Investing for a Cause
Panelists spoke about environmentally conscious business
Three alumnae discussed how you can fight for women’s rights and against climate change through investing.
“Take a day or a week and just look at what you buy. ... Your consumer purchase is a vote,” Elena Reinholtz ’11 said at the Business Investing in Social Justice panel on Saturday.
The panel took place in Hassenfeld Conference Center and was part of ’DEIS Impact, a series of events dedicated to social justice. Reinholtz mused, “Costco is now the biggest supplier of organic produce. Costco didn’t do that on their own; they did it because society became more conscious about the food we buy.”
Over the last few years, a debate has erupted around the country about whether private universities — such as Brandeis — should divest their stocks in companies that do not share their values.
However, Saturday’s conversation focused more on the power of an individual investor to make a difference through investing in companies that are concerned about social justice. The panel featured three Brandeis alumnae, Carly Greenberg BA ’11 MA ’12, Reinholtz and Hannah Saltman ’12, all of whom work with companies that invest in social causes ranging from climate change to women’s reproductive rights.
The term “corporate social responsibility practices,” something discussed throughout the panel, can be applied broadly.
Carly Greenberg explained, “When you hear about socially responsible companies, you think they must be companies that are really, really great, but my firm has been investing money over the last forty years, and really great (socially responsible) companies didn’t exist back then, so we look for companies that haven’t done anything horribly terrible.”
At Walden Asset Management, an investment firm that promotes shareholder advocacy, Greenberg works to convince companies to fight climate change by setting what she calls “science-based goals.”
She pointed out that last week, Exxon Mobil voted a NOAA climate scientist to its board of directors because of pressure from groups similar to hers.
Saltman interjected that while there is skepticism as to whether the climate scientist had been appointed only to appease investors, the move was still “a huge deal.”
For people looking to invest their money in socially responsible companies, the right choices are not always obvious. For some, investing in fossil fuel companies while aspiring to help fight climate change is hypocritical, but as Saltman clarified, if you want to have a say in how oil companies respond to climate change, you have to buy stock in them.
She noted, “Having a seat at the table can be very helpful.” This is why the company she works for, Ceres, helps its clients invest in socially responsible companies and “stress test” their portfolios to see if they meet their social responsibility goals set by the firm.
She said, “Consumers no longer have to choose between profits or purpose,” adding, “Pepsi actually has a very robust sustainability reporting system.”
Reinhart approaches corporate social responsibility differently. In 2012, she founded Bird + Stone, a direct-to-consumer company that makes jewelry and aims to employ impoverished women and promote female entrepreneurship in Kenya by providing microloans.
As of last week, Bird + Stone also donates a share of its proceeds to Planned Parenthood, which has seen an uptick in donations since Trump’s win. Social entrepreneurship is something Reinhart is passionate about. “I wanted to be able to use jewelry as a funding vehicle for the causes I believe in,” she said.
The panelists believe that financial investments have the power to make the world a more just place. Greenberg noted that social movements forced corporations such as Pepsi and McDonalds to reduce the sugar in their products. In the energy industry, Greenberg said, “Coal is dead. Solar and wind energy are now cheaper.” But even in an age of heightened consumer consciousness, she warned that “progress can be slow.”
With Trump as president, Greenberg lamented, “We could see the EPA budget gutted,” but she added, “When it comes to climate change I am actually optimistic. I think we are going to be ok.”
There has been a heightening interest from private investors in groups that advocate for social and climate justice. Ultimately, Satman said, “Civic engagement has to fill the gap between the government and the private sector.”