Dr. Grauer's Column - Investment Love
We are experiencing pain and fear in a variety of areas: COVID-19, social injustice being identified nationwide—and in so many of our ecosystems. This would be a great time to be together, but we do not even have much access to one another. We don’t have much collective, collaborative space, at least physically. There is a loss of control, and so much we are powerless to express: social distance, masking, and closed or limited schools keep us apart. Plus, many of us live with a sense of dualism that separates our jobs or our “fiduciary responsibility” from the real impacts we have on others: so long as we do our duty, no matter how much cruelty we cause. How can we bust through these barriers? How do we love more “at a distance”?
I am looking to do more “conscious” work through exploring our investments, seeing if we, as a school institution, can have a healing investment policy in a sick and disconnected world. Does money talk?
- Goldman Sachs is predicting that global private investment in renewable energy will amount to sixteen trillion dollars in the next decade, overtaking oil and gas for the first time next year.
- George Washington University has joined Georgetown University and American University in plans to divest from fossil fuel, meaning that the centers of intellectual power right there in the nation’s capital are in agreement about our energy future.
Grauer is on or ahead of this curve, but it took a year just to switch our first funds—which we finally did in July. In our Retirement Funds, established with TIAA almost 20 years ago, we have added new socially responsible investments that meet environmental, social and governance criteria (ESG).
ESG assessment looks at climate change, natural resource use, waste management, human and labor rights, product safety, social opportunities, corporate governance and business ethics.
Social and environmental justice is a big deal at great high schools. Every Grauer faculty member is in discussion about social and environmental justice. CO2 levels could now be at a 15 million year high, so this will impact every school and human group, especially those least advantaged. I had a terrible experience with TIAA, our retirement fund, and their agents, who claimed they would sell me what I wanted to buy but that they were unwilling to provide me with any guidance on how to invest responsibly, it was against their policy to provide such guidance—they are only allowed to look at the bottom line. This is the insidious voice of white-collar cruelty. I stayed the course. Teachers are thrilled with these new choices we have.
Now we are looking at our endowment fund holdings. Our endowments pay out interest every year that fund financial aid for deserving young scholars, as well as teacher bonuses that help us attract and retain the best. Alumni board member Sara Zelazny has teamed with me to create social/environmentally responsible, ESG investments for our endowment funds that pay out about the same as our current funds but keep our money where our values are. If we are going to heal the world, we have to assess the impact our investments are really having on it.
My conviction is that our investments are very much interrelated with our COVID-19 global pandemic. See if you can connect these dots: constant encroachment (development, poaching, clearcutting, etc.) into the wilds, forests and natural spaces unleashes previously unknown viruses which make their way into markets and cities, and human bodies. It is not a new development. This already happened with zika, ebola, avian flu, AIDS, and other outbreaks, and scientists believe there are thousands more lying harmlessly until human intrusion unleashes them, as appears to have happened with COVID-19.
Our conversations will have to continue, and they will have to be ubiquitous: they will impact not just investments, but curriculum, marketing, enrollment, financial aid, expeditionary learning, hiring, purchasing (let’s stop buying plastic things!), and more. At Grauer, we have long included gratitude and resourcefulness into routine conversations, as well as the value of the natural world to education and the value of equal rights. Our faculty seems committed to putting social justice and environmental justice right into our daily conversations, right up there with outdoor education, connecting the dots on every level, if we are going to be players in healing the world.
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