This article is from our archives as part of the 100th issue special, celebrating twenty-five years of quarterly newsletters.
A reflection on how our founders came to “natural investing” over thirty years ago, planting the seeds for today’s vibrant Natural Investments group, which includes twenty advisors all across the U.S. helping clients manage a half billion dollars in regenerative and conscious capital.
Photo: Jack Brill, founder of Natural Investments, with his son and partner Hal Brill.
“Yes, this is Mr. Brill, rep number 638, with an order to sell 4,000 shares of Exxon at market.” I completed the trade for my client and stepped out of my office with a satisfied smile. I had just helped a conscientious investor divest herself from a company whose environmental transgressions offended her. And look where I was! The Wall Street clerk taking my order must have pictured me in a stuffy brokerage suite with ticker tapes flashing. But in 1992 I had taken refuge in a relic travel trailer parked on a friend’s high desert acreage outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Along the south side I built an arching sunroom with straw-bale walls. A 500-foot extension cord and phone line snaked through the pinyon and juniper trees, linking me and my laptop to the world. I wore Guatemalan shorts to work, not a pinstriped suit.
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?
Since 2006, Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT has served small, family-owned organic farming enterprises by helping them grow their businesses, while supporting the growth and impact of the organic movement. The aim has been to increase the availability of nutritious organic foods while working to support long term soil health. As cofounder and CEO David Miller has said,” We want to help organic farmers provide an answer to the dead soil mono culture across the U.S.”
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%.
Excerpted and adapted from The Resilient Investor.
In Local Dollars, Local Sense, a thorough survey of the local investment movement, Michael Shuman makes a compelling case that small businesses comprise about half the GDP of the United States, but most investors are completely missing out. Overinvesting in Wall Street and under investing in Main Street (and other Close to Home Strategies) is a diversification problem that this book, and especially this Strategy, intends to help you overcome. As we mentioned earlier, while this type of financial investment has been difficult at best for most of us, there are encouraging developments underway.
While everyone is involved with at least some, and usually many, “close to home” activities, there are two groups for whom this has become the main focus of their resilient investing practice.
Excerpted and adapted from The Resilient Investor by Hal Brill, Michael Kramer, and Christopher Peck
The world in which we live is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. There’s an unfathomable intertwining of relationships that underlie the global economy and the physical world, making predictions virtually impossible. As financial advisors, it hasn’t been easy for us to overcome our desire for certainty about where the world is heading. But once we acknowledged that the world may not be sitting on the most solid of foundations, and that our clients hold a range of views about our possible futures, it became essential to explore strategies that speak to both emerging innovations and local resilience.
Even a few years ago, such a multifaceted approach would have been impractical, as there were few opportunities to invest in alternative strategies. Today, we are energized by the explosion of socially responsible investing (SRI) options
Best-selling author and Natural Investments client Vicki Robin recently published a fully revised fourth edition of her classic book, Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence. With more than 1 million copies sold over the past 25 years, this book has guided countless people to take control of their spending, reduce debt, increase savings, and ultimately achieve financial independence. We are honored that Vicki asked us to collaborate on revising the last chapter of this edition, and we are grateful that she was able to take a short break from her book promotion tour to speak with us.
Diversification is, at its root, a response to the ancient admonition you might have learned from grandma: don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. If that basket drops they could all break, ruining your and grandma’s breakfast! This proverb can be traced back to the 17th century, and was popularized by Cervantes in Don Quixote. (Later, Mark Twain, ever the contrarian, proposed the exact opposite: “pull all your eggs in the one basket and—watch that basket!”
The wisdom of Cervantes goes nearly unquestioned today. Virtually every reputable financial firm teaches people about diversification, extolling the importance of spreading out risk. But—and this is an important but—we contend that however well intentioned, Wall Street’s version suffers from two major omissions: first, they focus solely on one’s financial instruments, and second, they can’t model the possibilities of Breakdown/Breakthrough, so they presume that we’ll be Muddling Through for the foreseeable future.
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.