Larry Fink, the chief executive of BlackRock, the world’s biggest investment fund manager, said pushing climate policies was about profits, not being “woke”.
In his annual letter to CEOs , Fink said businesses, cities and countries that do not plan for a carbon-free future risked being left behind. He argued that the pursuit of long-term returns was the main driver behind climate policies, after being criticised for seeking to influence companies.
“Stakeholder capitalism is not about politics. It is not a social or ideological agenda. It is not ‘woke’,” he wrote. “We focus on sustainability not because we’re environmentalists, but because we are capitalists and fiduciaries to our clients.”
West Virginia’s treasurer said this week that the state’s Treasury investment board would no longer use a BlackRock fund, after the fund manger urged companies to cut their carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. The official said this would damage West Virginia’s economy.
In his Dear CEO letter, Fink wrote: “It is through effective stakeholder capitalism that capital is efficiently allocated, companies achieve durable profitability, and value is created and sustained over the long term. Make no mistake, the fair pursuit of profit is still what animates markets; and long-term profitability is the measure by which markets will ultimately determine your company’s success.”
After Fink wrote two years ago that climate risk was an investment risk and that the firm would put sustainability at the heart of its investment decisions, many companies set out plans to become carbon-neutral. BlackRock had previously been criticised for not pushing hard enough on the issue.
Last spring, BlackRock – which manages about $10tn (£7.4tn) in assets – reportedly threw its weight behind a shareholder campaign to oust several directors on the board of the US oil giant ExxonMobil. The coup launched by dissident hedge fund activists at Engine No 1 replaced two Exxon board members with its own candidates to help push the oil company towards a greener strategy.
Fink predicted in this year’s letter that “the next 1,000 unicorns won’t be search engines or social media companies, they’ll be sustainable, scalable innovators – startups that help the world decarbonise and make the energy transition affordable for all consumers”, adding that established companies should strive to do the same.
He said a “tectonic shift” had happened in recent years, with sustainable investments globally reaching $4tn.
Fink also said that companies had a moral responsibility to adapt to “a new world of work” that had been reshaped by the coronavirus pandemic. He said “that world is gone” – where companies expected workers to come to the office five days a week, mental health was rarely discussed in the workplace, and wages for those on low and middle incomes barely grew.