Ok, so climate change is happening. Scientists (yes, those who acquire knowledge) have told us that the earth has warmed 0.8 percent since the late 1800s. They have also reported that the concentration of carbon dioxide has gone from 280 parts per million in 1750 to over 400 parts in 2013. But what does this have to do with my 401k or investment portfolio you ask? Everything!
When you click the BUY button in your brokerage account, you are becoming an owner in the stock of a company just as if you were buying a pint of ice cream from the local Whole Foods. USSIF’s most recent paper, Investing to Curb Climate Change, outlines the various, fairly simple steps to make positive changes when it comes to your portfolio.
Direct ownership of stocks
You make the decision of whether or not that tobacco company or polluting oil company is in your list of stocks. You can easily sell or divest yourself of these firms. You can easily demand that your investment advisor dispose of these holdings or else transfer your account to an investment advisor that does so (ahem, Sustainvest can do this!). When you get some free time, review any companies 10k Report (Section 1A discusses any risk factors the companies feels it may be facing). Go to the company website and search for a sustainability report. If you don’t see one, then yes, panic. If there is a link to their CSR report, then check to see what kind of targets they have set for reducing CO2.
Be sure to vote your proxy. You voted in the last Presidential election, right? Perhaps even more important than this is to vote on any shareholder resolutions listed. Don’t you want to have a say as to whether or not Denny’s should be using cage-free eggs? I do.
Don’t be bashful. If you have owned a stock for at least one year, you may be eligible to voice concern through a fairly simple 500-word statement to the CEO and Board of Directors. This proposal could be put on millions of proxy statements and even give you a 5-minute spot to speak directly to the CEO and executives of any company at their annual shareholder meeting. Many entities (again, Sustainvest) could even help you with this process.
Mutual funds or ETFs
In a lot of cases, most of us own the funds which hold the individual stocks. If that is the case, learn more about the funds. In the prospectus of the fund, it will list every single stock position along with an investment philosophy. Because you are a paying customer of these fund families, you have every right to contact them to ask if they are considering the integration of any environmental or social screen within the fund. If they say no, ask them why not. Last, but not least, you may simply want to switch funds. It is a fairly simple process to do a transfer into another fund family or to an investment advisor who is integrating these sustainable practices into client portfolios. If you do have a retirement plan at your workplace, ask the HR manager for options that integrate sustainable investing.
Though a component of the overall finance world, where we bank is an investment decision. Can you believe that some banks are still lending to companies involved in mountaintop removal coal mining? One report, the Annual Coal Finance Report Card, provides bank customers with a list of the banks involved in such lending. There is a plethora of local banks and credit unions that integrate a mission of sustainability and would welcome new customers with open hands.
Reversing our negative impact on this planet is going to take time. Taking each aspect of our lives, including our financial matters, and trying to implement positive “baby steps” is going to be key to making this place habitable for our grandchildren. In due time, sustainable and responsible investing will be the norm.
Dale Wannen is President of Sustainvest Asset Management, an independent investment advisory firm that specializes in socially and environmentally responsible investing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org