This article is from our archives as part of the 100th issue special, celebrating twenty-five years of quarterly newsletters.
Finding this article in our archives, shortly after the attempted coup in Sudan this spring, we are reminded that the human toll in resource-related conflict is real, and economic consequences can extend for decades.
The statistics are mind-boggling: 200,000 dead, 2.5 million refugees and the holocaust in Darfur continues. Investments in oil companies in Sudan are supplying the money that supports this genocide. 70-80% of Sudan’s oil revenue is being funneled into its military. Oil ventures in Sudan are an undeniable enabler of Khartoum’s genocidal policy in Darfur.
There is a growing economic force currently going on to stop the violence. The Sudanese Divestment Task Force (SDTF) instituted a targeted divestment program last year.
This article is from our archives as a part of our 100th issue special, celebrating twenty-five years of quarterly newsletters.
References to divestment as an advocacy tool appear throughout this anniversary issue, but the South Africa divestment movement of the 1980s is credited with being the first successful campaign by socially-conscious investors to help catalyze major political change—in this case, the end of apartheid.
For us, the biggest headline of last year was “Apartheid Dies!” The biggest success story for SRI unfolded, as the African National Congress called for lifting sanctions against South Africa. Apartheid is about to be buried, and the people of South Africa are on the difficult road toward democracy.
In 1982, the Calvert Social Investment Fund became the first mutual fund to avoid investing in companies doing business in South Africa. The movement grew throughout the 1980s and added important financial clout to the struggle to end apartheid. SRI investors can take satisfaction from playing this critical role.
For over twenty-five years, Green Century Capital Management has been a leader in shareholder advocacy. This year, Green Century focused on two themes: sustainable agriculture and climate change. As part of its climate change advocacy, Green Century has been diligently working to promote plant-based proteins—as well as the preservation of tropical forests, the reduction of food waste, and a renewable energy transformation.
Plant-based proteins have received media attention in recent years due to the growing awareness that meat production is one of the main drivers of deforestation in the tropics. Globally, the production of livestock for human consumption generates 14% of the emissions that cause climate change.
By working with investors and agricultural companies,
We have arrived at a watershed moment in US history, when the principles and practices of sustainable, responsible, and impact investing are finally becoming mainstream. The biennial report on U.S. Sustainable, Responsible, and Impact Investing Trends 2018 (the Trends Report), published by US SIF Foundation, reveals a 38% increase over two years in the assets under professional management that integrate environmental and social corporate governance (ESG) criteria. This means that currently, one in every four dollars under professional management in this country, or $12 trillion, is invested using ethical or socially responsible criteria.
Twenty years ago, SRI assets tallied just over $600 billion. The new data shows that assets have increased 18-fold since 1995—an astounding annual growth rate of nearly 14%.
One year ago, in January 2018, three citizens locked themselves to the front entrance of a downtown Wells Fargo bank branch in the city where I live and work, Duluth, MN. The protesters prevented business from being conducted at the branch for three hours. The reason for their actions were simple and well-articulated: they were protesting Wells Fargo Bank’s financing of Enbridge Corporation Line 3, an oil pipeline that runs 1,097 miles from the tar sands of Edmonton, Alberta, to the Enbridge oil storage facility that sits about a mile from the south shore of Lake Superior, just a few miles away from the site of the protest. Environmentalists have deep concerns about the climate impacts of the tar sands, as well as the threat the pipeline poses to local waterways and Indigenous land rights. The police eventually came to the branch to remove the locks and arrested the protesters. All three were charged with misdemeanor trespass, disorderly conduct, and obstruction of justice.
A little over one year ago, President Trump reaffirmed his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Accord. As if on cue, an iceberg the size of Delaware broke away from the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica, where temperatures have risen nearly five degrees on average over the past few decades. And Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Maria, and Hurricane Florence wrought unprecedented destruction in rapid succession upon Texas, Puerto Rico, and North Carolina, respectively.
Scientists and researchers are still working to measure the astounding human and environmental toll from the hurricanes, which are considered to be climate disasters due to their intensity. Hurricane Maria resulted in nearly 3,000 deaths and left Puerto Rico without electricity, telecommunications, or water services for months. Hurricane Harvey caused at least 100 recorded releases of toxic chemicals in a region with 500 chemical plants and 10 oil refineries. NASA’s satellite images of North Carolina after Hurricane Florence show inky black currents of organic matter—mostly sewage from massive chicken and hog farms in the area—seeping into the blue waters of North Carolina’s coastline.
The community I call home, Duluth, MN, happens to be perched on a steep hillside that runs down to the shores of the largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Superior. There’s hardly a place in town where you can’t turn around and see the lake stretching out across the horizon. With such an expansive geographical feature nearby, it’s not surprising that people who live here share a special affinity for the lake, borne out in the names of local businesses (Lake Superior Brewing Company, Lake Superior Garden Center), local colleges (Lake Superior College), and the plethora of Lake Superior tattoos that adorn the bodies of many young locals.
Because Duluth people love Lake Superior with such fervor, we were outraged when we read about a recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal Plos One that found eight of nine tap water samples taken from all five Great Lakes, including our beloved Lake Superior, contained plastics. It was especially alarming for the significant population of beer lovers in our community to learn that scientists also found micro-plastics in all of the 12 brands of beer brewed with water drawn from the Great Lakes.
FACTFULNESS: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think
By Hans Rosling
Hardcover: 352 pp. Flatiron Books
The conundrum about this book is that it really should be read by those folks who never read books. You know who I’m talking about. The late Hans Rosling, who died in 2017 after an impressive career in education and public health, urges us to let the data tell the story, rather than imposing a narrative based on our “dramatic instincts.” He highlights ten ways that our instinctual bias and craving for drama, similar to our craving for sugar and lethargy, undermine our wellbeing.
Many people are motivated by the desire to be as prepared as possible for an uncertain future, but they recognize that this is no easy task. We encourage you to take a big picture view of the world and consider the many ways that the future could unfold. You’ll want to envision where you would like to be going in both the near-term and in years to come, and to keep abreast of the wide and growing range of investment choices available to you. By thinking in this broad, creative way, resilient investinggives you the tools to design a personalized plan. This will show you where you’re currently investing your time and money, highlight areas that you might be over or under emphasizing, and provide the guidance you’ll need to move forward in your chosen directions.
As you put your plan into action, you’ll notice a newfound sense of calm, one that rests on the knowledge that you’ve taken measured steps to future-proof your life and are ready to ride out the inevitable storms and surprises that come your way. You can’t eliminate risk, but you can dial down your stress levels and have more peace of mind by knowing that you’re prepared. Having a comprehensive and diverse set of investments will provide genuine benefits when one or another market you’ve invested in has a downturn (whether it be a sudden drop in the Dow, a dry spell that decreases yields in your garden or regional food network, or an unexpected health challenge). While it is always painful to suffer a hit in one area, investments in other Zones will likely be doing better and help carry you through.
“I want my money to have a positive impact in the world but my dad (uncle, mom, broker) said that was a stupid idea. Is it?”
That depends. If what you mean by “a positive impact in the world” is that your broker simply screens out investments in certain companies or industries, well, sorry, yes, that on its own might be a bad idea. That approach could damage a portfolio.
If you’re serious about getting your money to make a real difference for people and the planet by investing in all kinds of good things with smarter financial analyses and strategies, yes, we believe this is a really good idea.
“Ok, but how can I do all that?”
Natural Investments maintains stringent and thoroughly researched investment due diligence standards and procedures. No system is perfect, but we have developed a strong process over the last few decades of work. Here are some of the pillars of our investment strategy: