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.
Check it out here: Sustainability Now from Forward Radio
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.
Download the NI 2016 Social Impact Report (PDF)
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.
The Seattle Weekly article, So You Want to Divest from DAPL. Will the Financial Industry Let You?, is well worth reading in full. Meanwhile, here are a couple more excerpts that include thoughts from Eric and Ryan:
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!
For the second time, Natural Investments has been recognized by the nonprofit B Labs as among the top companies in the world for its overall social and environmental impact. Each year, B Labs rates Certified B Corporations on a comprehensive array of 200 metrics measuring corporate impact on workers, consumers, suppliers, community, and the environment; those whose scores rate in the top 10% of all companies receive the Best for the World designation. Natural Investments’ Managing Partner Michael Kramer notes, “Our clients walk their talk with their investments, so it makes sense for us to operate our company with attention to high social, environmental, and governance standards.”
This year’s 120 honorees come from 49 different industries, ranging from manufacturing and telecommunications to pharmaceuticals and finance. 44 of the companies are based outside the US, including several operating in emerging markets such as Afghanistan, The Republic of Korea, and Brazil. (Full list at bestfortheworld.bcorporation.net)
“Today’s honorees inspire all companies to compete not only to be best in the world, but best for the world. We hope many will take the first step by using the B Impact Assessment to measure and manage their impact with as much rigor as their profit,” said Jay Coen Gilbert, Co-Founder of B Lab. Each honored company is a Certified B Corporation. These companies use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems and have met rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Today there are over 1,200 Certified B Corporations, across 121 industries and 38 countries, unified by one common goal: to redefine success in business. Any company can measure and manage social and environmental performance at bimpactassessment.net.
How Becoming Personally Resilient Helps Create a Resilient World
For those with even a cursory interest in economics, there is likely a familiar ring to the idea that pursuit of personal interests yields societal benefits. This is, of course, the message of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand of the market.” Unfortunately, it has become all too evident that a civilization based solely on competition and maximizing self-interest does not always create the desired benefits or distribute them equitably. In fact, it can frequently cause great harm to people and nature.
Nonetheless, as we have developed our new resilient investing framework, we’ve come to appreciate the nugget of truth in Smith’s teachings. What he lacked—or at least what is lacking in the way he is interpreted today—is a big enough perspective on what is meant by the pursuit of individual interests. By expanding the definition of what self-interest really means, the essence of Smith’s teachings may take on newfound relevance in a world searching for answers to complex challenges.
Here’s why: In our experience, when investors broaden their goals so that they focus not solely on their financial assets but their personal and tangible ones as well, as we outline in our resilient investing system, they tend to utilize strategies that enhance the health of the community and the environment. Conversely, investments that harm the fabric of society fall out of favor because by their very nature they make us less resilient. A deteriorating global environment and extreme levels of inequality are detrimental to everyone, and many investors understand the folly of profiting financially while furthering such negative trends.
We have coined the term Invisible Heart to reflect this larger view of self-interest. It does not ignore the financial realm but recognizes that a hand left to its own devices can be used for healing or can cause harm. A hand needs a heart to guide it. We are all connected in more ways than we can fathom; as more people recognize this, the ancient and universal wisdom of the Golden Rule—to not harm others—becomes a foundational principle that guides our decisions.
Our very own Michael Kramer was recently the subject of a glowing profile in Ke Ola, a magazine published in his home state of Hawai’i. Titled The Triple Bottom Line: Michael Kramer redefines the green movement, the piece offers a good sense of Michael’s personality and of his lifelong commitment to creating a better world. From activism in high school and college, his later work with permaculture and the Youth Ecology Corps, and continuing to his present life as a Natural Investments advisor and a leading advocate for evolutionary economic models in Hawai’i and nationwide, Michael’s story is inspiring. Here’s a tidbit, but click on through that link above to read the whole thing!
Michael, a former student activist, has lived these principles all his life. As a child growing up on the outskirts of Los Angeles, he says his life’s passion began with a displaced family of owls when he was eight years old.
“It was fairly rural where I lived on the edge of the city, and I felt very connected to nature there. There was a family of owls living in a couple of huge trees. I listened to them every day,” Michael remembers.
He continues, “I came home from school one day and the trees had been cut down. I was just distraught. My mother noticed how upset I was and she pulled out a cassette recorder and said, ‘Why don’t you say how you feel?’ I gave my first speech. It was like a little campaign speech around the importance of saving the trees.”