I’ve been reading a lot about aging and death lately, perhaps because I’m middle aged with two aging parents, or just because I’m fascinated by it. In America we’re so ill prepared to walk through the process of death with someone. We’re thrown into a crash course of medical systems, biological functionality and the economics of healthcare.
I’ve learned there’s an entire occupation dedicated to helping one with this process: patient advocacy. According to Wikipedia, “The patient advocate may provide medical literature and research services to the patient, family, or health care provider. The patient advocate may also assist with family communication on issues arising from illness and injury.”
It occurs to me that in my job as a financial planner who focuses on sustainable investments, I can be considered a patient advocate for the earth. Arguably, the biggest contributor to the death of the planet and the suffering of millions of beings living upon it, is the greed of a few. And, capital is often the means of destruction. Those using their money without considering the human and environmental impact can be considered the crappy kids who never researched the care facility where their parents are being neglected. Similarly, capital may also be the one thing that can help reverse some ecological trends that are killing the planet.
Perhaps I provide an alternative for neglectful children. I’m a go-between and a “patient advocate” for investors and the earth. I can provide the data and research about companies and communicate the full impact of each investment. I can advocate with companies on behalf of investors on the best “treatment plan” and come up with a course of action that is least harmful to the earth, humans and animals. Together we can support companies with the most innovative treatments for the earth and the ills that plague humanity.
A patient in duress often has many issues impacting their health, and deciding what to treat and how aggressively becomes the decision of the caretaker. Similarly, how to design a portfolio based on impact and return becomes the decision of the investor. Do you prioritize climate change and does that mean divestment from fossil fuel and coal, or engagement with those companies where change can be made? Do you prioritize poverty and income inequality by not investing in companies where CEO and executive pay is totally out of balance with the average worker? Do you support micro-lending? Do you prioritize animal rights and does that mean divesting from cosmetic companies that animal test? How about factory farms or restaurants that buy factory meat? There are no “right” answers, but with information and personal discretion or priorities you can make decisions that are right for you and your family.
Like hospitals, we have many sophisticated tools for addressing your concerns. There are many details with every issue, and each company is in a different place regarding your specific concerns. What you decide about each investment will vary, but I will mention three systemic ways you can start to think about your treatment plan.
- What you own and what you don’t. This seems pretty obvious. Support the companies that do things you like and do not own ones that offend you. Disclosure is so important here and often things you may not think about, like political contributions, become important to consider.
- Proxy voting. One reason you may own a company that is a “maybe” on your list is to vote on how the company runs. As a shareholder, you get to attend the annual shareholder meeting, vote by proxy, or have your adviser vote for you, on all issues that make the ballot. You also may add something to the ballot by either owning 2000 shares or by using an adviser who can combine your shares with others and add your resolutions to the ballot.
- Where you put your cash or money market funds. CDFI, community investing, micro-lending— these words all basically mean the same thing. With your money market/cash allocation, invest directly with people. You may help with low cost housing in the US or a small business in Thailand, or pretty much any place in any endeavor that you feel is the best to “treat” the world. You loan them money, they pay you back.
There are many different ways to think about both systemic and micro changes. You can have a tremendous amount of impact by designing your portfolio to create the progress you’re committed to.
Posted by Renee Morgan, President, Better World Investments
Born in 1967 in San Francisco, CA, Renee has been a resident of Boulder, Colorado since 1995. Renee graduated with a MA in Counseling Psychology from Lesley College and a BA in Political Science from San Jose State University. While this may be an odd entry into financial planning, it probably makes apparent her interest in Socially Responsible Investing. Prior to founding Better World Investments Inc. in 2005, she was with Trilogy Financial Services, Inc. starting in 2000. Renee currently holds FINRA licenses 6, 7, 66 and is insurance licensed. She has won several service awards with First Affirmative Financial Network.