Socially responsible investing (SRI) is largely an outgrowth of the work of faith-based investors to align their investment principles with their values, favoring companies with positive environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices. A well-rounded SRI approach includes both positive and negative screenings, robust shareholder advocacy and proxy voting, and a commitment to community investing. Choosing to invest in companies with socially responsible behaviors protects our human rights and dignity; likewise, investing in companies with environmentally responsible behaviors protects our planet for current and future generations. Calling attention to egregious corporate behavior and offenders, and working to advance solutions, is an important part of justice-making in today’s world and creating the changes we wish to see. Investing in community financial institutions and loan funds helps the under-served secure the resources needed to fund new businesses or provide access to affordable housing.

Within our Unitarian Universalist history, socially responsible investing dates back to at least 1966, when the UUA was among several investors to sponsor a socially responsible resolution and influence Eastman Kodak’s hiring policies at an annual shareholders meeting. (Read more here) The call for increased socially responsible investing of the UUA’s endowment and investment funds grew in the early 1970s, to the point that the UUA Board appointed a Task Force on Socially Responsible Investing in 1999. The Task Force issued a report that called for the adoption of SRI practices and the establishment of the Committee on Socially Responsible Investing. The SRI Committee works with the Investment Committee to ensure that its investments reflect our UU values and meet the Committee’s SRI Guidelines, as fully detailed on pages 25-27 of the UUA’s Common Endowment Fund Investment Information Memorandum. The Committee also works to provide resources to help congregations and individuals better understand and get started in socially responsible investing.

Today, the UU Common Endowment Fund (CEF) abides by the SRI guidelines and practices for its directly managed equities and some of its pooled investment vehicles, such as mutual funds. All told, as of December 2013, 55% of the CEF holdings meet the SRI screening criteria, including the prohibitions against tobacco, the top fifth of weapon manufacturers, and any company with operations that aid the genocide in Darfur. The remaining 45% of the portfolio has no screens; however, most of them are in asset classes with few SRI options. (See full details here.)

Learn More

Visit the UUA’s Socially Responsible Investing webpage for a variety of resources compiled by the Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (CSRI), including Ten Things All UUs Should Know About Socially Responsible Investing. You’ll find answers to questions about how SRI makes a difference in the world and how financial performance compares to conventional investing, and learn how one congregationgot started in SRI by working with one of the main SRI firms.

Visit the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment (UU SIF), for educational materials about sustainable, responsible and impact investing. The September 2013 paper, The Impact of Sustainable and Responsible Investment, gives a good overview of the kinds of changes institutional and high-net-worth investors and shareholder advocates have helped realize in a wide range of industries, touching on issues ranging from environmental concerns such as the health, safety and environmental risks associated with hydraulic fracturing and the disclosure of climate risk to investors, to issues of excessive executive compensation and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or identity.

Visit Social Funds for personal financial information on socially responsible investing. Online resources include free investor guides for SRI mutual funds, community investments and working with SRI professionals.

Visit the Green America website to learn more about socially and environmentally responsibleinvesting for individual investors and employers. Publications available as pdf download or in print for a modest cost include the comprehensive Guide to Socially Responsible InvestingPlan for a Better Future: How to Add Socially & Environmentally Responsible Investment Options to an Employer’s Retirement Plan (2012), is a free 18-page pdf download designed for use by employers and employees.

Take Action

  • Offer Workshop 11: Faithful Investing, from the new UUA Tapestry of Faith Program for Adults The Wi$dom Path: Money, Spirit and Life, which is a 90-minute workshop that introduces key concepts of investing and Socially Responsible Investing. Considering your congregation’s investment philosophy, a shareholder advocacy case study on protecting transgender workers, and the debate about fossil fuel divestment are among the proposed activities.
  • Offer a four or five-session class using the “Values-Based Financial Practices for Unitarian Universalists” curriculum to explore values-based financial practices, shareholder activism, choices in purchasing & investing, and community investments. Authored by Rev. Dr. Sydney Morris in 2010, the curriculum draws on her background in ethical economics, and includes informative readings, individual and small group exercises, and suggested chalice lighting readings and hymns. It is suitable for small group ministry use.
  • Analyze your congregation’s investment practices and discuss options to make improvements. Use the CSRI’s Congregational SRI – Spectrum of Involvement assessment tool as the basis for discussion.
  • Consider starting an investment club or investor support network to learn more about Socially Responsible Investing options and local community investment opportunities in your area.