by Paul Smart
Big shifts are taking place in the ways we look at the concept of investment.
From a traditional future-financing perspective, where earners find the best ways to set aside funds to afford kids’ education and once-traditional dreams of comfortable retirement, the new buzzword acronyms are SRIs and ESG—Socially Responsible Investments and managed or mutual funds that maintain an emphasis on Environmental, Social and Governance values.
“From my end, in the financial industry, the question is how to create a line of investments in line with an investor’s personal philosophy,” says Cliff Faintych of Ashokan Wealth Management, based in Uptown Kingston. “The idea is to screen the investments based on concepts like sustainability, the recent Paris Accords, and such key ideals as workplace diversity, community investments, and the human rights records of the companies in one’s portfolio.”
Faintych, who lives deep in the Catskills and commutes by Prius, notes that many also create investment lists of things to avoid, such as nuclear power, weaponry ties, drugs and alcohol, or inhumane treatment of animals. But he adds that finding local investments to match SRI or ESG profiles are harder to achieve, at least in the Hudson Valley where big business of the sort that attracts investments is as yet hard to find.
He suggests contacting the Hudson Valley Renewable Energy Initiative about their suggestions for progressive energy investments with a local bent.
Kathy Nolan, Senior Research Director for Catskill Mountainkeeper, a regional advocacy organization that was instrumental in the recent anti-fracking battle, sees bigger changes going on beyond the traditional idea of investment, especially on a personal level.
“A shift in consciousness seems to be taking place, in which people recognize the personal benefits of increased social consciousness and efforts to protect the quality of our air and water. Maybe we are finally, as a global community, feeling the impacts of living together in a ‘closed system’ where we see the unity of what we do and what happens to us,” she notes. “I see this happening in the arts, as well, where individuals and organizations are choosing to create and invest in beautiful films, stories, visual art and music as a sustainable form of economic activity. People are investing in the communities where they want to live their lives.”
To help such altruistic investments for those with longer-term retirement and other needs, Nolan pointed out how Catskill Mountainkeeper maintains a Solarize program so people can “not only save money through investing in solar energy for their homes but also invest in creating a more stable, sustainable community. With a shift toward more local, distributed energy sources, we also build in resilience for possible future extreme weather events. Our Renewable New York program also incorporates support for students to pursue college courses that prepare them for jobs in renewal energy fields.”
She pointed out how Catskill Mountainkeeper also created a program to provide low-interest, easy-access loans to local farmers who are doing well enough to want to invest in improvements and expansions, keeping farm lands in production and providing new employment opportunities.
Manna Jo Greene, Ulster County legislator, Environmental Director for Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, and founder of the Hudson Valley Sustainable Communities, meanwhile stressed community efforts as a means of investing in better futures as the best sort of investments one can make, for both personal or community purposes.
“There are lots of opportunities to create green jobs pipelines that direct funds to projects, train and employ local youths and un- and under-employed. Clearwater has been doing this with green stormwater infrastructure and green buildings and renewable energy in Poughkeepsie with Nubian Directions Youth,” she said. “This is an example of providing opportunities for jobs not jails for the future of the young people in this program…I also think any job can be a green job if the principles of sustainability are followed by that organization. Omega is an advanced example, but these principles can be applied anywhere. Likewise, investing in locally owned businesses that follow these principals, or businesses that are owned by larger corporations who also do, is socially and environmentally responsible…Indeed, investing in energy efficiency and renewables is probably the best investment we can make at this time. The Energize EIC program (Energy Improvement Corporation) allows area businesses to invest in energy retrofits and renewables and repay their investment on their tax bill with the savings and/or clean energy generation revenues.”
Talk about a whole lot of ways to start investing differently, and in more than just our own personal futures…and retirement.