LIFE IS WHAT WE FOCUS ON. This has long been a meaningful mantra for me. My adoption of it stems from a time when my obsession with bad news caused me distress. Bad news is everywhere, and modern humans are more aware of the problems of the world than any other time in history. The state of the human condition and the planet can be known by pressing a few buttons on our devices. It is an overwhelming quantity of information, and we now face the additional responsibility of discerning its veracity.
Crisis and opportunity have an interesting partnership. They don’t always go together, but when they do, they can catalyze powerful change in individuals, countries, and human civilization. Many forces converged in 2020 to create such a dynamic—a global pandemic, heightened attention to racism, extreme weather events and accompanying natural disasters, the disruption of democratic norms by a white supremacist authoritarian president, the proliferation of misinformation and conspiracy theories, and, finally, a historic election.
The year 2020 demanded resilience, and while we surely felt tested on many levels and tried to hold onto our center, many of us found ourselves reflecting on the meaning of life and then acting to change our own lives and work harder to build a just, equitable, and sustainable society.
JACK BRILL, the founder of Natural Investments and a pioneering thought leader of the socially responsible investment (SRI) industry, passed away recently at the age of 89. As one of the earliest SRI advisors in the 1980s, Jack was a passionate advocate known for his generous heart and tireless work to advance an approach to investing that was radical in his early career. He wrote one of the first books on the field, Investing from the Heart (Crown, 1992), which was the basis for the Heart Rating, the first and most rigorous rating system of SRI mutual funds. From 1993 to 2000, Jack helped SRI achieve mainstream recognition through his competitive investment exercise in a quarterly NY Times series.
Natural Investments as a firm has been on its own path of social justice since it began. It’s the core of our mission. And yet in the area of racial equity, we know there is much more that we can and want to accomplish.
Our natural focus is external, in that we are always looking for ways to help clients invest in systems change. But for the past few years, our firm’s rapid growth and circumstances in the bigger world have called on us to look inward—particularly when it comes to racial and gender equity.
Natural Investments has joined with other investors representing $6.7 Trillion in assets under management to request that Amazon, Inc. respect workers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. We believe that worker representation plays an important role in companies.
In light of the reported anti-union practices at Amazon’s Bessemer facility in Alabama, we have joined this engagement to call upon the company to take concrete steps to implement its commitments to well-established human rights standards. We call on Amazon to immediately take steps to ensure the workers in Bessemer, Alabama are free to exercise their rights without interference. We also seek to kickstart dialogue on the company’s policies and approach to respecting labor rights in Amazon’s global operations and supply chain.
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Jack Brill, a pioneer of the socially responsible investment (SRI) industry and co-founder of Natural Investments, passed away on January 21, 2021 at age 89. As one of the earliest SRI advisors in the ‘80s, Jack was a passionate advocate and known for his heartfulness and thought leadership. No one can attest to this better than his son and co-founder Hal Brill, who described their eventual realization of the power of socially responsible investing in Bringing Consciousness to Capitalism.
Natural Investments is making a long-term commitment to the principles of Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion (JEDI).
Justice: We actively seek to dismantle supremacy in all its forms, remove barriers to justice, and use our institutional privilege to address longstanding inequities. We work collaboratively to uphold human dignity and foster systemic change both within our firm and in society.
Equity: While we believe that people of all genders, races, and other identities can succeed, build wealth, and become leaders in our industry, not everyone comes to us with the same background. We seek to proactively level the playing field through sharing power, resources, and opportunities, and embracing our diverse stories and perspectives.
Diversity: We value our differences because collectively, they make us better. Our goal is to achieve meaningful diversity on our team across race, gender, class, and other factors. At the firm level, Natural Investments is currently only adding people of color as new advisors, and we encourage all our advisors to prioritize this in their hiring as well.
Inclusion: We accept people for who they are, without creating pressure to conform or assimilate into the norms of a dominant culture. We encourage everyone to express themselves authentically and respectfully. We commit to examining the impact of our words and actions, and to deepening our awareness of patterns of harm in order to facilitate accountability, understanding, behavioral change, and healing. We engage in training and learning opportunities that build our capacity to embody a welcoming, appreciative, celebratory, and culturally rich environment for all.
Over the past 30 years, Natural Investments has grown slowly and organically over time by attracting advisors who are aligned with our mission. Even without specific growth targets, our firm has expanded, introducing more people, new ideas, and a wider range of business styles. As a collective of advisory practices, we share common investments, codes of ethics and conduct, policies and procedures, technologies, and values––yet there is a diversity of approaches in how, where, and with whom we work.
This growth has created dynamism and prompted deep reflection on how we wish to move forward, particularly as we work to maintain a sense of family while embracing diversity and minimizing bureaucracy. Beginning a few years ago, for example, our desire to make a commitment to gender and racial diversity led us to add more women and people of color to the team.
A letter to our clients:
After over 10 years of an upwardly trending stock market, the moment for severe volatility has finally arrived. It’s always difficult to predict the conditions that will cause a mass sell-off of equities, but in our 35 years of financial advising we’ve seen a variety of precipitating causes for downturns, not all of which are based on economic fundamentals. We are all keenly aware of the cyclical nature of markets, and that growth is not a constant, and in general our concerns about the limits to natural resources raise broad concerns about financial expectations in the years to come. This is in part why we design our portfolios to have a mixture of fixed income and equity securities. Nevertheless, as we have seen several up and down cycles over the years, we know that these phases are not permanent, and that the prudent approach is often to ride out the storm.
Natural Investments, LLC Recognized as a “Best For The World” B Corp for Exceptional Impact on Customers
Natural Investments, a Certified B Corporation, has been named a Best For The World honoree in recognition of their work to improve the lives of their customers through the use of their product or service. Ranking in the top 10 percent of all 3,000 B Corps for their positive impact on their customers, Natural Investments earned this honor because their financial services promote public benefit, is designed to generate positive social and ecological environments, in addition to uplifting under-served populations. The firm aims to set a gold standard for how business can be a force for good for people around the world.