BlackRock’s climate statement underlines the need for Altiorem. Internal advocates are vital for genuine change.
BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, has recently made a much publicised statement on climate change. This move has been welcomed, as it should be.
The old saying that the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago and the second best time is today, applies to BlackRock when it comes to climate change.
As part of their new approach to climate, BlackRock have also signed up to the Climate Action 100+ investor initiative, committed to exclude coal investments in their active portfolios and to offer more products.
In a Guardian article a spokesperson for BlackRock said: “This is a natural progression of the work our Investment Stewardship team has done to date. We believe evidence of the impact of climate risk on investment portfolios is building rapidly and we are accelerating our engagement with companies on this critical issue.”
While this is their most ambitious statement on climate, it is not the first. History is an important guide here because if judged by their proxy voting record, BlackRock have never treated the issue with the seriousness or the urgency that it deserves.
BlackRock has consistently voted against, what should be in the context of the climate crisis, uncontroversial shareholder resolutions, asking for disclosure aligned to the Task Force for Climate Related Financial Disclosures, reigning in anti-climate action lobbyists and setting targets aligned with the objectives of the Paris Agreement.
BlackRock is not alone of course, research by UK based ShareAction , US based CERES and Australia based Market Forces show many large asset managers and asset owners are failing to support these resolutions.
While making statements and joining initiatives like Climate Action 100+ is positive, they do not offer the cold hard accountability that voting numbers do.
Today, as in the past, there will be few ways of judging the genuineness of BlackRock’s statements outside the organisation.
Altiorem will help non-specialists within organisations drive change
In logistics and telecommunications, “the last mile” refers to the challenges of delivering services to the end consumer as network and scale benefits dissipate. Organisational change for sustainability can be thought of in the same way.
External and internal pressures can take an organisation in the right direction, but it cannot be achieved or sustained until the work of the “Investment Stewardship team” becomes the work of everyone.
For many organisations the specialist team can be as much a barrier to change as an enabler. Not through bad faith, but due to limited capacity and reach or a lack of real leadership support, causing them to become apologists, rationalising a lack of action, rather than being the drivers of ambitious and necessary change.
In BlackRock’s case, with an investment stewardship team of around 40 people who voted on 17,000 company meetings and performed 2,000 “engagements” — 475 each — it will be the other ~15,000 other employees who will need to make BlackRock’s commitments a reality.
It is these people who will be required to advocate for, implement and ultimately drive internal accountability if such ambitious commitments are to be fulfilled. However, these latent advocates will often not have access to the information, support and tools they will need to bring about the changes they want to see.
Altiorem’s ambition is to help these latent advocates within organisations like BlackRock understand the ethical, business, investment and economic case for change and the many practical solutions for making it a reality. While this goal starts with a library and resource centre, over time it will extend to include information to help people overcome the behavioural and cultural issues which are as powerful a barrier to change as a lack of information can be.
Altiorem is about taking the task of economic transformation out of the hands of a few specialists and making it everyone’s responsibility.
By providing accessible research summaries, a chart and quote bank, and sharing the experiences of other change agents, Altiorem can help a broad range of people outside stewardship and responsible investment teams engage with these issues, increase internal accountability and advocacy, and bridge the last mile of organisational transformation for sustainability.