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UUA persuades hotel chain to open up on energy use

Starwood corporation responds favorably to shareholder resolution on global warming.
By Jane Greer
4.20.07

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The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations scored a small victory in the fight against global warming last month when it persuaded a major hotel company, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, to share more information about its impact on the environment.

The hotel company, which owns the Sheraton and Westin chains, had not been sharing information about its energy usage or strategies to address global warming, although some of its competitors—including Marriott International and Walt Disney U.S.—had.

In response to a shareholder resolution filed by the UUA, Starwood will begin disclosing information on carbon emissions, making information on environmental programs public, and reporting on environmental issues to its Board of Directors. By accepting the resolution’s proposals, Starwood avoided having to include the UUA’s resolution in a proxy statement sent to shareholders for a vote.

The Starwood action is part of the global warming shareholder campaign coordinated by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, a coalition of faith-based institutional investors including the UUA, and Ceres, a national network of investors, environmental organizations, and other public-interest groups working on global climate change. The UUA is a new member of the global warming shareholder campaign.

In accordance with the UUA’s resolution, Starwood will be filing carbon emission data with the Carbon Disclosure Project, a voluntary international registry recording carbon emissions from some of the world’s largest corporations.

The move came as a pleasant surprise, said Tim Brennan, the UUA’s treasurer and vice president for Finance. “Starwood would not have done this without being pushed,” he said. “The company saw the wisdom of what we were asking for and decided that the right thing to do was to get out in front of this and avoid the resolution. We appreciate the collegiality of our dialogue with them.”

The UUA also recently served as a co-filer in a resolution urging TXU, a large Texas energy company, to reduce its carbon emissions. TXU was planning to build eleven controversial new coal-powered energy plants. As a result of broad-based pressure from investors, banks, and environmental groups, TXU is now in the midst of the largest leveraged buy-out in American history, forcing the company to reduce the proposed number of coal-powered plants to three and to look for alternative sources of energy.

The buyout “was driven by concern over climate change,” Brennan said, “and that represents a sea change in the way Wall Street looks at environmental risk.”

Brennan sees global warming as a growing factor in the business world. “It’s becoming accepted in the business community that global warming is a huge issue for companies and that they need to get ahead of the curve,” he said. “There are actually opportunities for companies by doing the right thing.”

The UUA has long been committed to environmental justice, passing thirty resolutions advocating environmental reform since 1962 at its annual General Assembly. In 2006, it endorsed a statement specifically addressing global warming and climate change.


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