Peter Altman is the national coordinator of Campaign ExxonMobil and executive director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition.

Monday, 8 Apr 2002


The irony of being an environmental activist is that I spend much of my day sedentary, staying in my office and talking on the phone as I dial-in from one conference call to another. Before, during, and after calls, I hurriedly write comments, press releases, memos, and suggestions. My hyperactive nature is a plus, since it allows me to keep moving without getting up. Some days I barely even make it out of my chair.

What’s the point of these endless telephone calls, constant emailing, shuffling through stacks of papers on my desk for the fax that came in or that has to go out? This is all the prep work that goes into the final products — and the fun: reports on pollution and global warming, press conferences, demonstrations, meetings with investors and boards, hosting international activism trainings.

Today is the first of many intensive days, as a whole lot of work comes together at once: projects and press coverage on Campaign ExxonMobil, hosting the Empowering Democracy Training for Corporate Campaigners, as well as state and national work on power plant and refinery pollution.

Campaign ExxonMobil teamed up with other groups to protest the company’s environmental and social conduct at the May 2001 annual meeting.

My first act of environmental activism was pulling up developer’s survey stakes when I was nine-years old. Since then, I’ve gotten legal — and focused my work on promoting sustainability in energy systems — by working to support clean energy alternatives and combat pollution. Although I’m working on several projects to achieve those goals, right now I spend most of my time as the national coordinator of Campaign ExxonMobil, a country-wide coalition founded to convince ExxonMobil to take a responsible position on global warming.

The campaign was founded by Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility members Reverend Mike Crosby and Sister Pat Daly, religious shareholder activists. The ICCR has been leading the movement for corporate accountability for the last 30 years. In 1997, Mike and Pat became frustrated with ExxonMobil’s continued denial of the science behind global warming and its refusal to invest in clean energy alternatives. (You can learn more about the campaign’s history on our website.)

The campaign strategy is to persuade investors to recognize that ExxonMobil’s position is bad for shareholders in the long run — both because of the damage to the company’s reputation and because its competitors are getting the jump on renewable energy.

Our work centers around two “shareholder resolutions,” one calling for a report on renewable energy development and the other calling for greater environmental responsibility. Since the resolutions are voted on during annual meetings, they force management to address the issue. Last year $26-$28 billion worth of stock — around 8 or 9 percent — was voted in support of the resolutions. That sounds small, but it’s really substantial: For the number to be that high, the campaign must have reached beyond the network of church groups, socially responsible investors, and family members that support Campaign ExxonMobil, and attracted the interest of mainstream investors. If we get enough such investors to put pressure on management, we’ll start seeing some changes. ExxonMobil may be able to ignore Main Street (and it usually does), but it cannot afford to ignore Wall Street.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be on the road, meeting with investors in the U.S. as well as the U.K. My job is to make the case that ExxonMobil’s behavior is a threat — not least to the company itself — and to build up support for the environmental resolutions.

In addition, we’re going to take the issue straight to ExxonMobil’s board. After all, the board is supposed to be accountable for the company’s actions. We’ve asked several board members to meet with us directly, and we’re also developing ads and postcards that highlight each board member’s role with the company.

On top of all of this, at some point today I’ve got to make time to pitch our new report, “ExxonMobil, Global Warming and Corporate Value,” to the media, publicize the story of Exxon persuading the Bush administration to drop support for the top scientist at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and finish up the database we’re constructing so people can look up and contact the companies that are heavily invested in ExxonMobil.

And all this from my chair.