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May 12, 2000

Social Investors Rise to New Challenges at National Conference
    by Philip Johansson

At a meeting held in New York this week, socially responsible investment professionals reveled in a decade of outstanding growth, but did not rest on their laurels. -- Leaders in the socially responsible investment industry met in New York this week at an annual conference titled "Making a Profit While Making a Difference." Held at the Marriott World Trade Center Hotel, May 10-12, the conference served as a vital springboard for preparing social investing to meet the challenges of the new millennium.

"The socially responsible investment industry has put into place an ongoing collection and reporting system based on global corporate accountability," said Amy Domini, Managing Principle and Founder of Domini Social Investments and Co-Creator of the Domini Social Index (DSI). "Nothing like this existed before we came, and nothing would have existed. This is the great change that we've brought to the world."

Domini's rousing keynote speech reinforced the great strides that social investing has made in the ten years since the inception of the DSI, including overcoming the apparent challenges of social research and performance. But she also focused on new challenges to be faced in future decades, a theme which resounded throughout panel discussions and exhibitions throughout the conference.

Despite entering the vocabulary of the financial industry and significantly altering the way business is done, social investors are still confronted with growing injustice and environmental degradation around the world. The wealth gap continues to grow, prisons are full to the point of bursting, toxic pollutants cycle through the food chain, and natural resources are being depleted at an unprecedented rate.

"Our children and grandchildren look to us with a question that we refuse to acknowledge," said Domini. "Why have we committed ourselves to use up the planet and its life-giving resources in our generation rather than allow the tens of thousands of generations that might have followed?"

Domini maintained that because of a fundamental schism between finance and society, corporate managers are only held responsible for making money, at all costs. She asserted that it was within the power of shareholders to bring the society back into finance, and that this will be the future role and responsibility of social investors.

The expanding influence of social investors in the corporate arena was echoed in the comments of keynote speakers Ben Cohen, Co-Founder of Ben & Jerry's, and Terry Mollner, President of Meadowbrook Lane Capital. Mollner, a key negotiator in Ben & Jerry's buyout by Unilever, expressed optimism that the acquisition represented a further dissemination of socially responsible principles to a multinational corporate audience.

California State Treasurer Philip Angelides, in his keynote address, announced a new "Double Bottom Line" initiative to broaden economic returns of public pension funds by including comprehensive community development investments. Terry Mollner commented that Angelides was the public administrator that social investors have dreamed of for twenty years, and represented a significant breakthrough for the industry.

All speakers at "Making a Profit While Making a Difference" were confident that they could build on the past years of excellent growth and development to further break down barriers to corporate responsibility. Given the high caliber and enthusiasm of the participants, it would be hard not to agree with them.

"We can be a powerful voice, the voice of owners of corporations, urging that our investment return not come at the price of jeopardizing our twin goals of justice and environmental sustainability," said Domini. "Fiduciary responsibility must no longer be defined as 'make me money.' Make money, yes, but making money is different from stealing money from our grandchildren."

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