This article is from our archives as part of the 100th issue special, celebrating twenty-five years of quarterly newsletters.
For seven years, we took part in a New York Times study to find the best investment portfolio. As the only socially responsible money manager invited to participate, our founder Jack Brill was the “long shot,” but Natural Investments excelled in the competition. It was a very satisfying and public refute of the myth that SRI sacrifices financial returns.
In 1993 the New York Times asked five of the nation’s leading investment advisers to design model portfolios for a hypothetical retirement portfolio for an investor having $50,000 and twenty years to go until retirement. I was asked to participate and create a portfolio using only socially screened mutual funds.
Vintage Natural Investment Services logo as part of the 100th issue special, celebrating twenty-five years of quarterly newsletters.
Before we were financial advisers, most of us were educators who felt called to drive positive change through teaching, writing, innovating, movement-building, and leading by example in sustainability and social justice. We have nurtured this commitment over three decades at Natural Investments by working with our investors to realize our shared vision of a more sustainable and equitable future. And we’ve seized the opportunity to share inspiring updates with you every quarter—vital, consistent reminders of what can be accomplished through the intentional stewardship of assets.
This issue of our newsletter is our 100th. Over the past twenty-five years, we have written hundreds of articles, as well as three books, chronicling the growth of our movement for sustainable, responsible, and impact focused investing. Socially responsible investing has moved from the margins into the mainstream, and we have celebrated the investment opportunities and advocacy victories that bring people into better relationships with each other and the natural world. We have played a meaningful role in a paradigm shift that the business community cannot ignore.
Natural Investments, LLC welcomed five new advisors to the firm, expanding our company to twenty advisors across eleven states. We are cultivating the next generation of SRI leaders with wide-ranging expertise in sustainability, social justice, and impact investing.
In 2018 we began a relationship with Triskeles Foundation to provide donor-advised funds (DAF). These are charitable giving investment vehicles that an individual, family, or business use to direct an irrevocable contribution of assets to a public charity.
Of the $524M in assets under management by Natural Investments, $354M is in ESG-screened funds on the publicly-traded market. ESG refers to a variety of environmental, social, and corporate governance guidelines, known as avoidance and affirmative criteria, used to screen investments. We use them to steer clear of the practices and sectors that cause harm to people and the planet, pressure companies to change their behavior, and support companies and projects that lead to a more just and sustainable society.
While we directed $160M and $110M of assets into weapons-free and tobacco-free funds, our fossil-fuel-free (FFF) portfolio has
While Natural Investments principals have always been thought leaders in the sustainable, responsible, and impact investment (SRI) movement—we’re the only firm in the world to have published three books on the subject—we have generally gone about our business in a quiet manner.
We’ve intentionally remained small by institutional standards, and while we’ve garnered the respect of our SRI peers, we are not a household name. In 2018, our profile changed considerably, in ways that affirm our commitment to integrity in SRI over all else.
Climate change is one of the most urgent global crises facing humanity. This was as true during the Great Recession of 2007-2008 as it is today––yet while government institutions were immediately summoned to support our financial recovery, no such action was taken to mitigate climate change. More than 10 years later, our economy has recovered, but climate change has worsened.
In the United States, neither our leaders nor our institutions are providing the kind of bold climate leadership we need. International organizations that are working to maintain a livable climate don’t have sufficient jurisdictional power or financial resources to achieve impact at the speed and scale necessary to mitigate and adapt to the crisis. What can be done?
Natural Investments is involved in a variety of efforts with our industry colleagues that facilitate positive economic, social, and environmental change, including shareholder engagement with companies and public policy advocacy. Some of our efforts in 2017 include:
We signed a letter to the dozen major banks, including Wells Fargo and Citibank, that are financing the Dakota Access Pipeline, urging them to avoid legal liabilities and financial and reputational risks associated with financing the controversial project—and to advocate publicly for the rerouting of the pipeline away from tribal land.
We signed a global investor statement to leading consumer and agriculture companies asking them to adopt zero—deforestation policies for sourcing key agricultural commodities such as palm oil, soy, beef, paper, and lumber. Deforestation in Latin America, which is largely caused by commercial agriculture, is a leading contributor to climate change, and the recent Soy Moratorium in Brazil proves that the rainforest can be protected while expanding agricultural production.
We signed a letter to sixty of the world’s largest banks calling for more robust and relevant climate-related disclosure to be supplied to investors on four key areas: climate-relevant strategy and implementation, climate-related risk assessments and management, low-carbon banking products and services, and banks’ public policy engagements and collaboration with other actors on climate change. Banks have an essential role to play in ensuring that we meet the Paris Climate Agreement goal of “making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.”
We supported shareholder engagements with three top carpet manufacturers—Mohawk, Shaw, and Interface—to encourage them to develop plans for sustainable carpeting redesign to make it more recyclable, to use higher levels of appropriate recycled materials, to develop national recycling goals, to help develop end markets for discarded carpet, and to take at least shared financial responsibility to implement these actions.
We signed a letter to major motion picture studios urging them to eliminate tobacco depictions in youth-rated movies. We believe this is warranted to protect the company’s reputation and consumer base, to avoid legal liabilities, and to eliminate the reputational and potential financial risks caused by the company being associated with this public health issue.
We have some exciting news to share. This year, Natural Investments, LLC (“Natural Investments”) made some changes in the composition of its ownership. Previously, Natural Investments was equally owned by Hal Brill, Michael Kramer, and Christopher Peck. We are pleased to announce that Natural Investments is now owned by Hal Brill, Michael Kramer, Christopher Peck, James Frazier, Malaika Maphalala, and Greg Pitts. Michael Kramer and Christopher Peck still own the same percentage they owned previously. Hal Brill sold a portion of his membership interest in Natural Investments to James Frazier, Malaika Maphalala, and Greg Pitts, each of whom now owns 5% of Natural Investments.
The managers of Natural Investments remain the same. Michael Kramer and Christopher Peck have been managing members since 2007 and will continue in that role. The new owners have been Investment Advisor Representatives (IAR) with Natural Investments since 2011 for Greg Pitts, 2009 for Malaika Maphalala, and 2008 for James Frazier. Hal Brill is still an owner and an IAR, providing continuity to Natural Investments.
We expanded ownership to help sustain the long-term continuity of Natural Investments. We believe that these changes will not alter the control, management or vision of Natural Investments. All of us continue to be resolved to build a better future through a transformation of the investment world.
Please let us know any questions you might have. Feel free to contact Christopher Peck through our contact form.
Christopher, Michael, Hal, James, Malaika, and Greg
Last fall, NI Managing Partner Michael Kramer gave a 45-minute talk at a conference in his home state of Hawaii that offers an good introduction to socially responsible investing and our variation on the theme, resilient investing. It catches Michael in a relaxed setting, and it’s recently been posted at the conference website (or click through to see it embedded below). Their teaser includes some of their favorite quotes from Michael’s talk:
“We think investors have a right to know. We want to require the disclosure of political contributions. I won’t use Verizon because I know how much money they contribute to the conservative side of the political equation… Imagine if all companies were required to disclose that publicly then you would know that and could make a decision about whether you want to own that company.” (Timecode 21:40).
“We have not fixed hardly any of the problems that caused that financial meltdown eight years ago… It is still going on because the Republicans in congress want to treat the economy like the Wild West.” (Timecode 22:20).