We’ve all just returned from the 29th Annual SRI Conference in Colorado Springs. The theme this year was "Be a Part of the Change" We had a great time learning what’s new in our industry and the world of responsible finance. We’d like to share each of our experiences and highlights below, we hope you find them thought provoking!
This was my first SRI Conference and I’m 100% hooked…there were many times throughout the conference where I thought “I’m going to remember this forever!” With an agenda spanning over three days from 8am to 8pm there was no shortage of networking and informational content. We participated in workshops that discussed:
- Investment Performance - How ESG investments can sometimes result in higher returns with lower risk.
- Alternative Investing - Discovering alternative investments including renewable energy, organic farming, and unique real estate concepts.
We also watched inspiring talks from leaders in the vanguard of alternative investing including:
- Kurt Summers - The Treasurer of the City of Chicago demonstrated his leadership in showing that entire cities are going SRI with their investments and increasing investment performance.
- Chad Meyers - Chief Meteorologist for CNN - Chad used to be a Republican and climate change denier, and now he tours the country talking about how wrong he used to be.
This was my 4th year attending the Annual SRI Conference. Some of my favorite take-aways are below:
- “Active Ownership” - ESG Engagement with Corporations - Elroy Dimson, Emeritus Professor, London Business School presents academic research through the supporting that engagement with companies (through shareholder resolutions) improves their internal operations, financial performance, and valuation on the stock market. READ THE STUDY HERE.
- “Red Lights to Green Lights” - Daniel Esty, Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy, Yale Law School - From 20th Century Environmental Regulation to 21st Century Sustainability. One of my favorite talks! A more optimistic and hopeful presentation underlining the fact that our corporations will be the main lever to solving world problems rather than governments. Megatrends show that we can channel the flow of capital to the businesses as a solutions provider and that billions of dollars of venture capital are flowing into alternative energy and pollution control technology, among others. Local governments are showing real leadership through groups like C40: https://staging.c40.org/ to pave a better future. Individuals must act as corporate watchdogs and hold companies accountable. Big data is delivering new tools to identify and externalize the hidden costs of goods and services so that they can be reflected in a “true cost” pricing model and hold companies accountable for environmental and social harms. Philosophically, he applauded being patient yet diligent on progressing our lives, community and global society through big, new, & fresh thinking. This is our “moment of opportunity!”
- Local, Sustainable Finance - Met a team of people in Syracuse New York who are engaging their local credit unions and finance organizations to put their investments in local businesses and economy. This idea is well established in our food system (Buy Local, Eat Local), but not well deployed in our financial system. Kurt Summers, Treasurer of Chicago, is also doing this on a fully municipal scale. Very cool! Check out our local San Diego branch of Self-Help Credit Union HERE.
This was my 26th SRI consecutive SRI Conference in a row, as I haven’t missed one since I began in the industry in 1992. Our home, planet Earth, is at a critical point. We heard from two speakers in particular that outlined the immediacy of our Earth’s environmental cry for help as well as some positive and hopeful signals and call to action to “move the money” towards environmentally aware businesses.
- “The Race of Our Lives” – Jeremy Grantham helps us understand the Earth’s crisis by taking us through the ice ages to where we are today. He warns of the long-term, slow-burning problems that threaten us, including climate change, population growth, and increasing environmental toxicity. Interesting background is that he began his career as an economist with Royal Dutch Shell. HERE’s a LINK to his full hour long presentation, but well worth it and might be the most important hour you spend all year!
- “Changing Thoughts on Climate Change” – Chad Meyers chief meteorologist for CNN explains that we are trying to feed 7.6 billion people on what is a VERY fragile planet. He described how a hotter climate holds more clouds and more humidity causing hurricanes, heatwaves, flash flooding, etc. We are burning what is 100 million years of carbon sequestering. Not only are we seeing the environmental destruction, but the financial devastation follows. For example, in 2016, there were over $200 billion worth of disasters. This is a short, 4 minute interview with Chad where you can hear him describe the urgency of addressing climate change issues: LINK HERE. Also, below are a few slides from his SRI conference presentation.
- Trends Report – US SIF Foundation presented their “hot off the press” biennial study on SRI Investing trends. The good news is that there is now over $12 trillion (up 38% from $8.7t) invested in SRI. This is approximately 26% of all assets under professional management. That is over 1 in every 4 investment dollars!! The full study should be available on their website soon, but you can see the press release HERE.
- Breakthrough New SRI Study “The ABC’s of ESG” - Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) data points are becoming valuably recognized by main street banks like Merrill Lynch/Bank of America as shown by their recent study. They emphatically state that “ESG is too critical to ignore”. Their study found that “adding ESG would have consistently outperformed fundamental strategies with less risk.” The study also states “In our view, analyzing stocks using non-fundamental attributes might be even more important for US stocks than ever”Here is a LINK to the research.
In conclusion, the SRI Conference is a great time to connect with established business partners, as well as find inspiration in the stories and work of new connections. Our conference has grown from about 50 people to over 600. Participants travelled from many other countries including Canada, England, Australia and others. It has been exciting to see our industry grow over the years and hopefully just in time to make a difference when a difference is urgently needed. Our climate situation is dire, and our global society needs to adapt if we are to continue a quality existence. The SRI Conference always stokes new ideas as to how our economy can evolve to accomplish this. The flow of private capital will be the key! We hope our experiences and impressions can resonate with your own ideas about how our world can solve today’s social and environmental issues.