Celebrating 25 Years! The SRI Conference
by Steve Schueth and George Gay,
First Affirmative Financial Network
How time flies! When your work is in service to humanity; when your business has a higher purpose; when you are on the “bleeding edge” of birthing and growing a new industry; when at the end of almost every day you feel tired and fulfilled — time really does fly.
It’s been twenty-five years since George Gay hosted the first SRI Conference. It was an innovative way to comply with a regulatory requirement that he conduct a “compliance audit” of each of the advisors he was responsible for supervising. At that time, in 1990, some 40 representatives of the firm were scattered across the country and the financial resources needed to travel and visit each of the far-flung offices simply weren’t available.
Two years before, the company that is now First Affirmative Financial Network had committed to a focus on SRI, which in those days was an acronym for “socially responsible investing.” The venue for that first conference was a little dude ranch not far from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the theme of that first gathering of a few dozen socially conscious investment advisors supported by a hand full of sponsoring organizations was “SRI in the Rockies.”
Fast-forward twenty-five years. SRI is now shorthand for “Sustainable, Responsible, Impact” and The SRI Conference is the longest running event of its kind in the world. The SRI Conference is a place where investors and investment professionals who are working to direct the flow of investment capital in more positive, healthy, and transformative ways come together to teach and learn and collaborate. It’s an annual event that has helped catalyze the understanding that all investments have impact, and that intentionally directing investment strategies for positive impact can produce competitive financial returns while enhancing the common good.
In 2011, SRI in the Rockies became The SRI Conference on Sustainable, Responsible, Impact Investing. Why are those three words so important and so meaningful? Because they reflect the motivations and inspirations of investors who are attracted to this more conscious approach to investing. Such investors are generally…
• Seeking to own the most responsible corporate citizens—companies of the future.
• Wanting their investments to produce competitive returns and have a positive impact on our world—at the same time.
Many long-time friends and conference attendees cannot kick the habit of calling this conference “SRI in the Rockies.” That’s okay. We share fond memories of the days when we all worked on the fringes of the financial services industry to change the way money works in the world. We feel a deep bond with the many industry colleagues who attended previous conferences with the intention of figuring out how to direct the flow of investment capital to change the world for the better. Together we have come a long way toward proving the concept — that ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) analysis and integration can reduce risk and enhance long-term portfolio returns. Most importantly, we know that your appreciation for the industry-building role that The SRI Conference has played runs deep.
Hosting The SRI Conference has allowed us to bring friends to some of the most beautiful locations in the United States. Off-season ski resorts like Snowmass, Breckenridge, Keystone, Snowbird, and Big Sky led to Lake Louise and Whistler in Canada. Jackson Lake Lodge in 1996 was where we held the first joint event co-produced by First Affirmative and the Social Investment Forum (now US SIF). The unforgettable 9-11 experience created bonds that will never be broken. Bishop’s Lodge and Tamaya in New Mexico; our visit to Lake Tahoe; the beautiful JW Marriott properties in Tucson and San Antonio stand in stark contrast to the earliest days with intimate groups at the rustic Hidden Valley Ranch and The Nature Place.
But, of course, more important than the places were the people. Memorable speakers were commonplace, with every key leader in the SRI space joining us at least once and for some, many times over the years. Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, notable authors from Dr. Jane Goodall to Deepak Chopra, and key thought leaders like Joel Makower, Jed Emerson, David Blood, William McDonough, Hunter Lovins, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and Tom Steyer (just to name a few) have shared the main stage with our industry’s internal experts.
Ranging from 45 people at the first gathering in 1990 to 700 participants at Whistler, our extended family has joined us for a reunion of sorts every year for over two decades. The SRI Conference has created key opportunities to share a meal or a hike or a soak in a hot tub; and unparalleled opportunities for networking and recharging batteries for a return to the important work to be done. Many initiatives were identified, working groups created, and collaborations formed around critical regulatory or corporate advocacy campaigns.
Each conference arrives just a little bit more quickly than the one before. A few friends, such as Joan Bavaria and Peter Camejo, are no longer with us, and others are no longer up to the trip. But each year we welcome the new, energetic industry leaders, and eagerly welcome other new participants as we observe a growing realization that responsible investing is a key component of the solution set for so many challenges facing our world today.
In 2002, during our first visit to The Broadmoor, Mel Miller, then of Dubuque Bank & Trust, in his Economic Forecast, predicted that within a decade, we would fill the Broadmoor Hotel. Mel’s predictions were off by just a little… Now he’s First Affirmative’s Chief Economist; no one predicted that. And this will be our fourth trip to The Broadmoor!
The Curtain Rises on the 2014 Conference – November 9 – 11
Steve facilitates the work of a 15-person volunteer Agenda Committee, develops the content, and populates The SRI Conference with experts and thought leaders on a variety of issues. Once again this year, the Agenda Committee was challenged with reviewing some 90 proposals to fill just 20 breakout session time slots. The “embarrassment of wealth” in terms of speakers recommended and topics proposed is truly remarkable and somewhat overwhelming (in a good way!). The Agenda Committee does an extraordinary job of identifying the most juicy and timely topics, weaving proposals with similar approaches together, and creating outstanding content for all conference participants to enjoy.
Our opening night speaker this year is Susan K. Avery, President and Director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Dr. Avery will provide a holistic update to the climate change challenges we all face — including affects and impacts on our land, sea, air, and atmosphere, and implications for companies and investors.
Another plenary session focused on the crucially important topic of women’s empowerment will feature Barbara Krumsiek, President and CEO of Calvert Investments; Audrey Choi, CEO of Morgan Stanley’s Institute for Sustainable Investing; and Julie Gorte, Senior Vice President for Sustainable Investing at Pax World Management. This panel of experts will explore how we as investors can mobilize our tools and influence to help corporations understand the importance of women’s empowerment and its relevance to the company’s value proposition, competitive advantage, and long-term performance.
Former Colorado Governor, Bill Ritter, now the Director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University, will engage with us on the topic of state leadership (since we aren’t seeing much in the way of leadership out of Washington). Gov. Ritter will be joined on stage by Cylvia Hayes, CEO of 3E Strategies and First Lady of the State of Oregon for a high energy exchange about how it’s up to us — how states and municipalities are powering forward and leading the way to a truly sustainable future.
Patrick Doherty, Director of the Strategic Innovation Lab at Case Western Reserve University, will be discussing a project aimed at developing a Grand Strategy for the United States, similar to that which guided both government and business in the wake of WWII. And Amory Lovins will be updating the predictions presented in his 2012 book, Reinventing Fire, and talking about some of the futuristic things that investors and consumers can look forward to. When we first met Amory more than 20 years ago, he was talking about hybrid automobiles — and now many people who will attend The SRI Conference drive a Prius, or a similar hybrid from a competing manufacturer.
We have organized the breakout sessions into four tracks: ESG Integration and Portfolio Management, Impact Investing, Shareowner Advocacy, and Professional Education. We expect to be able to offer 4-6 hours of continuing education credit for investment professionals with CFP and CIMA designations. Breakout session topics will cover stranded asset risks, water issues, going beyond GDP, innovations in shareowner advocacy, the impact Millennials and women will have on our industry, and the “great debate” over Modern Portfolio Theory.
The main stage of The SRI Conference will also be the platform for awarding the 19th annual Moskowitz Prize for academic research on a topic of interest to the SRI/ESG industry. We are also proud to once again be awarding the EthicMark Award for videos that uplift the human spirit. And the 25th annual SRI Service Award will be part of the finale on November 11th — followed by a party and dancing into the wee hours!
Topic Tables are perhaps one of the most popular elements of an SRI Conference experience — especially for first-time attendees. Topic Tables are popular conversation circles that provide an informal opportunity for participants to share ideas on topics of mutual interest. This year, we have built a long Topic Table lunch into the agenda on both November 10th and November 11th. Those whose proposals didn’t make it onto the agenda, or who missed the window of opportunity to secure a spot in the Exhibit Hall (we are sold out!), or who have a special issue or service they would like to talk with others about, can host a Topic Table and attract others with a similar interest.
There really is no way to preview everything that will be happening at this conference, and there are a few surprises we don’t want to talk about in advance. So check the conference website at www.SRIconference.com periodically and keep abreast of the speakers, topics, and special events that are woven into the conference agenda.
What kind of encore are we planning for the next five, ten, twenty-five years…? The one thing we know for certain is that we will be back at The Broadmoor in early November 2015, and again, we will do our best to deliver an extraordinary conference experience for anyone who chooses to join us for the 26th annual SRI Conference. We continue to work to serve a higher purpose. We continue to pour our energy into proving the case for sustainable business and growing the SRI/ESG industry — assisting investors and investment professionals with directing the flow of investment capital to catalyze a shift to a truly sustainable future.
We will be delighted to see you at The Broadmoor, November 9-11, 2014. We hope you can join us to celebrate 25 years!
Article by George R. Gay, Chief Executive Officer of First Affirmative Financial Network, LLC and founder of The SRI Conference. And by Steve Schueth, President of First Affirmative, who has been involved with the conference only since 1992. First Affirmative ( www.firstaffirmative.com ) owns and produces The SRI Conference–on Sustainable, Responsible, Impact Investing.