Posts Tagged ‘justice’

Big corporations at forefront of LGBT rights fight

Did you know that despite the lack of any federal laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination, three-quarters of Fortune 500 companies have policies in place to do just that?  The “S” part of corporate ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) standards and SRI (Socially Responsible Investing) has been coming alive in increasingly dynamic ways in recent years.

This year, as three southern states passed laws that actively codified anti-LGBT discrimination, some of the loudest—and most effective—voices raised against these initiatives came from large companies.  As summarized by The New Yorker:

Last month, executives at more than eighty companies—including Apple, Pfizer, Microsoft, and Marriott—signed a public letter to the governor of North Carolina urging him to repeal the state’s new law. Lionsgate Studio is moving production of a new sitcom out of the state, Deutsche Bank cancelled plans to create new jobs there, and PayPal has cancelled plans for a global operations center. In Mississippi, G.E., Pepsi, Dow, and others attacked the law there as “bad for our employees and bad for business.” Disney said that it would stop making movies in Georgia, which has become a major venue for film production, if the governor signed the bill. Something similar happened last year in Indiana, after the state passed a religious-freedom law allowing businesses to discriminate against L.G.B.T. customers and employees. At least a dozen business conventions relocated.

The article goes on to look at the ways this leadership by corporate interests upends both progressive and conservative orthodoxy.  Progressives often decry the influence of business on government decision-making, but this time it’s a welcome addition to grassroots voices against regressive new state laws.  Meanwhile, as the New Yorker’s James Surowiecki notes, “to many conservative business leaders, today’s social-conservative agenda looks anachronistic and is harmful to the bottom line; it makes it hard to hire and keep talented employees who won’t tolerate discrimination.”

Though we’ve long been champions of the idea that business can play a key role in reshaping society in positive ways, this vocal leadership on perhaps the leading social justice issue of the day is a welcome surprise.

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Bracing for climate-driven food system shock?

A fascinating and somewhat scary article from Jeff Masters at Weather Underground paints a very plausible picture of how climate change could trigger a confluence of weather-related impacts around the globe that, together, lead to an unprecedented shock to the global food system.  He fleshes out a report put together by Lloyd’s of London, which posited several events around the world, including an El Niño-driven drought from India through Southeast Asia to Australia (triggering a 6-20% reduction in key grain harvests), along with floods in the Mississippi basin creating a 7-27% hit on US grain, and torrential rains and landslides causing a 10% drop in Pakistan and the Himalayan lowlands.  The addition of a couple of plant-diseases in South America and western Asia add some more 10% reductions to regional harvests, with the cumulative result being a world-wide food crisis.

We’ve had hints of this in the past, as when US floods in 1993 (pictured above) caused US corn production to fall 33%, or the 60% spikes in global food priced during two Russian droughts (pictured below); the more recent one occurred in the same year as damaging floods in Canada and Pakistan, both of which also contributed.


What’s different in the Lloyd’s of London analysis is the idea that climate change could trigger several large impacts at once.  Instead of 60% increases in food prices seen in the “bad” years within recent memory, they suggest we could see global food prices leap to 4 or 5 times the norm, which are likely to trigger all manner of social upheaval and tragedy of the sort that tends to trigger us to plunge our heads into the nearest hole in the sand. . . .

It will probably say something about your own comfort with risk to hear that Lloyd’s sees this worst-case scenario as having about a 20% chance of happening during the next forty years.  Even if we dodge those odds, the chart above is a reminder that one or a few modest disruptions can have a huge impact on the global food system.  It seems prudent for resilient investors to have at least an awareness of these risks, and, if possible, a plan in place for how to respond if food prices spike.


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Put your modest savings to work making a better world

Did you know that Calvert Foundation’s new Vested portal has lowered the entry point for its social investment opportunities to $20?  Social impact investing is one of the best ways to get real bang for your buck, but until recently there were few options for people with modest savings to participate. Most impact investments are risky enough that they’re only available to accredited investors, though local and regional loan funds and Calvert’s Community Investment Notes made it safer by bundling many social-impact projects into a mutual-fund-like packages.  Still, depending on the outfit, minimum investments were generally $1000 or more.

Vested opens these doors much wider, and offers beginning investors a wealth of choices: you pick the amount of your investment, and the term, as well as the type of social impact you’d like to have.  Investments for 3 years or longer pay interest rates comparable to or higher than most savings accounts.  Most exciting, you can choose from an array of targeted purposes, and with the low entry point, it’s easy to spread your money around a bit into several areas of interest.  Familiar themes like women’s empowerment, microfinance, and small businesses are augmented by other intriguing areas of focus, including aging and education in the U.S. or fair trade overseas.  For those who want their money to make a real difference in the world, this kind of direct investment in on-the-ground initiatives has far more impact than buying shares of even a do-gooder company. Your social returns are significant, while your money makes roughly what it would just sitting in your bank.

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Climate resilience can enhance social cohesion, reduce inequity

At a conference this summer, Building Climate Resilience for Equitable Communities, Shaun Donovan, Director of the Office of Management and the Budget, announced a slew of new White House climate resilience initiatives that are targeted to helping communities at risk and reduce the inequity that has become a major source of social instability.  He asked:

“Why are some children less likely to go to college, find good-paying jobs, and stay out of the criminal justice system? Why do those who have the least stand to lose the most when the storm comes through?”

Donovan went on to outline several programs that address these questions, through the lens of federal efforts to increase resilience in the face of climate challenges, including

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Resilience AmeriCorps focuses on vulnerable communities

This summer, the Obama administration launched a new AmeriCorps program that dovetails perfectly with the local resiliency efforts that we’ve highlighted as part of the Close to Home resilient investing strategy.  Resilience AmeriCorps was formed “to assist vulnerable communities that lack the capacity to address climate-resilience planning and implementation.  The AmeriCorps VISTA members will increase civic engagement and community resilience in low-income areas, and help those communities develop plans for becoming more resilient to any number of shocks and stresses, including better preparations for extreme weather events.”  Or, as funding partner The Rockefeller Foundation put it: to “support the development of resilience strategies to help communities better manage the unavoidable and avoid the unmanageable.”  Now that’s a punchy definition of resilience!

The focus on vulnerable lower income communities is especially encouraging, since many current grassroots efforts tend to involve generally better-off and already socially-engaged activists.  A White House overview of Resilience AmeriCorps stressed the importance of its social-justice priorities:

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Kids today…changing the investment world!

We were inspired by a recent “open letter” written by Liesel Pritzker Simmons, a young Millennial who was sick and tired of hearing the oldsters bemoaning her generation’s listless ways.  She reminds the financial industry that the great wealth transfer that left baby boomers better off than any previous generation is about to bestow even larger estates on her generation, to the tune of $30 trillion in North America alone, and points to a report from Impact Assets titled, The Millennial Perspective: Understanding Preferences of the New Asset Owners.

But Liesel has her own bugle to sound and we found her core themes to be music to our ears:

  • Stop talking about trade-offs. Like many in my generation, I want to do good and do well; I want profit with purpose. We don’t have to settle for one or the other. I know Milton Friedman didn’t think it was possible. Spoiler alert: Milton Friedman is not our idol.
  • We want to create value, real value. I want my investments to help improve livelihoods for communities. I want to help improve the land we live on. I want to help reduce waste or carbon emissions. Sustainable, long-term financial return can only be generated by improving social or environmental value, not extracting it.
  • We have to broaden our definition of risk. Investors like me are not satisfied with the traditional definition of risk – standard deviation and variability of returns. I think that is way too narrow. Hopefully, we will still be alive in 50 years, and that smog-filled, diabetes-riddled world we are creating sounds awfully expensive to me, regardless of how much my portfolio outperformed its benchmarks in Q3 2014. When we decide not to price in the negative impacts of our investments today, we are creating more risk (that someone will have to pay for) down the road.

And most importantly, let’s finally acknowledge that every investment we make has an impact on the world around us. Let’s make it a good one!

A broader definition of wealth, looking beyond limited views of risk, embracing the effects our choices have on the world—that sounds to us like another resilient investor in the making!

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Spotlighting Social Returns of Impact Investing

This recent and relatively in-depth article (January 2015) offers a great look at the promise and excitement of impact investing: “Bannick says that if you picture a graph of the capital invested every year in the United States, it would look like a lopsided barbell: on one end, tens of trillions of dollars seeking the highest return possible; on the other, nearly $45 billion of philanthropic money seeking no return whatsoever. In the middle, very little. ‘We need to fill in that capital curve,’”he says. One potentially viable pool: high net-worth individuals. The 127 people to date who have signed the Gates-Buffett Giving Pledge, promising half of their money to philanthropic causes, have a net worth of around $600 billion. The Forbes listing of the richest 400 Americans alone totaled just over $2 trillion in 2013. ‘The pools of capital are absolutely massive,” says Bannick. “And while some may still be looking to maximize their investments, a lot of these folks would be willing to invest and get a more modest return, perhaps, while having a fabulous social impact.” Read the article.

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This world is enough

This essay by Australian economist John Quiggin offers an overview of several factors that make a Muddle Through Up future plausible, and thus reinforce the Dealer response to our times. In particular, Quiggin looks at ways we can successfully share the economic prosperity pie to include today’s excluded populations while living within the planet’s ecological limits. Read essay.

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Beyond GDP: measuring true wealth

In recent years, the shortcomings of the commonly-cited GDP (gross domestic product) have become more widely recognized, spreading even to some governments and mainstream organizations such as the UN. Many alternative metrics have been proposed, each of which aims to capture aspects of societal well-being that are omitted by GDP, and/or to minimize the values-neutral elements of GDP (which considers money spent on, say, cleaning up the Deepwater Horizon spill as a positive contribution to GDP). Economist Hazel Henderson is a long-time champion of such alternative measures; Ethical Markets, where she is a principle, tracks news from around the world on such matters, and in an early-2015 essay, she highlights several current initiatives:

Genuine Progress Indicator. This website includes numerous articles and scholarly papers about GDP, several alternative measures, and the GPI, which estimates “economic welfare,” which appears to have peaked in 1978, while GDPs have generally continued rising.

Beyond GDP: The Need for New Measures of Progress (pdf). A report published by Boston University in 2009, by the team that developed the GPI.

Living Planet Index. Developed by the World Wildlife Fund, the focus here is on species and habitats.

Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators. A twelve-topic assessment of quality of life trends in the United States.

Sustainable Society Index. A recently-developed metric that tracks twenty societal measures of sustainability (including sanitation, gender equality, income distribution, governance, and ecological factors) for individual countries around the world.

Gross National Happiness. A national initiative in Bhutan that has spurred interest from countries and cities around the world.

Happy Planet Index. An initiative that builds on Bhutan’s lead.

Canadian Index of Wellbeing. Since 2011, this initiative has looked at country-wide wellbeing, and recently Ontario became the first province to use the methodology.


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Paul Hawken: Champion for change

Paul Hawken has been cheer leading, and leading, positive social, environmental, and economic change for over fifty years. He’s made his marks early in natural foods and backyard agriculture, and moved on to bigger topics in widely-read books on the economic system (Ecology of Commerce and Natural Capitalism), social change (Blessed Unrest), and next up, removing carbon from the atmosphere (Project Drawdown).

See Paul Hawken’s website; view videos of his talks

Commencement Speech Text: Healing or Stealing?
This 2009 commencement address at the University of Portland has been hailed as “unforgettable” and “one of the best commencement speeches of the past 75 years” (by His speech illustrates with clarity and grace how he lives in both optimism and pessimism about our future, with both social justice and corporate responsibility being vital to our collective future.

Interview regarding scenarios, optimism, and doomers.

Video: Project Drawdown. Introduction to a 2015 initiative to support new (and old) technologies that can reduce the greenhouse gas burden in the atmosphere.

Project Drawdown website. Project Drawdown is a book, a digital platform, and database about how we are and can reduce carbon in the atmosphere over the next thirty years. Detailing and measuring technologies that are already available, Drawdown describes the beneficial financial, social and environmental impact state-of-the-shelf solutions can deliver. By scaling existing solutions, we can mitigate and functionally reverse the build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.


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