthy donors have endangered fair access to the political process and law-making. In addition, there is a strong sense among those polled that Citizens United is harmful to equal representation and political participation.
In an effort to make sense of Harvard's investment practices and (apparent) unwillingness to be a leader in responsible investing, I have spent the past weeks looking at the history. This forty-some-odd year span correspondes with my work in corporate governace so it seemed a good and handy timeframe for investigation. Copies have been sent to various contacts at Harvard but I hope you'll read it and comment. Feel free to share it because the issues apply all university and charitable endowments. An Outsider's History of Harvard & Responsible Investment: 1970-2014.
The kind folks at Free Speech for People interviewed me for a short video about my book, Citizens DisUnited which came just a year ago. Much of our work overlaps and I’m frequently in contact with FSFP – in particular, they are working on a constitutional amendment to address the Citizens United decision. We’re now 1/3 of the way toward this goal and there’s more interest in the issue than ever. Check out the FSFP website because there’s lots of information and some really good resources. And, in the meantime, watch the video out Citizens DisUnited.
I’ve gone on record saying that I don’t think divestment is the way to address our reliance on fossil fuels. Someone will buy up those divested stocks and they may not be as conscientious as the people who sold them. I just don’t see how this brings about change.
There’s a lot of talk about sustainability in the business world these days but what does that mean and who makes decisions about sustainability? I have a new piece in the Corporate Governance Bulletin on just this issue. We found that, “relatively few firms indicate that directors are asked to evaluate the risks and opportunities posed to the business by sustainability issues.” That means either these issues are getting short shrift or they’re being addressed by management without board input.
Last month I was honored at the Frankel Fiduciary Symposium in Washington. It was a wonderful day of speeches about the evolution of fiduciary duty with much discussion about how we can (and must) recapture the original undertanding. Over the last fifty years, we’ve seen a steady erosion of fiduciary duty to shareholders and increasing conflicts of interest. More than that, corporations and managers have undermined fiduciary duty to enhance their own interests. We must continue the work started at the Symposium.
Trusting Harvard: The Cost of Unprincipled Investing
New from Robert A.G. Monks and Marcy Murninghan, a book that addresses the gap between scholarhsip and university investing.
The Institute for the Fiduciary Standard today announced the final program for the Frankel Fiduciary Prize Symposium which will honor Robert A. G. Monks in Washington at the National Press Club on December 10. The final program follows.