Rockefeller move highlights socially-conscious investing

by September 24, 2014

News came  this week — apparently timed to coincide with the United Nation’s Climate Summit 2014 held in New York City — that heirs to the petroleum-based Rockefeller family fortune planned to divest their $860 million charity fund from assets related to fossil fuels as CNBC reported.

Inside Philanthropy says it figures at least another 100 corporate and family foundations also are working on divesting themselves of fossil fuel investments; you might check with the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment for leads to any foundations headquartered in (or with well-known roots in) your area to uncover a local angle to the Rockefeller story.

With the just-finished summer being called the hottest on record and other social concerns from wars to our effect on wildlife to soda-fueled obesity also making headlines, your readers and viewers might be pondering their own role in the problems and/or the solutions — and how they can tweak that.

MarketWatch already is out with  “How to invest like a Rockefeller list” of socially conscious funds, and also a couple of well-timed caveats about how subjective that catchy marketing phrase really is.  Without squelching the notion entirely, you might want to apprise readers that there are critics of the entire notion; here’s a Truth-Out piece from earlier in the month, “‘Socially responsible capitalism still feeds the disease,'” about the pitfalls of the label and issues with auditing, particularly among tech firms that rely on overseas labor.  Bankrate as well asks “Does socially responsible investing help?” and concludes that in certain cases shareholder activism can exert enough pressure to make a difference — particularly when it comes to specific issues like the way animals are treated by the food-processing industry.

Where do your area’s household-name publicly traded companies fall when it comes to socially responsible investing?  Do any make the cut for such focused funds?  Your audience might wish to know why or why not, and what the corporations say they are doing to make a lighter footprint on Planet Earth and humankind.

Talk with area investment advisers and financial planners about demand by their clients for funds that eschew certain investments.  And talk with benefits and HR managers at your area’s employers — are workers starting to seek more “green” or responsible investments in their defined contribution retirement options?   Which local employers offer the best array within 401(k) or similar plans?

And will investors benefit beyond warm and fuzzy feelings?  A recent TIAA-CREF report says demand for socially responsible investments (SRI) grew 54 percent from 2003 to 2012, with more than $3 trillion in assets entrusted to these funds (about 10 percent of assets under professional management) but that performance — at least in the short term — is not comparable though SRI funds do compare well to broader indexes over longer periods.

Green bonds are another au courant topic; here’s a recent AP story on the topic and a Reuters piece about London banker Barclays planning to invest $1.6 billion in bonds that finance low carbon emissions projects and other Earth-friendly markets.  That news might be of interest to the planet-conscious fixed-income investors in your audience.

Again, giant grain of salt called for when relaying any of these claims — we’ve all seen how labels like ‘green,’ ‘organic’ and so on turn out to be empty marketing slogans — but an update on who’s claiming what still will benefit readers.