RESPONSIBLE ENDOWMENTS COALITION www.endowmentethics.org


On the "Move Your Money" Initiative

Right before New Years the Huffington Post ran an article, "Move Your Money: A New Year's Resolution," that encouraged people to move their money from one of the big six national banks into small, local banks. Since then the initiative has launched into full swing, with its own website and a bustling facebook page , garnering it extensive media coverage in both the mainstream press and the netroots.

In general I support the idea of this campaign, and if you're still looking to make a slightly late New Year's resolution, you should hop on the bandwagon. Just because you didn't break up with Bank of America last year, doesn't mean you can't do it this year. And be sure to provide yourself with the proper scaffolding for making any serious resolution come to fruition.

My one issue with the campaign is that that it specifically focuses on local banks and largely ignores credit unions. At first the MYM campaign didn't mention credit unions at all until a large number of people (myself included) wrote to them pointing out that credit unions are yet another viable option with their own unique benefits over both the big banks and their smaller, local counterparts. But even on the website, MYM still somewhat dissuades people from choosing credit unions over local banks:
Not all community banks are risk free. Some of them got involved in the same risky behavior that took down some of the biggest banks.

We suggest two options for looking into the small and community banks in your area:

OPTION ONE :

Thanks to the volunteer services of a group called Institutional Risk Analytics (IRA), you can get a listing of the most sound community banks near you. IRA lists only banks that, according to its rating system, which is based on government data, get a grade of “B” or better.

Credit Unions: Many folks have written us suggesting that people should examine credit unions. Like the FDIC for banks and thrifts, the National Credit Union Administration insures the deposits of credit unions and is a good resource for financial data on specific institutions. Credit unions do not disclose financial data in the same way as FDIC-insured banks. As a result, credit unions are not presently included in the IRA ratings database, which covers over 8,000 federally insured banks and thrifts. IRA is developing a method to rate credit unions in a way that is comparable to the IRA bank stress ratings. We’ll be updating users of “Move Your Money” on this issue early in 2010.

The implication of this write-up on credit unions is that because credit unions don't disclose their financial data in the same way as banks it is therefore impossible to tell whether or not credit unions engage in the kind of risky behavior that we all want our financial institutions to steer clear of. Unfortunately, this misses the fundamental difference between credit unions and banks (both the large ones and the community ones). Unlike at a bank, a depositor at a credit union is an owner of the credit union and most credit unions subscribe to the "one member, one vote" model. That means that the credit union is legally responsible to you and not to its external shareholders like any bank is; at a credit union you are in effect the shareholder. This might even mean that there could be a bit of democracy in our economy (imagine that!).

The larger point here is that while moving from a behemoth oligopolistic financial institution to a small bank is definitely a step in the right direction, it doesn't solve the core problem. The issue is that people do not have any say or control over what happens with their finances once they deposit them somewhere for safe keeping. While a local bank may be less likely to indulge in risky or fraudulent behavior than a big bank, nothing is actually stopping them from doing so. You're essentially relying on the benevolence and good will of your local bank manager to not take advantage of you. Moving your money to a local bank doesn't create deep structural change, only cosmetic change. Only through democratic control of the economy can we foster financial stability that benefits everyone, not just the elites.

Let's see if the HuffPo crowd catches on to the difference.




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November/December Campus Updates


American University students are working on establishing a corporate responsibility board for responsible investing .  We are currently drafting a proposal to present to the Board of Trustees.  We just held a workshop on the Solidarity Economy with Jessica Gordon Nembhard.  She led a discussion about how our work on responsible investment fits into the solidarity economy movement and how we can make changes in our own lives to act in solidarity with people, not corporations.


Bard College students are reevaluating the SRI mutual fund where the student endowment is invested.  Alongside this reevaluation, we are writing an article in the student paper to inform the student body about the performance of the fund, as well as its purpose and screening methods.    We are continuing to look for different options for community investment and are putting together a proposal for the short-term deposit of the Student Activities Fee Fund in a community bank over the summer.


Columbia University The Columbia Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing recently held its annual town hall to hear from students interested in proposing specific actions by the committee. The Columbia REC group made three proposals. More details here.


Fordam University students continue to educate their campus social justice community about responsible endowments practices. They hope to host a campus-wide event with speakers from the SRI industry and local campus Committees On Investor Responsibility this spring.


Grinnell College Students for Responsible Investing are urging their school to co-file a resolution on gender discrimination at a major company after successfully convincing the school to vote on that proxy last year. They will know in a couple weeks whether or not this effort will be successful.


Hampshire College students continue to await their administration’s decision regarding the school’s socially responsible investment policy. A campus group charged with managing a student-run endowment according to ESG criteria is currently researching their options as well.


Haverford College faculty and administrators are weighing whether or not to co-file a resolution with a major company concerning indigenous rights in the developing world.


Students at the London School of Economics and Political Science recently submitted a proposal to their administration for the creation of a cir that will include a purview encompassing multiple investment strategies. Read more here.


Loyola University Chicago ‘s committee plans to co-file on several resolutions, details forthcoming.


Luther College students are proposing a subcommittee to their Trustee endowment committee to both examine and make recommendations based on ESG criteria regarding mutual funds.


Macalester College students from a wide variety of organizations have formed a campus coalition to propose a substantial proactive investment policy based on the community’s shared values of sustainability and social responsibility.


Middlebury College's Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investment is working with the college's Board of Trustees to establish a "Sustainability Fund."  This fund will be invested in a mutual fund that fits certain environmental criteria.  The students hope that this fund will become a model for how larger portions of the endowment could be invested in the future.


Mount Holyoke College students recently met with their Trustees to propose placing endowment funds into Community Development Financial Institutions based on the success of the student-run community investment fund. They are also pushing their Student Senate to support the effort with a resolution.


New School students from a number of organizations have presented several campus events on sustainable investment. They plan to implement their committee on responsible investment this spring.


New York University students are creating a detailed proposal for the steering committee of the Sustainability Task Force to create a Finance Working Group at NYU. The proposal outlines various financial mechanisms that will enhance sustainability on campus, including the recommendation of a revolving loan fund, a system of cost benefit analysis, proxy voting and preferential investment strategies. The working group aims to create a cross-disciplinary approach to use finance as a way to achieve a triple-bottom line, not only at NYU but in the global community as well.


Sarah Lawrence College students are creating an active SRI committee of students through their Student Government. Students who serve on the board would be responsible for all things SRI and would have a non-voting position on   the school's Board. Sarah Lawrence is working towards more student transparency on the Board (we currently only have one student with a seated position).


Tufts University students continue to lobby their school to strengthen the existing committee on investor responsibility. Their latest op-ed is available here.


At the University of Michigan we are working on getting a student advisory committee on responsible investing set up.  We have been working with the administration, specifically the CFO, Tim Slottow, and the secretary to the Board of Regents, Sally Churchill.  They have expressed that we will need to convey more student support before setting up such a committee, so we are refocusing on building student support for a committee.


Washington University Students for Endowment Transparency continue to raise awareness on campus of their school ties to coal  while also meeting with school officials about implementing a responsible investment policy.We are asking for the creation of an institutionalized financial oversight committee with elected student, faculty, and community representation.  This committee would be able to oversee all investment decisions and vote on them, as well as engage in shareholder activism.  We are also asking for this committee to report back to the university community through a website providing full endowment transparency and also through regular briefings of the student union.



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Drew University SDS Wins an SRI Committee


Drew University is excited to announce that early next month we will have the first-ever meeting of Drew University’s Socially Responsible Investment Committee! We are thrilled to have found such strong student, staff, administration, faculty, and trustee support for using Drew’s endowment to make the world a better place. We are particularly proud to announce that students from all three schools—undergraduate, graduate, and theological—will be on the committee, and that a highly supportive and influential emeritus trustee will be joining us there as well.


Our committee will harness all of this talent and energy with three levels of involvement. First, the committee’s eleven voting members, five of whom are students, will set the direction and tone of our engagement with the campus community and trustees. Next, the committee’s growing ranks of non-voting members will take the committee’s work to the next level by dedicating themselves to specific campaigns. Finally, individuals who do not have the time or dedication to become committee members will guide us toward the issues and campaigns that matter most to them while holding us accountable when we fall behind.


Right now, we are scrambling to prepare for the committee’s first meeting, but we want to take the time to recognize the invaluable support we have received from REC. Your expertise, resources, and contacts made it possible for us to transform our dream into reality. Thank you, REC!


With passion,


Drew Students for a Democratic Society (SRI Working Group)



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Wesleyan’s Responsibly Invested Student Endowment Outperforms the Market

Written by Becky Weiss, Wesleyan Student Activist, REC Steering Committee Member

Wesleyan University’s student-controlled endowment, the first of its kind in the nation, proves that investing with a social conscience does not mean sacrificing returns. The endowment, which was started in October 2008 with $150,000, has weathered the financial crisis beautifully. It currently stands at $150,065.46 and has outperformed the S&P 500 by 25.5% during the period since the endowment’s creation.

Breaking essentially even during these tough times has been a challenge for most. The WSA is proud to attribute its success to its $50,000 investment in a socially responsible fund with the investment management firm PIMCO, which posted a 12% return and now stands at $56,058.76.

Another $50,000 was originally kept in a guaranteed cash vehicle but was recently transferred to a laddered set of share certificates with a local credit union, MiddConn. In addition to being a safe and reliable investment with reasonable return, the WSA chose to move its cash to MiddConn in order to support its local community of Middletown, CT.

The last $50,000 of the WSA’s initial investment is tied to the Wesleyan University endowment. This segment was the only portion of the WSA endowment’s portfolio to post a loss. Wesleyan recently formed a Committee for Investor Responsibility to vote its endowment’s proxy resolutions and to engage in other forms of shareholder activism. The committee is made up of students, faculty, staff, and alumnae.

The WSA endowment was created to eventually replace the Student Activities Fee with an annual draw. The Student Activities Fee is an annual fee paid by each student that funds all events, concerts, and student groups on Wesleyan’s campus. The revenue generated by the Student Activities Fee is managed exclusively by the students elected to serve on the WSA.

The outstanding performance of the WSA endowment shows that responsible investment can be a wonderful thing for your university. Through responsible investing, it is possible for your university to effect positive change in the world while also fattening its wallet. When taken together, these two arguments prove difficult to ignore.
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Exciting Updates from Campuses

Below are some brief updates on the headway that students are making on their campuses. Look for a college or university that you know or get some tips and ideas from other campuses.

Bard College:

The Committee hopes to expand and formalize proxy voting guidelines, use surplus student activities fund money for community investment, transfer a percentage of the endowment into community banks, research microfinance in the Hudson Valley, and explore new shareholder resolution filing opportunities.

Barnard College:

The Committee continues to work with administrators and external fund managers to develop a responsible investment policy that fits with current investment strategies.

Brown University:

The Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies (ACCRIP) administers the

Brown Socially Responsible Investment Fund (BSRI) and is about to make its first investment. More information at http://brownsri.blogspot.com/.

California Institute of Technology:

Student government officials approached the administration about adding sustainable investing policies to the existing investment guidelines but the administration does not believe the endowment is an appropriate place for student involvement. The Graduate Student Council is planning to transfer their assets to a community bank at the end of the fiscal year.

Carleton College:

In the Spring the Committee conducted a faculty/ staff/ student wide survey with the aim of understanding the community's investment preferences. Theysurveyed 200 student and 100 staff members and a few faculty. They are going to conduct another one this fall. This Spring they also completed a follow-up report for the Trustees which included some additional analysis of the resolutions that we passed in the Winter. More information is available at http://apps.carleton.edu/governance/cric/charter/.

Columbia University:

Students in the REC Columbia chapter continue to seek greater transparency and the active participation of the Columbia community in regarding the school’s investment decisions. The Committee is submitting their proxy voting guidelines written in a spring 2009 Socially Responsible Investment class, convened by the Committee Chair, to the Trustees this fall. More information is available at http://www.finance.columbia.edu/sri/.

DePaul University:

Students are working on a proposal for a committee on investor responsibility and incorporating endowment-focused work into that of other student organizations. Faculty and staff are also working on a document that will provide a framework for aligning mission and investments that will go to the President. They are also looking at ways the endowment relates to sustainability.

Grinnell

Last semester, students presented on the Wal-Mart gender discrimination proxy to their Trustees and convinced them to vote for the proxy and were told they would be interested in voting for similar proxies in the future. They still refused a committee, but agreed to let the students do what a committee would do and also let one of the treasurer's office personnel work more closely with them. They are now pursuing co-filing the same resolution.

Hampshire College:

Students are setting up a student-managed endowment and have some voice in the restructuring of their committee on investor responsibility and the new investment guidelines it will enforce. Students for Justice in Palestine is hosting a national conference for other student groups interested in pursuing divestment. more information at http://www.hsjp.org/.

Howard University:

Students are working to build greater cohesion and communication throughout the campus community, develop a student committee to represent student opinions on university investment decisions, open the campus federal credit union to students, and to encourage and advocate for student financial literacy.

Mt. Holyoke College:

Students involved in the community investment committee will be meeting with their Trustee investment committee this fall to discuss the ways they can increase transparency and incorporate responsible investment strategies into the college endowment.

Miami University-Ohio:

The student government vice president is preparing to present a proposal for a responsible investment policy to the appropriate decision-makers this fall. While he isn’t convinced he will win, he says “I do understand and represent the interests and concerns of 16,000 students.”

Middlebury College:

The advisory committee on socially responsible investing is currently working with Trustees to create an environmental choice fund and to develop a responsible investment policy with their external fund manager. They are also working to inform and engage the student body in investment decisions.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

The MIT Executive Committee has determined they do not want to make the Advisory Committee for Social Responsibility a permanent committee but does want it to remain open as a venue for expressing concerns. The current compromise is for all concerns to go through the MIT Corporation Joint Advisory Committee on Institute-Wide Affairs, http://web.mit.edu/corporation/additional/cjac.html, composed of students, faculty, and alumni that has the power to convene the ACSR.

New York University:

Last year’s occupiers, Take Back NYU, are now working to develop internal alignment around campaign goals. Students with the Sustainability Task Force are currently working to introduce sustainable investing to campus investment practices.

Sarah Lawrence:

Last year the student government was able to successfully negotiate full disclosure of endowment investments and the creation of a committee of students, faculty, and staff to advise on responsible investment issues. This fall students are developing and implementing this policy.

Tufts University:

Students at Tufts for Investor Responsibility (STIR) are still pushing the school to live up to its original commitment to responsible investment by empowering the advisory committee on shareholder responsibility with proxy voting powers and the representation of stakeholders from across the campus community. The committee has also undergone a transition to new student membership and is currently developing sustainability focused proxy voting guidelines.

University of California:

UC-Responsible Investment Coalition members are still working to develop advisory committees on investor responsibility at each campus within the UC system, focusing on UCLA, UCI, and Berkeley first. They are also working to introduce ESG proxy voting guidelines to the full system-wide endowment.

University of Michigan:

Students at Ann Arbor are negotiation to add ESG criteria to existing proxy voting guidelines. Students at Dearborn continue to push for greater transparency and a responsible investment policy.

University of Vermont:

Student government officials were recently appointed to a subcommittee the Trustees dedicated to considering responsible investment. After attending the REC conference in Philly they plan to take back what they learned from other schools’ policies to frame their discussion.

Washington University-St. Louis:

Students continue to advocate for greater transparency around investment decisions and to draw student attention to the issue by focusing on coal and climate issues related to the endowment. They seek not only access to investment information but also institutionalized student oversight in the form of a committee.

Wayne State University:

Students with “As Soon As Possible” are seeking divestment from Marathon Oil Corporation, a local polluter, and reinvestment in sustainable green community enterprises. They are also seeking new investment guidelines for managers that are created with input from students, faculty, and the campus community.

Wesleyan

The student government just moved about $42,000 from their cash into a green fund. They are also developing greater transparency and access to the portfolio for community members, a balance of ethics, profit, and the interest of trustees, administrators, and students, and to streamline processes and develop sustainable long term resolution to existing issues.

Yale:

Students with the Responsible Endowment Project created a report, available at www.responsibleendowment.com. Students with the Dwight Hall SRI Fund recently made an initial investment in a community bank and are currently researching market driven investment opportunities.
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REC's 6th Annual National Conference

Written by Olivia Grugan, Student Organizer, Middlebury College

Students carried signs that read, “Stop HANDING our money to HEI” and “Our Endowment. Our Responsibility. Our Power.” Others led the group in protest cries saying, “When working conditions are obscene, it’s Penn’s duty to intervene.” Yet others carried a letter addressed to the President of Penn University and signed by students from over 20 colleges and universities, representing states from Washington to Vermont. This letter demanded that Penn divest from HEI, a hotel investment group that owns and operates hotels across the country, but whose labor practices are unjust and inhumane. What united these students was their common concern for the way educational institutions invest their endowments.

REC’s 6th national conference was much more than an opportunity for students from across the country to show their support for Penn’s divestment from HEI. It was an educational environment where we—the 70 attendees—could share ideas, tactics, research tools and enthusiasm for Socially Responsible Investment. During the three-day-long conference, we were able to attend workshops presented by REC staff, fellow student activists, and professionals in the field of investment. Workshops ranged form how to combat climate change through investments, to community investment strategies, to the alternative economics and the solidarity economy. Training for Peace and the Ruckus society made special presentations on creating effective tactics and strategy and on group dynamics. All throughout the conference there were opportunities to strategize in small groups and learn from one another. The students from Yale shared with us how they had set up a student-run endowment, while students from Sarah Lawrence and Washington University shared ideas on how to work within the bureaucracy of one’s school to bring about change. At the end of each day, we headed back to the hostel just out of town to continue our discussions from the day and develop quick friendships with one another.

For me, the most encouraging aspect of the conference was the atmosphere of enthusiasm and potential. Rather than individual facets of an amorphous movement, we were united as one body of students dedicated to change through responsible investment. I think for many of us it was the first time we were able to put a face and a name to the movement. We were delighted to find people who understood what we were talking about when we said, “SRI,” “hedge funds,” and “proxy voting.” And we walked away from the weekend with not just a notebook full of notes and new information, but an array of contacts for future organizing.
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Student Run SRI Endowments

The proverbial holy grail of responsible investing for endowments is a proactive strategy to target responsible assets and deploy capital to promote them and hopefully earn a return. The issue with this strategy is the general consensus that they will underperform traditional investment strategies by limiting the scope. Although most universities have responsibility deeply embedded in the verbiage of their missions, the fear of sub-par return on their endowments has caused them all to abandon their principles in their investment strategy.

One solution to this dissonance is to provide concrete examples of Socially Responsible Investment funds that either match or exceed the returns of traditional funds. At the REC conference last weekend, Thomas Meyer presented a case study of how a dynamic group of Yale students has worked with the system to try and provide a concrete example for endowment fund managers everywhere.

As the students set out to build their fund they developed strong alliances with the board of trustees of a separate smaller endowment as well as investment professionals in order to gain legitimacy. Meyer commented that it is important to be perceived as professionally as possible when working with the board of trustees, especially surrounding investment decisions.

After a long process, the students were granted a $50,000 fund “focused on socially responsible investing” that would have “active participation of the students of Dwight Hall [the smaller endowment invested with Yale University]”. The students have spent over a year planning their investment strategies, and just a few weeks ago placed their first investment. Hopefully the success of this fund inspires managers across the country to begin incorporating SRI into their investment strategy!
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L3Cs: New business structure opens up possibilities for SRI


written by Jay Cassano, New England Student Organizer


In April of 2008 Vermont became the first state in the country to approve the low-profit limited liability company (L3C) as a legal business structure. Throughout 2009 the L3C business entity has been growing in recognition, having been ratified by the states of Utah , Michigan , Wyoming , and Illinois . It is also currently being considered by state legislatures in North Carolina, Georgia, Oregon, North Dakota, Tennessee, Montana. In addition, the L3C structure has been ratified by the Crow Indian Nation and the Oglala Sioux Tribe. The fact that Native American communities, which are easily some of the most disenfranchised peoples in the United States, want to make use of the L3C business entity shows that it has significant potential as a vehicle for social good.


The L3C is legally very similar to a limited liability corporation (LLC). LLCs were designed to provide a flexible business structure for small businesses that would have some of the benefits of partnerships and sole proprietorships while limiting the financial risks to members of the LLC. The main difference between L3Cs and LLCs is that L3Cs streamline the process of meeting the requirements for the IRS's Program-related Investment (PRI) regulations by being specifically structured in their legal code to already meet those regulations. PRIs are a class of investments that are generally used by private foundations in order to meet their tax exempt requirements; private foundations are required to either donate five percent of their assets to social programs or to invest five percent in socially beneficial program-related investments, which are investments that would not be made by an investor whose primary motivation was financial return.


The organization that is promoting the adoption of the L3C, Americans for Community Development , describes the L3C as “a new form of limited liability company which combines the best features of a for-profit LLC with the socially beneficial aspects of a nonprofit. It is a for-profit with a nonprofit soul.” L3Cs must include in their charter that their purpose is primarily to be socially beneficial and that earning profit is secondary to their social mission. Some anticipated uses of the L3C structure include newspapers, museums, symphonies, recreational facilities, and certain types of community development projects.


Because L3Cs are allowed to earn a profit, they are not 501(c)3 nonprofit charitable organizations. This means that they will not be attractive to individual donors looking only for tax exemption. But the strength of L3Cs is that they do not compete for these donations, but rather open up a completely underdeveloped field for institutional investors such as private foundations. Because of the complexity and investment of time involved for investors to file and process paperwork for PRIs, many private foundations do not currently make use of PRIs, preferring to meet their exempt requirement through donations to 501(c)3s. Because the L3C is designed to specifically comply with PRI regulations, foundations making PRIs in L3Cs are allowed to skip the bulk of the paperwork involved with filing a PRI. In this way L3Cs position themselves strategically between nonprofits and for-profits. Another advantage of L3Cs is that they are legally allowed to tranch investments, which enables different investors to choose different levels of risk and reward.


In the socially responsible investment movement, L3Cs are mostly useful for private foundations that would prefer to meet their exempt requirements through PRIs in order to gain a small financial return rather than donating 5% of their assets to nonprofit charities. Nevertheless, we should investigate the possibilities of utilizing L3Cs as an investment vehicle for college and university endowments. One possibility is that public universities whose state funding is supplemented with an endowment managed by a private foundation could encourage their foundation to invest in L3Cs. In addition, because L3Cs are required to serve social good but are allowed to earn a profit, they could prove to be an interesting model for providing employment in low-income communities through a for-profit community development venture. These sorts of community development L3Cs might end up serving a greater social good than many charitable nonprofits by providing meaningful employment to disenfranchised peoples. Private colleges and universities without foundations attached to them could use L3Cs as a vehicle for allocating 1% of their endowment in community investments . This would give another option for community investment besides revolving loan funds. L3Cs are still very new and are not yet widely utilized, but in the long term they could prove to be an important component of a diverse socially responsible investment portfolio.



Further reading:




You can reach Jay Cassano at: jay@endowmentethics.org

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Is Socially Responsible Investment a Good Business Decision?

Written by Greg Caplan, Student Organizer

Socially responsible investing, or SRI, is a strategy of investing that seeks to maximize financial returns just like every other investment strategy, but also attempts to maximize social good. SRI is becoming very popular recently, accounting for about eleven percent of the $25.1 Trillion of assets under management as of 2007 according to SocialFunds.com, but SRI is not a new concept. Religious institutions have engaged in SRI with their funds as well as encouraging their followers to invest responsibly for hundreds of years. Religious groups have attacked issues such as slavery and workers rights through investment decisions on a strictly moral ground.

In the 1960’s SRI began to grow with the use of negative screens. Negative screens are devices investment professionals use to restrict investment in companies that engage in various activities such as arms production, tobacco, gambling, and liquor. Negative screens have also been used in divestment campaigns, most notably to end apartheid in South Africa.


Although many people contend that negative screens and SRI is a bad financial decision because it limits the investors, recent data has begun to show that may not be the case. Many reports are emerging that show SRI funds outperforming non-SRI funds, and many investors are beginning to understand responsibility as a metric for financial success. Not only does responsibility represent a major risk to organizations due to evolving market drivers such as climate change and resource scarcity, but governmental changes also have the potential to catapult responsible companies into financial success with programs such as sustainable spending from the stimulus, corporate governance reform due to the crisis and cap and trade programs.


Since SRI is not only a moral choice, but also a financial benefit, more institutions will now hopefully recognize it as a necessity. Not only will this earn them better returns, but also make the world a better place!



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Success Story: Creative Action at Middlebury College




Creative Action at Middlebury College

by Olivia Grugan and Moriel Rothman

Coal freeze.


He mindlessly grabbed a plate and began his dining routine at the salad bar. The student right in front of him stopped halfway through the process of bringing the salad tongs to her plate. She stood there frozen. He looked at her plate and saw three pieces of charcoal. He waited, but she didn’t budge. He turned to look around the dining hall and saw forty students frozen, mid-routine. They all had charcoal in their hands or on their plates. After five minutes frozen, they continued as if nothing had happened.


This “freeze on coal” was coordinated by Middlebury College’s Sunday Night Group (SNG), an environmental group, and the Socially Responsible Investment club (SRI). The students from these clubs have organized four creative action demonstrations in order to question the college’s endowment investment practices. They are unsatisfied with the lack of transparency in the endowment, and want to rid the endowment of any investments in companies that violate human rights or promote environmental degradation. To draw attention to this topic, they organize these weekly events on campus, both to raise awareness among the student body, and to attract the administration to the dialogue.



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In addition to the Freeze on Coal, SNG and SRI have organized three other Creative Actions. In “No Coal: The MusiCoal” students burst into sudden song at the dining hall and then marched out together singing, “Hi ho, hi ho… We want no more coal” to the tune of the Seven Dwarfs song. The next week the Cirque du Coaleil made an appearance, presenting the “marvelous spectacle of the Disappearing Endowment.” Students paraded through the dining hall, juggling, doing acrobatics and “searching” for the invisible endowment. This past week a pair of students stood blindfolded stirring a pot of “Endowment Soup” and ranting about how environmentally friendly Middlebury is while “Coal Goblins” threw in pieces of coal into the pot, “contaminating” the endowment.


Hopefully this effort to publicly expose the inconsistency between Middlebury’s mission and its investment practices will draw enough attention that students, faculty and administration all recognize the importance of the issue and work collaboratively to “clean up” the endowment. In the meantime, though, these students are having a blast.




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