From farm to table and bank to boardroom, businesses are leading the way on climate action. Only a day after 150 New Yorkers took their voices to Trump Tower to call on New York leaders to #DivestNY pensions from fossil fuels, business and finance leaders convened a panel on divestment and reinvestment. As major oil companies struggle to break even, financial institutions and businesses are playing a key role in a responsible transition away from fossil fuels to a new sustainable economy built for all. Businesses are betting on climate action and calling on the New York pension funds to join them to divest from the past and invest in the future.
New York businesses have been feeling the effects for years. Mary Cleaver, founder of the The Cleaver Company and The Green Table at Chelsea Market, discussed the impacts climate change has had on her business and what she is doing to cut carbon emissions across the supply chain, “The food industry is $750B industry from farm to fork. Storms and radical temperature changes have huge impacts on the agricultural system. The entire stone fruit crop in the Hudson valley in the 2016 season was terribly affected by very, very warm temperatures in April and then very cold temperatures that destroyed all of the fruit. In previous years, flooding from Irene and Superstorm Sandy were both terribly destructive for our region.” Cleaver noted that the best way the food industry can cut emissions and serve the healthiest, tastiest food possible, is to source it locally. It’s a win-win for New Yorkers.
NY State Comptroller DiNapoli and NY City Comptroller Stringer have said that their primary concern is the health of their pension funds, and that they believe divestment would violate their fiduciary duty to maximize the long-term value of the fund through profitable investments. They have also said that they will continue to engage with the companies to change their behavior.
Panelists addressed these issues head on. Matt Patsky, CEO of Trillium Asset Management, a firm that has offered fossil free investment products for 35 years said, “There is no evidence of an increase in volatility and there is no evidence of any sacrifice in return. Period. End of story. The storyline of why it is going to be so expensive and why it would cost in return is mostly from facts that are using old data or using ridiculous assumptions about managing the money a different way.”
One after another, speakers noted where you put your money matters. Amalgamated Bank was one of the first banking institutions to divest from fossil fuels and commit to not financing fossil fuel infrastructure. First Vice President, Sustainability Banking, Ivan Frishberg noted, “When you walk into a bank and put your money in your deposit, it doesn’t just there. The bank makes good use of that money and lends it back out. You can go and lend it to the Dakota Access pipeline and Energy Transfer Partners or you can lend it affordable housing or to a B-Corp business. One of those things helps your community. One of those things is going to help mitigate climate risk long term. The other set of choices are going to totally screw us.”
— Amalgamated Bank (@AmalgamatedBank) May 10, 2017
Patsky later added, “Fiduciary duty is for providing for the beneficiaries… You have to explain to me how it is that you could ignore the environment into which those retirees are entering. Is the water they are going to be drinking clean? Is the air breathable? And how that can’t be factored into if you’re honoring your fiduciary duty to the retirees of the City of NY and State of NY. I don’t understand how that’s disconnected.”
Less than a week later at a city wide Accountability Forum on Climate, Jobs and Justice where 600 New Yorkers attended to hear from the Mayor (who was unable to attend), the Public Advocate and the Comptroller, Stringer said that his concerns for the future of the 715k pensioners he is responsible for protecting “keeps him up at night”. This begs the question if a safe and sustainable future free from climate chaos is among those future concerns. If so, Stringer has an easy night’s sleep within arms reach. Cutting ties with industries, whose business models are centered on extraction and destruction of our communities and our collective future, is the first step.
These business leaders added the voice to the growing number of New York institutions that are moving away from risky coal, oil and gas companies. With churches divesting (most recently New York’s iconic Riverside Church), 2 state bills pushing for divestment of the state pension funds and NY public universities and other universities take more strides to cut their ties with climate deniers and fossil fuel companies, isn’t it time for New York City and State leaders to proactively act and stop investing in fossil fuels and reinvest in our communities, making NY stronger and more resilient in the face of extreme weather events?
Both comptrollers believe that ‘shareholder engagement’ will fix the climate problems caused by the likes of Exxon. We know that engagement has no track of success leading to tangible change at an oil and gas company. As more and more businesses take action, it’s time for the talk and spin to stop.
Over the course of a week of over 260 actions spread across 46 countries, New Yorkers continued to bring the heat on NYC Comptroller Stringer and NYS Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to divest New York’s $350 billion pensions from the fossil fuel companies driving climate chaos. The grassroots DivestInvest movement has blossomed into a mainstream financial movement that is capable of moving entire economies. That’s why we not only call for divestment, but also call for investment – to build our communities to be just, equitable and resilient, to create jobs, and to save the planet.
Sign the petition asking Comptrollers Stringer and DiNapoli to DivestNY and be the climate leaders we need them to be.