Socially Responsible Investing: Putting Your Money Where Your Heart Is

What if there was a way to build a sound financial future, while investing in a better world? There is. It's called Socially Responsible Investing, or SRI. Simply put, SRI takes into account social responsibility and environmental sustainability criteria alongside conventional financial criteria-it helps integrate your personal, social and environmental concerns with your financial objectives.

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From Grass Roots Beginnings to Greater Returns

Although SRI has grown into a three-trillion dollar industry, its beginning were humble. Now one of the fastest growing trends in financial investing, historically speaking, SRI has been around for more than a century. More recently, the field of SRI re-emerged as a grassroots movement after the Vietnam War, when activists began to question whether or not their investments helped to finance war efforts they did not support. Today, individuals who want to grow their money using SRI have access to a complete range of investment options-stocks, bonds, mutual funds, exchange traded funds and financial planners who specialize in SRI and earth-friendly investing.

How SRI Stacks Up Against Conventional Investing

Logic would suggest that there must be a financial price to pay for putting your money where your heart is, at least this is what opponents of SRI argue. After all, there are less SRI options to invest in, which should mean a portfolio with greater volatility, less efficiency and reduced returns on your investment. Proponents of SRI counter this argument by pointing out that companies that are engaged in unsustainable business practices will show poorer profits over time, while companies who participate in sustainable business practices deliver a better overall performance. SRI is a pretty new field, so for now, the truth may lie somewhere in the middle. In side by side comparisons, studies suggest there is no difference in the rate of returns between SRI and conventional investing.

The Three Strategies to SRI Investing

SRI distinguishes itself from conventional investing by incorporating the following three strategies: Screening, Shareholder Activism and Community Investing.

#1. Screening

Screening is the inclusion or exclusion of investment options based on a set of environment or social criteria. There can be both positive and negative screens. For example, you may want to invest in an SRI mutual fund made up of holdings that exclude companies (negative screening) that generate more than a certain percentage of their revenue from sales of military weapons or tobacco or that use animals for testing. Or, you may want to only invest in companies that participate in renewable energy or promote employment equality (positive screening).

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#2. Shareholder Activism

Just like conventional investors, an investor and shareholder in a socially responsible company becomes part owner of that company. With SRI, shareholders are strongly encouraged to use this status to influence corporate behavior. Investors are encouraged to file shareholder resolutions that pressure corporate executives into improving the company's performance (e.g. reducing energy use) or join forces with other interests to solve environmental and social issues such as preserving wilderness or protecting women's rights.

#3. Community Investing

Community Investing is creating financial resources for the economically disadvantaged. This can be done in a number of ways, but the easiest way to participate is by doing your banking at a community development bank or credit union. These financial institutions focus on funding economic development for low to middle income people in the US and abroad that are normally overlooked by traditional financial institutions.

Whether you're an individual investor or you're part of a company, university, and church or non-profit, there are socially responsible options designed to align your social and financial values. Check out these resources for more information:

About The Author: Ellen Brown is our Green Living and Gardening Expert. Click here to ask Ellen a question! Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at http://www.sustainable-media.com

Comments

January 17, 20090 found this helpful

I am happy to see a movement towards SRI. When my husband and I started investing in the stock market, we told our broker that there were companies with whom we didn't want to do business. He thought we were crazy. We were following spiritual promptings and stuck to it. We did very well. Those choices and the financial results allow us to serve others on a regular basis. When your heart tells you that you are doing the right thing, don't let anyone else talk you out of it.

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