Shareholders Welcome Appointment of Climate Expert to ExxonMobil Board

Jan 26th 2017

Appointment of Susan Avery, atmospheric scientist, to board of directors responds to investor concerns regarding need for board with climate change competence.

NEW YORK, NY – Thursday January 26, 2017 – Members of the Interfaith Center and long-term shareholders of ExxonMobil were encouraged by Exxon’s decision yesterday to appoint a climate scientist to its board of directors. 

In a company press statement yesterday, ExxonMobil announced that Dr. Susan K. Avery was elected to its board of directors, effective February 1, 2017. Avery, an atmospheric scientist, is the former president and director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Her appointment is responsive to  a long-standing request from shareholders to appoint a climate expert to its board.

For three years, led by the Midwest Capuchins, ICCR shareholders and other groups have filed a resolution calling on ExxonMobil to elect an Independent Director with Climate Change Expertise. Until now, the company has opposed this effort. Investors were informed of the election of Avery by company representatives in a phone call yesterday and requested a dialogue to discuss withdrawal of the resolution. 

The lead proponent of the resolution, Fr. Michael Crosby of the Province of St. Joseph of the Capuchin Order and Executive Director of Seventh Generation Interfaith Coalition for Responsible Investment, has helped to lead an ongoing shareholder campaign at ExxonMobil on climate-related issues  for nearly two decades.  Crosby made clear that he viewed the board appointment as a noteworthy breakthrough given the company’s early resistance to action on climate change.

Said Crosby, “We’ve seen Exxon’s gradual evolution from active denial of climate change to reluctant acknowledgement of its risks and now, its elevation in priority as an essential component of board management.

Apart from the enormous environmental and social risks facing Exxon management, we, along with many other investors, believe a failure to adequately respond to climate risk disadvantages Exxon financially. This critical step demonstrates that the board recognizes the need for expertise in board discussions to address climate change.”

In its opposition statement to the same resolution on last year’s proxy the company argued against a climate specialist on the board “Because each director must possess a breadth of expertise and experience, setting aside a seat for an environmental specialist or other single-issue candidate who lacks other important attributes would, in our view, not be in the best interests of the Company or its shareholders because it would dilute the breadth needed by all directors to make informed decisions for the Company.”

Said Tim Smith of Walden Asset Management, who has helped lead engagements with ExxonMobil, “This action by the Board  is encouraging for shareowners and we want to commend Exxon for this prudent and forward-looking decision. We are hopeful that Dr. Avery’s appointment will assist the company as it works to systematically embed climate risk into decision-making and address its implications throughout its operations and supply chain. Increasingly investors are calling for ‘climate competency’ and a disciplined system of review and accountability in company boards.  New directors like Dr. Avery significantly strengthen such climate oversight.” 

About the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR)
Celebrating its 46th year, ICCR is the pioneer coalition of shareholder advocates who view the management of their investments as a catalyst for social change. Its 300 member organizations comprise faith communities, socially responsible asset managers, unions, pensions, NGOs and other socially responsible investors with combined assets of over $200 billion. ICCR members engage hundreds of corporations annually in an effort to foster greater corporate accountability on questions such as climate change, corporate water stewardship, sustainable food production, human trafficking and slavery in global supply chains and increased access to financial and health care services for communities in need.