Last fall, NI Managing Partner Michael Kramer gave a 45-minute talk at a conference in his home state of Hawaii that offers an good introduction to socially responsible investing and our variation on the theme, resilient investing. It catches Michael in a relaxed setting, and it’s recently been posted at the conference website (or click through to see it embedded below). Their teaser includes some of their favorite quotes from Michael’s talk:
“We think investors have a right to know. We want to require the disclosure of political contributions. I won’t use Verizon because I know how much money they contribute to the conservative side of the political equation… Imagine if all companies were required to disclose that publicly then you would know that and could make a decision about whether you want to own that company.” (Timecode 21:40).
“We have not fixed hardly any of the problems that caused that financial meltdown eight years ago… It is still going on because the Republicans in congress want to treat the economy like the Wild West.” (Timecode 22:20).
On March 27, 2017, the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance (GSIA) released its biennial Global Sustainable Investment Review 2016, showing that global sustainable investment assets reached $22.89 trillion at the start of 2016, a 25% increase from 2014.
Socially responsible investment (SRI) continues to grow as a favored set of investment strategies:
Europe accounts for 53% of these assets, the United States at 38%.
In nearly every market represented in the report, sustainable investing has grown in both absolute and relative terms since the beginning of 2014.
Environmental, social, and governance performance and/or criteria integration is being applied to $10.37 trillion in assets.
Growing global concern over climate change has resulted in rising interest in green finance, including climate-aligned bonds.
Fiduciary duty and client demand are key growth drivers for sustainable investing.
While institutional investors hold the largest percentage of SRI assets, with pension funds often comprising the largest percentage of institutional SRI assets, interest by individual and family investors is growing. The relative proportion of individual and family SRI investments in Canada, Europe, and the United States increased from 13% in 2014 to 26% at the start of 2016. Over a third of SRI assets in the United States were owned by individuals and families.
Now in its third edition, the biennial Global Sustainable Investment Review is the only report presenting results from Europe, the United States, Canada, Asia, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. The report draws on in-depth regional and national reports from GSIA members—Eurosif, Responsible Investment Association Australasia, RIA Canada, and US SIF—as well as data and insights from the Principles for Responsible Investment, JSIF (Japan), LatinSIF, and the African Investing for Impact Barometer. Together, these resources provide data points, insights, analysis, and examples of the shape of sustainable investing worldwide.
About Global Sustainable Investment Alliance
The Global Sustainable Investment Alliance (GSIA) is a collaboration of membership-based sustainable investment organizations around the world. It includes US SIF, UK SIF, Eurosif, RIA Canada, VBDO (Netherlands), and the Responsible Investment Association Australasia (RIAA). The GSIA’s mission is to deepen and expand the practice of sustainable, responsible, and impact investing through intentional international collaboration. Our vision is a world where sustainable investment is integrated into financial systems and the investment chain and where all regions of the world have coverage by vigorous membership based institutions that represent and advance the sustainable investment community. www.gsi-alliance.org
Seattle Weekly had a nice piece this week that begins by discussing recent protests against Wells Fargo’s bankrolling of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and expands into a broader exploration of the hurdles that some people encounter when they ask mainstream investment advisors to help them avoid putting their money to work in ways that are counter to their values:
That experience isn’t uncommon, say two of the advisors at Natural Investments, LLC, a “sustainable, responsible and impact” (SRI) investment firm with a branch in Seattle. “What people tell us when they find us,” says Ryan Jones-Casey, director of client services, is often something like, “’I’ve heard that I can do socially responsible investing, but I talked to my advisor at JP Morgan, and he said I’m going to lose money; he said it’s not worth my time.’”
The article’s author turned to two of the most recent additions to Natural Investments’ team for comments and additional perspective. Eric Smith and Ryan Jones-Casey joined forces with NI in 2016, and are fitting in great. We’re now up to fifteen offices nationwide, staffed by our collaborative team of independent investment advisors.
Letting the past predict the future, brokers lean on old patterns and ideas about what makes money on Wall Street. Like, “I don’t want to learn something new; I’ve always done it this way,” says Smith. Not to mention that “a lot of people in the financial services industry tend to be relatively conservative,” he adds, so if some of the political aspects of SRI “[don’t] fit their philosophy, they don’t want their clients to do it.”
Certainly, “fear is a powerful barrier to change” in investing, says Jones-Casey. But he and Smith argue that a company that is resource efficient, watches its carbon footprint, and cares about human rights “is a more enlightened company,” and this kind of enlightenment “is actually the very thing that will lead to better financial performance over the long term. But that kind of thing is not at all the dominant paradigm in the financial services industry.”
In 2008, as President Bush was running for the hills, his Department of Labor issued guidance for pension plan fiduciaries that suggested that they should not consider non-financial factors in the investment selection and management process. The guidance had a chilling effect—mission-oriented fiduciaries managing assets for foundations, universities, and public pensions interpreted the guidance as a serious limitation on their discretion to consider the environmental, social, and governance analyses that are fundamental to an SRI approach.
Thankfully, Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez was amenable to our advocacy.
Climate change hysteria. Tar sands and fracking. Prices for oil and gasoline on a roller coaster. What in the world is going on with fossil fuels?
I’m no expert on energy, but as a fascinated observer, it’s been increasingly dawning on me that perhaps we are seeing the beginning of the end of an era. Of course, the end of fossil fuels will probably take decades to unfold—though change can also happen with surprising speed. (Think: the ubiquitous smartphone is not even ten years old yet!)
A permanent shift towards a low-carbon economy certainly appears to be underway. A number of key forces are working in concert to fundamentally change how energy is produced and consumed in our modern economies. These include new production technologies, evolving political realities around climate change, increasing energy efficiency, and the rise of renewable energy and electric vehicles. All of these are trends that look to be with us for a long time, inexorably pushing us towards a green energy future and away from polluting fossil fuels.
We were pleased to see that our very own Greg Pitts was one of the three investing professionals quoted in a recent Reuters article on responsible investing, written in the wake of the California natural gas leak. The theme of the piece was investors who are just now realizing that their 401(k) or mutual fund portfolio includes many companies that they’d rather not be involved with, and that returns are likely to be the same or better if they are more discerning. Greg’s primary point was one that we don’t hear often enough:
For many, legacy is going beyond the amount of money that they hand down. People want to make the world a better place for their kids – and are using their investments to do that.
Greg Pitts mans Natural Investments’ NY offices in Ithaca and New York city, and works with clients from other regions electronically.
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,
In the wake of the Citizens United decision, which opened the doors even wider to unfettered political contributions by corporations and the well-heeled, we have seen increasing calls for more transparency and accountability in the elections funding system. Justice Anthony Kennedy gave voice to such concerns in his Citizens United dissent, stressing that “prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions.”
A few weeks ago, former SEC Commissioners Bevis Longstreth, William Donaldson, and Arthur Levitt send a letter to current SEC Chair Mary Jo White demanding that the SEC begin proceedings on political spending rulemaking, which has been stalled for nearly four years since a group of leading law professors submitted a formal petition seeking mandatory disclosure of political spending by public companies. That petition received a record 1.2 million public written comments of support, indicating that citizens, and many shareholders, desire more transparency on this issue.
In their letter, the three former SEC Commissioners assert that “the Commission’s inaction is inexplicable, . . .
As a financial advisor focusing on Sustainable, Responsible, and Impact (SRI) investing, over the years, I have spoken with countless people that have questioned the financial performance of SRI investments. These people either believe, or think there’s a good possibility, that investing in SRI means giving up some returns. In my experience, this idea is held by both those attracted to it and those who are not. Why is this? Over the years, many studies and even meta-studies (research analyzing the results of a number of studies on a topic) have shown that SRI is either positive or neutral for performance relative to conventional portfolios. Perhaps our industry has failed to get the good news out. It may also be the case that the mainstream investment industry is spreading mistruths about SRI performance in order to prevent assets from moving to SRI managers. Fortunately, a couple new reports were released earlier this year which shed some new light on this issue, and strongly support our long-held belief that SRI is actually a source of both financial and operational outperformance.
This article from NI’s Andy Loving was originally published in the February 2015 edition of the Green Money Journal. It offers some much-needed perspective on the recent surge of mainstream investment interest in ESG measures, which is often celebrated as being synonymous with SRI and its historic goals. Andy begs to differ.
I have spent my 20-year career as a financial advisor working with people who want their faith and their values to be reflected in their use and investment of their money. From the beginning, I have been a socially responsible investing advisor to organize money for social change, while serving the needs and commitments of my clients.
But today’s social investing marketplace is increasingly driven by ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) investments. The social investing “tent” has indeed gotten much bigger and, in the process, many strongly held values that my clients and I have seen as so important now seem unimportant, or at least less important, to many in the industry. Growth often results in increasing diversity, which can be a good thing. But in the changes in the social investing industry, certain values and priorities have been de-emphasized to the point that the character of the industry is significantly changed.
Information in the recently published 10th edition of the US SIF Trends Report on SRI documents concerns. The headline news of the Trends Report is, of course, the 76 percent increase over two years of U.S.-domiciled assets under management using SRI strategies. The jump from $3.74 trillion in 2012 to $6.57 trillion in 2014 was startling, encouraging and almost unbelievable. But of that more recent number, $6.2 trillion were assets where ESG factors only were being incorporated into investment decisions. There was no involvement in shareholder activism and community/impact investing.
These numbers indicate that many mainline money managers now believe ESG factors can and do influence the financial bottom line, making ESG material to profit maximization. The mainline Wall Street firms are finally believing what the SRI industry has been saying for decades.
The report also contains information about two other important areas of activity – shareholder advocacy and community investing/impact investing – where the news is not quite so encouraging.