Ever since Michael Moore’s documentary, Roger & Me, we’ve known how difficult it is to confront corporate CEOs with the impacts of their decisions on working families and the environment. So when we learned the CEOs of the world’s leading insurance companies would hold their annual get-together in San Francisco, we put our best efforts into putting coal on their agenda. After all insurance companies continue to play a critical (if often neglected) role in propping up climate-destroying fossil fuel projects.
On June 14, a small group of UnfriendCoal activists put on our best suits and checked into the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, the fancy place on San Francisco’s Nob Hill which hosted the CEO meeting. As we got our room keys, we saw a conference organizer to our left and the CEO of Prudential Financial to my right. We had arrived in the lion’s den!
The next morning, we invited ourselves to the CEOs’ opening plenary with a banner on the need for insurers to unfriend coal. “The World’s Best Insurance: Keeping Coal in the Ground”, the banner read, and we gave a powerful statement to the assembled industry leaders. “You certainly got your point across”, one of the CEOs commented as the group left the room after the short intervention.
Watch the video on how it happened:
Our brief intervention didn’t allow for an in-depth conversation on insurance, coal and climate change. So ahead of the CEO meeting, 13 member groups of the UnfriendCoal alliance sent a letter to the world’s leading insurance companies to make our demands clear. And throughout the insurance conference we found ways to remind the CEOs of our message. We slipped flyers under the doors of the executive suites at night, posted ads in the elevators, and left “Insure Our Future” stickers in the bathroom stalls. The posh hotel almost felt like home during two busy days.
On the last night of the conference the CEOs were scheduled for a cocktail hour and dinner on top of the Fairmont Hotel up the street from the Ritz-Carlton. Hoping to meet the CEOs face-to-face again, we organized a public rally outside the iconic Fairmont Hotel. Expressing displeasure with their bosses’ support for the coal industry, the Geico Gecko, The Aflac Duck and a few other insurance mascots joined in. We even had an airplane circling the 24th floor cocktail bar with a banner saying, “Insurers: Insure Our Future Now”!
Alas, the CEOs didn’t show up to our party. In spite of our cheerful tone, they skipped the cocktails, holed up in the Ritz-Carlton, and eventually rushed up to the Fairmont in a cavalcade of black rental SUVs. If they spent their extra hour checking their Facebook accounts they had a chance to hear from us there: the UnfriendCoal campaign also placed digital ads targeting the visiting insurance executives.
We trust the insurance CEOs got our message by the time they left San Francisco: The UnfriendCoal campaign, as part of the larger fossil-free movement, is determined to bring the age of coal to a rapid end, and to stop insurers from offering life support to a dying industry. Over the course of this campaign we will hold climate laggards and deniers to account, at considerable cost to their public reputation and staff morale.
Some insurers have warned about the risks of climate change for more than 40 years, and we are confident that they can quickly decide to stop insuring and to divest from the coal sector. They should rest assured that we will publicly welcome and acknowledge any progress that we see in this process.The Geico Gecko and other insurance mascots have told us that they will be happy to see such progress as well.