ACES will bring BlackRock executive to Aspen to explain revolutionary view on climate change
IF YOU GO
What: ACES’s Jessica Catto Dialogue series
Who: Philipp Hildebrand, vice chair of BlackRock, will present, “Sustainable Investing: A Turning Point”
When: Wednesday, 6 p.m.
Where: Harris Hall
Cost: Free and open to the public
Aspen Center for Environmental Studies will stray Wednesday from its usual practice of featuring a heavyweight hero from the conservation world to kick off its summer speaker series.
Instead, it will feature an executive from the world’s largest asset manager. Philipp Hildebrand, vice chairman of BlackRock, will speak at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Harris Concert Hall in a presentation that is free and open to the public.
“We understand some people might not see this as an ACES type of event,” said Chris Lane, ACES executive director. “But their position on climate change, in my opinion, is radical.”
BlackRock manages a portfolio that exceeded $6 trillion this year. Founder and chief executive Laurence Fink created a firestorm in January, according to The New York Times, when he informed companies that they needed to contribute to society as well as make profits to receive the support of BlackRock.
Of particular interest to Lane, a former environmental director for Aspen Skiing Co. and a major concessionaire at national parks prior to joining ACES, is BlackRock’s in-depth position on climate change. The company released a policy statement in August 2016 that came to the conclusion: “We believe all investors should incorporate climate change awareness into their investment processes.”
The company advised forgetting about the political fighting over causes and science of climate change and focus on the market risks and opportunities. One emerging social factor will be consumer preferences and pressure groups advocating divestment of fossil-fuel assets, the policy statement said.
The significance of BlackRock’s stance is the approach that companies can take action on climate change and still make money, Lane said.
“It’s the opposition of what some of our leaders have been telling us,” he said. “Economies can fix climate change while still being prosperous.”
Hildebrand declined a request for an interview from The Aspen Times. His presentation is titled “Sustainable Investing: A Turning Point.” It is the first presentation in ACES’ Jessica Catto Dialogue series this summer. The series honors the environmental legacy of Jessica Hobby Catto.
Auden Schendler, Skico’s vice president of community sustainability, said BlackRock’s direction is a game-changer.
“For decades, because of Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, conventional wisdom argued that the only role of business in society was to make money. That meant there was no philosophical room for businesses like ours, that was trying to make money and do some good. We were written off as silly,” Schendler said. “This year, the largest asset manager in the world turned that thinking on its head, giving businesses — and professors — a whole new way of thinking about their work, one that includes doing good in the world. That’s a big deal.”
Lane said BlackRock’s decision to integrate climate change into all of its decision-making serves as a huge lever because of the company’s global reach and status as a titan in asset management. The New York Times quoted Fink as saying he will add staff to monitor how companies respond to the call for more social initiatives.
In 2017, BlackRock supported a shareholder proposal to require Exxon to disclose more information on how it is affecting and responding to climate change issues.
Lane wouldn’t get into specifics on how ACES landed Hildebrand as a speaker. He just said Fink and Hildebrand “are connected” to ACES. Fink has a home in Aspen.
Lane said he hopes that finance people in major corporations who happen to be staying in Aspen will attend Wednesday’s presentation. He also believes the message that it makes business sense to take action against climate change will resonate with the average person.
“They’re saying do it because it’s smart, not to feel good,” Lane said. And that’s music to his ears.
“I’ve been dreaming of this for 30 years,” he said.