Holding PNC's Feet to Climate Change Fire

  • How green is PNC? An investment firm that bills itself as socially responsible wants the banking giant to give detailed info to shareholders on climate change impacts of investments.

February 23, 2013

Are banks like PNC responsible for climate change when they fund businesses that emit greenhouse gases? That question is at the heart of a bit of news this week.

An investment firm that pushes for social change announced that the Securities and Exchange Commission is allowing a contentious question to be presented on the ballot for PNC shareholders at an upcoming meeting. The investment firm that bills itself as socially responsible is Boston Common Asset Management. PNC had asked the SEC not to let the ballot question go before shareholders.

If passed, the proposal would require PNC to give shareholders an assessment of the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from its lending portfolio--and its exposure to climate change risk in lending, investing, and financing. The shareholder resolution did say that the company could do this with "a reasonable cost and omitting proprietary information.” PNC has been criticized for years for working with companies that mine coal, more specifically those that conduct mountaintop removal coal mining.

Steven Heim, of Boston Common Asset Management, is hopeful that the proposal will be adopted.

“Typically investors will just vote with management. In this case, we’re expecting that there will be several major investors that will support us, because they have supported climate change-related proposals over the years," he said.

PNC often speaks of its commitment to the environment. The company’s website says it has more newly constructed certified green buildings than any company in the world. But a letter from a PNC lawyer argued to the SEC that requiring climate change risk reports is tantamount to micromanagement, and that it would require PNC to spend too much time and money to provide detailed reports on climate change risks.

Noah Brode of 90.5 WESA-FM contributed to this report.