Green Column: Socially Responsible Investing

By Helena Kilburn

Staff Writer

Interest in socially responsible investment policies has been growing on a global, national, and campus-wide scale. On Tuesday, April 4, an expert in this field came to talk to an attentive Sewanee audience. Charlie Bohlen, the Chief Investment Officer of SFE Investment Counsel, gave a lecture hosted by the Babson Center for Global Commerce, the Divestment Club, and the Sewanee Investment Club.

Socially responsible investing (SRI) takes into consideration factors such as governmental, social, and environmental impact instead of only focusing on profit. Bohlen spoke about his belief that ethical capitalism is possible. Not only is socially responsible investing possible, but there is a correlation between sustainability and profitability.

He also spoke to the history of divestment success with examples such as divestment during the Vietnam War, the Anti-Tuna movement, and the very successful divestment against apartheid in South Africa. He looked at the rich history of SRI in religious establishments, specifically the Episcopal church, which is currently considering divestment.

After covering some of the history of SRI, Bohlen turned his attention to recent findings in the field. One interesting point was a study done by Morgan Stanley showing that, if done correctly, an SRI portfolio can be more profitable than a non-SRI portfolio by 1-1.5 percent growth.

Another interesting point was that there has been a 14-fold increase in SRI in the past 20 years, a stunning trend. SRI mostly occurs through active investing instead of passive investing, which could hinder its increased popularity. Despite this, Bohlen believes that SRI will eventually become the standard.

When asked if he believed that students should have a right to say how their schools invest, he answered in the affirmative, stating that students put money into the school and therefore have a stake in the institution.

He was also asked if divestment is mostly a symbolic gesture. He answered saying that while divestment does have a fiscal impact, it is mostly symbolic. He continued with the idea that symbolic gestures are PR, and PR should not be underrated.

Bohlen answered a final question relating to the politics of Divestment and explained that SRI is not politically right or left because it deals with so many issues that one side cannot disagree so completely as to polarize the issue.

He has operated in his business with the belief that he and his clients do not have to sacrifice peace of mind in order to make profit, and that the trend towards SRI represents a shift in priorities from purely financial gain to social gain. Hopefully the impact of this shift will lead to a more socially positive future for the world of finance.