I returned from the 28th annual SRI conference on a recent Sunday night. The conference never fails to provide me a powerful dose of encouragement. It is a whirlwind impact investing focused 5-day event, including two days devoted just to advisors. It’s hard to sum it all up briefly. Instead, let me just hit on a few highlights and take-aways that I hope will also inspire you to forge ahead in these “interesting” times:
- Many speakers referenced the fact that last year’s conference convened the morning after the election. Frankly, we were all shell-shocked. Like everyone else, we missed the mark on predicting how markets would react. Yet, we committed then and have delivered on our promise to redouble our efforts to seek progressive social and economic change, especially through our power as shareholders.
- SRI, which I’m finally recognizing best stands for Sustainable, Responsible, Impact Investing is evolving dramatically. First, it’s going more mainstream, with more than one in five investment dollars now being directed toward SRI criteria. One unfortunate outcome is that sometimes a watered-down version of SRI, typically referred to as ESG (environmental, social, and governance) is used instead. As First Affirmative’s CEO, George Gay said, applying ESG metrics, and nothing else, simply results in “separating the less bad (investments) from the truly horrible.” On the other hand, a deeper commitment to investments with real social impact has emerged, and this is what I find most exciting.
- A session featuring two conservative panelists who have come to understand the real science of climate change had much to say about “preaching to the choir.” One speaker was a grass roots organizer from Georgia, with an accent that would scare most progressives half to death. The other was seasoned Capitol Hill Republican lobbyist. The first emphasized the language of stewardship to communicate with conservatives who do recognize the importance of taking care of the earth. The lobbyist emphasized the economic imperatives associated with climate risk. Both believe that many Republicans stand ready to take effective action on climate change, if they can just overcome the partisanship that besets Congress
- Former astronaut Ron Garan reminded us that next year will mark the 50th anniversary of one of the most world-changing pictures, “earthrise”, which was visible as an Apollo spacecraft first orbited the moon. Garan shared with us how during his lengthy stay in the international space station, he was continually struck by the fragility of the paper-thin atmosphere. As he looked out onto earth he realized that the fragile atmosphere alone was what was protecting earth. He, and other astronauts from around the world will be a powerful voice for international, science-based efforts to address climate change marking this anniversary.
- Many sessions addressed the nuts and bolts, and hard work associated with evaluating and influencing corporate behavior. One great example focused on sustainable agriculture from the perspective of the field laborers who are impacted on a daily basis as they tend our crops. For the worker, “sustainability” may focus as much on wages as the environment. They might also be more concerned about pesticide use than production of GMO’s. In short, “it’s complicated.” As a result, organized labor has become one of the strongest advocates for safer and more sustainable food production. This is a breath of fresh air to put the power back in the laborers and the land.
- Even closer to home, my conference experience was exciting in that it was the first I’ve attended with our full team- Renee, Laura, and Max. As we touched base during and after the conference, we’ve shared ideas about how we can enhance the service we deliver to all of you and continue to help you have an impact.
Look for one more blog to follow on my conference experience. Coming soon.