In the Wells Fargo logo, a stagecoach races in front of a
pristine blue sky. Bed Bath & Beyond, meanwhile, is touting the
"environmentally friendly" nature of many of the products it sells.
And ExxonMobil, in its guiding principles, lists running an
"environmentally responsible operation."
But Tuesday, a group of investors put these companies, as well as
seven others, on a new "climate watch list," labeling them as
laggards in their response to climate change.
This is just one example of how global warming is starting to hit
corporate America between its pinstripes. This year at corporate
annual meetings, shareholders will present a record 42 resolutions
asking for more disclosure of company carbon emissions and potential
financial exposure to new regulations. Some companies are finding
themselves named as defendants in class-action lawsuits accusing
them of heating up the planet. This week, Congress will begin
hearings on global warming and is expected to hear from companies
such as General Electric and Nucor Steel.
"A lot of people are wondering if [climate change] will be the
calamity du jour," says Sam Stovall, director of investment strategy
at Standard & Poor's in New York. "It could end up having a very
severe impact on economies and fortunes."
Environmental groups maintain that corporate America should begin
preparing for some form of restraints on carbon emissions. "Most are
betting it will be some form of cap," says Andrew Aulisi, director
for US climate policy at the Earth Resources Institute in
Business would be better off getting the new rules defined sooner
rather than later, Mr. Aulisi argues. "If I am a power company and I
have to spend $10 billion over the next few years to build capacity
and I know that over the next five to 10 years there will be some
emissions caps, it's better to define the rules now so I have the
ability to plan accordingly."
Even before Congress acts with potential legislation, corporate
lawyers will be watching a number of class-action lawsuits that have
accused companies of causing global warming.
"It's not surprising that some groups would take that approach of
class action to address a large issue of public interest," says
Chris Murphy, head of the class-action practice group for the law
firm McDermott Will & Emery in Chicago.
In fact, boards of directors may face lawsuits from shareholders
if they don't start planning for carbon-emission changes, some
analysts say. "At some point, there will be shareholders who say,
'You didn't get it when everyone else did, and your stock is down
when everyone else's is up,' " says Rodney Taylor, managing director
of the environmental services group at Aon, an Chicago-based
insurance broker. …