“I don’t give a damn what these powerful corporations tell us and I don’t care about their profit margin. We need to get out of these fossil fuels before it’s too late for everybody.” These are not the words of a Sunrise Movement activist, though they could easily be mistaken for one, but New York City comptroller Scott Stringer, speaking at an online People’s Assembly on BlackRock last week. The gathering of activists and advocates was intended to discuss strategies for pushing BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, to make good on its promises to “place sustainability at the center” of its investment strategy. As environmental activists see it, the firm has a long way to go.
Stringer, an anti-fracking campaigner and protégé of Congressman Jerry Nadler, became comptroller in January 2014, when Bill de Blasio took over as mayor. He wanted to remake his office into “a think-tank for innovation and ideas,” Stringer declared on his first day. That’s a risky outlook for one assuming a position defined by law as the custodian of the city’s five pension funds, which totaled, in February 2020, $221.2 billion in assets. Early on, Stringer proclaimed a devotion to environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) factors in investing, and to finding investment managers dedicated to these principles. He launched a campaign on proxy access to enable shareholders to nominate directors—ticking the “G” for governance. He then moved on to the “S” with his Boardroom Accountability Project, writing to 151 companies asking that they disclose, among other things, the sexual orientation of their directors.