by Dave Hockman-Wert
Many years ago I was convicted of the need to “vote with my dollars” and spend my money in a way that matched my values, supporting companies that were practicing sustainability. As someone who has studied–and attempted to live out–environmental attitudes and behavior, this conviction helped balance the “cheaper is better” mantra I grew up with in my Mennonite home.
In my 20s, I didn’t have much money to spend, so it was challenging to pay more at natural food stores or buy green products. Now, I not only have more money to spend; I also have more money to save. I need to discern where I can put that money so that it will do more good than harm. Therefore, I’ve supported socially responsible investing (SRI) for a long time, for the same reasons that draw me to responsible consumerism.
Everence, the Mennonite stewardship agency, has long been involved in socially responsible investing through the Praxis family of mutual funds. They are one of the early SRI funds, which refused to invest in tobacco, alcohol, weapon, or military-connected industries, among others. Investing according to our values makes good sense as Anabaptists. If we’re not willing to participate in war, why would we want to support or own (in part) the companies that do? Likewise, in the past few years, as the climate crisis has worsened, many people are realizing that supporting the continued rampant use of fossil fuels is endangering the viability of human and natural communities all over the world.
Finding fossil fuel free funds
I first invested in a fossil fuel free mutual fund in early 2015, but not because I was looking for a fossil free fund. I had recently learned that Parnassus Funds, with whom I have investments, included Motorola in some of their funds. Motorola is a company that has many investments in Israel. It was on a list of key companies to avoid that the Boycott-Divest-Sanctions movement prepared as part of its work to end the occupation of Palestine. When I discovered that my fund held Motorola, I looked for other options. I was pleased to learn that Parnassus’s Endeavor Fund did not include Motorola and had the added bonus of a fossil fuel free commitment; I soon transferred my funds into the Endeavor Fund.
Since then, I have been on the Green Century Funds mailing list but have not yet made investments in other fossil fuel free funds. I have, however, been investing relatively small amounts in solar and wind stocks. Unless you are a savvy investor, I would not recommend this route, as the risk and volatility can be high, especially in the present political climate.
For those of you with investments or retirement accounts through your workplace or on your own (IRA, 401(k), 403(b), etc.), I encourage you to seek out fossil fuel free options from the resource list below. Even if you don’t have investment accounts, where you do your banking can matter. Many big banks invest in fossil fuel companies, their pipelines, refineries, and other infrastructure. There are better alternatives available.
Divestment from the fossil fuel industry is not the only way to resist the climate crisis and/or reduce your carbon footprint, but it is one good option among many. And if you’re spending a lot of your time and energy to support clean energy, sustainable communities, and low-carbon living, why would you want to have your savings support an industry that you’re otherwise working against?
Dave Hockman Wert, Corvallis, Ore., has served on MCCN’s Creation Care Council for over a decade. He is a geographic information systems (GIS) analyst with the U.S. Geological Survey Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center and a self-described “closet investing geek.”
Fossil Free USA: Your Road Map to Divestment: A project of 350.org, Fossil Free provides this simple list of how to get started with divestment. Doesn’t overwhelm the reader with too many options, but it contains some great resources.
Fossil Free Funds: This is a website that has already done the research for you. You can search for almost any mutual fund and see what percentage of its holdings are in fossil fuel industries. Great tool!
Fossil Free Faith: Canada’s interfaith divestment network engages individuals and faith-based institutions in fossil fuel divestment and other forms of climate justice.
Divest Invest Guide: This website has a lot of general information on divesting from fossil fuel industries, but one of its specialties appears to be a focus on banking.
Divesting and Reinvesting: Creating a Fossil Free Portfolio: This is a good general overview on fossil fuel free investing. It was created by Green America (formerly Co-op America), a green economy/responsible consumer organization around since 1982.
MAKE A CLEAN BREAK: Your Guide to Fossil Fuel Free Investing: A good guide on divesting from fossil fuel industries and reinvesting in sustainable and clean industries. It’s partly a marketing vehicle for Green Century Funds, one of the first fossil fuel free mutual fund companies, but given their pioneering work in the field and their strong efforts to evangelize on fossil fuel divestment, they deserve some credit.
Fossil Fuel, Divestment, and Reinvestment: From the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, the “granddaddy” of socially responsible investing, this web page includes a long list of fossil fuel free investing resources, and investment information for more experienced investors. Its socially responsible (SRI) mutual fund performance chart has been my go-to resource for the past 20 years.
Etho Climate Leadership ETF: This is one example of a fossil fuel free investment option with a particularly interesting approach, the “Smart Sustainability Process.” They analyze companies to find the ones with the lowest carbon footprints in each industry sector, and select these for their index.
This background material provides an interesting historical arc on how fast things are changing in the field.
Funds That Can Put Your Investments on a Low-Carbon Diet
New York Times, 10/13/17
How to Free Your Investment Portfolio from Fossil Fuels
The Guardian, 11/11/15
Bill Gates Calls Fossil Fuel Divestment a False Solution
The Guardian, 10/14/15
The Very Quick Guide to a Green Portfolio