Socially Responsible Investing
An Interview with Julie Tanner
By Nicole Ward
In my interview with Julie Tanner, the managing director of Christian Brothers Investment Services, the workings of socially responsible investing is explored.
Socially Responsible Investing
In order to develop a deeper understanding about socially responsible investing and how it works, I interviewed Julie Tanner, an experienced professional who deals with investing responsibly. In her work, Julie engages with companies on topics of environmental, human rights, and corporate governance issues. Much of her work focuses on issues such as forced labor, human trafficking, and the protection of the environment. In addition to her work with Christian Brothers Investment Services, Julie is also on the board of The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, is a member of the Steering Committee of the Investor Alliance for Human Rights, and serves as an Advisory Council member for Fanimal!
Questions and Answers
NW: Could you give a brief overview of what exactly Socially Responsible Investing is and what it entails?
JT: “Socially Responsible Investing is all about investing in accordance with your morals and values, and using your assets and your investments to match your interests.”
Julie emphasizes that there is no one way to invest responsibly, and there are varying definitions on what exactly it means, especially because it’s a relatively new concept. Investors can use other terms when talking about socially responsible investing, including “community investing”, “green investing,” “mission-related investing,” “ethical investing,” or “values-based investing,” just to name a few. All of these terms are referring to the same concept of socially responsible investing. The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investing (US-SIF), defines a Socially Responsible Investment as an investment that “considers environmental, social, and corporate governance criteria to generate long-term competitive financial returns and positive societal impact.” So, the three pieces of criteria you’re looking for when deciding whether or not to invest in a company is its environmental, social, and corporate governance roles.
In regards to the environment, some questions you should be asking yourself when deciding whether or not to invest, are:
- What steps is the company taking to reduce their contributions to climate change?
- What is the company doing to protect ecosystems and wildlife?
- What environmental goals does the company have in place, and are they meeting those goals? If they aren’t, why?
When looking at the social criteria of a company, you should be thinking about the following questions:
- Does the company have a diverse representation of women, and people of color, within the company and on its Board?
- Are the working conditions satisfactory?
- Are their workers being paid a fair wage?
- Is the company making sure there is no child labor occuring within their supply chain?
And finally, when thinking about the corporate governance of the company, you should do some research on the structure of the company, and ask the following questions:
- How does the company select their board members?
- Is the company working in an appropriate way to advance their mission?
- How is the company set up? Is it fair and equitable? Is the CEO making excessive amounts of money?
- Do they have good foundational policies? Is sustainability at the forefront of company decisions?
NW: Interest in investing responsibly has been growing, what do you think is causing this increased interest?
JT: “Research that has shown that companies that are more attentive to social responsibility issues are better investments. And it makes sense, you want a company that’s paying attention to those things, you don’t want a company that’s in rough waters because they were responsible for bad things like the extinction of a species.”
A common misconception about investing in companies who are socially responsible, is that there is less of a financial incentive. However, research has repeatedly shown that this idea is false. Companies who are socially responsible are generally better managed and perform better than those who aren’t. Because of this increased knowledge and awareness that socially responsible investments are also financially competitive, people have become more interested. According to the US-SIF: The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, their 2018 Report on US Sustainable, Responsible, and Impact Investing Trends found that as of the end of 2017, “more than one out of every four dollars under professional management in the United States—$12.0 trillion or more—was invested according to sustainable investing strategies.”
Julie points out many additional reasons as to why the field of Socially Responsible Investing is on the rise. One thing being that younger generations who are beginning to invest, are wanting to invest in companies that have a positive impact on society, and have higher expectations for the accountability of companies. Furthermore, there is an increased awareness of the fact that companies should be responsible.
NW: There are a lot of companies out there that make it seem as though they are doing good work on social and environmental issues, when in reality they are actually not doing such great things. How do you know if a company is really being responsible, and isn’t just trying to get you to buy their products?
JT: “It’s such an important question, because it’s really easy for somebody to not know. It’s sometimes hard to discern which companies are credible and which ones are just greenwashing.”
Julie noted that it can be very difficult to tell if a company is really serious about tackling these issues. She goes on to say that if a company says they are doing amazing things for the environment, for example, you could ask the company what specific things they are doing to combat those issues. An example she gave was with an oil company. If an oil company claims that they care deeply about combating climate change, she would ask them a variety of questions to see how much they really care. A few questions she might ask are as follows.
- How many people are working on reducing emissions?
- What kind of programs do they have in place that demonstrates they care about climate change?
- What goals have they set for themselves in regards to emissions reductions, and have they met those goals? If not, why?
- Do they tie their CEO’s compensation and bonuses to meeting certain emissions reductions?
These questions can help to determine whether or not the oil company has strong policies in regards to climate change, and helps to better understand their commitments.
In general, Julie emphasizes that in order to discern whether or not a company is serious about social, environmental, or corporate governance issues, you have to dive deep into what specific steps they are taking to follow through with their claims. Looking at a company’s corporate responsibility report will also help to see details on their programs and how they are measuring their impacts and monitoring their own performance.
Takeaway #1: A socially responsible investment is one that aligns with your own personal morals and values, and considers the three components: environment, society, and corporate governance.
Takeaway #2: Investing responsibly does not mean that you will make less financial gains, in reality it is the opposite.
Takeaway #3: It is essential to take a close look at a company to make sure that they are putting in the work to back up the claims that they make.
At the end of my discussion with Julie, I asked her if there was anything else about socially responsible investing that she thought was important to note. She wanted to emphasize that there are ways to allocate your funds that align with your own interests and concerns, stating that she thinks it’s important for people to “think about what they really care about”.
Call to Action
Julie also provided some examples of investment funds who are working to protect the environment. One of these being As You Sow, which allows you to look up the funds that you’re invested in, and see what they’re doing in regards to deforestation. It gives the fund a grade and provides more details on if they are contributing to deforestation. It also tells you if the fund has a sustainable investing mandate, and if they are a member of US-SIF. In addition, it also gives the fund a grade on other important issues like fossil fuel and gender equality. Another example Julie mentioned is Karner Blue, which is an investment management firm that helps you invest in companies that are doing good on animal welfare issues through their Animal Impact Fund. These are three great resources that Julie pointed out, but always be sure to do your own research to make sure your own values align with the funds you are investing in.
Sources: As You Sow, Coalition for Private Investment In Conservation, Financial Times, Karner Blue Capital, Principles for Responsible Investment, US-SIF