‘There is a way forward, there is a cost’ — the Bishop’s Roundtable on Socially Responsible Investing

On Tuesday, August 12, approximately 70 people gathered in the Wilsey Conference Center at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, for a presentation on socially responsible investing. This was a continuation of a conversation started at last year’s convention by the proposal of a resolution requiring the Diocese of California to divest from fossil fuels. The Committee on Resolutions submitted a substitute resolution emphasizing avoidance, affirmative investing, and advocacy. The purpose of the roundtable was to invite conversation about the direction the diocese could or may take.

The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus, bishop of California, opened the evening with three stories from the Bible, all about money. Bishop Andrus pointed out that Jesus said more about money and its right use than about anything else — except the Reign of God. He acknowledged that the resolution at diocesan convention and ongoing conversations about socially responsible investing open big questions without easy answers.

The first two speakers, Nancy Pfund of Double Bottom Line Investors and Kristin Hull of Nia Global Solutions shared their information and stories of how their firms encourage socially responsible investing. Pfund focused on fossil fuels and environmental responsibility. She shared that humanity will have access to carbon-based fuel for far longer than is sustainable, given the by-products of their usage. She advocates for doing what is best for the planet and getting maximum return on investments by investing in renewable energy companies that continue to grow while minimizing environmental impact. 

Pfund also pointed out that unlike computers, communication, and transportation (all of which have gotten smaller and more advanced over the decades), electricity has not had major innovations since Tesla and Edison harnessed the alternating and direct currents. She suggested that a breakthrough in the electricity innovation cycle could be near, though.

Hull shared her personal experience of managing a family foundation, and rather than investing two percent of the holdings in values-based investments, moving one hundred percent of the holdings to values-based investments. Hull also emphasized the need to look at all holdings — so that investors know the good investments alongside the bad — and then move toward their goals.

The second two speakers presented the work the diocese has been doing. The Rev. Justin Cannon, St. Giles’, Moraga, presented a history of last year’s resolutions and shared some of the companies in which the Diocese of California is invested through its affiliation with The Investment Fund for Foundations (TIFF). He also shared The Episcopal Church’s No-Buy List.

Janet Brown, speaking for the diocesan Investment Committee, shared her history of monitoring the performance of investment managers for 40 years, including monitoring socially responsible investments. Brown emphasized the need to balance competitive returns and societal impact. She also noted that the Investment Committee does not have the resources to do in-depth research about corporate governance or other criterion that might be a part of a socially responsible investment strategy.

After a short break, participants dispersed into eight randomly sorted groups to discuss questions based on statements from the speakers. The questions were

  • What would it mean for the diocese to move with the electricity innovation cycle?  
  • How can we/I be most efficient or effective in leveraging change with what we've/I've got?  
  • “There is a way forward, there is a cost” — how do you balance those?  
  • What is the value of staying invested for the purpose of advocacy to change behavior?

Each group reported their thoughts to the larger group before formulating the early workings of some next steps. Bishop Andrus will soon be writing a follow-up reflection on the time spent together, some of the collective learning, and how the diocese will continue to engage the conversation about its role in socially responsible investing.