Feb 22, 2024 - Energy & Environment

Scoop: Climate advocacy group launches campaign to fight ESG backlash

Illustration of a bullhorn resting on top of a stack of one hundred dollar bills.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

A young advocacy group that defends climate-focused investing is launching the next phase of its campaign Thursday.

What's new: Unlocking America's Future (UAF) just began its first paid media campaign since announcing a wider eight-figure advocacy push in late 2023.

  • They hope to parry right-leaning critiques against Wall Street's environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices.
  • The digital buy will start in Arizona, with plans to expand.
  • And there's a new website attacking conservative groups they accuse of "promoting the interests of greedy billionaires."

Why it matters: The culture wars have moved from politics to the executive suite, with the fallout prompting some of the biggest names on Wall Street to run for shelter.

Meanwhile: UAF released polling showing bipartisan voter support for ESG goals (alongside low familiarity with the term).

  • "The American public overwhelmingly opposes bans on responsible investing," spokesperson Kyle Herrig tells Axios.

State of play: State restrictions on use of public funds for ESG and brewing SEC climate disclosure rules are among today's battlegrounds.

  • Financial giants are on defense amid increasing oversight from congressional Republicans and anti-ESG initiatives among red state officials.
  • Some states have pulled money from asset managers with ESG offerings. Multiple have also passed or debated legislative restrictions — a focus for UAF.
  • In recent days companies like State Street Global Advisors and J.P. Morgan Asset Management announced they're leaving the Climate Action 100+ coalition.

The big picture: ESG opponents accuse asset managers of prioritizing left-leaning goals over laser-focus on returns, among other criticisms.

  • House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan called departures from Climate Action 100+ "big wins for freedom and the American economy" said others should abandon "collusive ESG actions."
  • However, backers argue there's no trade-off and that focusing on ESG-based goals cuts investor risks.

Catch up fast: UAF launched in December and doesn't disclose donors. It receives administrative help from Climate Power.

  • UAF leaders include seasoned Democratic hands Zac Petkanas and Josh Schwerin, with people drawn from other backgrounds too.
  • It focuses on the whole ESG umbrella, instead of just the "E."
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