Despite the massive economic and social disruption wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, governments and investors continued to buoy the capital markets. Conscientious investors saw the opportunity to channel their money into funds supporting families and small businesses in crisis. Last year, Natural Investments and our clients held $785M in responsibly managed assets, representing a 21% increase from the prior year.
We directed a significant proportion of our client investments (approximately $541M) toward responsibly managed mutual funds and separately managed accounts that use ESG integration strategies. Applying environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria helps us screen out firms with the worst corporate behavior, an approach that minimizes poor performance risk, as shown by numerous studies.
Investment advisors who have practiced socially responsible investing (SRI) going back decades as some on our team at Natural Investments have, remember well the doubters’ refrains of our means for social and environmental change: using investment capital does not advance social progress and environmental preservation. There is now evidence to refute them.
One way socially responsible investors create impact is by identifying which companies are exhibiting objectionable practices that undermine social progress or create environmental harm, and will decide to withhold financial backing from such companies. This is known as “avoidance” investing, one of several SRI leverage methods.
To assert that the global COVID-19 pandemic has affected almost every part of our daily lives in 2020 would be an understatement. As the one-year anniversary of the virus’s outbreak approaches, it is becoming clear that some adaptations and trends necessitated by the pandemic are likely to have lasting impacts. For instance, the rise in flexible and home-based working arrangements has forced the commercial real estate market to pivot. And the expansion of voting methods, which resulted in a record turnout in the 2020 US presidential election, has fundamentally changed electoral politics.
Download a full PDF copy of our 2019 Social Impact Report
Intentional Growth, Deeper Commitment by Michael Kramer
2019 Overall SRI Impact
2019 Shareholder Advocacy Review
2019 Regenerative Investments
Progress on Private Prison Divestment by Kirbie Crowe
Divest, Then Reinvest by Scott Secrest
Spotlight: First Nations Oweesta by James Frazier
Spotlight: The Ujima Fund by Kate Poole
Spotlight: Ecotrust Forest Management by Malaika Maphalala
Mitigating Our Carbon Impact by Christopher Peck
Natural Investments enjoyed significant growth since the last report, with sustainable, responsible, impact (SRI) managed assets increasing by 24% to $650M. For the first time, we are using an impact data aggregation firm to delve deeper into our clients’ positive effects on the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) areas of the economy. The additional information allows us to see the bigger picture of our collective efforts, as well as understand trends in areas that are important to our clients. For example, one of the most frequent requests by clients is to avoid direct investments in extractive oil, coal, and natural gas companies, which are driving the climate crisis. In the last year, client demand for our fossil-fuel-free portfolios rose by 127%.
2019 Social Impact Report
When available, a portion of client assets are directed to so-called “regenerative investments” in the private market. Natural Investments seeks funds and companies with an elevated business model that takes into account the public good. The authenticity of the model is usually backed by language in the corporate charter or third-party certifications verifying moral conduct at all levels: people, planet, and prosperity. The objectives foster a regenerative business structure at the outset, that can then be maintained through any economic environment.
2019 Social Impact Report
$89M in regenerative investments are spread across several main categories of impact.
The Ujima Fund launched in Boston in 2017 as an outgrowth of years of organizing for racial and economic justice. Ujima, the first community-controlled loan fund in the US, has raised $1.7 million to date. Ujima is a Swahili word meaning “collective work and responsibility”. The membership of Ujima is comprised of more than 250 working-class people of color living in Boston. As members, they vote on community business standards, neighborhood investment plans, and top community needs. Each member, no matter their level of investment, has one vote. Together, members decide which black-owned cooperatives and social enterprises to invest in, as well as those owned by people of color.
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%.
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.