The United Nations created the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) seven years ago to encourage the integration of sustainability into how investors make investment decisions and engage with their portfolio companies. General counsels and governance professionals at U.S. companies, however, have paid scant attention to it.

They've largely ignored the principles for three main reasons: first, because it has never been clear what relevance the UN could have to capital markets; second, few U.S.-based funds signed on; and third, investors almost never mention the PRI when they engage with companies. So it simply hasn't been worth the time for U.S. ...