A Quarter Century of Transforming Investment

By Lisa Woll, CEO of US SIF


Lisa Woll, CEO of US SIFAt the US SIF Fourth Annual Conference from May 19-21 in Washington, DC, our agenda will include topics ranging from millennial investing, food security and climate change, income inequality, portfolio performance, company sustainability practices, community investing, global trends, pension funds and ESG, effective policy engagement, building integrity in the financial process, and financing the shift from fossil fuels.

The topics are broad because sustainable, responsible and impact investors have an inclusive mandate—seeking to invest for a financial return, but also to advance and integrate environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues  in their investing strategy. Investors, from the retail to the institutional scale, pursue strategies to make impact through investments across asset classes: from community credit unions to individual stocks and mutual funds, and in private equity and fixed income.

Several decades ago, thoughtful investors including faith-based institutions, foundations and universities began to look at how their investments were affecting their communities and the environment. They took action by, for example, excluding stocks from tobacco companies or businesses associated with repressive governments, such as South Africa during apartheid.

Decades later, the field is thriving and US SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment (www.ussif.org ) works with its members to advance investment practices that consider environmental, social and corporate governance criteria to generate long-term competitive financial returns and positive societal impact. US SIF’s membership includes investment management and advisory firms, mutual fund companies, research firms, financial planners and advisors, broker-dealers, community investing institutions, non-profit associations, and pension funds, foundations, and other asset owners. US SIF produces research, hosts an annual conference, undertakes policy and advocacy, engages with the media and other organizations, delivers online and live courses, and organizes networking and professional development opportunities for our members.

According to the US SIF Foundation’s 2012 Report on Sustainable and Responsible Investing Trends in the United States, at the end of 2011, more than 11 percent, $3.74 trillion of the $33.3 trillion, of investments under U.S. professional management were selected based on ESG criteria. This represents an increase of 486% from the first edition of the Trends Report in 1995.

Sustainable investors have been, and continue to be, a force for positive change. They have helped to improve the environmental, social and governance practices of companies around the world, indirectly benefiting countless individuals and communities. They have pursued investment strategies that foster economic development and expand financial services to lower-income communities. To advance their principles and priorities on a larger scale, sustainable investors have advocated for national and global policies and created national and international standard setting organizations.

Some of the key achievements are:

•  Individual investors have benefited by gaining access to retirement plans with sustainable investment options and the ability to work with specialized SRI financial advisors.

•  Investors, often in collaboration with civil society groups, have persuaded numerous companies to improve policies and processes, including adopting sustainable forestry practices, improving executive pay practices, addressing labor and human rights conditions in their global supply chains, and improving climate risk disclosure.

•  Investors have assisted individuals and communities, through direct investments in community development financial institutions and by bringing changes in corporate behavior that benefit communities or reduce harm, such as access to clean water and creating better workplaces.

•  Investors have advocated for important policy reforms including advancing key provisions in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Financial Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, among many other policy engagements.

•  Investors have played a crucial role in the development of key standard setting organizations such as the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance, the Global Reporting Initiative and CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project).

Increasingly, large institutions are entering the sustainable, impact and ESG integration space. For example, Morgan Stanley recently established an Institute for Sustainable Investing and launched the Investing with Impact Platform, and last year Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and US Trust launched 180 ESG-themed investments. JP Morgan Chase and Northern Trust both have significant assets in sustainable and impact investments.

A key priority for US SIF this year is to continue to offer information to investors who are deciding how to address climate change through their portfolios. The launch of a fossil fuel divestment campaign has created new interest among individual and institutional investors on how to best address climate challenges. US SIF has created climate guides to assist investors in understanding their options, and to help reinvest if they have chosen to divest from fossil fuel stocks.

Additionally, we will be ramping up the work of the Center for Sustainable Investment Education. The Center, part of the US SIF Foundation, was launched in 2013 in order to serve the growing need of investment professionals in the United States to gain expertise in SRI. The Center provides high quality education, research and thought leadership. The Center’s inaugural online course, Fundamentals of Sustainable and Responsible Investment, was also launched in 2013 and provides CFP® Board, CFA Institute and CIMA® credits to financial professionals who take this three hour course. The course is also offered in-person and in webinar form.

2014 is also an important year for research as we will publish the 2014 Report on Sustainable and Responsible Investing Trends in the United States. The 2014 edition of Trends will capitalize on the insights gained from the recent US SIF Foundation research reports on mission investing by foundations and on expanding the market for community investing. We will also produce the second edition of the Global Sustainable Investment Review  as a member of the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance (www.gsi-alliance.org ). Additionally, we will release the final of four handbooks under our “How Do I SRI?” series. This last theme guide will focus on investing in women.

US SIF will remain actively engaged on key public policy issues, including corporate political contributions, community investing, environmental, social and governance disclosure, inclusion of a sustainable investment option in the Federal Thrift Savings Plan, climate change, and ERISA fiduciary duty guidance. We will once again hold a day of Capitol Hill visits as part of our 2014 Annual Conference, giving our members a chance to share their unique perspective with their elected officials.

Despite the great impacts that have been made by sustainable, responsible and impact investors, the industry’s work has never been more important in advancing a more sustainable and equitable economy. We hope that you will join us in our efforts, this year and in years to come.

Article by Lisa Woll, who has served as the CEO of US SIF and the US SIF Foundation since 2006, and has been responsible for strategic planning, developing a robust policy presence, expansion and diversification of funding, launching our national conference and creating the Center for Sustainable Investment Education.

Prior to US SIF, Lisa was executive director of the International Women’s Media Foundation, an organization focused on press freedom and expansion of women’s role in the media. During her tenure, the IWMF played a significant role in re-orienting the way journalism training was carried out on the issues of HIV-AIDS, malaria and TB in several African media organizations. Lisa also spent a decade working on children’s human rights. She was the director of the first international study to look at the impact of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and directed the Washington, DC office of Save the Children. She is a member of the Advisory Council of the Children’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch.

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