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Update: Proxy pressure on environmental issues hits high

Update: Proxy pressure on environmental issues hits high

Posting in Sustainability

Ernst & Young's analysis reveals more shareholder resolutions than ever on sustainability issues. Also significant was the number of resolutions withdrawn after management took positive action.

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This spring, I wrote an item about the increasing interest in corporate shareholders in sustainability issues, a trend that was detailed in a report from Ernst & Young called “Shareholders press boards on social, environmental risks.” That interest came in the form of proxy resolutions submitted for discussion or action at annual shareholder meetings, which the firm tracks closely.

Ernst & Young recently reached out with an update to that trend: social and environmental resolutions were the subject of a record 40 percent of all shareholder resolutions in 2011.

That was up from 30 percent just one year earlier.

It was actually shy of the 50 percent that Ernst & Young had expected, but there is a positive reason for the decline: some resolutions were withdrawn because those submitting them felt the board had taken "substantive" action on their concerns.

The Ernst & Young sustainability team notes in its update:

"The trend of increased voting support and investor attention indicates to some extent why companies may be open to reaching agreement with shareholders. For example, of the nine proposals on hydraulic tracking submitted this season, half were withdrawn because of company action. The remaining proposals received very high levels of support, averaging more than 40 percent of votes cast; one resolution won support from 49.5 percent of votes cast."

It all adds up to increased interest in the way that corporate boards consider and manage sustainability of all sorts -- social, operational and environmental. Now, we'll have to see if that shareholder resolve remains in the fact of a stock market correction and a possible double dip in the economy.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure