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Clean Up: Shareholder Activism Pushes Companies

by Larissa Ruoff


May 3, 2011

One in six women of childbearing age have elevated levels of mercury in her bloodstream, which, if she were to become pregnant, could put her child at risk, reported a January 2011 study, "Dirty Energy's Assault on Our Health: Mercury," by Shelley Vineyard and Lauren Randall of the Environment America Research and Policy Center. One of the major sources of mercury pollution is coal-fired power plants and the environmental impacts of coal combustion are not limited to mercury and air pollution.

Each year the burning of coal also leads to the creation of over 130 million tons of coal ash, which is a byproduct of the combustion process that contains arsenic, mercury, cadmium, and other toxins and can cause widespread damage to ecosystems, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Given these risks, Green Century Capital Management is pressing FirstEnergy Corporation and Southern Company, both leading producers and distributors of electricity, to come clean on how each manages the coal ash it produces.

Green Century was founded by a partnership of non-profit environmental advocacy organizations in 1991. Our mission is to provide people who care about a clean, healthy planet the opportunity to use the clout of their investment dollars to encourage environmentally responsible corporate actions. While many mainstream Wall Street investment firms solely focus on a profitable bottom line for themselves, Green Century focuses on what our investors care about: building a sustainable economy while seeking competitive financial returns. Green Century manages two environmentally responsible mutual funds, the Green Century Balanced Fund and the Green Century Equity Fund. Stocks will fluctuate in response to factors that may affect a single company, industry, sector, or the market as a whole, and may perform worse than the market. Bonds are subject to risks including interest rate, credit and inflation.

Shareholder advocacy involves directly engaging with companies to improve their corporate environmental performance and at Green Century it is a critical component of responsible investing. As investors, we have unique access and influence that allow us to directly engage with corporate leaders who can affect change within their companies. Green Century works directly with companies to achieve real victories that protect people and the environment.

Our shareholder activism can take a variety of forms, including pressing companies on their use of risky fossil fuel development methods such as hydraulic fracturing and oil sands development. Other efforts have urged packaged food manufacturers to eliminate potentially harmful chemicals such as Bisphenol A (BPA) from product packaging.

The BPA issue is a great example of how our commitment to corporate environmental responsibility can lead to long-term engagements that seek to bring about lasting change. While BPA has recently become a hot topic among moms, Green Century has been working on the issue for years. Our work began in 2006, when after a dialogue with Whole Foods Market, the company made a public commitment to stop selling baby bottles and sippy cups that contain BPA.

In 2009, we filed and were able to withdraw a shareholder resolution with Whole Foods after the company agreed to take steps to eliminate BPA from other store products. Also in 2009, Sunoco, one of the few companies that produces BPA, informed Green Century that it had instituted a groundbreaking policy requiring its customers to guarantee that the chemical will not be used in food or beverage containers designed for children under three years old, as described by Suzanne Rust and Meg Kissinger in Maker Acknowledges BPA Worries, in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The Sunoco policy has since been used by congressional leaders to argue for national legislation on BPA and will help limit exposure to BPA by a vulnerable population.

Green Century is proud of our legacy of shareholder activism contributing to a cleaner planet and more sustainable economy.

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Larisa Ruoff is the Director of Shareholder Advocacy for Green Century Capital Management.

Also see "Message in BPA Baby bottles: Don't Mess With Moms" by Margie Kelly in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

See "Little Girl Lost: Early Puberty Hides Environmental Injustice" by Michelle Chen in this editon of On The Issues Magazine.


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