For-profit

Walden Asset Management

Website:

www.waldenassetmgmt.com

Formation:

1975

Founder:

Robert B. Zevin

Type:

Investment Fund

Left-Wing Shareholder Advocacy Supporting Firm

Headquarters:

Boston, MA

Managing Directors:

Stephen J. Amyouny

William Apfel

Predecessor:

Domenic Colasacco

Walden Asset Management is a $3.6 billion left-of-center activist investment fund, operated by the larger Boston Trust and Investment Management Company.[1] The fund was founded in 1975 as the first so-called “socially responsible” division in a U.S. bank[2] and launched some of the earliest policy-driven funds and the first shareholder resolution on behalf of any mutual fund.[3]

Walden’s investment criteria incorporate environmentalist and left-wing social policy concerns into its decision-making. The company generally only invests in companies that offer products or services aligned with its left-of-center priorities and that impose left-leaning corporate policies addressing environmentalist or labor union prerogatives.[4] Additionally Walden also offers funds which do not invest in select industries disfavored by left-of-center policy advocates like firearms manufacturers, mainstream energy interests, or tobacco farmers.

Walden also invests in companies so that it can sponsor corporate shareholder proposals to try and impose left-wing environmental, social policy, and corporate governance policies.[5] Since 1987, Walden has supported over 480 such proposals. These shareholder proposals have sought policies to address environmentalist prerogatives, political spending and lobbying transparency, mandatory diversity and pro-LGBT policies, labor union issues, and the unfettered perpetuation of proxy voting power.[6]

In 2017, Walden helped to successfully lobby the world’s largest institutional asset managers, Vanguard and Blackrock, to become more activist shareholders. One month later the companies voted to impose environmentalist restrictions on two large American energy producers.[7]

Organizational Overview

Walden Asset Management is a $3.6 billion left-of-center policy-motivated investment fund. Walden comprises approximately one-third of the assets management by its parent Boston Trust & Investment Management Company. [8] Walden and Boston Trust operate out of the same offices in Boston, MA and “share the same investment team and staff, philosophy, and approach.”[9]

Robert B. Zevin founded Walden in 1975. It is described as the “first explicit socially responsible unit in any bank.”[10] Walden has been a pioneer in the various forms of “impact investing,” whereby the company leverages its financial resources to push businesses to support left-wing social and environmental changes. In 1981, Walden created one of the first funds to include so-called “socially conscious” criteria.[11]

In 1987 Walden filed the first shareholder resolution on behalf of any mutual fund, in support of a labor union during contract negotiations.[12] In 1991, Walden created a fund specifically designed to invest “in companies with products that often have environmental or social benefits.”[13]

Social Investing

Walden uses “tactical asset allocation”[14] to make long-term investments[15] in companies that it deems to have social impact records that align with its left-of-center policy prerogatives and to penalize companies that do not voluntarily impose its costly policy demands.[16]

Walden analyses the social utility of a company based on five broad liberal social impact areas.[17] Those impact areas include:

Products and services: Walden favors companies that offer products or services that provide left-leaning “societal or environmental benefits” and avoids companies that make profits in industries it deems problematic, including firearms manufacturers, tobacco farmers, gaming, and nuclear energy. [18]

Environmental impact: Walden favors companies that proactively seek to address climate change and water scarcity by supporting experimental energy production and burdensome land grabs. [19] Walden disfavors companies that refuse to impose voluntary corporate mandates that address environmentalist concerns relating to “rainforest destruction or climate change.” Walden also disfavors investments in companies that earn a profit from environmentalist-opposed industries such as domestic energy production and manufacturing.[20]

Workplace policies: Walden’s five-point social impact analysis also prioritizes companies that support union priorities, privileges, and mandates upon not only their internal operations but throughout the entirety of their supply chains.[21] Walden touts that it invests in companies that have union relations and disfavors companies that are seen as anti-union.[22]

Community engagement: Walden’s social impact analysis emphasizes whether or not the company caters to “indigenous and underserved communities” and whether the company takes the concerns of those left-leaning social groups into their corporate considerations. [23] Walden also focuses its investments on companies that address “poverty and injustice” in these communities by providing capital to left-of-center affordable housing, renewable energy, and labor programs.[24]

Corporate Governance: Walden favors companies that impose burdensome corporate transparency mandates and that favor activist shareholder accountability policies. [25]

Since the early 2000s, Walden has offered its clients the ability to divest their money from domestic energy producers. Walden touts that 16% of its clients take advantage of Walden’s energy divestment investment options. [26] Walden has previously supported divestment campaigns against tobacco-farming companies.[27]

Walden also allows its clients to create issue-specific investment prohibitions against businesses involved in domestic energy production, nuclear power, gaming, food production, farming, firearms sales, or weapons manufacturing.[28]

Shareholder Advocacy

Walden uses so-called “shareholder engagement” to push those companies to take actions that are consistent with Walden’s left-of-center policy agenda. Walden’s shareholder engagement tactics include shareholder proposals, corporate engagement, board of directors’ proxy-voting, and public policy advocacy. [29]

For over 20 years, Walden has used the shareholder resolution process to try to impose left-wing environmental, social, and governance policies at the corporate level.[30]

In total, between 1987 and 2017 Walden has pushed for over 480 left-of-center shareholder proposals that seek policy changes in favor of Walden’s left-of-center priorities.[31]

Walden shareholder proposals have sought to impose left-leaning corporate policies relating to executive compensation, political spending and lobbying, climate change, water availability, recycling, mercury pollution, domestic energy production, mandated diversity and LGBT policies, supply chain labor issues, and the expanded power for shareholder proxy voting.[32]

Of Walden’s nearly 500 shareholder proposals, only 13 (3 percent) have received more than 50 percent support from board voters.[33]

However, Walden claims that merely filing a resolution leads to policy agreements.[34] Walden claims 189 of its proposals were reportedly withdrawn with some sort of corporate agreement or commitment.[35]

In 2007, conservative SEC Commissioner Paul Atkins labeled this type of corporate advocacy “the tyranny of the minority” which allows investors such as Walden to leverage their “nominal economic interest to hijack the agenda of all investors.”[36]

Walden aggressively advocates for its left of center proposals. In 2004, Cintas Corporation sued Walden’s parent corporation for defamation after its Director of Shareholder Engagement Tim Smith, incorrectly criticized the company while pushing for a shareholder resolution.[37] In 2017, Walden “lashed out” at Cato Corporation for opposing a shareholder proposal that the Securities and Exchange Commission deemed duplicative. The specific proposal would have mandated Cato ban employment discrimination against LGBT people even though the company’s policies already prohibited such discrimination.[38]

Walden has supported multiple shareholder proposals against a number of companies. Exxon Mobil has faced 21 Walden supported shareholder proposals, the most of any company. Other companies that have faced a large number of Walden shareholder proposals include IBM and PepsiCo, each facing 12 proposals; ConocoPhillips, facing eight proposals; AT&T, Emerson Electric, Home Depot, and JP Morgan Chase facing seven proposals each; AIG, Gentex, and TJ Maxx, which have faced six proposals each; and Amgen, Coca-Cola, Commercial Metals, Johnson & Johnson, Leggett & Platt, Procter & Gamble, Sysco, and Wal-Mart, all of which faced five Walden-supported shareholder proposals. [39]

Walden’s most active shareholder proposals seek to impose mandates on environmentalist policies, gender- or sex-based anti-discrimination, board of directors’ elections, or the disclosure of political or lobbying spending. [40]

Walden filed or supported over 53 separate shareholder proposals seeking to force companies to issue environmentalist reports.[41]

Left-Wing Advocacy Allies

Through 2017 Walden supported had supported at least 50 proposals to increase or impose corporate lobbying and political spending disclosure mandates.[42] Then in 2018, Walden and the American Federation of State and County Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union coordinated a coalition of 74 investors that also included the AFL-CIO, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), the United Auto Workers (UAW) Retiree Medical Benefits Trust, United Steelworkers, and the Tides Foundation. Together the coalition filed proposals at 50 companies requesting federal and state lobbying payments, lobbying-related trade association payments, and payments to other tax-exempt legislative advocacy organizations.[43] These shareholder proposals were specifically targeted to identify corporate payments to business associations that had opposed shareholder activism, environmentalist policies, and labor union policy agendas.[44]

Walden has also supported 28 corporate proposals seeking to mandate a sex-based anti-discrimination policy and at least 38 proposals seeking to mandate disclosure of companies’ employee diversity data.[45]

Institutional Investor Leverage

Through 2017, Walden supported seven separate proposals calling upon Exxon Mobil to adopt and report “goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” none of which received more than 30% of the corporate vote.[46] In 2017, rather than seeking to influence a company directly, Walden influenced a number of major institutional investors which used their influence to pass an environmental resolution. [47]

Walden wrote,

“We used our leverage to influence larger investors, and larger investors added their voices and votes to encourage companies to address environmental concerns.”[48]

That year, Walden filed shareholder proposals against Vanguard,[49] the world’s largest index mutual fund manager with $4 trillion under management;[50] Blackrock; and other major banks[51] that were “designed to drive Vanguard [ad the others] to vote more proactively on important social and environmental issues.”[52]

According to Walden’s Tim Smith, “the comfort level in a boardroom changes when you get large global investors supporting or even voting for an environmental resolution.”[53]

Walden withdrew its proposals against Vanguard after the company pledged to expand reporting on its environment, social and corporate governance priorities.[54] Two weeks later, Vanguard and Blackrock for the first time voted for shareholder proposals, supported by Walden, against Exxon Mobil and Occidental Petroleum to require that the company report on climate change.[55] With the two large companies’ support the shareholder proposals passed with over 60% of the vote at both companies.[56]

Walden pledged to continue pushing these large investors to support its left-of-center corporate policy prerogatives.[57]

Specifically, Walden’s Tim Smith labeled Vanguard’s voting record on left-leaning shareholder proposals as “not substantial enough” and indicated that he intended to push Vanguard to “to use its enormous influence and proxy voting” to support Walden’s favored environmental and social shareholder proposals.[58]

Proxy Voting

Walden uses proxy voting, casting corporate shareholder proposal votes on behalf of its clients, to support its favored left-of-center policies.[59]

Walden’s 2017 proxy voting guidelines stated that the company believes that left-of-center environmentalist and social policy topics “are generally beneficial and in the long-term best interest of the company.” As such the company generally plans to vote in favor of any shareholder proposals that promote good left-of-center environmental or social policies.[60]

In 2017 Walden voted against the election of a number of directors, including prominent Republican politicians such as former California gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman and former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson.[61]

Public Policy Advocacy

Walden seeks out ways to advocate for its environmentalist and left-wing social policy agenda in public policy forums. In the past the company has testified at government hearings and meetings, has led or participated in educational outreach efforts, and has “submitted formal comments on public policy initiatives to the U.S. Congress or government bodies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).”[62]

Walden’s public policy testimony has addressed a wide variety of topics including issues related to pollution, tobacco control, minority rights, the former apartheid South Africa, financial and securities regulations, and corporate governance mandates. [63]

Walden pushed a multi-year advocacy campaign calling for corporate “Say-on-Pay” votes. [64] Ultimately, the Dodd-Frank Act included Walden’s preferred “Say on Pay” rule mandating that companies hold periodic executive compensation votes.[65]

In 2017 the Business Roundtable (BRT) proposed that an investor be required to own 0.15 percent of a company’s shares before filing shareholder proposal, which Walden’s Tim Smith dubbed the “nuclear option” against shareholder proposals.[66] Walden’s opposition to the BRT proposal and its related Choice Act, which similarly sought to restrict shareholder resolutions, was “a substantial focus” of Walden’s public policy work in 2017.[67]

People

Stephen J. Amyouny, CFA and William Apfel are the co-Executive Managing Directors at Boston Trust and Investment Company[68] and Walden Asset Management.[69]

Domenic Colasacco is the Chairman and Portfolio Manager at Walden Asset Management.[70]

Timothy Smith is Walden Asset Management’s Director of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Shareowner Engagement. Prior to joining the Walden in 2000, Tim was Executive Director of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) for 24 years, where he coordinates left-of-center shareholder advocacy for over 275 religious and institutional investors[71]

References

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  2. Press Release. “Robert Zevin Receives Prestigious SRI Service Award.” CSR Wire. November 5, 2009. Accessed April 24, 2018. http://www.csrwire.com/press_releases/28097-Robert-Zevin-Receives-Prestigious-SRI-Service-Award
  3. Soumerai, Heidi. “40 Years of Impact.” Walden Asset Management Website. Accessed April 24, 2018. http://waldenassetmgmt.com/new/40-years-impact/
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