This is the first in a series of blog posts that reflects the title of a book my friend Catherine Mobley and I wrote about ten years ago. The premise of that book (Our Money, Our Values) was the need to be clear about what our values are and use our money—spending, saving/investing and giving it away—in ways that promote those values. One of my values, and probably one of yours, is to honor and respect that planet that sustains our lives. How does our use of money express our gratitude and concern for Mother Earth, promote sustainability, and counter climate change?
In terms of spending, all of us need to be more conscious of our carbon footprint and other impacts on the planet and other living things Tolerate higher indoor temperatures in the summer and lower in the winter. Drive less in a fuel-efficient vehicle. Fly less. Stop mowing lawns and have a yard full of native plants that provide habitats for birds and bees and other critters. To the extent feasible, buy organically produced food and cook more of it yourself. Shop less, recycle more. You know the consumer drill.
Beyond the consumer drill, however, all of us are engaged with firms and organizations whose practices also impact the planet. Why do stores have to be too cold in the summer, too warm in the winter? Which is better for the planet, shopping locally or online? (Does that recall to mind the unsettled debate over cloth versus disposable diapers?) Are there any trees near the store or shopping center, or is it just surrounded by acres of paved impervious surfaces? What role does local government regulations play in making these properties more earth friendly? Does your state and local government regulate in ways that make it easier or harder to promote renewable energy? And how sustainable are these local governments’ own practices? How do they make it easier to recycle? Are their newer buildings examples of green construction? How many trees surround City Hall?
Saving and investing also have implications for the planet. There is a long history of financial services for socially responsible investing, either on your own (with a lot of investigative work) or in mutual funds that invest in firms committed to a variety of good practices. These firms recognize that they have more stakeholders than shareholders, and those stakeholders matter—their workers, their customers, their suppliers, their communities. All these stakeholders have, or should have, an interest in corporate practices that are promote sustainability.
What can you do? You can try investing in B-corporations, which have charters of incorporation that require them to be accountable to all those stakeholders, not just their investors. Or you can seek of socially responsible mutual funds and choose those whose particular investment strategies mirror your own values, specifically sustainability and wise use of limited national resources. You should also remember that if you have a pension fund, it is an investor too, investing your money. Find out what role sustainability and energy conservation play in their management of those assets, which can be very substantial. Your collegiate alma mater or your religious community (including pension funds) is also are likely to have endowments that are invested in financial assets. They, too, should be held accountable to the planet for how those funds are invested.
Finally, you probably give some of your money to various good causes. It’s easy to succumb to the countless requests for money from lots of places, many of which are deserving charities. At least some of those resources should be focused on the twin needs of the poor and the environment. Include the planet in your charitable giving! My two personal favorite programs promote solar power (it doesn’t take much to charge a cell phone and a light so children can do their homework at night) and planting trees, both in sub-Saharan Africa. How did I find them? Both are run by charitable organizations that can be accessed through an umbrella organization called Global Giving. I want to improve the lives of people around the globe, but I want to do it in ways that makes the recipients more able to thrive in a healthier planetary environment.
As Kermit the frog would say, it’s not easy being green. But it is important. Consider these three ways in which your money can work for you and your planet. How can you put your money where your values are?