Is green investing a subset of socially responsible investing, or is it something different? Is green investing exclusively focused on energy and environmental issues, or can it include people too? Is green a fixed color-or are there different shades of green?
The definitive answer to all of these questions is "Yes!"
For the past several weeks, there has been a lively discussion about these and other related questions among financial advisors affiliated with First Affirmative Financial Network. This dynamic conversation has been confined to a Web 2.0 community site designed to allow licensed investment professionals to speak freely among peers. The group has explored the various notions of "green" versus "sustainable" versus "socially responsible" versus "transformative" investing. While it is a closed site, we can still take a peek inside to see what all the talk is about.
First, it's obvious that a new market for all things "green" is evolving. The process started long before President Barack Obama incorporated green tech and green jobs into his plans for revitalizing the U.S. economy. Now that money is flowing to the emerging green sector, the "Train to Greenville" is quickly picking up speed. Fortunately, there's room for most everyone to climb aboard.
Indeed, it's not uncommon to hear that "green is the new black." New York Times columnist and author Thomas Friedman calls it "the new red, white, and blue." Meanwhile, Adam Werbach, the global CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi S, has said that "history and the public are fatigued by 'green,'" which he says to many people means choosing to protect the environment, nature and the atmosphere over all other things. Instead, he advocates refocusing on "blue," which he says embraces social, cultural, economic and environmental issues. So many colors have now become zeitgeist buzz words that it's all getting to be a bit confusing.
As a financial advisor, you might have your own feelings about these topics and how important they are. But what's really important is what your clients think about green investing. Sure, some may simply want to profit from the sector because it's hot. But others want to make money and make a difference, and it's with these people that the idea of "green" really resonates. Part of their motivation as investors is to help change the world for the better.
Unlike mutual funds, which cannot treat one shareholder differently from another, financial advisors can meet each client where they are, so to speak. Good advisors can gain an understanding of not only financial goals but the values a client may want reflected in an investment strategy. They can then craft a portfolio specifically designed to meet each client's unique needs. But, make no mistake, when it comes to those investors for whom economic value and social value are not mutually exclusive, one size does not fit all things green.
A Green Investing Continuum
There really are various shades of green. At one end of the spectrum-let's call it the light green end-are those investors who are predominately interested in companies that promote things like clean energy and clean water, and companies that seek to mitigate climate change.
On the darker end of the green spectrum are those investors who need to know the story behind the story before taking action. For example, what if that profitable, growing company that builds solar panels also mistreats its employees? These investors would not be willing to invest in a company that expresses great concern about the environment but does not apply the same concern and respect to its other constituents.
It could be said that these investors represent the more responsible, deeper greens. In addition to energy and environment, they value a kind of good corporate governance that looks after shareholders and employees. They want their money helping to change the world for the better in a large way. They reject investments not only in pollution, but also in human rights abuses and other harmful products and behaviors.