by Ritchie Lowry
Who Cares was the title of a national quarterly journal of service and action published a decade ago. The problem is that a great many of us care, but we don’t believe we have the power to change things. Environmental pollution, low pay for women and minorities, homelessness, and the other socials ills afflicting our planet appear to be so great and intractable that they are beyond our individual power to correct. However, we all have access to that power through two of the fastest growing movements in the U.S. – socially responsible investing (SRI) and socially responsible consuming (SRC).
Only a decade ago, just a few hundred millions of dollars was committed to SRI. By the year 2000, that figure had skyrocketed to almost $2 trillion dollars in the U.S. alone, and today it is even greater. That’s well over 10% of all managed market investments in the U.S. Increasing numbers of churches, city and state retirement and pension funds, and colleges and universities are screening their investments to support companies with good environmental records, equal opportunity programs for women and minorities, and responsible community relations – and to avoid investments in companies with bad records in these and other social areas. And, nobody knows how much money is involved in SRC, though the Council on Economic Priorities’ (CEP) published an annual runaway best-seller, Shopping for a Better World, for many years. If you have a checking or savings account, a retirement account or a credit card, or a small investment in a publicly traded fund, you can make your money work for your values. As a consumer, you can also purchase the products and services of companies with good social records and avoid the products and services of companies with bad social records.
If you have managed to hide away several thousand dollars, consider one of the over 100 socially screened (many environmentally oriented) equity, bond, money market and mutual funds now available to the public. You will be pleased to know that research shows that social screening has no negative impact on financial return, and some of the social funds have done much better than the market averages. These funds are also a good place to put money for Individual Retirement Accounts. Some of the socially screened funds have proactive practices where the fund managers actively dialogue with corporate management about social issues. If you work for a company or organization that has a retirement account supported in whole or part by contributions from your paycheck, remember that the money belongs to you, not to them. Find out who manages the money and where it is invested. The same thing can be done if you are a member of a church, community group or other organizations that have investments.
Cause-related credit cards are growing in number, especially those that make contributions to environmental groups with each use or purchase of a new card. If you want to support a number of different activities with your purchasing power, Working Assets Funding Service offers a VISA card giving donations to a variety of social action and environmental groups for each use. Working Assets Long Distance gives a portion of all long-distance telephone charges to environmental and social change groups, and provides customers with the opportunity to let their political representatives know what they think about a variety of social issues.
Some banks have good records for keeping their loans in the local community to help small businesses, to build low- and moderate-income housing, and to help socially beneficial enterprises. There are a number of community-oriented banks and credit unions around the country. Even if you don’t have such a bank in your neighborhood, ask your local bank what it is doing with your money. Under the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) of 1977, banks are required to meet community credit needs. But because Federal Reserve Bank regulators are usually lax, citizens have to become the watchdogs. Ask your bank for its CRA report and regulatory rating. If your bank doesn’t give you a satisfactory answer, tell others and bank elsewhere.
Finally, all citizens can use the extraordinary economic power they have as consumers. The opportunities are literally almost endless. When you shop at the grocery or drug store, have you ever wondered what the companies making the products are doing to the natural and social environments? Whether or not they test on animals? Whether or not they make weapons of war? You can find this type of information on a variety of social investment and social investing web sites.
Can all of this really make a difference? Here’s what Robert E. Wood, President of Sears, Roebuck from 1928 to 1954, said:
“Business must account for its stewardship not only on the balance sheet, but also in matters of social responsibility.”
When you invest and spend in a socially responsible way, remember that you are not alone. In cooperation with Roper, Boston-based Cone Communications completed a 1994 survey of cause-related marketing. The Cone/Roper Survey concludes that some 55 million consumers put great stock in a company’s sense of integrity and duty.
This is how CEO Carol Cone puts it:
“A major finding of [our] survey is that one-third of Americans say that, after price and quality, a company’s responsible business practices are the most important factor in deciding whether or not to buy a brand. In fact, social responsibility was slightly more influential than advertising.”
Reprinted with permission –