Can sustainable investment fight climate change?

By AKEIRA JENNINGS | April 18, 2019

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The melting of ice shelves may not have an effect on global sea levels. 

The Johns Hopkins Advanced Academic Programs and the National Academy of Sciences will host a Climate Change Symposium on May 3 called Changing by Degrees: Multidisciplinary Approaches to Climate Change. In light of this, students and faculty are identifying different methods of achieving sustainability.

While students have access to many community based environmental groups, clubs and active non-profit organizations in both Baltimore and Washington, D.C., there may be another, less known way in which the companies responsible for considerable environmental degradation can be addressed and held accountable. 

Sustainable investing, also known as socially responsible investing or social impact investing, has been defined by many, including Wells Fargo, as investing with a purpose. 

This type of investment excludes coal, tobacco and controversial weapons and specifically promotes companies that value renewable energy and positive impacts on communities and climate change efforts. 

The idea behind sustainable investing is that investors will choose investments based on their personal values and the integration of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors. 

In a report by Ernst & Young, millennials were identified to be more prone to select investments that align with their personal beliefs and interests. 

As a result, many firms are being advised to acknowledge the values of socially conscious investors, for the number of sustainable investing funds has almost tripled since 2008, according to The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investments’ 2014 report. 

So how can students help hold companies accountable financially?

In addition to researching which companies have adopted sustainable practices and which investment firms are helping push for companies to become more environmentally conscious, students can also support divestment campaigns.

Designed to end fossil fuel sponsorship, divestment is the process in which individuals and organizations get rid of their stocks, bonds, and investments that have harmful impacts on the environment or the community. 

Organizations like Go Fossil Free and 350.org have spearheaded many divestment campaigns that have already helped more than 450 organizations break their financial ties with socially irresponsible and environmentally degrading companies.  

According to 350.org, since the divestment campaigns began in 2012, governments, individuals, and organizations around the world representing more than $1.5 trillion in assets have pledged to divest from fossil fuels. 

Ted Conwell, the director of Climate First!, believes that young people should put more pressure on unethical companies and investment firms — and fast. 

“Who knows how long we have?” Conwell said. “Ten, nine, eleven years. Climate change should be our highest priority.”

A recent study published by The Rainforest Action Network shared that, “33 banks funneled 1.9 trillion into fossil fuels since 2016.” 

Although many organizations have pledged to get onboard and to show investors that they too value sustainability, there are many prominent U.S. financial institutions that have strengthened their ties to the fossil fuel industry since the 2016 Paris Agreement. 

According to the report, financing for the fossil fuel industry is on the rise, as many of America’s leading banks, including Wells Fargo, CitiBank and Bank of America, made the list of the fossil fuel industry’s top 5 financial investors. 

JP Morgan Chase, the largest investment bank in the United States, ranked as the undisputed largest funder. 

Conwell believes it should be an easy choice for companies to pull out of the fossil fuel industry. 

“Corporations should have an ethical responsibility to abide by the law and to common standards,” said Conwell. 

While students can continue writing letters to congressmen and congresswomen, calling senators, and going to environmental hearings, what Conwell and many other leaders in the fight against climate change want to see is action.

In partnership with 350.org, Climate First! has initiated several efforts to continue pushing large companies and banks, like Wells Fargo, to adopt divestment plans and commit to sustainability.

Although the fight against climate change is far from over, millennials and those passionate about climate change have more power than ever before. 

As millennials rise in financial wealth, their values and beliefs in creating a sustainable future will ultimately affect the finances of the companies and banks they will choose to support. 

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