Socially Responsible Investment Firm Calls for Divestment of ExxonMobil (3/5/07)

CONTACT: Margaret J. Covert or Julie Goodridge

NorthStar Asset Management, Inc.
PO Box 301840, Boston, MA 02130

NorthStar Asset Management, Inc. is calling on individuals and institutions with a fiduciary obligation to protect client assets to divest from ExxonMobil before global warming and the rising cost of oil production undermines shareholder value.

“Oil prices have reached record highs. ExxonMobil is the #1 company on the Fortune 500. Its share value is near record levels and its profitability is peaking, in an environment that, thus far, has not addressed the full impact of global warming. We believe that ExxonMobil has been on the wrong side of the global warming debate from day one,” said Julie Goodridge, President of Boston-based NorthStar, a socially responsible investment firm. “Because we believe there is nowhere for ExxonMobil to go but down, we are divesting our portfolios of ExxonMobil and we are calling on other prudent investors to divest as well.”

From its inception, the social investment industry has endured the scrutiny of nay-sayers who believed practitioners were peripheral, tree-hugging, Birkenstock-wearing types. Now, some twenty-five years later, as nearly one out of every ten dollars of the $24.4 trillion invested in the United States is a socially responsible investment, the mainstream has embraced the practice.

Just as Enron’s collapse brought greater scrutiny of corporate governance practices by mainstream investors and government regulation in the form of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, global warming risks focus investors’ attention on corporate readiness and the potential for stricter environmental regulations. For nearly three decades, socially responsible shareholders have been bringing concerns on corporate governance and climate change, among other issues, to the attention of company managements via shareholder resolutions and dialogue. Even so, the recent Carbon Disclosure Project report (CDP4) reveals a large gap between a company’s awareness of the risks and opportunities climate change poses and the direct corporate action necessary to address these risks and opportunities.

ExxonMobil has been called the “poster child” for global warming skepticism. For the past ten years, it funded significant disinformation campaigns to create doubt about global warming. Its environmental record remains poor. Eighteen years have past since the ExxonValdez spill dumped 26,600 gallons of oil covering 1200 miles of Alaskan coastline. Yet, the oil pollution in the area continues as ExxonMobil continues the court battle to reduce the imposed fines. The company’s strategies for future growth focus on oil as the primary resource while other multinational companies diversify, researching and developing alternative energy sources.

“Unfortunately, Exxon-Mobil consistently is unwilling to integrate the vast knowledge of scientists, activists and shareholders into its strategies for long-term sustainability,” said Julie Goodridge, of NorthStar. “We believe that this may be one of the most significant times in history where social irresponsibility ultimately leads directly to financial loss.”

For the past five years, NorthStar has sought to engage ExxonMobil on numerous issues including excessive executive compensation, holding competitive board elections, adding diversity to the board of directors and reinstating employment protections for gay and lesbian employees that were erased when Exxon merged with Mobil. ExxonMobil has not acted upon these shareholder resolutions.

In contrast to ExxonMobil’s stoicism, over a dozen companies have changed corporate policies after discussions with NorthStar. NorthStar’s successful engagement on a host of issues resulted in the amendment of non-discrimination policies to include sexual orientation and gender identity protections, the public disclosure of political contributions and the release of an executive compensation report.

Founded in 1990, NorthStar Asset Management, Inc. is a Boston-based wealth management firm focusing exclusively on socially responsible investing. One might wonder why a socially responsible investor would even hold ExxonMobil. Goodridge explains, “ExxonMobil is one of the most widely held stocks. Many of our clients held it in their portfolios before they became NorthStar clients and have continued to hold remnants of original positions due to low cost bases, which means they would incur enormous capital gains taxes should they sell the shares. Our fiduciary responsibility to our clients warranted that we minimize these tax consequences. We now believe our fiduciary responsibility requires the divestment of ExxonMobil, despite the significant tax consequences to our clients.”

NorthStar Asset Management, Inc. is a wealth management firm based in Boston, specializing in socially responsible investing.

Related Posts