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Between GAs, responsible investment committee continues to evaluate companies

Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment reviews scores at March meeting

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Kerri Allen addresses the 223rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in St. Louis on Friday, June 22, 2018. Allen chairs the Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) Board. (Photo by Michael Whitman)

LEXINGTON, Kentucky — In response to a directive from the 222nd General Assembly, in 2017 the Presbyterian Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) established a set of guideline metrics to evaluate companies the committee was engaging with according to General Assembly policy on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.

The aim was to evaluate companies over time, and at its March meeting, the Committee took its first look at the metrics since the 224th General Assembly held last June. That GA was set to vote on the committee’s recommendation that three companies be placed on the assembly’s divestment/proscription list as they fell into the lowest category, red, of the guideline metrics.

But with GA taking place in an abbreviated, virtual format due to the COVID-19 pandemic, action on those recommendations was deferred to General Assembly 225, set for the summer of 2022 in Louisville, Kentucky.

“At the 224th General Assembly, MRTI recommended the Assembly approve adding ExxonMobil, Marathon Petroleum, and Valero Energy to the General Assembly Divestment/ Proscription list because they are the lowest-scoring companies falling in the red,” said the Rev. Dr. Kerri Allen, MRTI Chair. “The latest scores show little improvement among those three companies and Phillips 66 score decreased to the red category as well.”

MRTI voted to approve the latest round of scores at its March 15 meeting.

While a few companies showed slight improvement in their scores, none seem poised to break out of the red category, said Rob Fohr, director of Faith-Based Investing and Corporate Engagement for the PC(USA). Red indicates a score of between zero and 100 on the scale, which has a top score of 240. The categories are, in ascending order: red, orange, yellow, blue, and green, which is a score of 206 to 240. None of the 13 companies MRTI is currently engaging with are in green. The top two are General Motors with a 186 and Ford with 182.

In addition to updated scores, the list was also the first chance to see scores from companies that had been added to the watch list.

“In 2020 MRTI also recommended adding four additional companies to MRTI’s focused-engagement list, which means they will be evaluated using the Guideline Metrics framework,” Allen said. “All four companies — American Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, and Occidental Petroleum — all scored in the middle of the group, in the yellow color range.”

Now, with a few years of measurement and engagement, the committee is seeing the value in the sustained evaluation of companies over time.

“The Metrics continue to be a valuable tool for MRTI’s corporate engagement,” Fohr said. “It allows us to concretely measure progress, or lack thereof, among companies that were named by the General Assembly for focused engagement. The criteria align well with established General Assembly policy.”

This spring, MRTI will also undergo a review the Metrics framework. While the measurement tool has been invaluable to MRTI, some updates are needed. Katie Carter, Associate for Research, Policy and Information, said, “A lot has changed in just the three years since the Metrics were developed. Addressing climate change has only become more critical, environmental racism and racial justice needs to be better addressed and ensuring a just transition into a low-carbon future needs to be measured. Some metrics criteria could be updated to better reflect the urgency of these issues.”

The Presbyterian Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment/Office of Faith-Based Investing and Corporate Engagement is one of the Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

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