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February 03, 2017

Climate Scientist Joins Exxon Board
    by Robert Kropp

The oil and gas giant responds to years of shareowner action by appointing atmospheric scientist Susan Avery to its board of directors.

SocialFunds.com -- If one were to search on the surname of Fr. Michael Crosby in the SocialFunds.com news archive, the numerous mentions of the Interfa ith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) member go back to 2000. But even that documentation falls short of the time span during which he has been a vigorous and effective shareowner activist; according to ICCR, Crosby “has helped to lead an ongoing shareholder campaign at ExxonMobil on climate-related issues for nearly two decades.”

Speaking of tobacco companies, Crosby told SocialFunds.com in 2011, “If you accept that these companies are not going to accept the morality of the issue, then our engagement produced some results.”

There are those who will dispute “ the morality of the issue” regarding climate change, but suffice it to report that Crosby is not one of them. Thus, when Exxon issued a
press statement that a climate scientist has finally been elected to the company's board of directors, Crosby stated, “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,” Crosby continued. “This critical step demonstrates that the board recognizes the need for expertise in board discussions to address climate change.”

The Exxon press statement, not surprisingly, declines to credit decades of shareowner action in its decision to elect Dr. Susan Avery, an atmospheric scientist, to its board. “Avery’s leadership experience in multiple academic and scientific organizations, coupled with her breadth of scientific and research expertise, reinforce the corporation’s long-standing technical and scientific foundation,” the company states.

After three years of shareowner resolutions requesting that Exxon elect an independent director with climate change expertise to its board, the company has done so, and in a phone call the investors “requested a dialogue to discuss withdrawal of the resolution.”

“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,” Tim Smith of
Walden Asset Management said. “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.”

The tardy capitulation by Exxon, of course, comes on the heels of the confirmation of its former CEO Rex Tillerson as US Secretary of State. If access to drilling by Exxon in the Russian Arctic is restored by the Trump administration, as has been
con templated at Politico, the boardroom access of many sustainable institutional investors should contribute to a growing insistence on the values they hold.

One final note.
The Catholic Herald of Milwaukee recently reported that Fr. Crosby is now battling Stage 3 esophageal cancer. While his prognosis is worrisome, Fr. Crosby says, “There’s no reason for any kind of worry or anxiety or anything. It’s a peaceful time.”

We wish Fr. Crosby strength for his ordeal, and an eminently deserved outpouring of love in his support.

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