While the term “climate change” had not been invoked by April 22, 1970, awareness of human involvement changing Earth induced a fear mixed with hope. Scientists could not see the future of our planet, and newspaper headlines at the time captured concern for the environment and for peace as protests surrounding the Vietnam War were met with groups putting cars on trial.
And as most of the United States currently sits in the unknown because of the COVID-19, the Earth keeps turning.
But with EPA rollbacks during a global pandemic, the US withdrawing from the ever-important Paris Agreement, and the impacts of the BP oil spill still being felt ten years later, it can be difficult to find those positives. But they do exist.
Many improvements have been made since that first Earth Day, now 50 years ago. The current National Geographic depicts how life expectancy has increased along with food production, more people have access to clean water and electricity, and pollution levels (overall) have fallen. Even during this crisis, we see renewable energy, like solar and wind, growing in capacity.
Coupled with this uncertainty of the environment, for me comes a feeling of nostalgia: remembering the saplings handed out to us in elementary school, thinking about the recycling program my grandmother started in her town, visualizing the passion Denis Hayes had in organizing the first Earth Day. These individual acts, small notions, and world movements all exude a hope of possibility of positive change. From a young age, environmental activists like Severn Suzuki, Greta Thurnberrg, and Delaney Reynolds witness to a heartfelt passion as vibrant as Hayes’. Students are urging their universities to divest from fossil fuels. Community gardens push back against the concrete that dominates our cities.
On the first Earth Day, 50 years ago, New York City’s Mayor Lindsay put it simply; “Beyond words like ecology, environment, and pollution there is a simple question: Do we want to live or die?”
This week, March 8th – 14th, we honor all Catholic Sisters – vowed women who care for the sick and in need; who educate and mentor children; who are concerned for the environment and all of creation; who advocate for the most vulnerable and act against injustices; who stand with those affected by poverty, homelessness, and migration; and who create peace.
Of Seventh Generation Interfaith’s 39 members, 26 are congregations of Catholic Sisters. Each congregation is unique in its’ charism and mission, working with the SGI coalition to manage the impact large corporations have on people, the environment, and society. They approach corporate engagements with a prophetic voice that comes from authentic hands-on experience with impacted communities and first hand knowledge of the environment, which enable them to build relationships with the corporate executives on a human level.
SGI attempts to align our issue priorities with issues of importance to our members. Collectively our Sisters have engaged companies like C.H. Robinson and Yum Brands on Climate Change, Abbvie and Walt Disney on Lobbying, Kroger, Yum Brands, McDonald’s, and Costco on Deforestation, Ameren and Chevron on Water Impacts, Kohls, TJX, Kraft Heinz, Costco, Wendy’s, Amazon, Boeing, Core Civic, Geo Group, JPMC, and Wells Fargo on Human Rights, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, and Biogen on the Affordability of Medicine, and countless more.
Not surprisingly, our Sisters are actively doing much more in their communities and throughout the world, on top of their work in challenging corporations on environmental, social, and governance issues. The School Sisters of Notre Dame are serving students who are single mothers, nuns, and senior citizens. The Sinsinawa Dominicans are working to confront attacks on the common good in Washington, DC. The Sisters of St. Agnes and other members of UNANIMA International, a U.N.-based coalition of Catholic congregations focused on concerns of women, children, migrants and the environment, brought international homelessness concerns to the forefront during the annual convening of the U.N.’s Commission for Social Development. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd recently joined the Interfaith Immigration Coalition’s (#Faith4Asylum) Nonviolence Campaign Stop the Inhumanity in support to those seeking safety in the U.S. The Ursuline Sisters continue to sponsor five academies across the country educating students rooted in the gospel call to mission lived in the spirit of St. Angela Merici.
These are but a few examples of the work our Sisters do day-to-day. We are thankful for all of the work they do and for their participation in our socially responsible investing work. To learn more about the charism and ministries of each of our members, visit their websites, linked below, and don’t forget to thank a Sister this week!
To all of our members, thank you for your dedication to making this world a better place.
It’s hard to think about fall and winter holidays without thinking of food. Thanksgiving turkeys, Christmas roasts and cookies, and plenty of latkes and chocolate gelt are on everyone’s minds for the last two months of the year.
On December 4th, the USDA changed the Supplemental Nutritional On December 4th, the USDA approved changes to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). Despite receiving thousands of negative comments, they proceeded with the first three proposed changes to the SNAP, all of which are expected to go into effect before the next presidential election.
Starting April 1, 2020, SNAP benefits will be cut for roughly 700,000 individuals, by reducing waivers and introducing new work requirements for able bodied adults without dependents. NPR Stated, “SNAP statutes already limit adults to three months of benefits in a three-year period unless they meet the 20 hours per week [work] requirement, but many states currently waive that requirement in high unemployment areas.” This rule change will make it more difficult to get this waiver. This initial change is expected to ‘save’ over $5 billion over the course of five years.
The other two proposed rule changes would:
Close a “loophole that allows people with incomes up to 200 percent of the poverty level — about $50,000 for a family of four — to receive food stamps” and “prevent households with more than $2,250 in assets, or $3,500 for a household with a disabled adult, from receiving food stamps.”
Cut close to $4.5 billion “from the program over five years, trimming monthly benefits by as much as $75 for one in five struggling families on nutrition assistance.
If all of these proposed rule changes go into effect, approximately 3.7 million fewer people and 2.1 million fewer households would have received SNAP in an average month (Urban Institute).
According to the USDA website, SNAP provides nutrition benefits to supplement the food budget of needy families so they can purchase healthy food and move towards self-sufficiency. These changes are proposed in order to ‘cut costs and help individuals achieve this idea of self-sufficiency’. However, access to SNAP allows individuals to support themselves and provide nutritious food for their families. Many believe these changes affect not only the individual’s ability to pay for other necessities, but will add stress to local food pantries and other non profits (Lohud, Dec 10, 2019). These changes will lead to an increase of food insecurity, devaluing of life, and challenge the idea that dignity belongs to every human being. “In this case, the result is more hunger and hardship for the members of low-income families who are doing their best to make sure everyone is cared for” (The Atlantic, Dec 10, 2019).
As we gather around Christmas dinner with our families, let us pause for those among us who go without.
There are the same number of pigs as people in North Carolina. A fact surprising on its own, it bears more weight knowing these pigs produce roughly 10 times the amount of waste as the people. In addition to pigs, North Carolina has over 500 million chickens and turkeys producing even more waste. These factory farms or CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operation) and their respective waste lagoons and spray fields overwhelmed nearby farms and towns, mostly communities of color, with untreated waste which seeps into rivers, streams, and drinking water causing illness. This waste contains high levels of toxic gases including methane, hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia; nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus; and heavy metals such as copper which seeps into waterways causing harm to the health of rivers and communities nearby. Community complaints often go unheard and regulators rarely take any action to address these adverse environmental and health impacts.
Having listened to this panel, it came as no surprise to me that, according to Ceres’ 2019 Feeding Ourselves Thirsty report, the meat industry is the worst performing sector in managing water risks. This report tracked 40 major food, agriculture, and beverage companies and their management of water risks in operations and productions. While the food sector has improved its water risk management, 27 of the 40 companies tracked scored below 50%. In addition to this, “Of the 13 companies that have yet to assess water risks in their agricultural supply chains, six are in the meat industry.”
Often, company executives claim ignorance of the impacts of their operations on communities near their plants and CAFOs even after communities voice complaints. Faith-based investor groups like ICCR help bring the community voice to the C-suite to demand remediation. However, the problem will continue to exist without comprehensive legislation and regulation to address these impacts on communities in a holistic way.
The Amazon has been a hot topic this year, which is no surprise considering deforestation, including that of the Amazon, is the second largest contributor to climate change. The IPCC recently published a report on Climate Change and Land which identifies the restoring of landscapes and forests as one of the best, most cost-effective, options available to combat the devastating impacts of changing climates. But deforestation is also a leading driver of biodiversity loss, changing rain patterns and human rights abuses.
I attended the ICCR Fall conference session on deforestation where panelists Maria Lusia Mendonca of Rede Social de Justiça e Direitos Humanos, Aditi Sen of Oxfam, and Guarav Madan of Friends of the Earth gave insight on how to address deforestation and its impacts.
As explained in this National Geographic article on the effects of fires in the Amazon, from earlier this summer, the Amazon absorbs and stores carbon, creates its own rain, provides water for Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Paraguay, and will affect climate change drastically if deforestation and these forest fires continue. The Amazon, as well as many other forests, is usually cleared for soybean growth and cattle farming to ultimately supply many of the companies that SGI members are engaging. Each year, illegal fires are set to clear land for more crops.
Brazil is the world’s deadliest country for those defending human rights and the environment, with agribusiness driving killings more than any other industry. Bolsonaro’s violent rhetoric has already been accompanied by a spike in rural violence, particularly against indigenous people and landless activists, emboldening militias controlled by powerful landowners to carry out attacks. His decree to loosen gun ownership in Brazil will almost assuredly aggravate violence, particularly in rural areas. By endorsing violence from major landowners, Bolsonaro fuels the intimidation of community leaders on the front lines of increasingly brutal land conflicts, including prominent indigenous leaders who now fear for their lives.
The New York Declaration on Forests set 2020 as the deadline for eliminating deforestation in the supply chain for agricultural commodities. While 2020 is around the corner, many companies, which have endorsed this effort as well as others, have not been following through on their commitments. Most will not meet their commitment to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains. Whereas some companies are making a concerted effort, others are greenwashing. They sign pledges without actually doing the work to achieve these goals. To show how some companies avoid honest dialogue around these issues, Frank Sherman participated in a role play at the conference with other ICCR members. This demonstrated how to engage companies on deforestation as well as the business responsibility to respect human rights.
A clear point that was made was there needs to be further action on deforestation outside along along with corporate action. There should be a call on public policy, not just on companies to address this issue.
As fall begins to make an appearance, we start looking to the weeks and months ahead. While not everyone likes to leave the summer behind, fall brings the excitement of cool air, crisp leaves, spices wafting through the air, and the annual SGI conference, this year on Impact Investing: Social Return on Investment on October 7th.This transition from summer into fall is the perfect time to evaluate the different impacts our institutions and we personally have on relationships, community, and society. How do we nurture what needs caring for? How do we help ourselves and others continue to grow and thrive? And, can our financial investments reap the same benefits while including this sense of intentionality?
We’re excited about the opportunity to listen to our keynote speaker, Seamus Finn, Missionary Oblate’s Director of Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation and ICCR Board Chair, and our expert panelists, who I’m sure will bring their opinion on the change of seasons, but more importantly will share their unique experiences and stories on impact investing.
The Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) defines Impact Investing as “investments made with the intention to generate positive, measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial return.” Imagine a world where our investments have an impact outside of solely generating a profit, creating positive change. Amit Bouri of GIIN, in an article geared toward faith based investors, explains:
Simply put, impact investing is investing to achieve both a financial return and positive, measurable social or environmental impact. It differs both from traditional philanthropy, which aims for impact but is unconcerned with financial returns, and from other forms of values-driven investment which aim at the avoidance of harm, but not necessarily the creation of additional, measurable positive benefits.
GIIN’s 2019 survey found that the impact investing industry is diverse, including many types of institutions investing in all asset classes. It continues to grow and mature with over $500 billion invested assets. Over 90% of impact investors report that returns meet or exceed their expectations. GIIN’s Impact Investing Guide provides an excellent background for our members.
We’re lucky to be welcoming George Hinton, Greg Lane, Salli Martyniak, and Ken Vander Weele to the panel, alongside moderator, Sr. Dorothy Pagosa to help us explore this topic. Our speakers and panelists will walk us through the purpose and focus of impact investing and all that it can hold. We’ll learn about their mission, motivations, takeaways, and advice in the growing market.
Born and raised in Milwaukee, George Hinton, CEO of the Social Development Commission (SDC) coordinates programs for Milwaukee County’s low-income residents. The SDC’s mission is to “empower people with the resources to move beyond poverty,” which they have been doing since 1963. Greg Lane, CFO of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, helps the sisters utilize their resources for the benefit of the common good. He has helped developed a mission-aligned impact investment portfolio and repurpose real estate according to need. Salli Martyniak, president of Forward Community Investments support “organizations, initiatives, and coalitions throughout Wisconsin.” They make it a priority to offer their loans and grants at an affordable cost to assist both the small and mid-sized projects and organizations. Co-founder and partner in Creation Investments Capital Management, Ken Vander Weele, will show us the global side of impact investing. Ken has worked in India, South-east Asia, Eastern Europe, and the United States investing in emerging market financial services companies that serve poor clients. His local and global work will show us the social return of impact investing around the planet. Finally, Sr. Dorothy Pagosa, Director for Social Justice for the Sisters of St. Joseph – Third Order of St. Francis and a member of SGI, will moderate the panel. Sr. Dorothy has first hand experience in identifying and managing impact investments in the midwest.
The event will be preceded by a member meeting and followed by a reception. We hope all of our members and friends will attend what is shaping up to be a very exciting conference.