As You Sow’s Invest Your Values wins FC’s World Changing Ideas Award
This online tool helps you make sure your retirement investments reflect your values
The mutual fund—essentially a basket of stocks—is a common investment option in employees’ retirement funds. What many workers don’t realize, though, is that the basket they’ve picked, usually from a limited set of options offered by a financial institution, is often filled to the brim with shares representing the most contentious industries in America: weapons manufacturers, big tobacco, and fossil fuels.
But people increasingly want to know that the conglomeration of corporations that they part-own is clean. That’s where As You Sow’s “Invest Your Values” online tool comes into play. The tool, the winner in the impact investing category of Fast Company’s 2020 World Changing Ideas Awards, gives users a chance to view what’s in the funds they’re paying into and—if they don’t like what they find—to pick a mutual fund more aligned with their politics. “Its essence is to help everyday investors to align their investing with their values,” says Andrew Behar, As You Sow’s CEO.
Most people are unaware of where their retirement fund money is going. Personal investors are able to be more scrupulous—1 in 4 dollars invested in 2018 were in sustainable and responsible companies, according to a report by the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment—but that’s not true for people kept in the dark about the mutual funds that are part of their 401ks. Unknown to them, Behar says, they’re owning shares in assault rifles, weapons of war, and “the Exxons and Chevrons of the world.”
The roughly 1 million users of the free tool simply input the name of a fund to find where their money is going. On that fund’s page, they’ll find a letter grade, A to F, according to its inclusion of “vice stocks” such as gun or tobacco manufacturers, companies that encourage deforestation, or businesses that have bad records on gender equality, for instance, questionable histories on maternity leave, sexual harassment, and gender balance in the workplace.
If someone especially cares about rain forest destruction, say, they can view metrics for a fund’s commodities that contribute to deforestation, land grabbing, and human rights abuses, “companies that are literally burning down the Indonesian rain forest for palm oil, or burning down the Amazon rain forest for paper, pulp, timber, rubber, and soy,” Behar says. They can also see a list of the banks that are underwriting and lending to those producers and the consumer brands that source those products and sell them worldwide.
Article by Talib Visram of Fast Company from the World Changing Ideas issue (May/June 2020)