Previously, I wrote about all the successes, both historical and modern, of SRI. These included aiding the end of Apartheid in South Africa as well as shareholder activism that has been able to “nip in the bud” company wrong-doings before they became huge issues.
Going forward, I believe the damage to jungles related to ever expanding Palm-Oil plantations is a large and growing challenge for SRI investors.
The Next Battleground:
The Palm tree is a beautiful, elegant species. Palm oil is made by extracting the oil from its fruit. Palm oil is considered more healthy than cooking (and baking) oils (and butter) that are commonly called “trans fats”, but not as healthy as certain vegetable oils. However, it’s much cheaper than other cooking oils and can also be used as a biofuel, lubricant and soap products. The Palm oil industry is growing rapidly and is said to be over $44bn. It may double by 2020 and triple by 2050 according to the FAO (United Nations).
The main issue is that countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand) are cutting down rain forests to plant palm trees. This has a three-fold effect by:
It has been difficult for investors to assess companies’ use of palm oil due to:
A Wall Street Journal story highlighted a 22 year old man from Bangladesh who was told that for $2,000 he could travel on a boat to Malaysia with good meals and drinks. He was conned by human smugglers that were essentially running a slave-trade. Food was scarce, several migrants died from starvation, disease and beatings. The deceased stomachs’ were slashed so they couldn’t float, and they were thrown overboard. He was then sent to camps to work on the huge plantations of Felda for no wages. Felda is the leading member of certified Sustainable Palm Oil! Hence, this will be an uphill battle!
What can you do:
You can, as I have, sign petitions supporting rain forests, as well as encouraging companies to disclose not only their use of palm oil, but their largest ingredients. Another practical approach is to eat whole foods, and shop at environmentally friendly stores such as Trader Joe’s.
I’ll leave you with some wise words from Mohandas Gandhi:
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world. It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”
Is sacrificing trees for decoration rather than consumption ethically and morally responsible? Is this act frivolous and wasteful? Would Jesus approve? Or are there hidden merits to cutting down Christmas trees?
In light of our socially responsible efforts, we would like to explore the pros and cons of purchasing a real vs. artificial Christmas tree this holiday season to see where the pine needles lead us.
There are many views and thoughts on having a “real” Christmas tree. Besides the beautiful décor and terrific nostalgic smell, freshly cut Christmas trees provide additional oxygen and consume carbon dioxide in the immediate air of their surroundings. As per Green America, Tree farms typically use barren un-farmable or rocky land to raise their Christmas trees and grow two trees to every one tree cut. This is a sustainable method of using the land and a true benefit to having a “real” tree.
Ah, but the cons outweigh the pros. Why do any trees need to be cut? We are killing trees, living specimens, for a tradition…? Here lies nothing but selfish human gain in the act of cutting down trees. We bring these trees into our homes for a few weeks, decorate them and then use additional electricity to light them. This is absolutely wasteful! And not socially responsible? After the holidays are over, the trees typically wind-up in landfills. Most Christmas trees are brought from these mass tree farms that use pesticides. These pesticides are in the air in your home. If your pet drinks from the tree’s bowl, it could get sick. Trees even breed mold, which is unhealthy to breathe and creates allergies.
If you must have a “real” Christmas tree this season, we strongly urge you to adhere to the many recycling efforts available. Most local governments and municipalities participate in tree curbside pickups for compost and mulching. If this is not available, there are other great ideas that are sustainable. Using your tree for firewood has mixed reviews – please make sure you do this correctly as you could ruin your chimney (see this page for details on the dangers). There is always the easy option of throwing the tree into your backyard for your own composting. This will, in time, improve your own garden. Mother Earth News gives a few great suggestions: in the winter, you can use the tree branches to protect your delicate garden and use the trunk as a post or bench. You could also throw the tree in your lake or pond – the wildlife will thrive.
The other option is buying an “artificial” or plastic Christmas tree. Artificial trees can be reused year after year, without waste as a whole, but these trees cannot be recycled further due to their iron and plastic structure (though there are other materials used, e.g., aluminum). Also they contain PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and the production process may use a small amount of lead. While the risk of lead poisoning is low, it increases as trees age. Though recent regulations have made trees safer.
In conclusion, we find freshly cut Christmas trees not to be as socially responsible as some of the alternatives, such as renting or purchasing potted or artificial Christmas trees. As we like to present other opinions, Justmeans, a Sustainability website, did a write-up (Sustainability and Christmas Trees: Let’s Get Real) not too long ago stating real trees are the way to go. If you must have a freshly cut tree, please utilize one of the recycling methods above to retain some sustainability. Happy Holidays!
SRI, Socially Responsible trees, sustainability, Green Christmas trees.
|Source: Nick Ut at the Associated Press|
Recently a smug investor asked me, “What’s SRI good for other than making one feel less guilty about living a fancy lifestyle.” After hearing that remark, I was really angry repeating it over and over in my mind.
After several weeks I got to thinking, “maybe he’s got a point. I’m a limousine liberal not having really dirtied my hands in any good cause.”
But first, a brief history and explanation. SRI stands for Socially Responsible Investing. SRI has had many names including:
Historically, SRI was mostly about avoiding “sin stocks”, companies that are involved with alcohol, gambling, pornography, tobacco and (nuclear) weapons. But today’s SRI isn’t just about avoiding certain industries, but about investing in companies that are doing positive practices and having specific attributes (i.e., “best in class”). These practices fall under three areas, called ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance). Here, SRI has made substantial progress.
So, I started wondering, reading books, watching interviews and keeping up with headline news to determine if SRI was in fact doing some good in society.
Usually when an issue captures our minds, we contemplate supporting or opposing it through voting, how we act as customers (e.g., buy), or how we act as employees (e.g., strikes, unions). Seldom do we think of our roles as investors. The fact is, while we are intrigued by certain investments in companies like Tesla, most of us invest indirectly via mutual funds. So the link between companies and ourselves is broken.
I came up with a list of three important successes going back to the first example of modern-day SRI:
2015 – 2020: The Next Battleground:
The Palm tree is a beautiful, elegant species and Palm oil is supposed to be a healthier oil compared to trans fats. However, ever expanding plantations are endangering Orangutangs, increasing Green House Gases as well as taken advantage of hungry workers.
In the next article, I will dig deeper into these issues. But for now, I’ll leave you with some wise words from Mohandas Gandhi:
“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”