Author Archive

Jim Cummings

Welcome to my archive of newsletter articles and blog posts. For more information on my service offerings, please go to my advisor webpage.

Responsible branding: Redskins, Eskimo Pie, Aunt Jemima

This month’s column by NI’s Michael Kramer takes a look at the growing calls for the Washington Redskins to change their name, including a recent shareholder resolution at FedEx, which owns the “naming rights” to the Redskin’s stadium.  As usual, you’ll need to pop over to the GreenBiz site to read the whole thing, but here’s a taste:

After years of a behind-the-scenes advocacy by Native American tribes and socially responsible investors — including a 10-year legal battle that temporarily subsided with the 2009 Pro Football v. Harjo case the Supreme Court refused to hear — the pressure on the team owner, and FedEx as named sponsor of its stadium, has ratcheted up a notch in recent months. Goodell and major sports television network columnists have indicated the issue should be examined. NBC commentator Bob Costas — the voice of NBC’s Olympics coverage — and President Barack Obama recently publicly suggested that Snyder change the team name.

The pressure to change a team name is mounting not just on the Redskins, but other professional sports teams as well, including the Cleveland Indians, whose mascot is a caricature known as Chief Wahoo, and the Atlanta Braves, whose tomahawk logo combined with fans’ derogatory karate chop and tribal rally chant are widely regarded as the most offensive fan behavior in professional sports.

…ongoing negative publicity does harm the brand of any company.  Stroh’s found this out with its now defunct Crazy Horse malt liquor. Sambo’s (which was like Denny’s back in the 1960s and ’70s) also went under. And while it remains to be seen if Cadbury Pascall will rebrand Eskimo Pie or Tootsie Roll will remove the bow-and-arrow-wielding Native American from its Tootsie Pop wrapper, sports franchises are the current target of advocacy because of their high level of visibility and the proliferation of merchandising.


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Green America interviews Michael

Green America recently conducted a fairly in-depth interview with NI managing partner Michael Kramer, which you may enjoy reading.

We asked Michael Kramer of Natural Investments to appear as our October interview to give some of his perspective on the fossil-fuel-divestment movement, given his firm’s launch of a fossil-free portfolio in February of 2013. Little did we know that our conversation would also uncover a Green-America-inspired love story.

“Natural Investments has cultivated many clients from the Green Pages and your Green Festivals,” says Michael, “But most important, our partner Christopher met his wife at a Green Festival!”

We asked Michael to tell us more about responsible investing in 2013, the “heart rating,” and Natural Investments’ next green step…

Read the full interview here.

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Crowdfunding of companies begins rolling out

Much of this blog’s focus on local economies has highlighted the regulatory hurdles that limit opportunities to invest in small local companies.  An element of the 2012 JOBS Act is opening some of those doors: crowdfunding mechanisms are being adapted to accept investments in businesses, an exciting expansion from their current role as channels for donations to worthy arts projects or pre-orders of new products.

Time Magazine recently covered the first stage of of this new avenue for funding businesses:

For now only accredited investors—people with $200,000 in annual income or a $1 million net worth—are eligible to fund startups. However, another provision of the JOBS Act to be implemented in 2014 will open up startup funding to all. A new crop of equity-based crowdfunding portals that function similarly to Kickstarter are emerging to connect would-be investors with startups seeking money.

One such website, WeFunder, is already accepting money from accredited investors. Mike Norman, co-founder of the site, says this new approach to venture funding will eliminate inefficiencies he associates with courting venture capitalists and angel investors through in-person meetings. “A lot of this is about their investor experience,” he says. “We’re going to have the ability for everyone to get involved in helping out a company or a startup that they think is really important to get off the ground and be successful.”

The current limitations on speculative investment in companies not listed on stock exchanges dates from the time of the Great Depression, when too many people were hoodwinked by scammers.  The new direct investment channels will aim to avoid such nightmares by limiting anyone with annual income of under $100,000 to investing no more than $2000 or 5% of their income (whichever is greater) in any given year.

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ANSI authorizes sector-specific sustainability standards

The latest GreenBiz column from Michael Kramer focuses in on a significant new initiative from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which manages engineering, quality, and safety standards across all sectors of the US and international economy.  Recently ANSI authorized the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board (SASB) to develop sustainability standards across ten broad sectors of the economy.  The first draft reporting standards to be released focus on the health care sector, including biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and supplies, health care delivery, health care distributors and managed care.

Michael, who tends to set a high bar for corporate standards, has this to say about this first glimpse of what the SASB and ANSI are developing:

I think the standards, based on dozens of specific metrics, are well conceived as drafted thus far. Such information never has been standardized in a way that could properly inform investors, so the emergence of the SASB’s standards sets a high and uniform bar for how companies must share information. There is no doubt among sustainable investors that such information will relate directly to share value.

For Michael’s more detailed description of the biotech and health standards, see the full article at GreenBiz.

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Obama enters impact investing arena with new program

The newest GreenBiz column by NI’s Michael Kramer celebrates the latest and most comprehensive move by the Obama administration to channel federal funds toward initiatives that pursue the triple bottom line of social, economic, and environmental performance. Read the whole piece here.  A taste:

NII offers two main planks of support for social enterprises:

1. Global Development Innovation Ventures (GDIV): This is a joint $25 million per year initiative of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the UK’s Department for International Development. It pilot tests and scales cost-effective development solutions offered not just by governments, but social enterprises, NGOs, corporations and researchers alike, enhancing the potential to reach millions of people with innovative poverty alleviation strategies, such as solar village-scale microgrids in India.

The GDIV complements the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), which allocated $333 million last year to bolster private capital solutions by companies, such as Citibank, Marriott, Sun Edison, Deutsche Bank and Wells Fargo, and longstanding social finance organizations, including MicroVest, Grameen Foundation, Habitat for Humanity and the Calvert Foundation.

2. Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) Early Stage Fund: A new round of solicitation for the SBIC Early Stage Investment Fund increases the amount available for investment from $150 million to $200 million annually. The Small Business Administration also raised the amount of SBIC leverage that Impact Investing Funds can receive from $80 million to $150 million and recently expanded the definition of impact investing to include rural communities. This successful program provides leverage guarantees that can triple the amount of private investor capital raised by a company. Some 1,300 companies used this program in 2011.

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Massachusetts sells “Green Bonds” to fund enviro projects

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has just completed a brief sales period during which it sold $100 million worth of “Green Bonds” to fund environmentally-oriented infrastructure projects.  This is the first state-offered Green Bond, following on a model that the World Bank has been using for several years to fund climate change projects.  The funds raised in the Massachusetts Green Bond offering will support the state’s Accelerated Energy Program, which aims to cut energy consumption in state-owned buildings by 20-25%, as well as open space protection, river revitalization, and other projects.

Interestingly, the bonds were offered to individual retail investors before being placed on the open market, where institutional investors bought the bulk of the offering.

For more, see this press release.

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Financial reform rule-making continues its slow progress

Following up on our earlier coverage of the long process of rule-making that has been going on since the passage of the Dodd-Frank financial reform package, two recent articles caught our eye.

In the first, a Wonkblog interview with Sheila Blair, the former director of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, we get an informed look at how the reforms are likely to play out in the banking industry.  Blair offers some refreshing clarity about the ways that the emergency financing available from the FDIC going forward will be very different than the bail-outs we saw in 2008, as well as some realistic discussion of the challenges of applying domestic fixes to a banking economy that is clearly global.

The second is an article in The American Prospect, which provides a bit of a primer (and many outgoing links to other articles) on recent developments.  While noting the widespread concern about Wall Street lobbyists watering down Dodd-Frank behind closed doors, this piece raises concerns about the swing vote on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s 5-person governing team, Democratic appointee Mark Wetjen, who has sided with the two Republican appointees on some key 3-2 votes about new rules, and may be in line to be the new chair of the CFTC.  It’s very “inside baseball,” but if you like that sort of thing, it’s worth a read.

BONUS: For the extreme policy geeks among you: a long, detailed piece from the Washington Monthly (published in March) goes deep into what it calls “the seventh circle of bureaucratic hell” of Dodd-Frank rule-making.  Great stuff.

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Garvans win local Green Business Challenge award

Garvan AwardNI’s Charleston, South Carolina team, Greg Garvan and Brady Quirk-Garvan, were honored with the highest Green Business Challenge award this year.  The “Live Oak” award recognized Greg and Brady’s efforts to promote environmental sustainability while enhancing profitability.   Upon receiving the award Greg Garvan said “For 20 years we’ve been committed to helping individuals connect their values and their financial life – it’s only natural that our business decisions would reflect those same goals.”

And just a week earlier, Brady was highlighted as a key “Westie” for his diverse community involvement in the West Ashley area of Charleston.  In addition to featuring advocacy and board of directors contributions, the piece focused on Brady’s work with NI:

During the day, Quirk-Garvan works along with his father doing business development for Natural Investments/‘Money With A Mission’. “We’re trying to help people be more intentional about their financial life.” Unlike many financial investment companies, who simply look at the bottom line, Natural Investments/‘Money With A Mission’ tries to match individuals up with investments that are in line with their values and encourage them to be conscious of what their money is actually supporting. “We’re not out here to say making money is a bad thing, we’re saying there is a better way to do it,” says Quirk-Garvan. “We’re trying to help people be more intentional about their financial life.”

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SRI tops 11% of US investing

The most recent annual report by the U.S. SIF Foundation reports that over 11% of assets under management in the US have been subject to social, environmental, and governance criteria, in addition to traditional financial performance considerations.  Nearly $4 trillion of assets is now managed with SRI and/or ESG criteria.

As Bloomberg put it:

Call it what you like — sustainable investing, responsible investing, socially responsible investing, impact investing, green investing or just ESG — this practice is bringing new approaches into the traditional investment industry. The field has expanded tremendously since trail-blazing funds, such as the Dreyfus Third Century Fund and the Pax World Fund were launched in the early 1970s. Today, sustainable investors might be concerned with climate change, alternative energy, human rights, diversity, community investing or other issues. We have seen a blossoming of specialized advisors and consultants and new investment products across all asset classes.

Major investment management firms recognize that current and potential clients have a growing interest in sustainable practices. Nearly 1,200 asset owners, investment managers and professional service partners have signed the United Nations-backed Principles for Responsible Investment and are starting to disclose their ESG performance. Eighty-two U.S. money managers with $4.9 trillion in assets ask portfolio companies about ESG issues. Just 54 managers, with $3.8 trillion in assets, reported doing so two years earlier, according to the U.S. SIF Foundation.

Click through the link above for more detailed coverage from Bloomberg.

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NI joins investor letter on Bangladesh

The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility released a letter signed by 123 investment companies and institutions holding over a trillion dollars in assets, calling on American retailers to sign on to a common workplace safety plan for Bangladesh, rather than go it alone with their own in-house standards, as Wal-Mart and the Gap have chosen to do.  Most of the nearly forty large retailers who have signed on to the shared plan are based in Europe; only two US companies have joined so far—Abercrombie & Fitch and PVH (Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein).

Natural Investments is pleased to have joined our peers in signing this call for zero tolerance of supply chain abuse.  For more, see this NY Times article.

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