But there are also more "anti-ESG" resolutions, which observers say shouldn't be surprising given how the far-right has sought to politicize sustainability strategies. In the end, however, the success of the resolutions depends in large part on how big investors like BlackRock (a prime target of ESG opponents) and Rockefeller Asset Management (RAM) vote their shares.
Both financial giants have published their lists of "engagement priorities" for 2023. At BlackRock, the firm says its main area of focus is ensuring corporate boards have independent directors who can be "the voice of shareholders" in board discussions on topics ranging from climate-related risks to long-term business strategies. Rockefeller singles out biodiversity, climate action and human rights among its key themes to watch.
Most of this year's shareholder proposals fall into "three major buckets: climate change, corporate political influence and social policy that includes diversity and human rights," said Heidi Welsh, executive director of the Sustainable Investments Institute, a research group that closely tracks social and environmental shareholder resolutions.
On the anti-ESG side, the proposals are all about "the culture wars," Welsh said. Those proposals largely attack anti-discrimination policies, she said.
"None of the anti-ESG ideas have ever gotten much support from mainstream investors or companies," Ms. Welsh said. "Their investment horizons look beyond the next election cycle."
Overall, the number of shareholder submissions has been increasing since late 2021, when the Securities and Exchange Commission made it easier for almost anyone to put forward a proposal.
New York-based BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager, and CEO Larry Fink have long touted the firm as a champion of ESG principles despite continuing to be a major financial backer of the fossil-fuel industry. But last year, BlackRock voted for fewer proposals addressing environmental and social issues than it did in 2021, said Rob Du Boff, senior ESG analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.