The Green for All – Green Wave is Coming!

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins

The Green Wave is coming. That’s what Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green for All, told us at last week’s SRI in the Rockies conference. The question isn’t will it come, the question is, will America participate and will it help people rise out of poverty? Green for All is poised to help America ride this wave in a very big way. They’ve got eight billion dollars of federal stimulus money and a lot of passion and good ideas and are working very hard to implement plans that will put this money to use in the most effective ways possible to meet their twin goals of green jobs creation in a clean energy economy and moving people out of poverty.

Green for All was founded by one of my heroes, Van Jones, a pioneering force in human rights and the clean energy economy, and former special advisor for green jobs at the White House’s Council for Environmental Quality, as well as author of The Green Collar Economy. He has been a voice of drawing awareness to the global climate crisis and its disproportionate impact on the poor.

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New SEC Ruling on Shareholder Resolutions

By Michael Kramer

During the recent SRI in the Rockies conference in late October 2009, the leading social investment professionals in the industry heard from the chief legal counsel to SEC Commissioner Luis Aguilar about an exciting ruling that allows the filing of shareholder resolutions that address the financial risks of corporate activities in environmental and social areas. This is a huge victory for the SRI industry, which organized an extensive campaign to reverse the Bush Administration’s SEC decision to disallow such resolutions on ESG issues. The social investment industry wrote a December 2008 letter to the incoming Obama Administration that “effective disclosure of these issues through the proxy process can lead to better anticipatory action by corporations such as the control of greenhouse gases and the development of safer alternative materials.”

While most shareholder resolutions, particularly those that address issues surrounding climate change, merely ask companies to conduct analyses of the risks associated with global warming, the Bush Administration saw this as interfering with management. But in a stark reversal, the SEC stated, “We have recently witnessed a marked increase in the number of no-action requests in which companies seek to exclude proposals as relating to an evaluation of risk,” but “our application of the analytical framework may have resulted in the unwarranted exclusion of proposals that relate to the evaluation of risk but that focus on significant policy issues.”  As such, the SEC stated, “The fact that a proposal would require an evaluation of risk will not be dispositive of whether the proposal may be excluded.” What still needs to be determined, however, is whether the particular issue contained in a given shareholder resolution meets the threshold for consideration under the new ruling. In the absence of specific criteria, SEC staff will be left to make subjective determinations of what is appropriate or not within the social policies suggested in shareholder resolutions.

Michael Kramer is a Managing Partner of Natural Investments LLC and the Director of Social Research

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SRI in the Rockies Conference, October 2009

Natural Investments LLC among group of Leaders Attending 20th Annual SRI in the Rockies Conference

The whole team attended the 20th Anniversary SRI in the Rockies Conference this past week. Our leading investment conference highlights industry trends in sustainable and responsible investing, and is a great time to catch up with old friends in the natural investing movement.

SRI in the Rockies is the largest and longest-running conference for the sustainable and responsible investment industry in the world. The 2009 conference, From Crisis to Opportunity: Investing for a Sustainable Economy, attracted more than 550 industry leaders to the JW Marriott Starr Pass in Tucson, Arizona. SRI in the Rockies is produced by First Affirmative Financial Network in collaboration with the non-profit Social Investment Forum.

“Sustainable and responsible investing is moving rapidly to the forefront of investment strategy and Natural Investments participation in this year’s conference is helping to build a powerful movement to invest for good,” said Steve Schueth, President of First Affirmative. “This year’s conference focused on highlighting how we all can play a crucial role in finding real market solutions to the world’s environmental and social problems, and make money in the process.”

We had a grand time and will be posting thoughts and reflections in the coming weeks.

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Slow Money to Speed Change

By Hal Brill

In spite of all today’s economic challenges, this is an exciting time for values-based investors. The range of investments has grown from just a handful of SRI funds when we started in the 80’s to hundreds of values-based options. SRI has become a global movement, corporate responsibility is a mainstream issue, and the opportunity to create a low-carbon economy is the major thrust of the current administration.

But despite these achievements, the challenges have grown even faster. The earth is groaning under the strain of supporting consumption-based lifestyles, while debt-based economies demand even more consumption to keep the whole game going. In an ideal world, we would have a coordinated global approach with sufficient wisdom and clout to address global challenges while keeping local economies vibrant. But Wall Street and a handful of mega-banks are designed to funnel capital into globalization, while the local realm has been almost ignored by the investment world. In response, many people are finding that the local level is the most appropriate place to direct their energies, for it is in our neighborhoods and communities that we can have the most meaningful impact.

Slow money250

So I was elated when I picked up a new book called Slow Money written by Woody Tasch. Just the title gets your attention…who talks about the speed of money? But money has gotten fast, whizzing around the world as blips of data, seeking the highest return no matter what the consequences for the planet. Slowing money down fits right in with “natural” investing – our term for investing in ways that are aligned with the planet’s patterns at a deeper level. In September I attended the first national Slow Money conference in Santa Fe. I felt right at home, as the 400+ attendees were a blend of activists from the financial, farming, and nonprofit worlds.

Tasch’s focus is on local food, also known as the Slow Food movement. We all know the splendid taste of vine- ripened tomatoes and fresh-picked corn.

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Welcome to the Natural Investments Blog!

We will be posting regularly on all topics related to natural investing, socially responsible investing, holistic financial planning, sustainable wealth building and other relevant topics that strike our fancy. Please let us know any topics or questions you might have, and we will do our best to answer them here. 

Thanks and stay tuned!

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Same as it ever was / Things will never be the same

By James Frazier

No matter how this economic crisis turns out, it is already assured a very prominent place in our memories. It’s not just the endless parade of scary headlines announcing precipitous market declines, massive government bailouts, skyrocketing unemployment, and high-profile frauds and failures. What really shakes us to our core is the thought, the mere possibility that “The end of the old way of doing things is here. Things will never be the same again.” What if this were true? What then, can we expect in our new, more uncertain future?

Let us start by taking a look at our current situation from a historical perspective. A cursory review of the last few hundred years reveals a virtual cornucopia of financial crises. Just to name a few: the Dutch Tulip mania of the 1600’s, the South Sea Bubble of the 1700’s, the Panics of 1873, 1893 and 1907, the Crash of 1929, the dot-com crash, and finally, our current situation. I highly recommend reading the stories of these panics, because the parallels with today are breathtaking. One cannot help but feel like history is simply repeating itself. Or, more interestingly, we may be seeing that the economy ¬– as one expression of human nature – operates within larger natural patterns that are built of cycles upon cycles: day and night, work and rest, breath, tides.  And likewise, the cycles of sickness and health suggest that once having lived through a health crisis, we often find ourselves looking at life anew, and forging new ways to move forward.

So let’s look at some history, ponder the present, and begin to imagine the future that may emerge from this time.

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The sea change we seek: Economic recovery backs SRI goals

By Michael Kramer and Scott Secrest

This material first appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of the Natural Investments newsletter

There is a sea change in Washington, and it is interesting timing. The shift to a Democratic executive branch, along with a Democrat-controlled Congress for the first time in 15 years, is facilitating an ambitious set of policies and programs to both revitalize the economy and reprioritize the national agenda. Both the TARP and the American Recovery and Investment Act boosted ideas that have been championed by progressives for many years, and are now being taken seriously as critical aspects of the economic recovery plan.  Click through to read about these new federal priorities, including new financing for community-based development institutions, green energy investments, and shareholder oversight of executive pay.

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Regenerative Finance

By Michael Kramer

This piece first appeared in the January 2009 edition of the Natural Investing newsletter

Last month marked the closure of an important chapter in my life. For the past 18 years, I’ve been a teacher of permaculture design. Coined by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the ‘70s, permaculture is a hybrid word reflecting the notion of forming a permanent culture based on the wisdom and high functionality of natural systems. While most applications of permaculture relate to food, water, shelter, and energy systems, I’ve tended to focus more on the “invisible structures” – economics, politics, organizations, and interpersonal and intrapersonal dynamics.

Esalen central garden 300dpi 2 6x2in

As some of you know, I taught permaculture courses for many years, served a term as Executive Director of Permaculture Drylands Institute, and more recently facilitated permaculture teacher trainings with NI partner Christopher Peck. Now the successional process is complete, because two of the students we trained to be teachers demonstrated in a week-long workshop in early December at Esalen Institute that they can facilitate this course from now on. It is, in permaculture terms, evidence of natural succession, and I couldn’t be happier to mulch myself. People often say I’m full of, um, compost, but that’s another story…

Natural investing is a permaculture strategy, since its purpose is to care for people and the planet while demonstrating economic viability. Certainly the triple bottom line found among today’s socially responsible businesses is fully aligned with permaculture’s ethics, so I haven’t strayed from my core purpose in focusing more on finance. The aspects of this field that are most relevant to permaculture are community and regenerative investments that empower people and facilitate a harmonious business relationship with the environment.

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