LIFE IS WHAT WE FOCUS ON. This has long been a meaningful mantra for me. My adoption of it stems from a time when my obsession with bad news caused me distress. Bad news is everywhere, and modern humans are more aware of the problems of the world than any other time in history. The state of the human condition and the planet can be known by pressing a few buttons on our devices. It is an overwhelming quantity of information, and we now face the additional responsibility of discerning its veracity.
Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’
Interest in sustainable, responsible, impactful (SRI) investments continues to rise in the U.S., and globally, according to the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance. The expansion of SRI consciousness has led Natural Investments to grow as well with $1.11 billion of responsibly managed assets now, a 41% increase from the previous year. The firm directs our clients’ assets toward managers that incorporate environmental, social, or governance factors (ESG) into investment decision-making. The purpose is to avoid investments that are involved in resource-depleting activities that contribute to ecosystem harm or wealth inequities. At the same time, advisors at Natural Investments seek opportunities in enterprises that promote solutions to societal problems and support communities.
1: DESPITE SPILLS AND AIR POLLUTION, FOSSIL FUEL COMPANIES AWARD CEOS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL RECORDS
Executive bonus programs at fossil fuel companies, meant to encourage better environmental practices,
evolved to allow firms to award executives full bonuses even in years with major environmental damage or total emission increases.
2:NAVIGATING THE THICKET OF ESG METRICS
With socially responsible investment becoming mainstream, unpacking how environmental, social, and governance (ESG) metrics are analyzed at different firms becomes an important distinction for investors to understand.
3: COMMUNITY INVESTING: TOOLS FOR THESE TIMES
An important pillar of responsible finance, community investing has evolved over the past several decades. The resurgence of anti-racist discussions in the public narrative has invigorated new efforts to support BIPOC low-income communities.
4: EMPLOYEE OWNERSHIP ON THE RISE
Amidst the pandemic and Great Resignation, employee-owned businesses are increasing in the form of cooperatives and employee stock ownership plans (ESOP).
5: MICROSOFT AGREES TO RIGHT TO REPAIR
The movement to reduce electronic waste is picking up steam and corporate giant Microsoft is one of several tech firms bowing to federal pressure, consumer demands, and investor concerns to expand repair options.
As You Sow
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.
Kachuwa Impact Fund is an investment cooperative and public benefit corporation focused on owning and operating “impact real estate” and investing in privately held “impact companies.” As a cooperative, Kachuwa is democratically owned and controlled by its members. Brady Quirk- Garvan of Natural Investments recently met with Blake Jones, founder of Kachuwa Impact Fund, to talk about what makes Kachuwa unique.
Brady Quirk-Garvan: What exactly is Kachuwa Impact Fund’s approach to investing?
Blake Jones: By design, at least 60 percent of Kachuwa’s assets are real estate and no more than 40 percent of its assets are investments. Kachuwa is like a real estate investment trust (REIT) combined with a mutual fund. Our diversified holdings have a positive impact on society and the environment. Kachuwa’s goal is not to maximize financial return; instead, it is to create positive impact while earning reasonable returns for its members that may be considered “below-market.”
In January, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that 2019 was the second hottest year on record, following closely behind 2016. The planet’s five warmest years have all occurred since 2015, and nine of the ten warmest years have occurred since 2005.
There is now overwhelming scientific consensus that CO2 emissions from fossil-fuels are a primary cause for our rising average global temperatures. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states, “Human activities are responsible for almost all of the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the last 15 years.” The obvious remedy? A steep reduction of CO2 emissions.
In the last year, the climate crisis seems to have finally gotten its due in mainstream culture. The deniers are still dishing distractions, but the voices for change are now front and center. Perhaps Greta Thunberg’s sailboat journey to the United Nations was the turning point? Was it the asset manager BlackRock finally making a public declaration on the urgency of sustainability? Or maybe Amazon’s Climate Pledge to achieve “net-zero” carbon emissions by 2040? Certainly, the wildfires, floods, and sixty-degree weather in Antarctica make it harder to pretend the climate crisis hasn’t begun. Whatever future historians peg as the tipping point, it’s clear that we must mobilize a massive change in our entire global economy.
Natural Investments continues to purchase offsets for the carbon impact of our business activities. Our primary carbon impact comes from air travel for conferences and meetings.
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.
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.
As frontrunners of the socially responsible investing movement, we at Natural Investments are “resilient investors” who are working off a radical new map of the investing universe. We invite you to navigate your own path across this vast terrain. But before we start exploring the nooks and crannies, let’s take a moment to ask the fundamental question: why invest?
Some would say this is obvious—we invest to build wealth. And what’s the point of building wealth? To be secure? To then build even more security and more wealth? Isn’t that what we all want? Well, no, at least not in the way it’s usually presented. While we take it as a given that most people want to increase their financial assets (at least up to a point) and have some nice things, traditional measurements of personal wealth are inadequate, often ignoring that which gives us the most satisfaction. Economists measure our “standard of living,” but what we’re really after is a higher “quality of life”—and while there is overlap, those two are not the same thing! The point of investing, we’d like to suggest, isn’t just about having more, but about being happy in a full, classical sense.
Let’s look back—back as far as 2500 years—for help in answering these questions. Aristotle, writing in the Nicomachean Ethics, described the point of a well-lived life, the goal we should be aiming for, as “blessedness.” For Aristotle, blessedness meant enjoying family and friends, with a deep feeling of well-being and contentment. In our day, this ideal might suggest a mature experience of knowing one’s mission, succeeding at pursuing that mission, having a solid primary relationship and close friends and family, having sufficient financial resources to live well according to your own standards, to be making a contribution and leaving a legacy one can be proud of, and staying in right relationship to the natural world that sustains life. It’s not about more—it’s about better!
We don’t think of investing as simply a professional, numbers-crunching discipline; for us it’s something much more fundamental. We believe investing should support financial goals (buy a house, start a business) and it should support the bigger and deeper and more profound purpose of a life: Aristotle’s blessedness. Investing can help each of us live a better life, and it can help improve communities and build a better world for all.
To do this, we must first break out of the confines that limit our ideas about wealth. Financial choices are just one part of a continual process of giving and receiving, balancing risk and reward, and exchanging time, energy, and money with those around you. So let’s make room for values and communities, for society and the Earth. And let’s expand our vision to include the interior realms of emotional and spiritual well-being as well, which are enduring elements of healthy human development. By doing so, we are bound to get more relevant, and more life-nourishing results.