In response to a 2021 shareholder resolution co-filed by United Church Funds (UCF), Virginia-based railway company Norfolk Southern has responded by releasing its first ever Climate Lobbying report and financial contributions to seven different trade associations. This report brings greater transparency to the money that the company uses to influence public policy, and it represents a big win for responsible investors.
Last April, 76.4% of Norfolk Southern shareholders voted to support a resolution submitted by Friends Fiduciary, a Quaker Investment Manager, and UCF, calling on the company to create and release such a report. This vote sent a strong message to Norfolk Southern that responsible shareholders want to know where the company’s lobbying dollars are going, and specifically whether the company is lobbying against climate sustainability and justice.
The importance of transporting goods by rail will only grow as states adopt more stringent emissions standards; but the industry also has historic ties to coal other fossil fuels industries, which continue to this day.
Issuing a report like this may seem like a very small step in the effort to restore ecological balance and change course in the warming of the planet. In this case, however, the report helped push the company to end its membership in a trade association called America’s Power, whose sole mission is to advocate at the federal and state levels on behalf of coal-fueled electricity and the coal fleet.
Historically, corporations have argued that they should not be responsible for positions that their trade associations take on controversial issues. These days, investor voices are calling for companies to disclose and explain when trade associations positions differ from corporate public positions. And that has led to a push for companies to publish this information on their website, so the public has transparent access.
A recent report by the World Benchmarking Alliance found that only 8% of companies disclose their expenditures on lobbying activities. Here at UCF, we believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and so we continue to push companies to make their lobbying efforts and political contributions more transparent. While this Norfolk Southern report is a step in the right direction, there is still much work to be done.