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"Companies have enormous power to create social and environmental -- as well as financial -- outcomes," says John Streur, president of Portfolio 21, an investment firm and leader in environmental investing. "Corporate power rivals government power in many respects, it controls it in other respects, and the two powers often work together. An investor with large sums of money under management is like a voter with a million votes to cast. Many investors fail to realize these facts, others ignore their responsibility, and of course, some abuse it. All of us at Portfolio 21 are motivated by doing the very best with it that is possible."
We asked John to tell us more about responsible investing, the risks of the fossil fuel industry, and the philosophy behind Porfolio 21.
Green America: What does your business do and what are your most popular products?
John Streur: Portfolio 21 is a boutique investment management firm and pioneer in combining environmental, social, and governance analysis with fundamental investment research. We have a passion for finding exceptional public companies that we believe are capable of providing competitive returns for investors while innovating within emerging environmental limits, mitigating their environmental impact, and operating in a manner respectful of society. Our single focus is to achieve excellence in environmental investing for the benefit of our clients and we are best known for our Global Equity Strategy and the mutual fund that we advise.
What makes Portfolio 21 green?
John: Portfolio 21 is employee-owned and was founded on green principles. Everything we do is with “green” as a primary objective. We have developed rigorous environmental investment criteria with the highest standards for the public companies in which we invest. Our offices are in the country’s first LEED gold-certified restoration of a historic building and we have an award-winning carbon mitigation program for all company travel.
What can you tell our readers about the fossil-fuel divestment movement?
John: Thanks to Bill McKibben and Green America, the divestment movement has created significant awareness and engaged an enormous amount of people about the limitations of, and damage to, the earth’s resources. This is a life and death issue for millions of people living in economically disadvantaged regions who are at the highest risk from weather-related natural disasters. As an investment manager, we have found unacceptable risks in the fossil fuel industry. Our research on the topic is available on our Web site.
|The Portfolio 21 team: Beth Williamson, Tony Tursich, John Streur, Jim Madden, and Emily Lethenstrom.|
What have been the biggest challenges to social and environmental responsibility?
John: Every day we are researching companies and applying the highest standards of social and environmental responsibility. Today companies know that they have to provide answers about their social and environmental impacts; however, not all companies provide the necessary transparency and certainly there are companies attempting to greenwash the truth. Our job is to find the truth and apply our research process to select the leaders. Over the years, we have rejected about 90 percentof companies, which illustrates the challenges and tough choices we face in our work.
What's the most hopeful sign you've seen recently from the green economy?
John: The need to move this work forward becomes more urgent every day. Every day we are inspired by the growing sense of urgency to foster real change. We are hopeful about the positive reception and growing demand for environmental and social investing that we see here at Portfolio 21.
What's the next green step you're working on right now?
John: We are continuing to improve the measurement and the reporting of the impact in our work. The transparency of information from the companies in which we invest is critical for everyone.
What advice would you give to other social and environmental entrepreneurs just starting out?
John: Carefully study the challenges or the “problem statement” to better understand the actions needed in your business model in order to meet the challenges. The scale and magnitude of the challenges and how they are institutionalized should not be underestimated. And the tenacity required to start a business should not be underestimated.
What green product (besides your own!) can you not live without?
John: We love our neighborhood food co-ops and farmers’ markets!