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As You Sow Speaks at Climate Teach-In

On Wednesday, Feb. 21, there was a Climate Crisis Teach-In where guest speakers from the company As You Sow, a nonprofit leader in shareholder advocacy, discussed strategies for working with corporations to encourage the reduction of toxic waste.

Diana Myers, the climate coordinator at As You Sow, said, “I have been with As You Sow for 3 years now and I take a lot of pride in our impactful corporate dialogue and research, and through this work, I am hoping to move the needle on corporate practices to make our vision a just and sustainable future a reality.”

Myers is on the climate-energy team at As You Sow and communicates with companies to help them develop and report on their climate condition plans and help companies think about how a company’s actions will affect their emissions, workforce, customers, and community.
As You Sow promotes protecting human rights, reducing waste made by large corporations specifically focusing on carbon footprints, and aligning investments with values. As You Sow wants to collaborate with companies because big corporations hold a lot of power and can make a real difference if companies were more aware and accountable.

“Corporations have a ton of power in our society, and they contribute to a lot of social and environmental crises that we face today. As a result, corporations need to be a willing part of solutions to these crises and take broader responsibility for the role that they play,” explained Myers.

She discussed what stakeholder capitalism is, where a big corporation has more responsibility than just its shareholders. Big businesses can make great changes for our world, but it depends if they want to take the time to sit down, work through the details, and use the resources that they have at their disposal to implement the change needed.

Corporations focus on extractive models which are models of business that benefit the shareholders of a company immensely while creating harmful things such as pollution to the planet; it is a more short-term way of thinking and emphasizes profit while not focusing on the repercussions that this model may cause.

“We are trying to use our research and engagement to pivot models toward regenerative more sustainable models where the focus is on the long-term value and long-term growth and regeneration of natural resources. We try to design these models so decisions equally benefit all stakeholders,” emphasized Myers.

A big factor in all of this is transparency. As You Sow creates scorecards from their research to rank companies on their values and practices so that consumers and investors have a way of understanding and comparing, who they are supporting and where their money is going.

“Another place these scorecards add value is that they give us as issue area experts a chance to elevate best practices. Part of my job is to find the most comprehensive, robust decision-useful guidance and bring that to companies,” said Myers.

Myers concluded her portion of the presentation by reminding the audience that we have power; choices to make informed decisions about who we support, and that we can make the world a better place if we do our research.

Grant Bradski, sustainable investing initiative & creative content Sr. coordinator at As You Sow, said, “I work in the invest your value program and our program is a bit different than other programs in that we create free online transparency tools to help investors uncover companies with environmental and social risk embedded inside of their mutual funds and retirement plans.”

In 2015 As You Sow launched a program called the Fossil Free Funds analyzing the fossil fuel exposure and carbon footprint of thousands of U.S. mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs). As You Sow expanded into other big problem areas such as deforestation, gender equality, guns, private prisons, tobacco, and retirement.

“Coal, oil, and gas make up the vast majority of emissions since the 1800s worldwide, and many companies such as BP, Shell, and ExxonMobile, that are responsible for these emissions are embedded inside our retirement plans and that is because retirement plans invest in mutual funds, you can think of them as baskets of stocks and a lot of the time there can be hundreds if not thousands of different companies inside a single mutual fund and so if you own one mutual fund you are a part owner hundreds if not thousands of companies,” described Bradski.

He emphasized that mutual funds are created by asset managers that help develop, maintain, and sell financial products as Vanguard and BlackRock are the biggest investors of fossil fuels worldwide totaling over 500 billion dollars between the two companies.

Bradski showcased how on Fossil Free Funds there are resources to look at top-rated funds but also a search function to look at your own funds you are invested in. He even uses a fund affiliated with Monmouth University TIAA-CREF Social Choice Equity Fund.

“So, if you click on the fund, you will be brought to the homepage of your fund and you will see a grade that we assigned based on the total fossil fuel exposure of your fund. You can also see the total dollar amount invested in fossil fuels, this fund has a little over 400 million dollars in fossil fuel investments and we show you what specific companies are embedded inside of your funds,” he explained.

Braski concluded, “Where you put your money is a form of free speech so you can use your shareholder power to influence corporate policies on issues that matter to you, you can vote in favor of company action, on climate change, ocean plastic, and racial justice the problem is many investors don’t vote because they don’t understand what a proxy ballot is or how to vote and so we created a website as you vote.org that is free to use and we will automatically vote your proxies in a way that supports your values.”