In many ways, socially conscious investors find themselves at a kind of crossroads. For the most part, we share a vision for a restructured world that is based on natural systems, relationships, connection to communities and social justice. While this new model beckons to us in the foggy distance, getting from here to there is by no means a simple proposition. We also still need to make real world decisions about our financial lives based on the realities of the current system, and are faced with a number of challenges as we look to make changes which will help bring about economic transformation.
For many of us, our primary investment assets are in our company retirement plans. Many of these plans don’t offer socially and environmentally screened options, though we are definitely now seeing more become available. Even those of us with access to solid screened options face many limitations. Most of these funds are comprised of the stocks and/or bonds of relatively large companies and provide no means to support the local green economy, which is really the foundation and key to reconnecting our dollars with our communities. Socially screened mutual funds can be an important piece of a diversified portfolio and are certainly worth lobbying for them to be added to a retirement plan, but they are not a complete solution. Given the constraints of many retirement plans, we need to focus primarily on the rest of our financial world as we look to nurture the budding local economy.
We are clearly still in the relatively early stages of building this new economy and are designing more of the vehicles needed to enable us to invest our funds in a transformational and healing manner. During this transition period though, we still need to live and work and to try to maintain a comfortable standard of living while we save money for retirement and perhaps send our kids to college. We are still firmly planted in the old economy as we look hopefully toward a different future. A relatively small number of us have the mindset and temperament to make radical changes in our lifestyles today and accelerate the move to this new paradigm. Most of us are more incremental and evolutionary in our approach to things. Before we leap, we look for some level of assurance of what we’re going to find on the other side. Fortunately, our early adopter friends will already be there and, by leading by example, they will demonstrate that a locally based economy, driven by connection and community, really is viable and they will help show us the way.
In the meanwhile, we can remain positive and hopeful, comforted by the knowledge that a large group of people making relatively small, incremental changes in their lifestyles as well as their savings and investing habits can truly have a huge positive impact. Every dollar we spend that’s directed to a local business or farm strengthens this new economy and sends a powerful message. Every dollar we invest in a socially and environmentally manner rewards companies who are being good corporate citizens and sends a message to less responsive companies that it is in their financial best interest to adopt a more sustainable model. Every dollar we save in a local bank, community credit union or community loan fund strengthens the financial structure of this new economic system.
The transition from an economy based on extraction and consumption to one based on community and natural systems will of course take time. There will be moments when we’ll become discouraged and wonder if what we’re doing is really making a difference or whether we might just be an insignificant, powerless minority, futilely spinning our wheels in the face of insurmountable obstacles. These are the normal doubts and growing pains that come with any movement. Please know that everything we do really does make a difference. Keep the faith and have a great summer!