SEC rule change stifles key risk signal, disenfranchises retail investors

October 5, 2020 by  
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SEC rule change stifles key risk signal, disenfranchises retail investors Sara Murphy Mon, 10/05/2020 – 02:00 The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) voted Sept. 23 to amend its shareholder proposal rule , effectively depriving most retail investors of the ability to use the process to protect and advance their interests. In so doing, the SEC is dampening an important risk signal to corporate management and investors, especially with respect to environmental, social and governance issues. The change appears to have been heavily influenced by a network of corporate oil and gas interests, and is likely to be contested in court. First, some background. Shareholders in publicly traded companies have the right to vote on certain corporate matters. As most people cannot attend companies’ annual meetings, corporations offer shareholders the option to cast a proxy vote by mail or electronic means. While most proposals originate with company management, a growing investor movement uses shareholder proposals or resolutions to promote more sustainable business practices. This is becoming increasingly difficult for corporate boards to ignore. This process is codified under SEC Rule 14a-8, and investors with an interest in environmental protection and social justice consider it a useful way to proactively and constructively engage with the companies in their portfolio. Risk and opportunity signals Over time, the shareholder resolution process has evolved to offer an additional benefit. “Shareholder proposals provide an early warning signal of risks and opportunities for management and boards,” said Heidi Welsh, executive director of the Sustainable Investments Institute (Si2). Shareholder proposals provide an early warning signal of risks and opportunities for management and boards. Si2 is a nonprofit organization that provides impartial research and analysis about corporate responsibility issues for institutional investors and maintains a rich database of information on shareholder resolutions, including support levels and the most detailed and precise issue taxonomy available in the marketplace. Si2’s data reveal that proponents were filing resolutions as far back as 2010 on issues that have risen to stark prominence in 2020 as the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest over racial inequality have rippled through the business world. For example, the number of shareholder resolutions related to decent work — addressing topics such as minority pay disparity and income inequality — has steadily increased over the last decade (see chart below). Data source: Si2 Note: The chart above includes resolutions that were withdrawn (usually by agreement between the company and the proponent) or omitted (usually after the company successfully challenged the resolution at the SEC on procedural grounds). Such resolutions, while not ultimately submitted to a vote, still provide risk and opportunity signals. Average shareholder support for these resolutions also has increased over the same period, as reflected in the chart below. Data source: Si2 Note: The chart above includes only resolutions that went to a vote. Process changes and impacts The SEC’s decision alters the shareholder resolution process in several significant ways, including by: Increasing the value of stock shareholders need to own before they can submit proposals if they haven’t been invested for three years; Eliminating shareholders’ longstanding practice of pooling their shares to meet filing thresholds; and Raising the level of support shareholders need to resubmit a proposal from the previous year. The ownership threshold changes are substantial. For investors who have held a company’s securities for one year, the previous ownership threshold was $2,000 — it is now $25,000. This bar becomes higher still now that the practice of pooling shares has been prohibited. The SEC’s own impact analysis — which it published long after the public comment period on these amendments had closed — estimated that at 55 percent of all companies, less than 5 percent of investor accounts would be eligible to file a shareholder proposal under the amended rule. At 99 percent of all companies, three-quarters of investor accounts would be unable to meet the new proposal submission thresholds. “The sheer racism of a $25,000 threshold for submission (no matter the holding period) in a country with a racial wealth gap like ours is stunning,” said Rick Alexander, co-founder of The Shareholder Commons (TSC), in a LinkedIn post. SEC Chairman Jay Clayton said in a press call that the amendments will modernize the shareholder proposal process to benefit all shareholders and public companies. “It’s all about having a credible demonstration that the proponent’s interests are aligned with all of the others’ interests from an investment or ownership standpoint,” Clayton said. SEC Commissioner Allison Herren Lee disagreed. “Today’s amendments do not serve shareholders or the capital markets more broadly,” Lee said in her statement of opposition . “They will have pronounced effects in two important respects. First, in connection with environmental, social and governance issues at a time when such issues — climate change, worker safety, racial injustice — have never been more important to long-term value. Second, in connection with smaller shareholders, Main Street investors, who will be dramatically disadvantaged by the changes we adopt today.” Industry support These outcomes appear to be part of the design. Bloomberg reporters Zachary Mider and Ben Elgin published an investigation in November 2019 that bolstered claims of a clandestine campaign by oil and gas interests to promote the rule amendments at the SEC. The investigation found evidence that a coalition of industry groups including the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) — of which Exxon Mobil and Chevron are members — manipulated the public comment process to create the impression that droves of ordinary Americans passionately supported the rule revisions. The Business Roundtable (BRT) — a group that includes major companies such as Amazon, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase — expressed its support for the rule changes, despite a statement its member companies signed late last year to redefine the purpose of a corporation to one that delivers value to all stakeholders, not just shareholders. It may be no coincidence that the 2020 proxy season featured shareholder resolutions at six BRT signatories that sought to pin down what the companies’ purported stakeholder focus meant in practice. For example, the resolutions asked Bank of America, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs to determine if the BRT statement “is reflected in our Company’s current governance documents, policies, long-term plans, goals, metrics and sustainability practices” and to publish their recommendations on “how any incongruities may be reconciled by changes to our Company’s governance documents, policies or practices.” The sheer racism of a $25,000 threshold for submission (no matter the holding period) in a country with a racial wealth gap like ours is stunning. A September analysis of BRT signatories found that they performed no better than their non-signatory counterparts on measures of stakeholder well-being related to the pandemic and social unrest over racial inequality. “The result [of the rule changes] will be fewer shareholder proposals,” said Amy Borrus, executive director of the Council of Institutional Investors, “and that is precisely the goal of the business lobby that pressed the SEC to make these changes. Simply put, CEOs and corporate directors do not like being second-guessed by shareholders on environmental, social and governance matters.” What happens next? The final rule amendments are slated to apply to any proposal that will go to a vote on or after Jan. 1, 2022. Many observers expect to see legal challenges that could forestall implementation. The outcome of the Nov. 3 election is also likely to influence the process considerably. Some stakeholders envision a more systemic shift. A September analysis by nonprofit organizations The Shareholder Commons and B Lab calls for comprehensive legislative and regulatory change to U.S. corporate and securities laws. The policy proposals revolve around a core concept: creating a legal structure that encourages the creation of “guardrails,” investor-sanctioned limits on corporate behavior that exploits vulnerable communities or common resources. The report proposes that the current amendments to Rule 14a-8 be reversed, and that the rule be further amended to clarify that proposals aimed at protecting social and environmental systems are proper matters for shareholders to bring before annual meetings. Such proposals would seem to be a necessary feature of our collective future, not our past. At a time when social and environmental stressors have an increasingly potent impact on the systems that support our economy, corporate accountability to a broad range of stakeholders is paramount. Pull Quote Shareholder proposals provide an early warning signal of risks and opportunities for management and boards. The sheer racism of a $25,000 threshold for submission (no matter the holding period) in a country with a racial wealth gap like ours is stunning. Topics Policy & Politics ESG Shareholder Activism Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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SEC rule change stifles key risk signal, disenfranchises retail investors

Fires in Australia create dangerous weather conditions

January 8, 2020 by  
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Authorities warn that the unprecedented ferocity of Australia’s wildfires can produce extreme  weather  systems — dangerous and unpredictable conditions known as cumulonimbus flammagenitus, or pyrocumulonimbus (pyroCb) clouds. These pyroCb are associated with fire clouds, ember attacks, fire-driven tornadoes and lightning storms that could create further wildfires. Australia’s Climate Council advisory says that these occurrences are likely to become more common as  climate change  persists and  greenhouse gas emissions  increase. Even more worrisome, pyroCb can make firefighting efforts more difficult. “A fire-generated thunderstorm has formed over the Currowan fire on the northern edge of the fire near Nowra. This is a very dangerous situation. Monitor the conditions around you and take appropriate action,” the New South Wales Rural Fires Service (NSW RFS) recently shared via social media. Related: Half a billion Australian animals, even 30% of koala population, likely lost to wildfires NSW RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons brought attention to the situation when an RFS firefighter died because of the wildfire-associated bizarre weather phenomena. “That extraordinary event resulted in a cyclonic-type base flipping over a 10-tonne truck. That is the volatility and danger that exists,” Fitzsimmons explained. According to a  Climate and Atmospheric Science journal study, wildfire-triggered thunderstorms, or pyroCb, have been observed before in other regions of our planet and were first discovered in the early 2000s. They were originally thought to have been precipitated by volcanic eruptions until they were reclassified as being wildfire -induced. The study of wildfire-associated pyroCb is still a nascent science, yet to be systematically researched. In recent years, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s  Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) has monitored pyroCb in cooperation with both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). CIMSS classifies pyroCb as a “deep convective cloud…generated by a large/hot fire.” CIMSS has been monitoring the pyroCb formations above Australia as the wildfires continued to grow in quantity and magnitude. Several factors make pyroCb a formidable atmospheric force. The speed at which they form and change, coupled with heat from wildfires, can cause rapid, massive temperature swings. In turn, this fosters unpredictably severe winds that exacerbate wildfire intensity. The dynamics of pyroCb and their destructive power can, therefore, put the lives of both firefighters and the public at risk. “PyroCb storms are feared by firefighters for the violent and unpredictable conditions they create on the ground,”  The Guardian  reported. Not only are pyroCbs capable of creating lightning strikes and hail, but they can also engender embers that are “hot enough to start new fires…at distances of 30km from the main fire.” Dr Andrew Dowdy, a meteorologist at Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology,  adds that the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the resultant  climate crisis facing our planet makes conditions favorable for pyroCb. As Simon Heemstra, manager of planning and predictive services at NSW RFS, said, “What’s happening now is that we are noticing an increase in incidence of these sorts of events. With a changing and heating climate, you are going to expect these effects.” Via Reuters , HuffPost , The Guardian Images via Harry Stranger and Rob Russell

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Fires in Australia create dangerous weather conditions

Lush Sky Green towers are the first of their kind in Taichung

January 8, 2020 by  
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Taichung, Taiwan has taken yet another step toward becoming a greener, more livable city with the recent completion of Sky Green, a sustainably minded, mixed-use development. Designed by Singaporean architecture firm WOHA , the high-rise is named after its inclusion of sky gardens and terraces that are filled with lush, subtropical greenery. The project’s integration of green spaces is expected to raise the city’s standards for “skyrise greenery” in future sustainable developments. As an expert in sustainable high-density design, WOHA was initially invited to share its knowledge in 2012 upon invitation by the Taichung City Government and Feng Chia University. The architects’ “Breathing Architecture” exhibition was showcased in Taichung to help inform the government’s new regulations to turn Taichung into a more sustainable, smart city. Following the exhibition, property developer Golden Jade tapped WOHA to design a green mixed-use development in the heart of Taichung — the first of its kind in the city. Related: A disused railway will become a sustainable green corridor in Taiwan “The architectural strategies of Sky Green are new for Taichung, but they have been developed by WOHA over the last 25 years, and many prototypes have been successfully built in Singapore and other regions,” the architects explained in a statement. “The design of Sky Green has been adapted to suit the local culture and subtropical climate, as well as to ensure safety during earthquakes and typhoons. As the first high-density development in Taichung that also provides high amenity with its recreational facilities and ample integrated green spaces, Sky Green will be influential in defining the new benchmark of sustainability and skyrise greenery for the city’s future developments.” The project comprises two rectangular plots with two 26-story residential towers that consist of apartment units stacked atop retail spaces spanning the ground floor to the third level. Large recreational facilities for indoor and outdoor use are integrated throughout the towers. True to the development’s name, the buildings are also engineered with protruding balconies to accommodate sky gardens and even tree planters that give the building a “breathable facade.” Residents can also enjoy a series of sky terraces located at every five floors that emphasize a plant-filled, indoor-outdoor living environment. + WOHA Photography by Kuomin Lee via WOHA

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Lush Sky Green towers are the first of their kind in Taichung

World’s largest solar plant in a refugee camp opens in Jordan

November 14, 2017 by  
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The world’s largest solar plant found in a refugee camp has begun operations at the Za’atari Refugee Camp in north Jordan , near the Syrian border. The project, which cost $17.5 million, was funded by the German government and will provide power for up to 14 hours per day. The newly available solar energy at Za’atari will be used by more than 80,000 residents to charge phones, contact families outside of the camp, and power refrigeration, lights, fans and televisions. With this power comes greater security for the residents of the camp. “That allows the children to continue their studies, and also (for) the safety of women and young girls to go about. Camp life will be made much easier,” said Stefano Severe, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative in Jordan, according to Reuters . The new solar plant , which consists of 40,000 solar panels, will reduce carbon emissions of the camp by 13,000 tons per year and will save $5.5 million annually, which will then be reinvested back into the refugee community. Access to electricity, taken for granted in many countries, has a transformative power in the daily life of residents at a refugee camp. “When we have electricity during the day, our children can stay home, they don’t go out in this weather and play in the dust and mud,” said Anwar Hussein, a Syrian refugee who fled Damascus five years ago and has been living in Za’atari ever since. Related: SOLARKIOSK E-HUBBs put goods, services, and power back into Africa’s hands Although Za’atari may boast the world’s largest solar plant at a refugee camp , it is certainly not a unique feature. Solar energy is increasingly being used to provide power to displaced communities across the globe. For example, in nearby Azraq, an area of Jordan that once hosted magnificent wetlands that have since largely dried up, a 2-megawatt solar plant provides the electricity needs for two villages of 20,000 Syrian refugees. The Azraq plant opened in May as the world’s first solar plant in a refugee camp. Via Thomas Reuters Foundation / UNHCR Images via UNHCR/Yousef Al Hariri

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Mayor born in Syria converts abandoned Greek resort into a sanctuary for refugees

June 14, 2016 by  
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Now LM Village’s 38 bungalows are filled with two families each. About 320 refugees are staying there as they wait to find more permanent homes. The Greek Defence Ministry worked to make the resort habitable again. They renovated rundown buildings and outfitted the area with electricity and drinking water. The refugees have helped clean up the resort and maintain it. They dwell in brightly painted two story apartment homes, have a place to cook traditional food, and can spend time at the beach. Related: Temporary (SLICE) Refugee Hospitality Center is carved into a coastal cliff in Greece Morad is the first naturalized Greek citizen born in Syria to be elected in Greece. He at first sent clothing donations to the refugee camp at Idomeni, but felt it wasn’t enough and organized the approval and re-opening of LM Village. Now lawyers visit LM Village to provide free consultations. The new inhabitants of the resort wait for opportunities to interview with the Greek Asylum Service so they can find more permanent homes. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that ” more than a dozen ” have already moved out of LM Village, headed for new homes in Portugal. While the refugees wait for housing, they have access to a school and library set up by the Red Cross, as well as donated food. UNHCR said that they are setting up a “prayer space” for Ramadan and a “food distribution system.” Former restaurant owner Tarek Al-Felou lives in a bungalow with his wife Kindra, two children, and another family. They fled their home near Damascus and are now living in LM Village. Tarek told UNHCR, “In this place we try to forget we are refugees. We can pretend we’re on holiday.” Kindra told UNHCR, “Here, of course, is better than the other camps…Still, this is temporary. We are still looking for stability.” Via UNHCR Images courtesy of UNHCR/Achilleas Zavallis

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United Nations signs on to bring 10,000 flat packed IKEA shelters to refugees world wide

March 25, 2015 by  
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Read the rest of United Nations signs on to bring 10,000 flat packed IKEA shelters to refugees world wide Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: Better Shelter , eco design , green design , ikea , refugee shelters , solar powered flat pack shelters , sustainable design , United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

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United Nations signs on to bring 10,000 flat packed IKEA shelters to refugees world wide

Kiyoshi Mino’s startlingly realistic felt sculptures blow taxidermy away

March 25, 2015 by  
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Read the rest of Kiyoshi Mino’s startlingly realistic felt sculptures blow taxidermy away Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: animal sculptures , bird sculptures , Eco , eco-art , felt art , felt sculptures , green art , illinois , Kiyoshi Mino felt animal sculptures , Lucky Duck Farm , Nature , OCLCO , taxidermy , taxidermy alternatives , wool , woolen sculptures

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Kiyoshi Mino’s startlingly realistic felt sculptures blow taxidermy away

Curing Car Vs. Cyclist Road Wars With A New Rule: "Just Don’t Steal The Right-Of-Way"

August 18, 2011 by  
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Photo Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious via flickr and Creative Commons license. Though a world-class cycling city, Portland lacks a bike share system similar to those in other great cycling cities such as Minneapolis, Montreal, Paris, Barcelona. Though bike sharing is considered to be important to attract new cyclists onto the lanes, lack of funds has hampered planning efforts. At first, 2011 seemed to be the year the city of Portland would fund bike sharing. But then, as a vote neared, opposition arose from Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who claimed she couldn’t support funding bike sharing due… Read the full story on TreeHugger

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Curing Car Vs. Cyclist Road Wars With A New Rule: "Just Don’t Steal The Right-Of-Way"

Canada Mothballs High-Tech Oil Spill Detecting, Arctic Ice Monitoring Planes

January 14, 2011 by  
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photo: sbamueller / Creative Commons Last December Canada’s Commissioner for the Environment and Sustainable Development admitted that the nation is badly prepared to handle an oil spill . Yet, according to a new article in TheStar.com Environment Canada has now mothballed … Read the full story on TreeHugger

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Canada Mothballs High-Tech Oil Spill Detecting, Arctic Ice Monitoring Planes

NYC Rolls Out Real-Time Water Metering

July 16, 2010 by  
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This past Monday, New York City’s Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Environmental Protection Commissioner Cas Holloway initiated a city-wide tracking system that will help consumers and businesses monitor their water usage in real time.

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