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Take Action: Sustainable Investments

How does one translate sustainability values into making promising investments that are ethically sound? Since sustainability is a multi-dimensional concept that is universally relatable--touching upon everything from environmental degradation, social equity, and the practicality of a functioning marketplace that is beneficial for all--making adjustments to personal finances and investing in sustainable companies will be unique and according to your personal values. 

If you have an idea of what you value most in regards to sustainability, investing in companies that fit your criteria can still be cumbersome. An easier approach would be to reduce the total investments that you have in companies that clearly do not meet the definition of sustainability. (SCU defines sustainability as finding the balance and illustrating the connections between a healthy environment, just societies, and a vibrant economy that meet all people’s fundamental needs currently and in the future, especially those of the global poor.) For example, non-renewable energy companies (i.e. oil, coal, natural gas) are objectively harmful to the earth, so selling this stock and reinvesting in renewable energy or companies that support it will definitely show an alignment with your values.

What kind of renewables, you might ask? Recently, President Obama released a comprehensive Climate Action Plan, in which he calls for expansion of industrial-level solar and wind energy by 2020, while continuing to make solar electric systems more affordable. Renewable energy has seen considerable growth in the past 10 years, solar especially. With the number of homes with solar panels increasing from 15,500 in 2004 to over 600,000 in 2014, and cumulative investment in solar installations increasing from $2.6 billion to $71.1 billion in the same time period, solar energy is the fastest-growing source of renewable energy. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to reuse President Obama’s mindset on renewables and invest in solar companies.

Reinvesting money is quite a task, so it’s understandable if such reallocations of large funds is not the most readily attainable change you may be able to make in investing in sustainable companies. So, we can all aim for another impactful target within sustainable investments: Clothing. Today, clothing is the product of an industry largely controlled by a superteam of corporations that are unsustainable (in harming the environment and negatively affecting the poor).

Given the difficulty of determining any large clothing company’s ethics, your best choice in personal investment is to avoid the fast-fashion companies that treat clothing, the environment and their laborers as disposable and buy recycled clothing. Doing so can mean one of two things: Buy “new” clothes from companies like Patagonia, Kallio, Sword & Plough, and Reformation, that all have strong commitments to upcycling (the process of creating something new and better from old materials). Or, shopping at secondhand consignment and thrift stores guarantees that child labor and/or polluting companies are not getting any of your money! Check out places like Black & Brown, Our Secret, Crossroads Trading Co., and Park Place Vintage.

A company that meets every aspect of our definition of sustainability can be hard to find. Sustainability is rather complex, as are large companies who attempt to market themselves as “sustainable” or “green.” This is most certainly not a game of black and white, so when considering what it means to financially support any company, think about who/what you care for and about what you want to respect the most before you spend your hard-earned dollars.

Contributed by Alec Kwo ‘16, Sustainability Intern for Student Engagement

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