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Continuing the question from last week about how important are climate goals to companies really? Matt Sekol recently wrote that climate issues don’t carry universal business criticality:

“… not every company has the opportunity to impact carbon emissions similarly. As hard as it is to read, many companies may need to focus on other related ESG issues specific to them and for your company.”

ESG practitioners frequently point to investors as the fulcrum for climate targets, action and disclosures. Investors inundate their portfolio companies with ESG/climate questionnaires and talk a great deal about the importance of climate risk in their investment decisions. ESG ratings organizations, which primarily serve investors, have a multitude of ratings that purport to account for company climate risk profiles – yet there is minimal correlation across the ratings providers, indicating they each value climate risk differently. But once again it is worth asking how critical are climate goals to capital markets?

Here is one answer – Microsoft published its 2024 Environmental Sustainability Report on May 17. The company disclosed about a 30% increase in its emissions mainly due to expanding its AI services and investments. The market reacted – not to the emissions data but to the company’s AI strategy. After the report publication and as of the writing of this blog, Microsoft’s stock price is up around $10/share. That isn’t the reaction one would expect if investors felt emissions were business critical. It might be easy to say in Microsoft’s case, carbon actually isn’t a business imperative. But given how much time, effort and funding the company has dedicate to climate risk management for years, I’m betting the company wouldn’t agree. And yet here we are with the conundrum – the capital market didn’t seem to care.

I know I’m throwing out a lot of negative vibes. But there is a way to turn this around. Stop trying to “sell the fear” related to climate risk management. It isn’t working because there is limited downside at the moment, especially in the US – meaning there isn’t much fear to sell. Executives and management are dealing with unprecedented uncertainty right now that is for many companies truly existential. You need to take a step back, understand what is going on and change the conversation about climate goals to one of meaningful business value. It might not be easy, but it will be more effective than pushing an narrative that is ineffective or perhaps irrelevant.

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The Editor

Lawrence Heim has been practicing in the field of ESG management for almost 40 years. He began his career as a legal assistant in the Environmental Practice of Vinson & Elkins working for a partner who is nationally recognized and an adjunct professor of environmental law at the University of Texas Law School. He moved into technical environmental consulting with ENSR Consulting & Engineering at the height of environmental regulatory development, working across a range of disciplines. He was one… View Profile