In a time of trade wars and political leaders on the fritz, investors may consider more conservative options to avoid market volatility. Real estate, bonds, and even gold might look appealing in times of turmoil. For socially responsible investors with even a cursory awareness of the gold mining industry, however, the question of whether gold holdings are compatible with human rights and environmental protection is urgent and important.
No Dirty Gold is an advocacy group of nonprofits and companies in industries that use gold. The group supports voluntary improvements in environmental and social practices by the industry.
Both stock and bond markets finished the quarter with solid gains. Large company stocks in the U.S. were up 3.1%, while smaller companies gained 2.5%. Foreign stocks were in the black as well, up 6.1%. Bonds advanced 1.4%, even as the Fed raised interest rates.
Federal Reserve officials forged ahead with another interest rate hike in June, the third in six months, and maintained their outlook for one more hike this year. The Fed announcement struck a careful balance between showing resolve to continue increasing interest rates toward more historically normal levels, and acknowledging concern over unexpectedly low inflation this year. While we may think of inflation as a bad thing, the Fed sees benefits in it—in the right measure.
Recently I had the opportunity to work with several of our partners on shareholder resolutions. At Natural Investments we believe shareholder activism is an essential part of using your money to make an impact and help push for a more just and prosperous company.
Shareholder activism is a simple concept, though it can be complex both in its practice and in how we determine success. When you own a share of a company you are a part owner. As a part owner you are allowed to file resolutions—similar to proposing a ballot referendum in your county or state. In some cases, the dialogue with management that we have at this point becomes the foundation for achieving our goals, even without a shareholder vote. If the Board of Directors decides to put it to a vote,
The recently released biennial Report on US Sustainable, Responsible and Impact Investing Trends 2014 by the US SIF Foundation indicates that sustainable, responsible, and impact investing (SRI) assets have expanded 76 percent in two years from $3.74 trillion at the start of 2012 to $6.57 trillion at the start of 2014. This is the largest two-year increase in the amount of SRI investments in the Trends Report’s 20-year history. At this new level, investment strategies that integrate some form of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria now account for more than one out of every six professionally managed investment dollars in the United States.
“The findings released today clearly demonstrate that investment decisions using sustainable, responsible, and impact investing strategies are on the rise,” said Lisa Woll, CEO of US SIF and the US SIF Foundation. “Sustainable investment strategies are being applied across asset classes to promote corporate social responsibility, build long-term value for companies and their stakeholders, and foster businesses that will yield community and environmental benefits.”
Note: See this recent commentary by NI’s Andy Loving, offering a more cautionary take on this recent growth in ESG investing.
According to the 480 institutional investors, 308 money managers and 880 community investment institutions participating in the research survey, the top reason for offering ESG products remains client demand, followed closely by interest in fulfilling a particular mission, improving returns, and effectively managing risk.
Evolving capitalism is a long-term process, and quite a roller-coaster ride, so each victory along the way is all the more meaningful. After spending a year with other SRI colleagues in dialogue with senior Costco management, I am thrilled to share that our efforts on your behalf have led Costco to adopt its first sustainable seafood policy, addressing a variety of policy, supply chain, labeling, and endangered species issues.
Costco is the largest retailer of seafood in the U.S., so this policy change will have a significant impact on the health of fragile global fisheries, and will spur immediate changes in the practices of every supplier of seafood to the company. Costco is limiting purchases of 12 endangered species, including Atlantic cod, Chilean sea bass, bluefin tuna, grouper, shark, orange roughy, monkfish, and Atlantic halibut, and will require that shrimp and other fish farmers comply with sustainability standards defined by non-governmental organizations in collaboration with global government and industry leaders. Costco’s policy states that the company will purchase the 12 endangered species only if they are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the most widely-respected independent certifier of sustainable fisheries.
Foremost on shareholders’ minds when approaching Costco was the desire to see adoption of a formal sustainability policy to guide all aspects of procurement, set targets for the achievement of sustainability goals, ensure the availability of “sustainable” choices for customers, and avoid the sale of unsustainable seafood products, including endangered and other over-harvested species. We requested that Costco define its sustainability goals, establish regular reviews of fisheries at great risk, and use practices that will mitigate or limit environmental impacts associated with aquaculture. The resulting policy changes begins to address all these concerns.
Two emerging proxy voting websites are having an impact on shareholder activism, causing companies to take notice. This year marks the first proxy season that both ProxyDemocracy. org and MoxyVote.com are up and running. These websites aim to increase participation in the proxy voting process, particularly among retail investors, and early results show at least some success. While most retail investors don’t vote their proxy, if they begin to show a willingness to do so, activists and management will be clamoring for their votes.
ProxyDemocracy.org, which went live in mid-2008, follows the proxy voting records of ten public and union pension funds and socially responsible mutual funds prior to companies’ annual meetings. The purpose is to allow individual investors to see how funds are voting on certain issues to help them make educated decisions in their own proxy voting.
MoxyVote.com, launched last November, also publishes the voting records of institutional investors and other special interest groups before annual meetings. More transformationally, Moxy Vote allows investors to cast their proxy votes on its website.
As an example of its impact, Moxy Vote ‘s website processed more than 22 million shares, or about 12% of On2’s outstanding shares, against On2’s proposed acquisition by Google. This prompted Google to raise its share price from 60 cents to 75 cents, leading to approval of the deal.
With our political system tied up in knots, there‘s a growing sense of hopelessness about America being willing to come to grips with the climate crisis. For many of us, this issue is a moral imperative, as we’re wrenched by our compassion for all the beautiful creatures and ecosystems that are sacrificed on the altar of our inaction. But the morality-and-compassion approach isn’t gaining traction. Some surveys have shown a falling percentage of people who think climate change a serious menace.
We’re going to have to leaven our heartful responses with smarts. The broader public is focused on jobs, global competitiveness, and national security. There are plenty of conservatives, and even tea partiers, who can get behind these goals. What’s needed is a clear strategy and specific goals that link climate action with these more widely-embraced priorities.
This potential is what drives Bill Shireman, President of Future 500, a group that brings corporations and NGO’s together to forge unlikely alliances.
By Hal Brill (originally published in the Natural Investing News, Spring 2007)
I brewed myself a cup of coffee today. No big deal, except that until a few weeks ago I had never done that. Coffee occupied a blurry place in my psyche – I liked it but also feared the bean. One too many jittery, heart-racing experiences had taught my body to minimize consumption, and I figured if I didn’t know how to make it myself I would only be exposed when I went out to eat.
The blend I had this afternoon was some fresh Starbucks beans that arrived recently via UPS, a gift from the company after our recent tour. It achieved exactly what they hoped, sealing my fate. I’ve become not only a coffee drinker, but a convert Starbucks fan. YIKES! How can this be? Is there something in the brew that has weakened my innate mistrust of anything corporate?
My tale begins in January, 2007, when my buddy Cliff Feigenbaum of the GreenMoney Journal forwarded me an email from Starbucks. He was invited to join a group of journalists in Costa Rica to tour Starbucks sustainable coffee operations. All expenses paid! Fortunately for me, Cliff couldn’t clear his schedule so he offered me the Allison and I have wanted to visit Costa Rica (who wouldn’t?), so it was easy to say yes.