Is promoting First Affirmative Financial Network promoting ‘economic sustainability’?

Financial sectionIs promoting the First Affirmative Financial Network actually promoting real ‘economic sustainability’? The reason I ask this, is that tonight the Justice and Peace group here in Colorado Springs is hosting the message of this FAFN group in the PPJPC offices downtown. The host (a paid PPJPC office staff member) is somebody that keeps pushing something he calls ‘sustainability, but has never defined what he means by this.

It seems now, that his idea of economic sustainability is having and/ or pushing a stock investment portfolio in so-called ‘green’ companies. Read The Gazette about this outfit Certified green

Yes, Yes. The Gazette is certainly a great champion of environmental causes, right? This color green keeps coming up with the PPJPC, does it not? So now it arises that the PPJPC is championing ‘green investment’ as the idea of how capitalism can solve earth’s problems. Wow! It’s great to have common cause with The Gazette on this one, for sure. That is sarcasm now.

The point is that there is a big difference between championing the environment and the championing the green washing of a certain sector of the corporate world. That is what the First Affirmative Financial Network is more about than anything else, but is the world going to be saved by pushing for people to make nicer investments? That is a totally doubtful idea, and is a simplistic strategy to help save the environment for future generations.

Is the Justice and Peace Commission to be nothing more than green-washing huggers for the city, the military, and a certain sector of the corporate world? I hope not, but that seems to be the direction that some in the PPJPC want to push the group, while keeping out real discussion about what saving the environment for future generations would actually entail.

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9 Responses to Is promoting First Affirmative Financial Network promoting ‘economic sustainability’?

  1. Eric Eric says:

    Give it a chance, let’s go see! I know I’m expecting something akin to a timeshare sales pitch, but here’s what they’ve promised the forum will be about. Let’s see if they can make an economist out of an investment advisor

    “It’s the Economy” Forum
    Wednesday, March 26 PPJPC offices, 7-9 p.m. 214 E. Vermijo Ave.
    Is an economy based on endless growth and consumer spending sustainable? Possible? Desirable? Johann Klaassen of First Affirmative Financial Network will explore alternatives to the current economic paradigm as we head towards recession, the largest federal deficit in history and 35,000 troops and dependents coming to Colorado Springs.

  2. I’m sorry you weren’t at the forum last night, Tony. Only a handful of folks made it after all, but there was a rousing discussion. I tried hard _not_ to pitch First Affirmative, as the folks from PPJPC made it clear that the point was to talk about the future of “the economy”.

    If you saw the most recent edition of _Active for Justice_, the newspaper published by the PPJPC, you’ll see why I was invited to participate: most of page 4 is an article I wrote, at their request, about economics, sustainability, and social justice. I wasn’t the only person they invited – the original idea was for the session to be a “round-table” style discussion, but I was the only invitee who was able to make it after all.

    I did mention that First Affirmative is an investment advisory firm, talked briefly about the official announcement of our office’s LEED certification, and talked a little about my background (academic philosophy – ethics and social philosophy, specifically) and that of our CEO (George Gay – West Point graduate). The only specifically investment-related mention I made, as far as I can remember, was of the Domini Social Index – which, like the S&P 500, is not something one can invest in directly, of course. Eric was there – did I cross the line, Eric?

    I’m happy to discuss issues like this – sustainability, social justice, economics, investing, etc. – wherever and whenever you’d like. Feel free to contact me – since you cite the First Affirmative website, you clearly have my email and street addresses, and a phone number. I look forward to hearing from you, Tony, or from anyone interested in these issues!

  3. Avatar tony logan says:

    Let me ask you, Johann, just to address here my first question about FAFN. It was quite simple, actually…

    …Is promoting the First Affirmative Financial Network actually promoting real ‘economic sustainability’?…

    If so, why?

    Actually, I didn’t go to the small meeting that you addressed, simply because I do not want to bash you and others about your ideas on reforming the economy. Quite frankly I think it great, that you and the others who are interested in these issues, even give it a thought, since most Americans simply do not.

    So please feel free to explain to us some of your thinking on the issue of reforming world capitalism. How can it be done?

  4. I guess I hadn’t really responded to your question, Tony, because I thought it started from a false premise: that PPJ&P was somehow “promoting” First Affirmative Financial Network. I have volunteered some of my time to help promote common goals, like a sustainable economy, but I don’t believe that FAFN was thereby “promoted”. Perhaps there we simply disagree.

    If, though, you mean to ask “How does FAFN promote real ‘economic sustainability’?”, or perhaps “How would investing with FAFN help to promote real ‘economic sustainability’?” … well, I think that’s a better sort of question, and I can offer a couple of responses.

    First, there are a tremendous lot of resources available on the web for those who are interested in learning about the fundamentals of … well, let’s call it “sustainable and responsible investing”. At the risk of self-promotion, let me mention FAFN’s own website – http://www.firstaffirmative.com – as a good starting spot. The Social Investment Forum – http://www.socialinvest.org – is the industry association for those of us interested in sustainable economies. And Social Funds – http://www.socialfunds.com/ – provides pretty comprehensive news and information about the industry, too.

    As for First Affirmative more particularly: Investors who choose to work with FAFN make a conscious choice to put their money to work for a dual purpose – to provide for a secure retirement, for example, while working for a better, more socially just and environmentally sustainable future for all. Investors can make a meaningful difference by consciously directing their investment capital toward enterprises that contribute to a clean, healthy environment, treat people fairly, embrace equal opportunity, produce safe and useful products, and support efforts to promote world peace.

    The ultimate goal is a sustainable economy. To get from here to there will require many millions of people changing the way they think and act in many millions of ways. Primarily, and as I tried to say in the article I wrote for _Active for Justice_, our emphasis must shift from the short-term to the long-term.

    There’s certainly a lot more that could be said here; let me know if you have further questions.

    Thanks,
    Johann

  5. Avatar Tony Logan says:

    Johann, the only premises I actually started from is that there is absolutely nothing that has anything real to do with anything remotely that could be called ‘promoting a sustainable economy’ that the firm FAFN is actually doing, and that the PPJPC, as yourself do, too, never actually get around to adding any substance to the vague phrase, ‘promoting sustainable economy’. Just what does that mean to you, or Steve, over at the PPJPC who actually invited you to give your talk?

    ‘Green’ and ‘promoting sustainable economy’ have become meaningless phrases that seem to be used by corporate shrills today, as well as people like Steve and you, Johann. To put it more bluntly, I think that the whole concept of investing in supposedly nicer capitalist outfits like Ben and Jerry’s instead of Mobil Exxon, say, does absolutely nothing to change anything, other than change a very tiny few stock portfolios. Big deal.

    So why is the PPJPC involved in giving the idea that it is struggling for justice and the planet’s ecology with this ‘social investing’ scheme that you with FAFN are promoting? The PPJPC wants people to give them donations of time and money, but is this all they are getting through associating with the group, forums advocating so-called ‘social investing’? Bleah! What a waste, and in the name of ‘sustainability’, too.

    Advocating the ‘promotion of economic sustainability’ means something entirely different in my opinion than what you are actually doing. For example, nationalizing the world’s oil and mining industries would be one such approach to trying to rein in ecologically destructive practices being done by them at present. Most of them are being backed by predatory financial institutions, ones that say, promote horribly destructive development projects and thieving forms of ‘lending’, that lead to economic chaos. Might we help the environment out, too, by not bailing out these horrid companies, and by actually considering nationalizing them, rather than bailing them out with US tax dollars?

    ‘Promoting economic sustainability’ in my book, has to deal more with limiting Halliburton and Lockheed’s ability to prey on tax dollars to then use to destroy the ecological and social environments of us all. You see how I differ with the approach that you at FAFN and Steve at the PPJPC are doing while trying to be good ‘environmentalists’? You really challenge the power of these companies not in the least, but are just trying to beg them to be a little bit better socially, which is a hopeless and silly task.

  6. Short of fomenting the Revolution, Tony, it doesn’t sound like there’s anything anyone *could* do that might count as “promoting economic sustainability”. Otherwise, though, I think we are largely in agreement!

    As for definitions of sustainability: Here’s a short snippet from an academic article I’m working on now, with the working title “Sustainability and Social Justice”:

    In some respects, this is a simple idea – “sustainability” is something’s ability to sustain itself, of course, usually (at least implicitly) for an indefinite time period. In this context, however, that’s clearly only the beginning of the story. There are more than a few things we might be discussing, after all, and it seems rare indeed for those who speak of investing for sustainability to explicitly identify what it is that they’re hoping to sustain. What *is* a “sustainable world”?
    The most widely cited discussion of sustainability is that of the World Commission on Environment and Development, also known as the Brundtland Commission, which offers this definition: “Sustainable development is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Most contemporary economists, it seems, point to this sort of “intergenerational equity” as a fundamental part of any discussion of sustainability, and most appear to agree that the general stock of capital is the best way to measure this, so that “a development is called sustainable when it leaves the capital stock at least unchanged”, if not increased.

    The full paper is almost 4,000 words so far, but I’m happy to share the draft with those who might be interested.

    I agree that “green” and “sustainability” have both been watered down in recent years. It leaves us with two jobs to do – first, to explain what we’re doing (as this thread shows so clearly), and second, to make an actual difference in the world by *doing* those things.

    And I agree that doing something as simple as “investing in supposedly nicer capitalist outfits … does absolutely nothing to change anything”. Screening “bad” companies out of portfolios has no measurable impact on the companies screened out.

    So what does First Affirmative do? There are two strong ways to have a real impact, short of the armed uprising you seem to suggest.

    (A) We can commit to “shareholder advocacy”: owning shares of companies we might not want to own, in order to force votes at those companies’ shareholder meetings, to attempt to force those companies to change their business practices. Screening shares of Exxon Mobil, say, out of my portfolio doesn’t have any impact on the company; using the shares I do own to force them to address human rights issues, to face up to their environmental impacts, and so on, … well, that does have an impact, and I believe it has to count as a way to “really challenge the power of these companies”.

    And (B) we can commit a portion, at least, of our investable capital to “community investment” projects: micro-lending institutions such as the Grameen Bank, which together with its founder Muhammad Yunus won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, can take our investments and make loans to small businesses that might otherwise never be able to get the capital they need to succeed. There are many such institutions around the world, including a couple here in Colorado; they make a huge difference in the lives of ordinary people wherever they operate.

    I have published articles here and there in which I argue against taking a position like yours, Tony, for a couple of main reasons. First, a complete overthrow of our current capitalist system is highly unlikely, as there are huge forces deployed to support it against revolution. Second, if it *were* somehow successful, a conservative estimate I saw recently placed the projected death toll at approximately one-third to one-half of the world’s current population. Personally, I’m not interested in martyrdom, or in being indirectly responsible for the death of billions. Instead, I’ve argued, since we have strong tools (such as shareholder advocacy and community investing) at our disposal, we should use those to bring about the *evolution* of capitalism.

    It may be less exciting than manning the barricades and declaring the Revolution, but I think that such an evolutionary approach to changing capitalism stands a better chance of succeeding.

    Thanks,
    Johann

  7. Avatar Tony Logan says:

    What stodgy silliness! So you don’t want to join the wild- eyed radicals that want to destroy capitalism (and 1/2 the world’s population, you say, in an absurdest number pulled out of total thin air). You just are out to reform capitalism instead, where capitalism will then be turned into a sustainable entity for all. Oh, really, Johann?

    What makes your ideas even more ridiculous IMO, is that nobody other than you has ever said that only the barricades are worth assembling here. Just you. But your project fails not because it is not revolutionary enough, but because it is not even a reform program of any real substance.

    That’s the whole thing, isn’t it? Even reforms of capitalism cannot really be achieved in these times, so your rhetoric is absolutely empty of any effort to even reform aspects of The System. You pose yourself as a grand realist, so why make unrealistic demands for reforms on a system that is based on pure thievery? You don’t even offer a struggle for bottle return laws, or a better garbage pickup system in Colorado Springs. There are no calls for better zoning or implementation of real mass transit. That would be pushing Power way too much, now wouldn’t it?

    If your group was part of any struggle for reform of what we got now, I would be totally with you. But you are not even that, so all the talk about me being a crazy radical is just bluff on your part. The truth is, that your pseudo environmental group joins a long list of other environmental groups that are not even struggling for minimal reforms. You are a business now, and not an environmentalist organization. Happy portfolios, Dude.

  8. Well, Tony, I think it’s clear that you and I disagree mightily about what a “struggle for reform” might mean.

    I think that working within the capitalist system, to try and move it from an exploitative growth model to a sustainable development model, is the best use of my time and abilities; I’m not sure what the *best* use of your time and talents might be, but you’ve chosen something more confrontational than I could.

    Two quick notes, though: (1) I testified to a committee meeting at the state senate yesterday, in favor of a bill requiring the PUC to investigate alternative energy technologies to replace fossil-fuel-fired power plants. I hope that counts in my favor. (2) Let me recommend a very good book, by a friend of mine: *Business, Ethics, and the Environment: Imagining a Sustainable Future*, by Joseph DesJardins. Amazon has it used for about $7, and it’s only ~150 pages; it’s very accessible, since it’s designed as a textbook for business ethics / environmental ethics classes, and so avoids unnecessary abstraction and jargon. I think you’d enjoy reading it.

    Thanks again,
    Johann

  9. Avatar tony logan says:

    Johann, we do disagree but that’s OK. I do think that your heart most probably is at least in the right place and I would hope that that is also your opinion of me?

    Also, thanks for the mention of the book, and I will make an effort to check it out soon. I do think that coming into contact with multiple points of view on these issues is most important. In fact, I would like to extend an open invitation to you, Johann, to write to this blog about any envirtonmental issues that seem important to you. For example, I would be most interested in your opinions about Peak Oil Theory, is it valid, and if it is, what impact will Peak Oil have on the world economy?

    So I hope you continue to write to us at least a time or two more. I wish the J&P would allow for discussions on these issues more than it actually has. Substituting vague and meaningless ‘Green’ rhetoric is not the same thing as actually talking about real issues that do need to be dealt with. And it certainly is no substitute for a real advocacy program that would push for major change in environmental policies.

    Johann, since I do not think that capitalism can even remotely ever be switched from what it is into the dream you have for it, we will certainly conflict over that perspective. That in no way means that I see you as some sort of enemy. Best wishes and hope that you continue the struggle in your own way.

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