Tag: Sustainable Business

Moving Beyond Child Labor-Faith Investors Must Pay Greater Attention to Market Decisions-by Julie Tanner-Christian Bros Investment Serv

Moving Beyond Child Labor: Faith Investors Must Pay Greater Attention to Impacts on Children from Our Market Decisions

By Julie Tanner, Christian Brothers Investment Services

Julie Tanner-CBIS(Above – Julie Tanner at the Vatican attending the Address of his Holiness Pope Francis during The Congress on Child Dignity in the Digital World that was held in November 2019.)

Faith investors have long engaged companies and governments on exploitative practices involving child labor. They have also weighed in on negative infant formula marketing, violent video games, and obesity impacts from junk food over the past four decades. In fact, faith investors are typically the first shareowners to flag negative business impacts on children.

However, children are increasingly affected by corporate practices extending far beyond labor and other traditional focus issues. It is critical for faith investors to take the lead in highlighting the full range of harms facing young people, and build broad coalitions to work with companies and governments to advance children’s rights.

At Christian Brothers Investment Services (CBIS), we have focused on protecting children from sexual exploitation online since 2016. Our work on this issue has revealed a larger problem: Too often, children are not considered in corporate dialogues on human rights, or the due diligence companies conduct before launching a product or service. We hope that by working together, investors can help change that dynamic.

When CBIS became the first investor to engage tech, social media, and telecom companies on child sexual exploitation four years ago, few businesses were discussing this growing threat. We drew inspiration from Pope Francis’ sense of urgency on the issue, and Catholic social doctrine that implores us “to engage in a battle… against the violations of the dignity of [children] caused by sexual exploitation.”

At the time, there wasn’t much research to make an investment case for change. We were driven by a moral conviction that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) companies needed to tackle the escalating spread of child sex abuse material online. When we surveyed our Catholic investors on 40 issues related to human dignity, economic justice and environmental stewardship, child sexual exploitation online emerged as a top concern.

In 2017, CBIS conducted interviews and learning sessions to a broad range of experts on preventing child exploitation. We also began working with child welfare advocates to refine our requests of ICT companies. In addition, CBIS performed due diligence on U.S. and international legal frameworks that compel or prevent companies from taking appropriate action. We discovered that U.S. law compels several types of ICT companies to report child sex abuse content when found, but not to actively seek it out. With that revelation, we knew we needed to raise awareness among fellow investors and build alliances to amass enough influence to convince companies to rethink their core strategies.

Today, CBIS is part of a growing coalition of investors pressuring them to do more to protect children online from sexual harm and broader exploitation. In collaboration with issue experts, we seek to convince ICT companies to improve their practices to more effectively identify, disrupt, and prevent child sexual grooming and abuse on the internet.

Our work focuses not only on eliminating certain activity, but addressing the fact that the entire ecosystem around internet technology is not “fit for purpose” to keep children safe. We now ask companies to assess child rights and risks across their enterprises to truly evaluate their impacts on their most vulnerable stakeholders. We have also raised the issue of “safety by design,” asking ICT companies to consider user and child safety at the start of the process of designing a new device, service, or app.

Beyond moral arguments, we now know there is a strong investment case for these engagements. ICT companies are now widely held components of many investor portfolios. However, without effective practices to protect children from sexual exploitation online, they face brand, reputational, and legal risks. Companies may also feel direct financial consequences in the form of advertiser boycotts. In fact, in addition to engaging the ICT sector, CBIS seeks to exert indirect influence by educating online advertisers to push for higher child safety standards when deciding where to spend their marketing dollars. CBIS has also encouraged data plan and device sellers to ask device makers to consider child protection during the design process.

Since beginning our work with ICT companies, CBIS has seen progress on multiple fronts:

  • Apple Corporation implemented a policy in 2017 of removing apps from its App Store, and reporting the companies to authorities, if they are found facilitating human trafficking or child sex abuse. In 2019, Apple revised its user policies to indicate it was pre-scanning user materials in the iCloud to identify child sex abuse imagery.
  • Facebook has launched a child sexual exploitation video detection tool. After plans for more widespread encryption drew concern from observers, Facebook launched a multi-year plan to detect grooming and child sex abuse through metadata analysis of user information and other tools.
  • Alphabet platform YouTube announced new restrictions on users’ abilities to post comments after family videos received unwanted attention from pedophiles. YouTube also removed hundreds of accounts over these incidents in 2019.
  • Verizon and AT&T agreed to conduct a child rights and risk impact assessment across their businesses in 2020. Both also recently launched internal Online Safety Committees, and now report to their boards on online safety and child exploitation issues.
  • Six of the companies CBIS has engaged have committed to reporting metrics around preventing child sexual exploitation online. All companies we have engaged thus far increased their involvement in initiatives such as child protection groups, abuse reporting hotlines, improved detection tools, and awareness-building campaigns.

In 2019, Pope Francis proclaimed that investors and asset managers must hold ICT companies accountable for eradicating child sex abuse activity from their platforms and products. Now more than ever, investors must galvanize to heed this call to action—and fulfill the the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals to drive down violence and exploitation facing children worldwide.

Together, we must demand better performance and disclosure from companies, identify leading practices, and help spur industrywide cooperation on child protection. With 800,000 children going online for the very first time every day, we are called upon to take responsibility for our investments in the ICT sector by calling for an internet that works for children.

 

Article by Julie B. Tanner, Managing Director – Catholic Responsible Investments SM, Christian Bros Investment Services

Ms. Tanner leads the development and implementation of CBIS’ Catholic Responsible Investments SM Program and oversees a team responsible for Catholic investment screening, engagement and proxy voting activities. In addition, she crafts substantive agreements and strategic initiatives with boards and senior management in order to positively influence corporations and their impact on society. She is a member of the governing board of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) and is a member representative of Partners For The Common Good, which provides critical financial products and services to low-income people and communities.

Prior to joining CBIS in 2002, Ms. Tanner spent ten years in the financial services industry, most recently with JPMorgan Chase, before moving to lead the Finance and Environment Program at National Wildlife Federation. Ms. Tanner holds a B.A. from Rutgers University, an M.B.A. from Pace University, and an M.S. from North Carolina State University.

 

The securities identified and described do not represent all of the securities purchased, sold or recommended for CUIT Funds, CBIS Global Funds and separate managed accounts. For a complete list of securities please contact CBIS. The reader should not assume that an investment in the securities identified was or will be profitable.

Additional Articles, Food & Farming, Impact Investing, Sustainable Business

Faithful Finance-Strategies for Connecting Values and Capital-by Kate Walsh-Global Impact Investing Network

Faithful Finance: Strategies for Connecting Values and Capital to Generate Real-World Impact

By Kate Walsh, Global Impact Investing Network

Kate Walsh-Global Impact Investing NetworkFaith-based investors have been pioneers in the field of responsible investing for nearly fifty years. In 1971, the Episcopal Church penned the first shareholder resolution addressing a social concern: racial segregation. Empowered by their ownership stake, the church called for General Motors to divest from South Africa until apartheid was ended. Paul Neuhauser, author of the resolution, later reflected on the church’s underlying conviction: “Our view was that, because of the conditions there, they should not operate under such immoral conditions.” That demand ultimately prompted a number of major corporations operating in South Africa to adopt the Sullivan Principles, a set of operating guidelines focused on basic fairness and anti-segregation.

By wielding their power effectively, these early faith-based investors generated change – and sparked a movement. They knew their work was essential fifty years ago, and it is even more important now.

Today, we need an “all hands-on deck” approach as the urgent issues of climate change, racial and social injustice, and inequality reach their tipping points. We also need leadership through varied approaches to solve these crises. Allocating substantial capital to promising solutions is one of the most effective way to address these concerns. Impact investing – that is, investing with the intention to generate positive, measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial return – offers precisely such an approach.

As the global champion of impact investing, the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) has long recognized the important role of faith-based investors and, in 2019, began a project to deepen our engagement with this community. We sought to understand what might prevent faith-based investors from allocating capital to impact investment and to identify ways that more faith-based assets could be invested in alignment with their missions.

Although the field of faith-consistent investing is wonderfully diverse, three key themes emerged from our research as strategies for faith-based investors to more effectively generate the positive change they seek: realize the opportunity, articulate your impact goals, and work in community.

Realize the opportunity: Impact investing is a natural extension of the values of faith-based investors. However, not all have realized this alignment and, thus, may be missing an important opportunity.  Many faith-based investors told us that they and their financial consultants may have limited knowledge or experience of impact investments. Without that understanding, these investors may overlook the powerful ways that impact investments can align with both the mission and financial goals of their organization. So, broader awareness of the opportunity presented by impact investing is critical.

Key decision-makers must also recognize that impact investments exist across asset classes and across the risk-return spectrum. This means that there is likely an investment product for any faith-based investor appetite. Even for investors who will consider only low-risk and market rate returns for their investment portfolio, there are still opportunities to find impact products that meet asset owners financial and moral goals.

Faith-based shareholders also have an opportunity to advocate in a more internal setting, encouraging their internal managers and decision-makers to learn about impact investing and insisting that these products be offered to the organization. The investors should always decide what purpose is attached to their capital.

Articulating impact goals: In order for faith-based investors to operate more effectively, they must clearly vocalize the end results they are seeking. This is the second strategy uncovered by our research. In the GIIN’s 2019 Annual Impact Investors Survey, some fund managers indicated that their fund simply did not offer a specific impact theme of interest to faith-based investors; the managers listed this as a top challenge. To meet this need, fund managers and advisors will have to reflect on the mission of the faith-based institution. When the institution has clearly articulated its end goals, it is easier for financial advisors and consultants to seek out the right financial opportunities. While there are many products in the market that may match with faith-aligned values, financial institutions may sometimes need to create a new product to meet a specific need of a faith-based organization. However, for such innovation to occur, the first step is a clearly articulated and measurable impact goal.

Come together: The final strategy for realizing a deeper alignment of impact investing in faith-based portfolios is through partnership. This approach is the most complex – and perhaps the most necessary, as it can amplify the effectiveness of the first two strategies.

As faith communities know from their decades of advocacy, there is deep benefit in coming together to share knowledge and grow commitments aimed at achieving meaningful real-world changes. Those same lessons can be applied to faith-based investing efforts. As investors, faith communities must learn from each other, coordinate across different groups, and make their collective capital count. By partnering, both inside and outside their faith, resources are shared, knowledge is spread, and capital can be placed in ways that directly address the pressing challenges we all face.

As 2020 draws to a close, more and more people are seeing the reality that the Episcopal Church shareholders realized back in 1971: that all investments have an impact and that, with intention and focus, those impacts can be positive. Indeed, for faith-based investors, there has never been more urgency to ensuring that your investment capital is impacting the world “for better” – and in accordance with your values.

That underlying vision of a more aligned world offers a host of powerful benefits. Perhaps its most important benefit is the potential to unify people across faiths, and beyond faith, for the betterment of our world. So, let us take action now – building on the lessons of the past and moving toward a brighter future, together.   

 

Article by Kate Walsh, who serves as the Manager of Faith-Based Investors for the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN). In this role, Kate networks with faith-based investors to encourage the use of impact investing as a tool to further their missions.  

Previously, Kate served as the Associate Director of Investor Advocates for Social Justice (formerly the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment) where she focused on advocacy regarding food sustainability, financial markets reform and forced labor concerns. In addition, she served as a board member for the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR). She is also experienced in impact measurement having previously been the Manager of Program Evaluation for the Actors Fund.

Kate holds a Masters of Public Administration from the Robert F. Wagner School at NYU and a BS in Management & Politics from Fairfield University.

Additional Articles, Energy & Climate, Impact Investing, Sustainable Business

Shell International Solar array aerial

Grace vs. Greed: The Church of England Steps into the Climate Breach

By Peter McKillop and Kerrie Sinclair, Climate & Capital Media

A growing band of investment activists led by the Church of England is out to prove that where governments fail, faith (and money) can prevail.

For months the warning signals went ignored. Then at 1:00 pm on January 25, 2019, a vast dam holding iron ore sludge collapsed, swamping the small Brazilian town of Brumadinho with a 26-foot wall of mud, leaving 270 people dead or missing.

After a few token gestures of concern—a ministerial visit, a few arrests, and a $4.7 million fine against the dam owner, Brazilian metals and mining giant, Vale S.A. – Brazil and the $324 billion metals mining industry looked forward to moving on.

It was to be business as usual until a group of influential institutional investors stepped in.

Outraged at the corporate irresponsibility, they vowed to use their combined $14 trillion in financial clout to demand more corporate accountability and oversight of 1,700 mine tailing dams around the world.

The Church of England logoLeading the charge was one of the world’s most progressive institutional shareholders, the Church of England Pensions Board, led by its charismatic director of ethics and engagement, Adam Matthews. Along with the Swedish National Pension Funds, Matthews created a coalition of investors that successfully pressured the mining industry to impose new and far-reaching rules on how the industry monitors mine tailings dams around the world.

“It shouldn’t have happened, and we made a concerted effort, with others, to try to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” Matthews told Climate & Capital Media.

Adam Matthews-photo by Geoff Pugh
Adam Matthews, photo by Geoff Pugh

With $3.1 billion in assets, the Church of England Pensions Board is a relatively small player by institutional money standards. (BlackRock, by comparison, manages $7 trillion in assets.) But, what the Church lacks in assets is more than made up for by Matthews’ passion to mobilize the once-sleepy world of institutional asset managers.

His efforts are on the vanguard of a growing trend among activist institutional investors who are no longer waiting for governments to tackle the world’s most important environmental and social issues, particularly climate change.

Church and State

Most governments continue to ignore the most ambitious Paris Agreement goal to achieve 1.5 degrees Celsius warming limit, instead fast-tracking the Earth’s average temperature to rise by more than 3 degrees Celsius, which would make the planet all but uninhabitable for humans. Taking their cues from years of government lip service, the world’s largest energy companies have continued to not decrease but increase fossil fuel investments.

Activist institutional investors say that tide must turn and so now is the time for radical engagement. With governments dawdling on the sidelines, Matthews is determined to unleash what former Goldman Sachs economist Bob Litterman calls the “awesome power” of the finance industry. By demonstrating what can be done, investors hope it would encourage reluctant governments to step up and follow the lead of institutional money.

“If the government could see that there’s the commitment and intent,” says Matthews, then the role of finance “may be dominant in the equation,” referring to the role of business and finance in solving climate issues.

This is a far cry from the days when institutional fund managers were often part of the problem, not the solution, content to sit back and clip coupons for its pensioners. When they did engage, it was often on the wrong side, invoking their so-called fiduciary duty to push CEOs to maximize returns and reduce costs, regardless of the impact on the environment and the climate.

Now, Matthews and his growing band of activist institutional investors have a new climate agenda. They are demanding emission cuts, seeking changes in business models, supporting climate shareholder votes, and if necessary, threatening to starve companies of capital if they don’t commit to an acceptable future carbon path.

Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance

Their approach is working. Last year, when Royal Dutch Shell announced it would use investor funds to raise oil and gas production, investors rebelled. Asset manager Sarasin & Partners, in a very public letter, warned Shell’s actions threatened “planetary stability.” Matthews and the Church of England Pensions Board, a Shell shareholder, joined the most ambitious climate investor alliance yet, the Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance, which is working to limit warming in its portfolios to 1.5C—a stronger commitment than the Paris Agreement. Matthews also played a central role by engaging with Shell on behalf of Climate Action 100+, an alliance of over 450 investors.

The pressure worked. Within months, Shell dramatically reversed course. It announced it would strive to be a net zero carbon business by 2050. Where it had once pledged to deliver $125 billion in dividends over the next five years, it now announced its first dividend cut since World War II, reflecting what it described as a fundamental shift to become a net zero business. It now aspires to be the world’s largest electricity company.

A Climate Crusade

Investor pressure also forced the Minerals Council of Australia to adopt the “net zero” goal last month. And while the mining body notorious for killing off any meaningful climate action in Australia refused to issue emission-reduction targets, the investors that own its members, soon will. The Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance later this year will specify targets for net-zero-aligned cuts to be achieved by 2025 by all companies in their portfolios, including the miners.

Forces Resignation of Rio Tinto CEO over Aboriginal Rights

And it is not just in the climate fight that companies are feeling the heat. Last month, the chief executive of mining giant Rio Tinto resigned after an outcry from Matthews and others over the company’s destruction of an ancient Aboriginal archeological site.  The Pensions Board, which is an investor in Rio Tinto, demanded the resignation of Jean-Sebastien Jacques after the extent of the damage done to the sites became clear.

“We are in a completely different situation now that causes us to revisit some fundamental assumptions, and I think you’re beginning to see companies grapple with that,” says Matthews.

Matthews believes the energy industry is beginning to see a differentiation between those companies committed to diversifying themselves and taking on new roles as low-carbon energy providers and those “companies that will just be paying back to their shareholders,” says Matthews. “Some will just hold out and that’s where the investment community can be challenged to decide: walk away or try and replace chairs and directors at these companies.”

“We are in a completely different situation now that causes us to revisit some fundamental assumptions”

Not surprisingly, he has intensified his focus on the US oil and gas sector which he says is “hugely behind” its European peers. This spring, the Church of England joined with the New York State Retirement Fund and Legal & General Investment Management to support a shareholder suit opposing the re-election of Exxon CEO and chairman Darren Woods.

Another key element of his engagement strategy is to target the demand side as well as fossil fuel suppliers in order to reduce demand for these fuels and push key industrial sectors to net-zero pathways. This, he says, “means identifying and rapidly overcoming” any blockages in public policy, financing, and technology. The key, he believes, is to bring together industrial buyers and sellers and incentivize them through investments to work together to reduce their collective carbon footprints.

Post Covid-19 Economic Recovery

A critical milestone for climate progress will be accelerating efforts to pressure governments to integrate climate-related initiatives into any post Covid-19 economic recovery plan. Investors are particularly concerned that even the more progressive efforts, like those in the EU, still fail to include formal conditions ruling out member states’ spending on fossil fuels.

The pandemic transition “requires ambitious policy, combined with corporate leadership, combined with investors,” Matthews says.

Brian O’Callaghan, a researcher at the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment told Climate & Capital Media: “As always with policy design, the devil is in the details. It is vital that policymakers get this right. The stakes are high.”

One tactic the Church had avoided is divesting bond and equity holdings in fossil fuel companies. “Divestment is not the answer. As an asset owner, we always retain that right, but it won’t solve the climate crisis,” said Tom Joy, the Church of England Pensions Board chief investment officer, shortly after joining the 26-member Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance.

A Step Towards Divesting

This month, however, the Church of England took its first step towards divesting from ExxonMobil when the Pensions Board announced it had fully divested from the oil giant because the oil company has failed to set goals to reduce emissions produced by its customers. However, the Church of England through other investment entities does continue to own ExxonMobil equity, and according to a spokesperson, “continues to be actively engaged on climate change with ExxonMobil as a shareholder.”

Its reluctance to divest from fossil fuel companies puts the Church and other activist asset owners at odds with more aggressive climate activists like Greta Thunberg, who are pushing for an immediate divestment of all fossil fuel holdings. But climate-conscious investors say they have no choice: So long as governments run from their climate policy-making responsibilities, activist investors cannot divest.

“If everyone who has good ethics divests, only those with bad ethics control the companies,” says Garry Weaven, the former chair of fund manager IFM Investors which manages around $108 billion worth of assets for 27 Australian industry pension funds.

Investors with a Mission

Rather than divest, investors believe that the only way to rouse somnolent governments is by demonstrating that private coalitions of business leaders, prodded by private financial capital, can successfully push companies towards net zero. These actions would then act as a catalyst by setting an example of effective engagement. This, in turn, will make it easier for opportunistic politicians, particularly in the United States, to challenge the stranglehold the oil and gas industry has on governments. Finance, says Matthews, “has got to be absolutely at the table pushing the low-carbon agenda.”

Matthews is a third-generation fan of Liverpool Football Club. Last week his beloved Reds won their first Premier League title in 30 years. Liverpool’s theme song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” sums up Matthews’s and the Church‘s determination to never let the vulnerable walk alone in the darkest moments. To the mining industry’s surprise, they stepped up after Brazil’s mine tragedy. Now they are determined to do the same with climate change.

(Feature aerial solar array photo, courtesy of Shell International)

 

Article by Peter McKillop and Kerrie Sinclair

Peter McKillop is the Founder of Climate & Capital Media. Previously Mr. McKillop was a Managing Director at BlackRock, where he was responsible for leading the firm’s strategic communications and messaging for its iShares ETF and Indexing business. He has also held senior communication leadership positions at J.P. Morgan, KKR, UBS, and Bank of America. Before entering the financial communications field, Peter was a senior correspondent and bureau chief for Newsweek in New York, Tokyo, and Hong Kong

Kerrie Sinclair, a U.K.-based journalist who covered finance, renewable energy, and climate policy in Australia for News Ltd. She has also worked at Dow Jones Newswires and AFX News, covering European and U.S.-listed companies and financial markets. 

Climate & Capital Media-GreenMoney-Oct.20

Article originally published by Climate and Capital Media. Reprinted with Permission.

Additional Articles, Energy & Climate, Impact Investing, Sustainable Business

Pioneer in Faith and Finance for 50 Years-The United Church of Christ-by Timothy Smith-Boston Trust Walden

The United Church of Christ: Pioneer in Faith and Finance and a Force for Change 50 Years Later

By Timothy Smith, Boston Trust Walden

The United Church of Christ (UCC) was present at the creation of a new era in the intersection of faith and finance. It was a crossroads moment, but few were aware of its significance at the time.

United Church of Christ logoIn the early 1970s, energized by the anti-war and anti-apartheid movements, the women’s movement, and the battle for civil rights, Protestant denominations began to examine how their religious values and social justice positions were reflected in their investing and business decisions. For many years, these existed as different realities in the Church, creating an informal split where the social justice agencies of the Church and the financial offices operated with two different and separate agendas. But that was soon to be challenged, and profoundly so.

By the early 70’s, the UCC’s General Synod had passed resolutions challenging the racist system of apartheid in South Africa, critical of the Vietnam war, and affirming protections for the environment. The Corporate Information Center based in the National Council of Churches began to bridge the gap between statement and action and started looking at major U.S. companies with investments in South Africa, or contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense in support of the war. The connection had been made, and soon there were newspaper stories exposing the fact that denominations owned stock in Dow Chemical, the maker of napalm, or banked with Citibank, then one of the major lenders to the South African government. And, of course, from a theological perspective, it was logical to believe that all the resources and agencies of denominations should be consistently working together for peace and racial justice.

However, translating that belief into reality was not so simple. The social justice staffs in denominations usually had limited skills in investment, and finance and treasurers’ offices were focused on budgets and the financial health of the denomination. Still, a robust discussion started on Christian ethics and investing, examining the ethical soundness of owning stock in companies that made napalm or cluster bombs and considering our leverage as a stockholder in companies where we wanted to raise social justice and moral issues.

Amidst these discussions, the predecessor of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) was born with the support of five denominations, including the UCC. ICCR began the task of coordinating work in the faith community on responsible investing and advocacy with corporations.

The UCC was a pioneer joining with a few others to file shareholder resolutions with companies, bringing important issues to the desks of management and for votes at shareholder meetings. There was no roadmap on how to proceed in this space. Neither investors nor companies had experience in discussions on sensitive issues like investing in apartheid South Africa or strip mining. But into the unknown the United Church of Christ walked. After filing a shareholder resolution with Mobil Oil requesting that the company evaluate and report to shareholders on their operations in South Africa, to our surprise the General Counsel of the company offered to talk and eventually agreed to provide the requested report for investors. This was the first “agreement” resulting from a shareholder resolution, and the UCC was the sponsor and stimulus. A win-win with compromises on both sides.

Apartheid was a prominent focus in those early days, but it wasn’t the only one. Because of our interfaith connection and at the suggestion of the Episcopal Church, the UCC helped create a public hearing in Puerto Rico focusing on the environmental hazards of a proposed copper strip mine in the middle of the island, a huge environmental disaster in the making. This Church-led hearing, which included testimony from the mining company as well as environmental experts, stimulated widespread publicity and unearthed environmental risks that were formerly unexamined. In the end, the permit was pulled for the mine.

“Success” in these early days included getting a three or five percent vote on a shareholder resolution and the accompanying publicity on the important issue being raised. These examples remind us that the UCC has 50 years of history in the area of faith and finance. We were a key creator and pioneer, a lonely prophet at times, and a sensible moral voice in the boardroom at other times.

Let’s jump forward almost half a century. The context for the Sustainable Responsible Impact (SRI) investor is a very different one today. In 2020, the Principles for Responsible Investing (PRI) has global investor members with over $100 trillion in assets affirming their belief that Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing is a duty because these issues affect the company bottom line. The UCC is an active member of PRI.

The Climate Action 100+ campaign, which addresses some of the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters, is made up of investors with over $40 trillion in assets, including the Pension Boards of the UCC, BlackRock, and JPMorgan Chase. They have presented a specific set of climate demands to these companies.

In 2020, twenty social- and climate-related shareholder resolutions resulted in winning votes of over 50 percent and dozens more with votes in the 40-50 percent range, which demonstrates expanding support by investors for these resolutions. There were also dozens of negotiated agreements, when investors and companies worked to find joint agreements that captured progress and allowed for a shareholder resolution to be withdrawn.

As a sign of the expanded engagements by large investors, in 2020, BlackRock announced it was engaging with over 200 companies that needed to improve their climate performance and created a “watch list” of companies threatening to vote against their boards if substantial improvements were not made.

On the corporate side, virtually all large companies now do Sustainability Reports that help them measure, manage, and report on their work to be a sustainable and responsible company. Many include strong climate and diversity goals and describe how they believe their work on sustainability contributes to the bottom line. In 2019, 189 CEOs who were members of the Business Roundtable (BRT) made a joint statement declaring their belief that companies needed to be responsible to stakeholders and not just stockholders (to employees, customers, and communities, for example). While some of the issues being raised by ESG investors have decades of history (diversity, good governance, human rights, expanded transparency), many are new issues. These include plastic pollution, dangerous chemicals in products, food safety, and fair treatment of employees—whether these are U.S. workers facing COVID-19 in the workplace or the safety of factories in Bangladesh. The UCC has worked specifically on the issue of migrant worker health and safety as well as the safety of poultry workers at Tyson Food and forced labor in Chinese factories.

The issue of companies using their considerable stature and dollars to influence public policy has been on investors’ agendas for over a decade. One subset of that discussion is how companies and their trade associations have been lobbying on climate-related issues. Many trade associations have been forceful in blocking forward-looking climate regulations and legislation over the years. Investors including the prestigious Climate Action 100+ coalition have championed this issue with key companies. In Europe there has been considerable success with 15 companies, including Shell and BP, analyzing and evaluating their trade associations’ climate policies, putting some “on watch,” and withdrawing from a few associations with which they disagree on climate.

This same request for a full review of direct and indirect climate lobbying was presented to over 45 U.S companies last year by global investors with over $6 trillion in assets under management.

In addition, investors filed resolutions with several U.S. companies on “climate lobbying.” The resolution to Chevron received a remarkable 53% vote, reflecting strong investor support for a such new initiatives. It is expected that a greater number of dialogues will take place and similar resolutions filed during the remainder of 2020 and through 2021. This obviously raises the profile and may be a force for a changed company voice on climate policy going forward. A taste of things to come!

Today, the UCC is doing its socially responsible investing work in a new and rapidly changing environment. What are the component parts of the UCC’s work moving into this new decade?

Of course, there are basic screens that avoid particular companies or industries such as tobacco, firearms, gaming, and oil/tar sands. And General Synod has given strong guidance and criteria on fossil fuel companies to avoid.

Faith-based investors seek to have all asset cases they utilize be consistent with their faith values. The UCC has looked at fixed income and has invested $300 million in social and green bonds, such as renewable energy and women and minority-owned businesses, and in the private equity arena, joining investments on climate, education and health.

As an “active owner” and engaged investor, the UCC works with other concerned shareowners and uses its voice and leverage as a stockholder to influence company policies, practices, and behavior. This active engagement includes:

  • Writing letters to management, either as the UCC or working with others
  • Joining in public statements on issues like COVID-19 and company responsibilities;
  • Participating in dialogue with management
  • Filing shareholder resolutions to press a specific request with a company in the hope of finding common agreement
  • Sending representatives to speak at stockholder meetings
  • Voting proxies as a responsible owner
  • Working on public policy issues, such as protecting shareholder rights at the SEC and supporting investor use of ESG investing (under attack by the Department of Labor, which is presenting a new proposal limiting ERISA pension funds)
  • Publicly educating UCC members and other investors

The big question as we do this work has been and continues to be: Does it have an impact and make a difference? Or are we religious Don Quixotes, tilting at corporate windmills?

Fortunately, we can point to a history of demonstrated impact over five decades! We have not always been successful and there is still progress to be made. But clearly, we can say that the pioneer record and spirit of the UCC in the area of faith and finance planted seeds years ago that are blossoming today.

 

Article by Timothy Smith, a graduate of Union Theological Seminary in New York City. While at Union and after graduation he worked at the Council for Christian Social Action of the UCC as their staff person on Southern Africa. Tim assisted in the founding of the ecumenical work that led to the formation of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), serving as its Executive Director. He was involved in the very first church-sponsored shareholder resolutions in the early 1970s.

Since 2000, he has been the Director of Shareowner Engagement for the investment firm Boston Trust Walden. He has also served on the Board and Principles Committee of Wespath, the pension board of the United Methodist Church. Tim attends South Church in Andover, UCC, in Massachusetts.

This article was originally published in Generations Journal from the Pension Boards – United Church of Christ, Inc. Operating at the intersection of faith and finance. Reprinted with permission from the author.

Additional Articles, Impact Investing, Sustainable Business

Responsible Investment and the Faith-Based Investor-by Lloyd Kurtz-Wells Fargo Private Bank

Responsible Investment and the Faith-Based Investor

By Lloyd Kurtz, CFA, Wells Fargo Private Bank

LLoyd Kurtz-Wells Fargo Private Bank

A Tipping Point?

There can be no doubt that the field of responsible investment is in the midst of a series of significant changes. Rating systems are moving from the qualitative toward the quantitative, and subjective research techniques are being challenged by artificial intelligence and big data. The structure of the industry is also shifting, with mainstream investment managers entering a field that for many years has been served mainly by specialized boutiques. Brian Bruce, the editor of the Journal of Investing, recently surveyed the 30 largest asset management organizations and found that every one of them now claims to have Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) capability.1

Some might also note a shift in emphasis in the field away from values – especially religious values, and toward disclosure standards and empirical tests of ESG performance within an industry. One way to see this change is in the relative prevalence of exclusions, which tend to be more values-based, and ESG integration, which tends to have a more quantitative and sustainability-oriented character. The distinction can be subtle, but it is very important: exclusions are typically about what a company does, ESG integration is typically about how the company does.

The Global Sustainable Investment Alliance reports that the two approaches are now roughly comparable in scope: exclusions are employed in the management of $19.8 trillion in assets globally; ESG integration accounts for $17.5 trillion, but is growing faster (but many managers employ both techniques, so there is some double-counting in these figures).2

So does this represent a tipping point? Will values-based exclusions soon be eclipsed by newer approaches? I strongly doubt it, for two reasons.  First, the wealth management market – particularly in the U.S. – is more focused on religious values than many realize. And second, faith-based investors have not just been a part of the responsible investment movement, they were its creators, and remain vital to its success.

A Faithful Market

While surveys find that perhaps ¼ of the investment assets in the U.S. are managed according to some type of responsible investment policy3, this figure seems low when you consider the beliefs of the population. When asked in a recent Gallup poll if they believed in God, 87% of respondents in the U.S. said yes.4 And, despite a decline in churchgoing, most still identify with a particular religious tradition. According to the Pew Research Center, roughly 2/3 of Americans consider themselves Christian, although demographic and cultural changes have led to significant change over the past ten years (see chart).5

Religious Identity in the U.S. – Pew Research Center
Data source: Pew Research Center, chart by the author

 

The novelist John Updike noted that religion can be “a mode of defiance, insisting, This is what I am.”6 For most Americans, it remains an important marker of identity.

Here is a story that I have heard several times in recent years, with different investment teams in different organizations: A new ESG product is developed, embodying the best modern techniques and perhaps incorporating some new innovations. The marketers call prospective investors to test the waters, and the word comes back that there is strong early interest – if the product can be adapted to the needs of faith-based investors.

The tipping point, if it comes, still seems far off.

Influence on Responsible Investment Practice

Religious investors have been a vital force in the development of modern responsible investment. Pax World, the first responsible investment mutual fund in the U.S., was launched in 1971 by Methodist ministers Luther Tyson and Jack Corbett.7 In that same year the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) was founded, and over the next half century members of that organization have been actively engaged with corporations on issues ranging from the South Africa boycott to climate change.8 In 2020 ICCR members filed 281 shareholder resolutions, resulting in 114 substantive agreements for change at corporations.9 .

Religious concerns on some issues are quite longstanding. Harmful products are a good example. By most surveys tobacco is the #1 or #2 exclusion used in the field.10 Christian avoidance of harmful products goes back at least to the sermons of John Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, who in the 1800’s warned his congregation that they ought not to “gain by hurting our neighbor in his body…we may not sell anything which tends to impair health.”11

Over the past decade, however, climate change has surpassed even tobacco as a governing issue in responsible portfolios. In 2015 Pope Francis issued an encyclical letter strongly endorsing this trend, and stating plainly that “for human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins.”12

As practitioners we sometimes forget that we live in a religious world, and that deeply-held matter of faith may be of greater import to our clients than the profit and the loss. The participation of religious groups in the world of responsible investment has been constructive, effective, at times even decisive. We’d be wise to remember this as we prepare to meet the challenges to come. 

(Article feature photo by Cosmin Gurau)

 

Article by Lloyd Kurtz, CFA, senior portfolio manager and Head of Social Impact Investing for Wells Fargo Private Bank in San Francisco, California. Prior to joining Wells Fargo, Mr. Kurtz was chief investment officer and co-head of the investment committee for Nelson Capital Management. Before joining Nelson Capital, Mr. Kurtz spent nine years as a research analyst and director of quantitative research at Harris Bretall Sullivan & Smith, a San Francisco-based money management firm. Before that he was senior research analyst at KLD Research & Analytics in Boston, one of the first research firms to specialize in ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) investment.

At KLD, Mr. Kurtz participated in the development of the Domini Social Index, now known as the MSCI KLD 400, the first broad-based ESG benchmark in the U.S. Mr. Kurtz has written numerous articles on the impact of ESG factors on portfolio risk and performance. In May 2017 he was appointed to the Sustainable Accounting Standard Board (SASB), a non-profit organization that sets standards for corporate sustainability disclosure. He has been in the financial industry for more than 29 years. 

Mr. Kurtz is affiliated with Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, where he serves as faculty co-chair of the Moskowitz Prize research competition, and as a member of the steering committee for the Impact & Sustainable Finance Faculty Consortium.

Mr. Kurtz holds an MBA from Babson College and a B.A. from Vassar College, and holds the Chartered Financial Analyst® designation.

Footnotes:
[1]  Brian Bruce. “Editor’s Letter.” The Journal of Impact and ESG Investing, Fall 2020.

[2]  Global Sustainable Investment Alliance. 2018 Global Sustainable Investment Review.
http://www.gsi-alliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/GSIR_Review2018.3.28.pdf

[3]  USSIF. Report on US Sustainable, Responsible, and Impact Investing Trends. 2018.
https://www.ussif.org/files/2018%20_Trends_OnePager_Overview(2).pdf

[4]  Zack Hrynowski. “How Many Americans Believe in God?” The Short Answer, Gallup, 11/8/19.
https://news.gallup.com/poll/268205/americans-believe-god.aspx

[5]  “In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace.” Pew Research Center, 10/17/2019.
https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/

[6]  John Updike. “The Future of Faith”, The New Yorker, November 1999.
https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1999/11/29/the-future-of-faith

[7]  “Jack Corbett Remembered, Mourned by Pax World Family.” Press release, Pax World Management Corp., 3/27/2003.
https://www.csrwire.com/press_releases/23234-Jack-Corbett-Remembered-Mourned-by-Pax-World-Family

[8]  Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.  “History of ICCR.”
https://www.iccr.org/about-iccr/history-iccr

[9]  Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.  “Our 2020 Victories.”
https://www.iccr.org/our-2020-victories

[10]  Global Sustainable Investment Alliance.  2018 Global Sustainable Investment Review, page 14.
http://www.gsi-alliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/GSIR_Review2018.3.28.pdf

[11]  John Wesley. “The Use of Money (Sermon 50)”. Wesley Center Online.
http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-50-the-use-of-money/

[12]  Pope Francis. “Laudato si’: on care for our common home.” Encyclical Letter, 5/24/2015.
http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html

Disclosures

Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. offers various advisory and fiduciary products and services including discretionary portfolio management. Wells Fargo affiliates, including Financial Advisors of Wells Fargo Advisors, a separate non-bank affiliate, may be paid an ongoing or one-time referral fee in relation to clients referred to the bank. The bank is responsible for the day-to-day management of the account and for providing investment advice, investment management services and wealth management services to clients. The role of the Financial Advisor with respect to the Bank products and services is limited to referral and relationship management services

Wells Fargo Private Bank, a Wells Fargo business, provides products and services through Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. and its various affiliates and subsidiaries. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. is a bank affiliate of Wells Fargo & Company.

The information and opinions in this report were prepared by Wells Fargo Private Bank. Information and opinions have been obtained or derived from sources we consider reliable, but we cannot guarantee their accuracy or completeness. Opinions represent Wells Fargo Private Bank’s opinion as of the date of this report and are for general information purposes only. Wells Fargo Private Bank does not undertake to advise you of any change in its opinions or the information contained in this report. Wells Fargo & Company affiliates may issue reports or have opinions that are inconsistent with, and reach different conclusions from, this report.

© 2020 Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. All rights reserved.

Featured Articles, Impact Investing, Sustainable Business

Pursuing Justice Through Faith-based Impact Investing-by Amanda Joseph-Calvert

Pursuing Justice Through Faith-Based Impact Investing

By Amanda Joseph, Calvert Impact Capital

Amanda Joseph-Calvert Impact Capital(Above – Azure, a Calvert Impact Capital portfolio partner, is an initiative that mobilizes capital and technical expertise to upgrade and expand water services for the poor in rural and peri-urban communities of El Salvador. Azure was launched through a partnership between Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the Inter-American Development Bank’s Multilateral Investment Fund (IDB/MIF)).

 

Justice, justice, justice shall you pursue.

For many of us who engage in impact investing, this verse from Deuteronomy 16:20 is a familiar one, our clarion call to pursue a path of justice and healing – which includes the responsible stewardship of our personal and communal assets. Many more Americans have become familiar with this verse, as the words hung in the chambers of esteemed Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a touchstone for her as she pursued a life committed to justice.

Today, the call for justice is growing louder, with a global pandemic that has laid bare the deep fissures in our society and a legacy of systemic racism and economic inequality that we as a nation can no longer ignore. And in the midst of this crisis and churning, we are also experiencing a great awakening  to the possibility of transforming society, as we acknowledge our interdependence, and make real a world that is just, equitable, and sustainable.

For all investors, but particularly for communities of faith in these turbulent times, the prospect of impact investing offers an abundance of meaningful opportunities to realign and reaffirm how our values support our investment strategies. From a congregation that decides to make a deposit in a local credit union or Black-owned community development bank, or to a church-based pension fund that invests in climate resilience, there are multitude of options and approaches across asset classes and impact themes for investors to explore.

Like many of us working in this dynamic space, my own impact investing journey began well before the term was coined. In the late 90s, I had the good fortune to work alongside visionary leader Jeffrey Dekro to organize the first and only national initiative to encourage American Jewish individual and institutional investing in CDFIs and low-wealth communities. Our “why” was steeped in Jewish values, teachings, and our historical experience as immigrants. To undertake the “how,” we looked to leaders across faiths as our models and partners, as well as to secular funds like Calvert Impact Capital, as we supported congregations, foundations, and communal organizations to make their first impact investments over the course of a decade-plus. We also launched an interfaith disaster response fund, focusing on critical recovery programs post-Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Sandy, demonstrating the power of interfaith investor partnerships.

Maria Ines Galvis-sheep farmer in Columbia received a loan from ECLOF International-photo Amanda Joseph Calvert Impact Cap
Maria Ines Galvis, a sheep farmer in Colombia, received a loan from ECLOF International, a faith-based organization with a mission to promote social justice and human dignity through microfinance. ECLOF International is a Calvert Impact Capital portfolio partner.

In doing this work, we were part of a long and storied tradition. Faith institutions helped create the impact investing market as we know it today. Over the decades, faith communities have served as true pioneers and risk takers, demonstrating again and again that impact investing is a viable strategy in pursuit of justice, offering opportunity to our most vulnerable and disenfranchised communities, locally and globally.

At Calvert Impact Capital, one of the first impact funds in the US, faith investors have been our partners since we began our work 25 years ago. By that time, faith investing in US community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and international microfinance was an established practice, with Catholic orders and women religious at the vanguard. Today, faith investors currently represent more than 15 percent of our $500 million capital base. They include congregations, churches, health care systems, mutual funds, and foundations, and span denominations and affiliations – Catholic, Baptist, Mennonite, Jewish, Unitarian, Methodist, and many others. We also know that many of our 5,400 individual investors are inspired by their traditions; our most recent investor survey revealed that 26 percent of respondents “invest because of my faith.”

VisionFund-the world's largest Christian microfinance network provides courses on sustainable farming for Indrani clients
Calvert Impact Capital portfolio partner VisionFund, the world’s largest Christian microfinance network, provides comprehensive courses on sustainable farming and provides micro-loans for clients such as Indrani to grow their businesses.

As Director of Faith Based Initiatives, I serve as a resource and a connector for faith institutions and their financial professionals — chief investment officers, financial advisors, and asset managers — leveraging Calvert Impact Capital’s impact investment expertise. Since 1995, we have helped over 150 faith-based groups develop their first impact investing programs or enhance programs already underway; overcome barriers with internal finance committees, leadership, external financial advisors, and fund managers; explore creative ways to deploy their assets; and connect with other faith investors doing this work to share successes and lessons learned. We understand well that for many faith investors travelling from the faith-specific “why” to the “how” is a process of discernment, listening, and eventually, action. We also work very closely with financial advisors and professionals who are committed to supporting their faith clients on this journey.

Faith-based investors are natural leaders of the impact investing movement and we want to ensure they are fully equipped to reach their potential. This is why over the next year, we will offer a series of training opportunities and resources to educate faith investors and build a deeper impact investing practice among them.

In this effort we join a growing network of both secular and faith organizations, including the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), FaithInvest, Catholic Impact Investing Collaborative (CIIC) and many others, who share a commitment to seeing faith institutions engage more fully in the impact investing ecosystem and with whom we actively collaborate. And we also want to hear from you: What challenges are you facing as a faith-based investor or as a financial professional working with faith communities? What resources do you need? How can we help or work together?

Two Calvert Impact Capital staff members visit Israel Manor Inc. Life Center in NE Washington DC
Two Calvert Impact Capital staff members visit Israel Manor Inc. Life Center, a Calvert Impact Capital portfolio partner, in Northeast Washington DC, as construction is underway. Now open, Unity Healthcare provides health services and community spaces, and is co-located with Israel Manor Baptist Church.

Answering the call to be part of the solution to our urgent local and global challenges has never been more urgent. Drawing from the examples set by many faith investors so far, we encourage congregations and institutions of all faiths and religious traditions—and the community of financial professionals who support them—to seek justice and put faith into action through impact investing.

We welcome opportunities for conversation, collaboration, and partnership. Please visit the Calvert Impact Capital website or email me directly – ajoseph@calvertimpactcapital.org

 

Article by Amanda Joseph, Director of Faith-Based Initiatives at Calvert Impact Capital, a leading impact investment firm that through its products and services has mobilized over $2 billion in investments to create a more equitable and sustainable world. She serves as a resource for faith-based investors on their impact investing journeys and partners with faith leaders and networks to build the capacity and community of practicing faith-based impact investors.

Previously, Amanda worked at Opportunity Finance Network, the nation’s leading association of community development financial institutions (CDFIs) committed to providing affordable, responsible capital and financial services to communities not served by mainstream finance. She has held senior management roles at a technology company assisting Americans to sustainably move out of poverty and for a decade-plus at Jewish Funds for Justice/The Shefa Fund where she managed the first and only national initiative to organize the American Jewish community to invest in low-wealth communities across the county.

Amanda has prior experience as a commercial loan officer for the Self-Help Credit Union, and has worked with a range of mission-driven organizations. She holds an MBA from the Yale School of Management, and an AB from Bryn Mawr College.

Energy & Climate, Featured Articles, Impact Investing, Sustainable Business

Loving Our Neighbor in a Time of Crisis-by Stella Tai-Praxis Mutual Funds-GreenMoney

Loving Our Neighbor in a Time of Crisis

By Stella Tai, Praxis Mutual Funds

Bringing a lens of faith to the reality of low-to-moderate income communities during these challenging times

Stella Tai-Praxis Mutual Funds2020 has been a year like no other and will definitely make it into the U.S. history books. This spring the reality that we were in the middle of a growing pandemic slowly dawned on every sector of our society with destabilizing certainty. We have lived through ever increasing and loosening restrictions as authorities take measures to contain the spread of the virus across the country. Now these same officials are trying to figure out how to safely reopen with coronavirus still present and active in our communities.

Many of us – particularly knowledge workers – have had our share of inconveniences in this new reality: working from home while managing multiple distractions, not being able to connect with our families and friends like we were used to, figuring out how to explain what improper fractions are to our children, etc. – all for the greater good. We have been practically “loving our neighbor” by wearing masks, social distancing and doing our part to “flatten the curve.”

But what of those who cannot easily work from home? Whose labor on-site, on the front lines of our economy helps the rest of us minimize our interactions with others? Many of these essential positions belong to low-to-moderate (LMI) income individuals, a significant number of whom are people of color. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly 65 percent of households living in poverty in America are black, Hispanic or Native American

It is times like these that people of faith and others of shared values are called to reflect deeply on what it means to “love our neighbor” and to care for those relegated to the margins. How can this current crisis not only spur us to action today but challenge us to better understand the linkages between economic vulnerability and historic patterns of inequity due to race, gender and ethnicity? The prophet Micah’s encouragement to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly” (6:8, NRSV) is uncomfortably relevant, again, in 2020.

Understanding the Low-to-Moderate Income Community

According to federal Community Reinvestment Act criteria, a low-income person makes 50 percent or less of the Average Median Income (AMI) of a metropolitan area or census tract, while a moderate-income person makes between 50 percent and 80 percent of the AMI. Because the AMI varies from one area to another depending on incomes of the residents, a geographical region can be considered an LMI area if more than half of the people living there meet the definition of low-to-moderate-income. These distinctions impact not only the lives of individuals and families, but also entire communities.

LMI Implications – COVID-19 Vulnerability

When more than half of the residents of a metropolitan area or census tract are low-to-moderate income, it is considered a low-income area. People in low-income or minority communities are more likely to work in jobs that expose them to the coronavirus – in factories, grocery stores, public transit etc. These individuals are less likely to have paid sick leave, have higher rates of chronic illnesses and are more likely to live in crowded housing. They also have less access to health care, especially routine preventive services.

Emerging research on the effects of COVID-19 is showing that racial and ethnic minorities are being disproportionately affected. In New York City, for example, a study by the Department of Health revealed an overrepresentation of blacks among hospitalized patients. According to the study, this is also true among COVID-19 deaths for which race and ethnicity data was available; death rates among black/African-Americans (92.3 deaths per 100,000 population) and Hispanics/Latinos (74.3) were substantially higher than that of whites (45.2) or Asians (34.5).

Living a Different Reality

For people of the Christian faith (as well as others) the holy scriptures are filled with verses about how we are to treat the poor, care for the widow and orphan, welcome the alien and include those who are marginalized. More importantly, these verses are rarely just a suggestion, but rather a command. We are instructed to see them, embrace them, and respond to them as a reflection of God’s love for us. This starts with developing an understanding of a reality that can be very different from our own. While 2019 and 2020 have seen record stock market gains, many LMI workers continue to struggle to make ends meet with jobs that don’t provide financial stability or reliable benefits, including health insurance and paid sick leave.

According to the 2019 Scorecard by Prosperity Now:

  • Over one in five (22.5 percent) jobs in the United States are in a low-wage occupation
  • 40 percent of households don’t have enough savings to make ends meet for three months if their income is interrupted
  • 13.2 percent of all households fall behind on their bills
  • Almost half (48.1 percent) of Americans with credit have scores below prime
  • 20 percent of households have no access to mainstream credit

For more information on the Prosperity Now Scorecard, click here to read their full report.

These numbers represent tens of millions of workers and households that must rely on low or unreliable wages to get by. Their fragile, day-to-day economic existence can continue for years and, increasingly, even beyond and between generations. This reality falls disproportionally on communities of color and fails to reflect the vibrancy and economic opportunity within them.

Surviving Financial Shocks for LMI Households

Often when an LMI household faces a financial hardship, something as minor as a car repair or routine medical expense can threaten their economic stability. Because they have less in savings than the general population and often lack of access to affordable credit and health care, such hardships could quickly lead to skipped bills, forgone medical care or even food insecurity and homelessness.

The speed at which COVID-19 has brought much of the main street economy to a screeching halt has exposed major gaps in how our society is caring for its “essential” LMI households. The government moved quickly to address some of these gaps through three stimulus packages totaling $2.1 trillion, which is a good start, but so much more is needed as the crisis extends into 2021

What Can Faith-based and Other Impact Investors do to Help?

The first epistle of John addresses the need for us to love one another in very real and tangible ways. “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech but in truth and action.” (1 John 3:17-18, NRSV) Traditionally seen as a call to greater charity, in 2020 this verse —and many others — can provide inspiration for investors to integrate their values and pursue impact through their portfolios as well.

As values-driven investors, we are uniquely suited to love our neighbor through financial structures designed to provide solutions that meet human needs.

Invested capital, in service to marginalized communities and in response to historic inequities, can take a variety of forms, including:

    • Catalytic (below-market) Community Development Investments — For more than two decades, Praxis Mutual Funds has channeled nearly one percent of each mutual fund’s assets to investments in community development financial institutions (CDFIs) serving those on the margins. SRI mutual funds look to these investments to address issues of racial economic inequality and to help underserved communities respond to systemic threats such as COVID-19.
    • Positive Impact Bonds — While many are familiar with the rapid growth of Green and renewable energy bonds, less well known is the growth in bonds now being issued to target other social and community infrastructure needs. These market-rate, fixed-income investments support particular social or environmental outcomes, allowing the Praxis Impact Bond Fund and other SRI fixed income funds to become active, targeted investment vehicles strengthening vulnerable communities in the U.S. and internationally.
  • LMI-focused shareholder advocacy — For nearly three decades, SRI funds have leveraged their voices and influence as institutional investors in pursuit of racial justice and in support of low-income communities worldwide. For Praxis, these efforts have included shareholder engagements in response to the Coronavirus pandemic and efforts to promote racial and gender diversity on corporate boards and among executives.

These strategies represent just a start in what faith-based and values-driven investors can do to promote equity and opportunity in the communities we seek to support. We can and should continue to find ways of “loving our neighbor” in ways that restore hope and opportunity.  It is a challenge and calling we embrace.

 

Article by Stella Tai, Manager of Stewardship Investing Impact and Analysis for Praxis Mutual Funds® and Everence® Financial, a leading provider of faith-based financial products in the United States. With more than 15 years of experience in small business lending and non-profit development, Stella provides primary leadership and support for the promotion, integration and development of impact investing and community development finance solutions.

Stella guides the development of financial products that meet the needs of low-to-moderate income (LMI) communities, helps promote the integration of faith and finances through Everence products and services, and works to grow opportunities for impact investments. Stella also leads proxy voting and impact reporting efforts.

Before coming to Everence, Stella was the Assistant Vice President of Lending at FINANTA, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she provided access to capital, small business training, technical assistance and credit building to credit-challenged small businesses – primarily minorities, women and borrowers with language barriers.

In 2006, Stella created a non-profit, Fruit of the Vine International, that fundraised for various children’s homes in Kenya through 2015. She has served on the board of Esperanza Health Center, a multi-cultural ministry providing holistic healthcare to Philadelphia’s underserved communities.

Currently, Stella serves on the board of Chariots for Hope, a non-profit supporting a network of eight children’s homes in Kenya that serves over 800 children. Originally from Kenya, Stella holds a Masters of Economic Development from Eastern University and a Bachelor of Business and Marketing from the University of Nairobi, Kenya.

Consider the fund’s investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses carefully before you invest. The fund’s prospectus and summary prospectus contain this and other information. Call 800-977-2947 or visit praxismutualfunds.com for a prospectus, which you should read carefully before you invest. Praxis Mutual Funds are advised by Everence Capital Management and distributed through Foreside Financial Services, LLC, member FINRA. Investment products offered are not FDIC insured, may lose value, and have no bank guarantee.

Investing involves risk including the possible loss of principal.

Featured Articles, Impact Investing, Sustainable Business

The VERGE20 Conference Goes Virtual-GreenMoney

The VERGE 20 Conference Goes Virtual October 26-30 to Accelerate the Clean Economy

Climate change is the most significant global threat we face today. It also represents an unprecedented opportunity to build a clean economy by electrifying and decarbonizing our world, equitably and profitably. Momentum is building as businesses and governments transform their organizations to be more efficient and resilient.

The VERGE 20 online event is the leading platform for accelerating the clean economy. Join more than 15,000 leaders (online this year) — from the private and public sectors, utilities, solution providers, investors, and startups — advancing systemic solutions to address the climate crisis through five key markets: clean energy, electrified transportation, the circular economy, carbon removal and sustainable food systems.

VERGE Energy
The VERGE Energy conference explores decarbonizing, decentralizing, digitizing and democratizing global energy systems, with professionals in energy management and procurement from corporations and governments, as well as allied service providers, innovators, developers, financiers and utilities.

VERGE Transport
The VERGE Transport conference explores how to create clean, electrified transportation systems that are accessible to all by bringing together fleet managers, utilities, vehicle manufacturers, policy makers, transportation planners, infrastructure developers and entrepreneurs.

VERGE Circular
The VERGE Circular conference focuses on the tools, tactics and systems leadership companies are using to shift their products and services from linear to circular. From product design and business strategy to closed-loop supply chains and enabling infrastructure, it brings together professionals in supply chain, logistics, sustainability, packaging design, marketing and other functions..

VERGE Carbon
The VERGE Carbon conference focuses on unlocking the value of carbon pollution by using it to create innovative products, materials and services. The conference brings together professionals from carbon markets, carbon capture and sequestration, product and materials innovation, building and construction, land management, energy production, forestry, food and agriculture, and supply chains.

VERGE Food
The VERGE Food conference showcases the leaders, organizations and innovations that are creating more sustainable ways to produce, distribute and consume food. It focuses on the challenges and opportunities in providing healthy affordable food for all, and the strategies, technologies, products and packaging that will enable us to do so sustainably and profitably.

This year’s speakers include: Lisa Jackson of Apple; Bill McKibben
of 350.org; Varshini Prakash of Sunrise; Maria Pope of Portland General Electric; Philip Saunders of City of Seattle; Angela Hultberg of IKEA Group; Gina McCarthy of NRDC; Michael Tubbs of City of Stockton; Carla Peterman of Southern California Edison; Ashley White of Amazon.

Sign up here to attend the October 2020 online event.

 

Additional Articles, Energy & Climate, Food & Farming, Impact Investing, Sustainable Business

World Tree USA Becomes Most Successful Female-Founded Company on Wefunder

World Tree USA Becomes the Most Successful Female Founded Company Ever on Wefunder

Started by Wendy Burton in 2015, World Tree USA, LLC recently surpassed $2M on the Equity Crowdfunding Platform. This marks the third most successful capital raise in Wefunder’s history and the highest amount raised by any female founder.

Above photo: World Tree founder Wendy Burton (on the left) inspecting a farm in Costa Rica with World Tree’s Program Manager in Costa Rica, Mariana Alfaro Stivalet.

 

Wefunder is a giant in the industry. It is the largest equity crowdfunding platform in the US, with nearly 42% of the current market according to Crowdfund Capital Advisors. In the 9 years since it was founded in 2011, Wefunder has helped hundreds of companies raise almost $170 million.

The majority of that money has gone to male-founded companies. Of the 330 most-funded companies on Wefunder, only 18% were female founded.

And then there is World Tree.

World Tree is an agroforestry company that is breaking all the norms. It offers accredited and non-accredited investors the opportunity to participate in a timber investment through its Eco-Tree Program; a investment that creates direct environmental benefits relating to forest conservation, carbon sequestration, and promoting healthy ecosystems. The Eco-Tree Program leverages the fast-growth rate of the non-invasive Empress (Paulownia) tree to maximize the economic and environmental benefits of agroforestry.

World Tree’s objective is to meet the growing global demand for timber in a sustainable way. The Empress (Paulownia) tree has been rated the fastest growing hardwood tree in the world, maturing in only 10 years to produce a timber that has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any hardwood commercially grown. While growing, the tree sequesters unparalleled amounts of carbon, the main cause of climate change. One acre of Empress (Paulownia) trees can absorb up to 90 metric tons of carbon per year. That is four times as much carbon as the average American family of 4 produces in one year.

World Tree with Empress wood samples at Social Finance Forum
World Tree’s Chief Investment Officer, Angela Nauta (left) with samples of Empress (Paulownia) wood at The Social Finance Forum in Toronto with Rita Fromholt, Marketing and SDG Special Projects Coordinator (center), and Dr. Cathy Key, World Tree’s President and Chief Operations Officer (right).

“Our investors love to back companies that are tackling an important cause,” says Nick Tommarello, Founder & CEO of Wefunder. “There are not many issues more important to our generation than climate change, so I’m not surprised World Tree raised over $2 million on Wefunder. It’s a win-win where investors hope to earn a return while helping the planet.”

Dr. Cathy Key, President & Chief Operations Officer of World Tree had this to say about working with Wefunder, “We had previously worked with two crowdfunding platforms in Canada where 95% of our investors came from our own database. By tapping into Wefunder’s database of over 400,000 investors, we were able to expand our reach significantly. Now, 80% of our investors are new to us. On top of this, the passionate team at Wefunder introduced us to financial advisors who helped spread the word even further.”

“Wefunder has taken a stand for equality by supporting female and minority founded companies and has been instrumental in our phenomenal growth,” adds Dr. Cathy Key. “We look forward to being back on the platform in the New Year with our next offering.

Currently, World Tree is conducting a $10.5 million Regulation A+ securities offering; the “2020 Eco-Tree Program” in the United States with Sustainable Wealth Management Firm Vanderbilt Financial Group (Vanderbilt Securities) named as the placement agent. This gives accredited and non-accredited investors access to invest in the Eco-Tree Program.

 

WorldTree logoWorld Tree USA, LLC (“World Tree”) is an agroforestry company focused on promoting the environmental and economic benefits of the Empress (Paulownia) tree. Founded in 2015 by Wendy Burton, the World Tree management team includes foresters, agronomists and scientists with extensive experience with agroforestry and, over 30 years of experience working with the Empress (Paulownia) tree. World Tree grows 18 exclusive non-invasive varieties. World Tree is the largest grower of Empress (Paulownia) trees in North America, with 2,000 acres under management across Canada, Costa Rica, Guatemala, USA and Mexico. For more information: World Tree

Wefunder logoWefunder is the nation’s leading investment crowdfunding platform, with a mission to keep the American dream alive. Founded in 2011, Wefunder has helped hundreds of companies raise almost $170 million. Wefunder companies have gone on to raise over $2 billion in venture capital. Wefunder is a Public Benefit Corporation and B Corp, with a goal to help 20,000 founders get off the ground by 2029. For more information: Wefunder

VFG-Vanderbilt Financial Group logoVanderbilt Securities is part of Vanderbilt Financial Group, an investment firm disrupting traditional finance by focusing on socially and environmentally responsible, ethical, and impactful investments. Vanderbilt is known as “The Sustainable Wealth Management Firm” for their commitment to providing financial advisors and their clients with access to values-aligned investments. Headquartered in a LEED-certified Platinum building, Vanderbilt’s commitment to changing the world begins at home in our office and within our culture. Under the leadership of the impactful husband and wife team, Steve and Heidi Distante, Vanderbilt’s culture has garnered awards such as being named one of the Best Places to Work on Long Island for 2018 and 2019, the Future50 and Corporate Culture Awards from SmartCEO, as well as being recognized as one of the finest run companies by the Management Action Plan (M.A.P.) organization.

As a thought leader in the impact space, Vanderbilt Financial Group is dedicated to increasing the reach and impact of the financial services industry using the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals as a framework. Their education platform, Impact U, provides students, advisors and investors with unique opportunities to increase their impact investing knowledge through videos, podcasts and fun interactive exercises. Vanderbilt Founder & Chairman Steve Distante released the award-winning documentary film “Igniting Impact” that sheds light on how purposeful entrepreneurship and impactful investments can help improve the world’s greatest challenges. Interact with Impact U 

This is neither an offer to sell, nor a solicitation to buy, a security, which can be made only by the prospective investors if it is preceded or accompanied by the Offering Circular, which contains various and important risk disclosures. This material does not purport to be complete and should be read in conjunction with the Offering Circular.

https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1687316/000147793220005164/wtcu_253g2.htm

Vanderbilt Financial Group is the marketing name for Vanderbilt Securities, LLC and its affiliates. Securities offered through Vanderbilt Securities, LLC • Member: FINRA, SIPC • Registered with MSRB Advisory Services offered through Vanderbilt Advisory Services Vanderbilt’s Form CRS among other important information and disclosures: http://www.vanderbiltfg.com/disclosures

Additional Articles, Food & Farming, Impact Investing, Sustainable Business

First Affirmative Financial Network is now an Employee-owned B Corp

First Affirmative Financial Network is Now an Employee-Owned Certified B Corp

As Values-Based Investing Skyrockets, Pioneer in SRI and ESG Investing Now Activated for Impact and Growth

 

First Affirmative Financial Network LLC, a pioneer in sustainable, responsible and impact (SRI) investing with approximately $1 billion under management and advisement, announced September 21, 2020 it will return to independence as an employee-owned Certified B Corp and capitalize on burgeoning interest in values-based investing.

First Affirmative and Goldman Sachs announced the spinoff as part of Goldman Sachs’s acquisition of Folio Financial, which acquired First Affirmative in 2016.

A Registered investment Advisor, First Affirmative has led the way in SRI and environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing for more than 30 years. First Affirmative founded the industry standard The SRI Conference in 1990 to bring together industry leaders and expand impact investing. First Affirmative’s re-launch as an independent, employee-owned entity comes at a time when social and cultural activism have raised values-based investing to higher prominence than ever.

The AffirmativESG advisor workstation sets the standard for financial and impact customization and efficiency, and continues First Affirmative’s legacy of innovation.

“We’re thrilled to reinforce more than three decades of values-based investment innovation with employee ownership that will help spread the First Affirmative approach, through unmatched enthusiasm and depth of experience and commitment,” said George Gay, CEO of First Affirmative. “We will grow our network of advisors and bring powerful, impactful financial management tools to more people through the leadership of our empowered teammates.”

First Affirmative creates SRI investment models, shapes portfolios for investment managers, builds analysis tools and partners with financial firms to meet competitive return benchmarks while supporting desired impact results for clients. Since 1988, First Affirmative has been driven by its belief in the power of capital to bring about lasting beneficial change, including stewardship of the environment and promoting social change.

“First Affirmative is one of the most pioneering and well-respected SRI investment managers in the country,” said Gary Mathews, PhD CPA/PFS AIF at SRI Investing LLC. “I am so happy to be able to say First Affirmative is preserving its independence. First Affirmative is a treasure to the SRI community.”

First Affirmative is a leader in shareholder advocacy and investor-driven social activism, and most recently helped lead the effort to influence the NFL’s Washington Football Team to change a name long considered a slur around the world.

 

About First Affirmative:
Since 1988, First Affirmative has been helping financial advisors and their clients create investment solutions designed to meet both financial and impact goals. First Affirmative’s unmatched institutional grounding in this ecosystem allows them to deploy the fundamental research, quantitative techniques, portfolio construction and management methodologies to deliver outcome-oriented SRI and ESG investment solutions. First Affirmative is proud to have adopted the highest standards as an investment fiduciary. First Affirmative is a Certified B Corp and was honored as a “Best for the World” Company in 2019 by B Lab, the parent organization for Certified B Corps.

SOURCE: First Affirmative Financial Network LLC

Additional Articles, Impact Investing, Sustainable Business

Signup to receive GreenMoney's monthly eJournal
Privacy Policy
Copyright © GreenMoney Journal 2020

Global Events Calendar

View All Events

november

17novAll Day18Neighborhood Economics: Healing all of our Communities

19novAll Day20TBLI Conference Asia 2020 – virtual

30novAll Day01decBloomberg Sustainable Business Summit Global - virtual

X