I have learned firsthand from my participation in social justice movements that privileged people in isolation cannot end wealth inequality or the close the racial wealth divide. As a wealthy white person in this country, however, that wasn’t what I was taught. When I was a student at Princeton University, I was told that poverty and climate change were problems that we, as intelligent individuals, could solve with technical innovation and social entrepreneurship. What I learned outside the classroom is that poor people are the experts on poverty; black activists are the experts on anti-black racism; and any attempt to solve a social problem must be shaped and guided by those who are most impacted.
When I first met Tiffany Brown in 2013, she was working with Resource Generation, an organization that organizes wealthy young people to become leaders in the movement for a more equitable distribution of wealth, land, and power.
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).
Natural Investment’s Carrie Van Winkle was recently featured on Forward Radio, a Louisville radio station. This is one of the best overviews of NI’s approach that we’ve heard. The forty-minute conversation covers some of the themes of resilient investing, as well as offering a quick introduction to SRI in general. Topics include fossil-fuel free investing, first steps for millennials, and bees.
Our commitment to positive change is reflected in our advocacy, how we operate the company, and the 1% of gross revenue that we donate to worthwhile local and national charitable organizations. Our commitment to evolving corporate behavior revolves around our shareholder advocacy efforts, while our passion for protecting citizens from harm is embodied in our public policy efforts with regulators and Congress. This report includes examples of our work in 2016.
Seattle Weekly had a nice piece this week that begins by discussing recent protests against Wells Fargo’s bankrolling of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and expands into a broader exploration of the hurdles that some people encounter when they ask mainstream investment advisors to help them avoid putting their money to work in ways that are counter to their values:
That experience isn’t uncommon, say two of the advisors at Natural Investments, LLC, a “sustainable, responsible and impact” (SRI) investment firm with a branch in Seattle. “What people tell us when they find us,” says Ryan Jones-Casey, director of client services, is often something like, “’I’ve heard that I can do socially responsible investing, but I talked to my advisor at JP Morgan, and he said I’m going to lose money; he said it’s not worth my time.’”
The article’s author turned to two of the most recent additions to Natural Investments’ team for comments and additional perspective. Eric Smith and Ryan Jones-Casey joined forces with NI in 2016, and are fitting in great. We’re now up to fifteen offices nationwide, staffed by our collaborative team of independent investment advisors.
Letting the past predict the future, brokers lean on old patterns and ideas about what makes money on Wall Street. Like, “I don’t want to learn something new; I’ve always done it this way,” says Smith. Not to mention that “a lot of people in the financial services industry tend to be relatively conservative,” he adds, so if some of the political aspects of SRI “[don’t] fit their philosophy, they don’t want their clients to do it.”
Certainly, “fear is a powerful barrier to change” in investing, says Jones-Casey. But he and Smith argue that a company that is resource efficient, watches its carbon footprint, and cares about human rights “is a more enlightened company,” and this kind of enlightenment “is actually the very thing that will lead to better financial performance over the long term. But that kind of thing is not at all the dominant paradigm in the financial services industry.”
I am pleased to have a few letters behind my name these days: CPWA®, which stands for Certified Private Wealth Advisor®. During 2015, I undertook the Investment Management Consultants Association’s (IMCA®) rigorous CPWA program and successfully passed the exam to earn the title. The Certified Private Wealth Advisor credential is an advanced certification created specifically for financial advisors who work with high-net-worth clients on the life cycle of wealth: accumulation, preservation, and distribution. Intended for current practitioners already working with high-net-worth clients, CPWA designees must have a full five years of work in the field under their belts.
From early on in my career, I’ve been pushed along by a handful of wonderful clients who presented me with the challenge and opportunity to master some of the more complex planning needs that can come along with wealth:
We were pleased to see that our very own Greg Pitts was one of the three investing professionals quoted in a recent Reuters article on responsible investing, written in the wake of the California natural gas leak. The theme of the piece was investors who are just now realizing that their 401(k) or mutual fund portfolio includes many companies that they’d rather not be involved with, and that returns are likely to be the same or better if they are more discerning. Greg’s primary point was one that we don’t hear often enough:
For many, legacy is going beyond the amount of money that they hand down. People want to make the world a better place for their kids – and are using their investments to do that.
Greg Pitts mans Natural Investments’ NY offices in Ithaca and New York city, and works with clients from other regions electronically.
Fast Company recently ran an article on Building the Business Case for Doing Good, a topic that’s obviously right up our alley. So we were very pleased to be among the companies that the author reached out to as she was putting it together. The topic was workplace philanthropy, and Natural Investment Managing Partner Michael Kramer outlined our 1% giving program, whereby our collaborative team of independent advisors decides where to direct their portion of the annual gifting. Thanks to Fast Company for including us!