Monday, December 5, 2011

Creation Corner Column for December 2011: Creation and Consumers with a Conscience

"As you sow, so shall you reap." Galatians 6:7

How do we plant seeds of hope for the environment with the money we spend? What kind of world are we buying? Is our institutional investing "environmentally responsible"?

We know that consumers can influence corporate behavior by what they purchase, and what they avoid. Boycotts influence policy (e.g., against apartheid, or on behalf of migrant farmworkers). We increasingly look beyond what is inside canned food by reading the label (amount of sugar, salt, fat, cholesterol, additives, etc.) and ask questions about what is inside a company---its corporate social responsibility (e.g., charitable giving and community outreach, women's and minority advancement, defense contracts, nuclear or renewable power, etc.).

Opposite "mindless consumerism" many people are conscious consumers, or consumers with a conscience. They look for a "made in the USA" and/or union label, to gain some level of confidence that workers producing the product do so in an environment that meets health and safety requirements. Some products meet standards, such as cruelty-free certification (companies that do not test on animals) or certified as sustainable forestry (or farming or fishing) derived products.

Looking at the web site of a company or by calling their toll-free phone number, can help us assess their effort to reduce their environmental impact, from their responsible stewardship of natural resources as raw materials, to the externalities (emissions from production and transportation to market, packaging waste, etc.).

For investors, either as individuals or as religious institutions, "socially" or "environmentally" responsible investing ("s-r-i"or "e-r-i") is the key search tool phrase for one to "Google" to begin to educate oneself on this issue. Just as churches historically have avoided investing in alcohol, tobacco and gambling, today we can look at an annual corporate report to shareholders to help us understand the environmental impact of our investments. What is the company environmental policy about risks and opportunities; energy efficiency efforts; what its products and services do to improve the environment; is their clarification/disclosure about greenhouse gas emissions; has it been sued in any lawsuit about environmental crimes, etc.?

In addition to choosing an "sri" or "eri" stock/mutual fund investment portfolio, another way to promote a social good, to earn a financial return on an investment that is compatible with ones moral/ethical values, is by using shareholder rights. Proxy votes can prompt companies to make changes. "As You Sow" ( publishes an annual "proxy preview" that compiles shareholder resolutions for major corporations. "According to Moxy Vote ( a web site that lets shareholders vote on issues they care about, the most supported proxies in 2011 focused on hydraulic fracturing and coal combustion waste and sustainability reporting." (See "E" magazine, for Sept/Oct 2011, "Money Matters" column by Carrie Madren, p. 40).

Note: I was inspired to focus on this issue by having heard Green Earth Book Award Honor author Mara Rockliff at the late summer 7th annual Renewable Energy & Sustainable Living Festival ( sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Association ( Ms. Rockliff's book is: Get Real. What Kind of World are you Buying? Running Press, 2010. It has an excellent bibliography of print, video and Online resources. See .

Other Resources:
See web sites for Dow Jones Sustainability Index; Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility; and as examples of efforts in this field.