In a stroke, Larry Fink became one of the most powerful champions of green investing in global finance.

But behind his new sustainable-investing push at BlackRock Inc. lies an uncomfortable truth: going green won’t be easy or quick.

Today BlackRock funds hold a 6.7% stake in Exxon Mobil Corp., for instance, as well as 6.9% in Chevron Corp. and 6% in Glencore Plc. And, in all likelihood, they’ll keep holding them, for the same reason that BlackRock is so big and successful: two thirds of its roughly $7 trillion in assets are squirreled away in funds that passively track market indexes, rather than actually pick stocks or bonds.

Only last year, Fink became a designated villain of climate change, dogged by protesters pressing BlackRock to divest from fossil fuel companies and others that contribute to climate change. Tuesday’s announcement promptly drew praise from his former critics -- and raised the prospect that other money managers would soon follow suit.

While the move will draw more attention to environmental sustainability, the hard reality of passive investing may mean it’s as much about making a statement as taking immediate action.

“One of BlackRock’s many challenges is their heavy reliance on traditional indexes and how they address that in light of their new climate policy,” said Timothy Smith, director of environment, social and governance shareowner engagement at Boston Trust Walden, which manages $10 billion.

The biggest investors could once send a strong message to companies, forcing executives to sit up and listen: change your ways or we’ll sell our shares. Such pressure helped in divestment campaigns from apartheid-era South Africa to American college campuses where students object to how endowment money is allocated.

But in a period where index-tracking funds are rapidly accumulating assets, selling isn’t an option. That leaves companies such as BlackRock and rival Vanguard Group at the mercy of benchmark compilers including MSCI Inc. and London Stock Exchange Group Plc’s FTSE Russell unit.

As part of BlackRock’s plan, revealed by Fink in a letter Tuesday, it pledged to pressure index providers to expand their sustainable benchmarks. The changes also include doubling sustainable ETF offerings to 150, and exiting thermal coal producers for its approximately $1.8 trillion in active strategies.

“Climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects,” Fink wrote in his annual letter to corporate executives. “Awareness is rapidly changing, and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.”

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