Exxon Coup | Commonwealth Magazine


But now the company may face pressure from a new source: its own board of directors. Thanks to recent campaign from a small activist investment firm called Engine No. 1, Exxon’s twelve-person board has three new climate-focused members. Engine No. 1 was founded last year by activist investors Chris James and Charlie Penner to select board candidates with energy experience and a willingness to fight environmental damage. He is not a majority shareholder of Exxon, but he did not need him to carry out such a daring project; he had only to convince the main shareholders to support the candidates he presented. For investors like the California State Pension Fund, where the effects of continued fossil fuel consumption are so pronounced, pushing Exxon into alternative energy was a welcome development. Three of Exxon’s largest shareholders, Vanguard, BlackRock and State Street, also expressed support.

James and Penner define their strategy as a sensible business choice, not a noble sacrifice. They highlight Exxon’s historic losses over the past decade and Argue that the company needs “directors with a track record of profitable research in energy shifts”. That didn’t stop Exxon from spending $ 35 million to fight the campaign. (Engine # 1 spent almost that much). But despite CEO Darren Woods’ best efforts, Exxon’s board now includes three proponents of decarbonization: Gregory Goff, a former oil executive; Kaisa Hietala, former vice president of renewable energies at a Finnish oil company; and Alexander Karsner, an energy entrepreneur. While they still face nine board members entrenched in the status quo, their thwarted election demonstrates that even the most recalcitrant fossil fuel companies can be pushed into a low-carbon business model. The question is, how long will it take them to get there? With so many people already on fire, there is little time to waste.

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