A revolution is underway. Led by investors armed with dollars rather than guns, this movement is altering the world through corporations for the benefit of humanity and the planet.
“It is a quiet revolution, and it’s going on every day,” said Orcas Islander Toby Cooper, a professional financier who has been involved in socially responsible investing for over 30 years. He will be speaking about this rising trend at the San Juan Island Library on Feb. 28, at 7 p.m. in a free event co-sponsored by Friends of the San Juans.
The concept of conscious investing can be traced back to the Quakers, a Christian based faith that originated in England during the 1600s. Quakers did not want their money supporting any company that owned slaves, supported slavery or manufactured weapons, according to Cooper. They became one of the first group of shareholders to morally and ethically opt away from certain businesses.
Today, socially responsible investing has evolved beyond shunning bad companies. Instead, shareholders are becoming proactive. In this new era, the call is not to contact congressmen, but to participate in shareholder meetings and vote, according to Cooper.
Cooper notes that investors represent a 23 trillion-dollar voice, and cites Climate Action 100+ as one example of the power citizens can weld with their investments. Climate Action 100+ is led by investors like Aegon, Essex, PIMCO, as well as many pension funds and other investment groups, who are collectively engaging the largest corporate greenhouse-gas emitters, including Exxon, Toyota, Volvo, Boeing, Tesoro, Proctor and Gamble, Chevron, to curb emissions and strengthen climate-related financial disclosures. Climate Action states on its website that “To date, 256 investors with $28 trillion (U.S. dollars) in assets under management have signed on to the initiative.”
Climate Action’s initiative has three main goals, spelled out on www.climateaction100.org: to implement a framework of board accountability and oversight of climate change risk and opportunities; reduce greenhouse gas emissions as consistent with the Paris Agreement; and to provide enhanced corporate disclosure to enable investors to assess the robustness of companies’ business plans against a range of climate scenarios.
“These leading global companies, prompted by their shareholders, are a part of something bigger than ourselves, and it is bringing about great changes,” Cooper said.
At least 175 resolutions telling companies to adapt to a low-carbon, fossil-free world, are passed by shareholders internationally, every year, according to Cooper.
As a result, companies have become leaders in lowering carbon emissions, as well as other environmental and social issues, during a time when the government, Cooper said, has dropped the ball.
Politicians, he explained, are more like mirrors than leaders, bending over backward to sound like their voters, and reflecting society’s thoughts.
Companies and investors, on the other hand, are forward thinking, according to Cooper. An investor does not buy stock based on the events of yesterday’s market but instead base their decision on what might happen tomorrow. Similarly, good businessmen try to keep ahead of consumer trends. Cooper used energy efficiency as an example. Customers want low-energy products because it saves them money on their electric bills. Companies, wanting to sell more products, go out of their way to create the most energy-efficient items as a result. This creates a win-win situation for corporations, clients and the environment.
Cooper noted that companies ask themselves “what-if” questions to gauge how world events might impact their bottom line, studying rising sea levels for example, and moving facilities further inland.
“We have great challenges ahead of us,” said Cooper. “One of the answers is business and shareholder action.”
Ceres, a nonprofit organization that acts as an informational clearinghouse for investors and shareholder activism, is now a powerful player in the global economy, and even took part in the original Paris Treaty Agreement on global warming, according to Cooper.
Shareholders can and are making remarkable changes for social justice, and for the environment, he said.
“Joining this movement is as easy as investing your IRA funds, and it’s a wonderful magical thing,” Cooper said.