October 4, 2016, Adrian, Michigan – Numerous aspects of the issue of climate change and its effects on Earth have been discussed and analyzed in recent years. A presentation, sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB), focused on a unique but vital slant: how finance can be used as a tool in the fight against climate change.
Geeta Aiyer, CFA, founder and president of Boston Common Asset Management, spoke on “The Climate Finance Landscape – Mitigating the Impact of Climate Change” in the auditorium of Weber Center, before an audience of PAB members, Sisters, Associates, and Co-workers. Geeta has worked closely with the Congregation for about 20 years as an investment manager.
She began by setting her talk in context, noting the urgency of climate change, which can bring about “disruption of climate cycles” and severe weather, as well as “food scarcity, the extinction of species, and the displacement of populations.”
For many years, faith-based organizations have tried to persuade people to address climate change and to change from using fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar. Financial motivation also plays a role, Geeta said. “I firmly believe there is no sustainability without finance,” she said. “Hence, your role as the Portfolio Advisory Board remains central.”
During her talk, Geeta focused on how finance tools can be used as part of a strategy to persuade corporations such as energy companies to lessen the effects of climate change on our planet.
Geeta gave a mixed review of the effectiveness of one popular tool: divestment, selling off your stocks and having nothing to do with a fossil-fuel company, for example. Divestment is a “values statement that says you don’t want to participate in it.” However, she added, the stocks could then go to other owners who don’t care what effects the fossil-fuel companies are having on the environment. In addition, other companies besides fossil fuel corporations put carbon into the air through their operations.
Geeta pointed out that activist shareholders — those who want to make a difference to the environment or social justice through their investments — have a range of tools to persuade corporations to take the environment into account, from dialoguing with the companies to engaging in shareholder resolutions. The PAB, through its Corporate Responsibility arm, engages in those actions to bring about greater social justice and enhance the common good.
Geeta noted the powers of persuasion that shareholders have with the corporations that they invest in because the shareholders would want to make decisions that benefit the corporation as well as the world. As shareholders, “we have a very different voice,” she said. “We want [the corporations] to do well. …We’ll sit with them and talk with them in a voice that can be heard.”
Dialogues between activist shareholders and the companies in which they invest can take many forms, Geeta said. She emphasized the importance of working with fossil-fuel companies to begin to produce renewable energy, with other companies to reduce their use of carbon and to be more efficient, and with insurance companies and banks, who enable continual construction that can increase the use of fossil fuels.
Geeta expressed her own optimism that fossil fuel companies and other corporations will eventually act to make the environment more sustainable. “When we know people are watching, we change how we do things,” she said. For example, if fossil fuel companies realize that the demand for carbon-based energy has been reduced, they might supply more energy through renewable sources. Companies in every sector could become aware of opportunities to make a difference through more efficient use of energy or through technology that helps consumers to measure their own use of energy.
To hear more about this complex issue, watch the video of Geeta’s entire talk below.