How Community Foundations Can Accelerate Social Change

By Patricia Farrar-Rivas, CEO

 “The world has changed, and so must we.”  – Clara Miller of The F.B. Heron Foundation

Clara’s right.

The time is now for community foundations to embrace a new vision that accelerates social progress and rebuilds local wealth.

The good news is that a new roadmap for community foundations is contained in a just-published report by The Democracy Collaborative,  A New Anchor Mission for a New Century: Community Foundations Deploying All Resources to Build Community Wealth.

The report is recommended for anyone interested in making their community stronger, especially those encouraging social change through impact investing. Why? Impact investing is growing more rapidly among community foundations than other foundation sectors.

The 52-page report highlights how community foundations are innovating to build community wealth and profiles 30 innovative foundations across the country. The report describes how each of these forward-thinking organizations is rethinking its mission to have an even greater impact.

The Opportunity

Ted Howard, Executive Director of The Democracy Collaborative, explains that community foundations are evolving to play a lead role among major local “anchor institutions” including major universities, hospitals and non-profits. These institutions represent more than $1 trillion annually in economic activity and are grounded in their region.

The report showcases community foundations that are adopting this new anchor mission by deploying all of their resources—financial, human, social, intellectual—to create shared prosperity. This mission uses their twin financial resources, grants and investments, to help develop a locally rooted economy that is inclusive and sustainable.

“America’s more than 760 place-based community foundations can be a tremendous force for community economic revitalization,” Howard said. “Combined, their endowments total $65 billion and their annual grantmaking roughly $5 billion.

Community foundations are today at a tipping point, said Ronn Richard, president of the Cleveland Foundation. “Our field’s next century will be radically different from the first.”

In particular, community foundations are facing growing competition from a growing group of national donor advised funds, many of which are affiliated with commercial institutions such as Fidelity, Schwab, Vanguard, Citibank, and Goldman Sachs. Donor advised fund (DAF) assets at those institutions now surpass the DAF assets at community foundations, the report found.

Clara Miller of The F.B Heron Foundation noted that local foundations can provide new leadership in their communities. Most philanthropic approaches were designed for a world in which a small segment of the population lived in poverty. Today, Miller says poverty is structural and the urgency and size of the problems require that we work differently. “Everything at our disposal is now a mission-critical resource.”

Progress On Many Fronts

The report profiles a wide range of foundations, but three examples show how foundations are evolving to become anchor institutions.

  • The Cleveland Foundation catalyzed the creation of three employee-owned Evergreen Cooperatives, including Evergreen Energy Solutions, a solar installation and energy solutions company launched in large part with the support of large contracts from local anchor institutions. The three cooperatives employ workers drawn from Cleveland’s inner city neighborhoods, where unemployment exceeds 25 percent and median household income is under $18,500 a year. Inspired by this model, a number of other community foundations have begun adapting this approach for their own communities.
  • Vermont Community Foundation, based in Middlebury, VT, for the last decade has had a policy of devoting five percent of all assets—including donor advised funds—for investments that benefit Vermont. And through its Food and Farm Initiative, the foundation has deployed many other resources to build community wealth in the food and agriculture sector. The foundation supported legislation that created the Farm to Plate Initiative and funded the Initiative’s ten-year plan to increase economic development. It also helped launch the Vermont Farm to School Network, which seeks to create local food-buying programs at all Vermont schools by 2020.
  • Incourage Community Foundation of Wisconsin Rapids, WI, this year made a new commitment to invest 100% percent of its resources for mission. Everything the foundation does—grants, investments, vendor relations, and hiring—will be re-examined with a focus on creating a community that works for all.  Incourage made a commitment to invest all its financial assets for mission, making it the first community foundation to take such a pledge.

The Democracy Collaborative is doing great work helping foundations shift their mindset from poverty reduction to wealth creation. This is the kind of inspired thinking that benefits all of us.

Patricia Farrar-Rivas is CEO of Veris Wealth Partners.


The Time is Now for Mutual Understanding

By Casey Verbeck, Director, Business Development

Living in lovely Boulder, Colorado with my wife and two kids is an amazing and wonderful experience, but I will never forget where I came from: the other side of the tracks outside of St. Louis.

Even amid this Rocky Mountain splendor, I’m reminded that not everyone is living the dream. We live in a time when 33 million people in the U.S. do not know how they will get their next meal.

Right here in Boulder we have too many people of all ethnic backgrounds living below the poverty line – 14% of the population. The equality gap is further dividing us from one another, dimming the hope of millions of people who long for change for their families and children and the opportunity to make the world a better place.

What Can We Do?

My modest upbringing motivated me to work hard, and it helped me succeed. But not everyone is as fortunate, and the institutions that are supposed to benefit all of us are fraying faster than we can repair them.

We have public school systems with limited resources and packed classrooms; teachers who are underpaid, in stressed communities and trying to do the job of three; healthy foods that are simply not affordable to many; and rationed healthcare because of the serious limitations of our system.

We need a new formula and a new set of principles that elevates the conversation about equality for all. Collectively, we should aspire to a standard of living that is more than simply getting by.

Start Locally

Systemic change comes with deep understanding, and it should start in our backyard. By visiting local neighborhoods we normally don’t go to, or participating in local nonprofits, we connect with our community and begin creating systemic change.

I’ve experienced this firsthand as an advisory board member of Accion and my work with like-minded Community Investment institutions. Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) were just beginning to have significant presence ten years ago with $14 Billion in assets. Today, CDFIs have grown to $61.4 Billion in assets to meet growing U.S. demand. It’s not just about the loans made available to those who would never qualify for a loan. It’s also about the importance of understanding the culture and belief systems of those who benefit from these programs.

Nothing is more rewarding than helping people in our community build their knowledge and skills, so they can achieve financial security and begin accumulating wealth for themselves and future generations. Through impact investing Veris works closely with other leaders in the rapidly growing Community Wealth Building movement to support lasting change.

By working together in our own communities, we can provide those most in need with the guidance, support network and capital to help them succeed. The first step is to begin a dialogue with those who come from the other side of the tracks to see how we can do something great together.

Veris is committed to investing in our community investment partners throughout the nation to bring this vision into reality. It’s more about the “we” and less about the “I.”

What An Impact Investor Knows

By Luisamaria Ruiz Carlile, Wealth Manager

As impact investing gains momentum, a common question we hear is: “What does the new breed of impact investors know that traditional investors don’t?” What insights have transformed these impact investors’ approach?

Here are three insights to consider:

  1. Collectively, we have always been impact investors. Whether we know it or not, we have been shaping and transforming economies and ecosystems through our capital allocations for centuries. What we choose to finance – and what we don’t – has significant consequences for everyone. For instance, for decades we have been subsidizing oil and coal companies with hundreds of billions of dollars, while drastically underfunding renewable energy and conservation. As a result, we’re now scrambling to reverse environmental damage, create new sustainable industries, and assure that we have a dependable energy supply for our collective future.
  2. We can own the impact created by our portfolios. Impact investors are saying “yes” to actively directing their investment dollars toward social and environmental goals, and “no” to the negative impact their portfolios have on society. In applying their financial muscle to innovative opportunities and challenges, impact investors are finding solutions. Whatever their goals – poverty alleviation, sustainable agriculture, environmental solutions, economic diversity and inclusion, among many others – impact investors know they can incorporate sustainability and impact across the many asset classes that make up their portfolios.
  3. Investing for impact does not mean sacrificing investment performance. For years, investors have been told that impact and sustainable investments underperform their peers, that investing for social benefits means lower financial returns. The data solidly refutes this assertion. For example, the MSCI KLD 400 Social Index, launched in May 1990, tracks companies with high ESG* ratings. The MSCI KLD 400 had a 9.95% annualized return over 20 years, slightly outperforming the S&P 500 Index, which had a 20 year annualized return of 9.78%. A second excellent data point is the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index, which tracks global companies in the top ten percent for ESG criteria.


As impact investing goes mainstream, it is upending the long-standing assumptions about “Passive” vs. “Active” investing. For some time now, the accepted wisdom of “Passive” investing has been to pick an asset allocation and populate it with low-cost, traditional index funds. Hand over the investing keys. Await returns.

Active” impact investors, on the other hand, are not settling. Energized by embedding their values and passions into personalized portfolios, they expect multiple returns on their invested capital. Earning competitive financial returns is just the starting baseline. From there, it’s the additional benefits of investing for impact that are crucial: a healthy planet, thriving communities, diverse and inclusive workplaces.

Impact investors embrace a broad universe, including supporting micro-finance, shareholder-advocacy and community development. Impact investors are financing leading sustainable businesses and forward-thinking enterprises.

Compared to the personal, social, environmental and financial returns that “Active” impact investors are creating with their portfolios it now appears that “Passive” traditional investing is giving up much more. What a transformative moment in the history of investing.

*ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) criteria used to rate the sustainability of companies

The Dalai Lama, Science, Learning and the Sustainable Mind

By Anders Ferguson, Partner

On May 12 I attended a private meeting led by the Dalai Lama and walked away heartened.

The Education of the Heart symposium at Erasmus University in Rotterdam brought together experts from education, science and business, including the Dalai Lama, to explore new ways of learning and knowing essential to creating a flourishing society and a sustainable economy. It was the fourth in a series of meetings about sustainability, mindfulness, learning and leadership with the Dalai Lama that I have had the honor of helping create since 1999.

The key takeaway of the event for me – which is aligned with the Dalai Lama’s thinking for the past 50 years – is that science is confirming the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. Neuroscience is also confirming that our minds connect deeply with our emotional and social intelligence. We now know that as we talk with a colleague, our “two mind’s energies” are interconnecting.

Thinking Differently

Mindfulness and meditative practice give us the opportunity to think more deeply and creatively about both opportunities and problems.

What was fascinating to learn at the symposium was new research about how meditative practice can literally rewire our neural networks, allowing our mind to consider possibilities and innovations. We were reminded that while our brains may be like computers, our minds are literally integrators of energy and information. They are not constrained by the bones of our skulls.

Rather than defaulting to the same tired answers, meditative practice enables us to think differently. The Dalai Lama said:

“I feel this growing enthusiasm based on realizing that something is not satisfactory, wanting something to change. I think this is very good. We usually take things for granted and go on according to tradition, in spite of drawbacks. This is a real failure preventing progress. But this enthusiasm, saying something is wrong, is the first step toward transformation or some positive change. Then we need more discussions, more research, more experimentation. Then we will find new answers.”¹

Speakers cited numerous examples of how mindfulness was changing education in Europe and the U.S. The breadth of the successful experiments in schools in Holland was remarkable. For instance, Project MindLab: Understanding the Mind, Educating the Heart awakens young peoples’ compassion through mindfulness. It also inspires teachers to relearn the nature of teaching. As teachers learn to relax their minds and bodies, learning is better and the whole school is calmer.

Leaders from business, government and educational organizations attending the symposium agreed not only about the importance of approaching problems holistically, but also that we must up our game significantly.

They acknowledged that the approach we have been using isn’t working. In fact, our whole understanding of the mind, learning and hence education is basically incorrect to the point of being not grounded in modern science.

What It Means For Impact Investing

Our desire for a new approach to understanding ourselves is also an opportunity for sustainable and impact investing.

The Dalai Lama said our external world is a mirror image of our internal life. Impact investing is growing because inspired individuals are creating new solutions that deal with global problems, from climate change to clean water to gender equality.

The mindfulness of investors and their ability to understand their inner knowing and values inspires investors to finance original and enlightened ways to advance the human condition. This is the emergent and thrilling intersection of mindfulness and impact investing. Its transformative.

We clearly have a long way to go before mindfulness – let alone mindful investing – is a mainstream concept, but we’re headed down the right path.

In the meantime, mindfulness is unfolding alongside impact investing and nothing but positive social change is likely to occur as a result. As we come to understand and cultivate the “Sustainable Mind,” we really engage and manifest impact investing.

¹His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Designing an Economy that Works for Everyone. Irvine California, 2004. 2nd Spirit in Business Dialog (2nd of 4)


Sustainable Transparency for Prosperity

By Anders Ferguson, Partner

Over the past 20 years, businesses and their investors have made serious efforts to be sustainably responsible and transparent.

The good news:  We’re finally making real progress.

Everywhere we turn the focus on sustainability and transparency is gaining momentum. The reason is that sustainable business and investing has become a key driver of innovation and market leadership in the U.S. and internationally.

Concrete Evidence

Today, Sustainable and Impact investing makes up 12% of total U.S. assets – almost $4 trillion in wealth. Every day, companies large and small are integrating sustainable strategies into their business models.  We see this in innovative new products created to meet growing demand from consumers who want to cast their dollar votes in favor of ideas that preserve Mother Earth or increase personal and community wellness.

At the same time, companies are scrutinizing their supply chains and prioritizing changes that enhance sustainability. Driving these efforts is the growing awareness that we’re all interconnected – as individuals and companies. None of us exist in a vacuum. We influence one another – positively or negatively. The choice is ours.  The greening of the supply chain is helping build this critical mass and save money at the same time.

The Catalyst: Sustainable Investing Practices

The emerging interconnection between sustainable finance/investing and sustainable business practices is the catalyst for change.

Unlike the past, when investing themes such as commodities or small cap companies captivated investors, emerging sustainable business models are creating new and exciting investing themes that deliver both financial return and positive social benefit.

The savviest investors are starting to realize the upside. They understand that business models that promote sustainability are highly transformative across industries, societies and borders.

As a result, the investment opportunities are enormous. Sustainable business models are fundamentally reinventing global commerce. The hot investing themes aren’t about a single product, but rather systemic, positive change.

What’s Going on?

Investors are searching for a merger of their values and their worldview that’s based on a more holistic view of investment risk.

Progressive businesses are moving away from blindly placing profit ahead of everything else. Increasingly, businesses are considering the prosperity of workers and communities, as well as the bottom line.

They are creating new operating principles, including willingly reporting to shareholders the impacts they are having on the environment and communities. They are embracing new metrics and accounting systems to report and drive change.

Structural Change

The clearest indication that businesses are reinventing themselves is the creation of SASB – the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board. Even more positive, is how SASB is evolving in prestige and visibility. The appointments of Michael Bloomberg as Chair and Mary Shapiro as Vice-Chair are very welcome additions to the Board.

In business, we say that if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.  In a few years new sustainable accounting standards will emerge that identify real impacts and hidden risks produced in the course of business. These standards create the baseline for US publicly traded companies to report material non-financial data pertinent to investors.  Costs traditionally ignored as “externalities” – arising from dumping carbon, polluting oceans, draining watersheds or tolerating communities of vast poverty – will be more clearly reported on corporate balance sheets for all to analyze and measure.

Europe As Leader

Europe is a good example of how momentum is building for Sustainable and Impact investing.

In April, the European Parliament made history by passing a new law requiring its biggest companies to include sustainability factors in their annual financial reports.  With a lopsided margin of 599-55, the Parliament voted to require the law to apply to publicly traded companies with more than 500 employees.

european union_2014 05 30

In their annual reports, these companies must address “policies, risks and results” in relation to “social, environmental and human rights impact, diversity and anti-corruption policies.” That’s another big step forward in promoting transparency and identifying the real costs of any business enterprise.

The Bottom Line

Where does all of this leave us?  Why is it critical that we have a new financial accounting system to better report the risks and opportunities facing companies?

Comprehensive reporting is the new connective tissue between investors and business operations, creating a united front for delivering badly needed transformative change. For the first time, risks will be more accurately priced in, innovation will receive greater recognition and distortive subsidies will become more apparent.  Much has been accomplished. We still have significant work to do.

In this environment, investors are actively encouraging transparency and positive change.  They want to partner with progressive businesses that are creating a future of more sustainable abundance and much less destruction and waste of our societies and the environment.

Creating sustainable change takes radical transparency.

How Do Domestic Public Equity Impact Investments Perform?

By Michael Lent, Chief Investment Officer

One of the questions we hear often is whether there is a financial performance trade-off to impact investing. So, how does the domestic public equity segment of impact investing stack up?

The short answer: Very well compared to relevant traditional benchmarks.

At Veris Wealth Partners, we practice impact investing each and every day. We manage our clients’ portfolios to generate financial returns with positive social and/or environmental results. We believe you can achieve impact across all asset classes, including domestic public equity. Domestic public equity is a tremendous opportunity to invest in forward-thinking corporations leading in governance practices. They are also leaders in board diversity, and operational excellence in utilizing renewable energy and greener supply chains. These corporate innovators are creating scalable solutions to global challenges. They are positively impacting the lives of key stakeholders – employees, customers, communities, and the environment we all share.

A Good Yardstick

One of the best sustainable proxies for a domestic public equity allocation is the MSCI KLD 400 Social Index. It takes a broad market index, the MSCI USA, and selects only those companies that meet best-in-class environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria.

In 2013, the annual performance of the MSCI KLD 400 Social Index was +36.2%. That was better than traditional (non-impact) indices, such as the MSCI USA Index, which returned +32.6% and the S&P 500 Index returning +32.3% over the same period. Companies with higher positive environmental and social impacts outperformed both traditional indices by more than 350 basis points.

2013 was clearly a good year, but in some years, the MSCI KLD 400 underperformed the MSCI USA and the S&P 500. At Veris, we prefer to look at performance over the longer term. Since January 1992 the MSCI KLD 400 has produced an annualized return of +9.58%, compared to the MSCI USA Index which returned +9.29%. Over this same period, the S&P 500 Index returned +9.19%. Results show higher positive-impact domestic companies outperform their traditional competitors over the long-term — this is evident in the chart below which exhibits the growth of $100 over time. MSCI KLD 400 is the blue line outpacing the others.

Growth Over Time

Impact Performance

In addition to financial performance, Veris looks for investments that create measurable positive social and/or environmental impact such as lower reliance on carbon intensive energy, product innovation, employee empowerment, efficient water usage and more. Investors have growing access to sophisticated Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) data for public corporations through organizations like Sustainalytics and MSCI. As the quality of ESG data improves, asset managers get better at incorporating ESG data at a company level.

By integrating impact into performance, we measure total integrated return of client’s investments to include financial externalities. We believe that integrating financial and non-financial returns may allow our portfolios to outperform traditional portfolios given their ability to respond to increasing natural resource constraints, innovation, and ability to target growing demand by customers for products and services that solve problems instead of creating more.

Shareholder Engagement

Public equity impact investing also provides the ability for shareholders to engage corporate management and boards in dialogue around key issues for ESG improvement. Increasingly shareholders are winning interventions on issues from climate change to human slavery. Rather than a “nice to have,” impact investors demand using their company ownership to direct votes for corporate change.

What Veris Looks For

Veris utilizes a proprietary due diligence process to evaluate investments from both a risk-adjusted and impact performance perspective that compares investments to impact and traditional indices. For public equity, we look for managers that integrate ESG criteria into their investment management process.

Opportunity Abounds

In the past there were many fewer ways to achieve positive financial and impact return. As impact investing moves from niche to mainstream, we see a significant increase in available investments. Opportunities exist across all asset classes, empowering visitors to build diversified portfolios to achieve their total performance objectives. The growing number of quality management teams producing admirable performance directly results from increased demand from individuals and foundations putting their wealth to work with purpose.

Veris is pleased to work with clients committed to maximizing their total impact investment performance – financial, environmental and social.


Impact Investing: A Smarter Way to Invest

By Patricia Farrar-Rivas, CEO

When we founded Veris six years ago, we were among the very few who believed in the power of impact investing to create wealth and improve the world.

Today, with the planet’s long term viability at risk, we can no longer ignore the connection between global issues and individual choices. In their scale and complexity, today’s problems are unlike any we have ever encountered.

And yet, big challenges create big opportunities.

We are convinced that 21st century investing must see sustainability as a primary driver of growth and innovation.

Deeper and Better Answers

At Veris, our mission is to manage wealth in a sustainable manner, and in so doing, participate in fundamentally transforming our capital markets.

The differentiator for impact investing is how it integrates business, social, environmental and economic factors into investment analyses. The differentiator for impact investors is their commitment to using capital markets to drive the positive change that governments and philanthropy cannot realize alone.

With more variables in play and redefined measures of “return” and “value,” impact investors are looking for deeper and better answers.

In asking questions about environmental impact, they are quantifying risks that were previously ignored. In assessing gender inclusion, they are challenging how financial markets value women and girls. And in committing to positive impact, these investors see “stakeholders” — workers, consumers, communities, the environment and shareholders — as the ultimate beneficiaries of invested capital.

We always knew that impact investing would one day catch fire. That day is here.

Consider the following:

  • One out of every nine dollars under professional management in the U.S. is now invested in impact/socially responsible investing strategies. SRI assets have grown from $639 billion in 1995 to $3.74 trillion in 2012.



  • Today’s impact investors have opportunities for change not possible 10 years ago. Do you want to help save a key watershed? Improve organic farmland? Help business creation in the poorest developing countries? Or build a really functional toilet, yes toilet, for people who have none? Impact investing goes deep for change.
  • Impact investing has gone mainstream. This past fall, the largest brokerages in the country, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley, made high profile commitments to impact investing. Others who have traditionally ignored the field are now doing the same. Establishment institutions can no longer afford to stand idle during one of the most profound shifts in investor sentiment in our lifetime.
  • The industry infrastructure is expanding to support impact investing. Wealth advisors now have no reason not to put their clients’ money in impact investments. Envestnet’s Sustainability Platform makes it easy for wealth advisors to invest with impact across all asset classes. In fact, impact assets have risen 260% to $625 million over the past two years. Veris is proud to power Envestnet’s impact investing platform.

Competitive Performance

The good news: it’s abundantly clear that investors don’t have to sacrifice performance to achieve positive social impact. Numerous, credible academic and industry studies demonstrate that investing in companies that follow Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria can deliver investment performance competitive with traditional approaches.

Strong Investment Performance


The possibility of achieving both financial and social/environmental returns is why we say impact investing is a smarter way to invest.

Broadening the Debate

The success of impact investing is enlightening the debate about many social issues. Two timely ones are Climate Change and Gender Lens Investing. In 2013, the dialogue around these issues exploded. We’re excited to be part of the global conversation reshaping how investors think about the social implications of capital allocation.

As we begin 2014, we see tremendous opportunity ahead.

Impact investing is a powerful tool for delivering maximum benefit for everyone on the planet. Working together, we can find innovative solutions that address intractable problems.

We invite you to join us.

What About the Women?

By Patricia Farrar-Rivas, CEO, and Luisamaria Ruiz Carlile, Wealth Manager

That is the key question that “gender lens investing” (“GLI”) puts in front of thoughtful investors as they review their portfolios and select new investments.

Do I hold investments that are channeling capital to women, whether in the U.S. or abroad? Is the mutual fund in my IRA screening companies for board diversity and gender equity in the workplace? Have I asked about the diversity of company ownership and management when I’ve selected investment managers?

Just as investors today are asking about the social impact of their investments on the environment, workers, consumers and society, so, too, are many seeking investments managed by women or that advance opportunities for women and girls.

A World of Opportunities

Each day, new research demonstrates the enormous, positive economic impact created by women and girls around the world. Their contributions range from women in emerging markets who repay loans at extraordinarily high rates, to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs successfully putting venture capital to work, to research showing companies with higher numbers of women in management outperform their peers.

Currently, the choice of investment vehicles that are specifically constructed with a gender lens is limited, but it grows as more investors understand its power and potential. In the meantime, Veris continues to cast a wide net to identify excellent opportunities that advance the following goals:

  • Provide more access to capital for women
  • Expand gender equity in the workplace and on corporate boards
  • Increase the number of products and services that benefit women and girls
  • Support firms that are led and/or majority-owned by women
  • Create economic growth in the developing world by investing in women and girls

Our research has also identified a broad range of other opportunities. These include promissory notes, private investments, and public securities and mutual funds that help achieve one or more of the above goals.

A particular mutual fund, for example, may have strong governance screens that prioritize board diversity. A different fund might have a female portfolio manager, while another may channel microfinance dollars to women in Africa. The majority of these opportunities target competitive market returns, while others are by design below-market rate investments to increase the flow of capital to women.

Building better companies and communities entails shifting the flow of wealth to women and girls to help alleviate poverty, and increase women’s leadership and economic status. The financial and impact returns from investing in women are so compelling that using a gender lens should not be considered a “niche” approach.

Remarkably, these women-focused investing trends may be a “disruptive trend” on both sides of the investing perspective: Investors and Investments. As the huge shift of wealth continues toward women, financial organizations from foundations to advisors to companies are seeing women significantly more engaged. Women tend to care more about the social and environmental impact of their portfolios and they are integrating their values into the management of their wealth.

In short, the portfolios of all investors – institutions, families, man and women – would benefit from scanning the investing landscape with fresh eyes and a good question: “What about the women?”

Please check out Veris’ Thought Piece, Women, Wealth and Impact: Investing with a Gender Lens for more information.

The Veris Blog is written by a team of authors at Veris, including Patricia Farrar-Rivas and Luisamaria Ruiz Carlile. Please feel free to share with friends and on social media. Working together, we can address the world’s most pressing social and environmental problems by directing capital to investments that make a difference. 

All in the Family: Fossil Fuel Divestment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy Anders Ferguson, Partner

How does one respond to thoughtful criticism about divesting from the global fossil fuel companies?

The comments of Stephen L. Carter, professor of law at Yale, are indicative of the broadening debate. Carter posits, “Do Unto Exxon as You Would Do Unto Yourself.” His comments were in response to the United Church of Christ’s decision to divest of fossil fuel stocks. Carter asks, why is it that we only focus on the companies we want to change? How about ourselves and our use of carbon?

The experience of university students may be very useful in teaching us how to approach the issue. Around the nation, thousands of students are pushing their colleges to divest from fossil fuels. They are part of a major national campaign led by Bill McKibben of, which is likened to the successful Apartheid divestment movement of the 1990’s.

Students Committed To Change

Last spring, students from Middlebury and Oberlin Colleges approached me seeking professional investment insight about the divestment issue. They were all actively working for fossil fuel divestment of their colleges’ endowments. They wanted help in preparing to talk seriously with their colleges’ Trustees. I was impressed with these students’ grasp of the complicated issues involved, particularly their deepening understand of the investment-related concerns. (I proposed to a couple students that they had promising careers in sustainable investing if interested!)

In response, Veris prepared an analysis, Fossil Fuel Divestment in Endowments, which was well-received. The more I listened to, and considered the students’ approach, I wondered if there weren’t additional ways to advance the college divestment initiatives. Institutions are rarely “first adopters” of major shifts in investing strategy. While institutions including college/university endowments have the greatest total assets globally, students, alumni and their families also control significant fortunes. Often, activist families are early “canaries in the mine.” Put simply, if they so choose, individuals and families can make a decision tonight over dinner to divest from fossil fuels.

The Veris Approach

At Veris, we also consider and encourage multiple strategies for analyzing and advancing fossil fuel divestment. The college endowment divestment push is a globally relevant and powerful campaign. Hugely visible. Cities and religious institutions are also joining. But let’s remember that primary change agents in such major decisions are, in the end, me and my neighbor; a college activist and her or his mother. 

Hence my question back to the enthusiastic students crusading for Fossil Fuel Divestment: “What about your colleges’ AND your parents’ portfolios?” You can educate many investors and influence many billions of dollars of assets if you engage your families. And as a student activist, you will learn a lot about what it takes to make investment decisions – which will greatly increase your effectiveness with college Trustees.

In the end, you and me and our collective decisions, cause change. We like to think it is companies or institutions or governments or our religious institutions. Really, each of us can make a difference. As we make new decisions, as we change our minds, we influence everyone around us, including college Trustees.

It’s Worth The Effort

It’s scary. It may be emotional. It’s likely controversial. Money pushes buttons. But every family that considers changing their portfolios to be more sustainable, to have more impact in the world, broadens the ripples for change.

Student leaders of the divestment campaign should consider seeking sustainable investment training from their supporters to be more effective in working with their colleges’ trustees. This also prepares students for personal conversations with their parents.

Board rooms are critical, but dinner tables are often where the conversations start that lead to change in board rooms.

Anyone free for dinner?

Lebron, Bill & Fossil Fuels

The Heat

In game 6 of the NBA championships, Lebron James led the Miami Heat past the San Antonio Spurs, winning 103-100–the same day the Miami heat index reportedly reached 103. If Lebron James is the face of the NBA champion Miami Heat, environmental activist Bill McKibben is the face of the national fossil fuel divestment movement led by

McKibben’s campaign to mobilize investors to divest from the companies that hold the world’s 200 largest fossil fuel reserves has an important relationship to temperature, in Miami and globally. The International Energy Agency has stated that to keep temperatures within 2 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels, we cannot burn more than one-third of the world’s known fossil fuel reserves before 2050. Experts suggest that above 2 degrees Celsius, human habitability and earth ecosystems become fatally compromised. This temperature target was the catalyst for McKibben’s call to divest, a call that has been answered by five colleges and eleven cities nationally to date.

At the heart of the movement are student leaders at campuses across the country, calling for college endowments to divest for ethical and symbolic reasons. The fossil fuel divestment movement seeks to create dialogue and motivate university trustees, who are decision makers on over $400 billion in endowment assets, to consider the responsibility in addressing global challenges such as climate change.

The Role of Sustainable Investing

Sustainable investors, like Veris, have long promoted re-allocating investment capital away from carbon intensive companies towards climate change solutions. This includes investments in alternative energy, energy efficiency, natural resources (e.g. water, farmland, and forestry), green building and green infrastructure developments.

While global fossil fuel reserves are a critical data point to consider when investing in the energy sector, as pointed out by McKibben’s movement, there are many other key considerations–hydrofracking, pipeline development and rapidly changing technology–for sustainable investors. Furthermore, sustainable investors use Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investment criteria to consider factors beyond a company’s fossil fuel reserve size. These criteria include specific data points, such as a company’s decision-making process from a governance perspective, impact on the community and treatment of workers.

At Veris, we practice a holistic portfolio approach to mitigate climate change. We enable our clients to divest as appropriate, invest proactively in climate change solutions, support shareholder engagement to shift corporate behavior of the worst environmental offenders across all asset classes. We are not alone in this approach. Many leaders, including those at the center of the divestment movement, agree. The fossil fuel divestment movement, mentioned by President Obama in a recent speech, is a catalyst for transformational dialogue across mainstream board rooms around risk and responsibility.

At Veris, we advance connections between our clients, their investment portfolios, and the world they want to create. We all live in a world where we cannot escape fossil fuels–from the clothes we wear, the food we eat, to the cars and planes we travel in. We can, however, use our assets–as individuals, municipalities and endowments–to increase investment in climate solutions that transform our lives and economy.