Are you interested in socially-responsible investing? West Side Moravian Church in Green Bay, Wisconsin is. The church’s Board has asked the Moravian Ministries Foundation in America to provide that option…and the MMFA delivered with the Environmental, Social and corporate Governance (ESG) fund.
“I personally felt it was important to move to socially-responsible investments to be a leader for other churches in investing funds in companies that prove to be good stewards of the resources that were given to us by our Creator,” said Michael Schlader, treasurer at West Side. “Being a leader in choosing to invest in the ESG fund will hopefully encourage others to follow who might have been hesitant to make a final decision to invest their financial resources into this fund.”
“It’s very encouraging to know that we, as Moravians, have the option to direct our money away from things that are harmful, such as child labor practices and pollution from fossil fuels, and toward things that are beneficial,” said Ray and Barb Shiffer, members at West Side who initiated the discussion about socially-responsible investing. “It’s exciting to think about the possibility of seeing our investments being used for things such as affordable housing and healthier communities.”
The Rev. Marian Boyle Rohloff, pastor, also supports the congregation’s interest. The Trustees report the following points of consensus:
- Past performance indicates that such a move will not necessarily affect performance
- Moving our investment to ESG allocations will reflect a leadership role which churches should be taking
- We owe it to our environment to be as responsible as possible about investing in areas that we consider are doing their best to deter those things that damage our environment
- It is ethically and morally sensible to be concerned about our environment
- To invest in ESG funds speaks to our core value to “care for others,” especially the poor and the marginalized who are most impacted by environmental injustices
- To move our investments is in keeping with other actions we have taken at West Side to be responsible (moving away from Styrofoam, installing solar panels, using efficient lighting, using glass communion cups instead of disposable cups, keeping green for future generations, etc.)
But is socially-responsible investing entirely new?
Asset managers have long considered risk, in addition to return, when choosing portfolio investments. More recently, investors are extending the definition of risk beyond traditional factors and looking at a company’s performance in broader terms.
Specifically, investors seek insight into companies’ exposure to ESG factors–everything from the company’s carbon footprint and environmental practices to the way it treats its employees and shareholders. More and more investors are taking such things into consideration. According to The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investing, U.S. assets in ESG-oriented strategies reached $8.7 trillion in 2016 and now make up about 20 percent of total assets under professional management in the U.S. Current demographic trends, including an increase in women investors, high net worth individuals, and millennials are expected to further increase more and more varied ESG options for portfolios.
What do Moravians currently think?
“We have only begun to study the existing attitudes of Moravians in the United States when it comes to socially-responsible investing,” said Chris Spaugh, President and CEO of the Moravian Ministries Foundation in America. “Our very preliminary survey results show a few areas of both agreement and disagreement based on the first 64 responses.”
“The strongest area of consensus is that Moravians strongly oppose investing their money in companies that either directly or indirectly use child labor overseas to keep costs low,” Spaugh said. “Nearly 90 percent of Moravians who responded oppose this; nearly two-thirds expressed strong opposition.
“Eighty-six percent of those surveyed agree or strongly agree that the Moravian Ministries Foundation in America should offer socially-responsible options for individual investors and congregations who want it.
“However, early results also show a few areas where there may be no real consensus among Moravians at this time,” Spaugh said. “There is no clear agreement so far on the acceptability of investing in companies that engage in animal testing or use/produce genetically-modified organisms (GMOs).”
More than two-thirds of Moravians surveyed agree or strongly agree that, as individual investors, they would be willing to accept lower returns in order to invest in a socially-responsible way. About 70 percent agree or strongly agree that their congregation as a whole would, too. Spaugh notes, “Historically, church boards face challenges to agree as a group to step into ESG or socially-responsible investing. I’m thrilled that West Side has taken the step and if others consider that in the future, we have a solution for them.”
What’s the next step?
Your congregation’s board of trustees is likely empowered to decide how to manage the congregation’s funds. If those funds are already invested with the Moravian Ministries Foundation in America, the Board can simply instruct the foundation on the change in investment strategy. The foundation now offers an ESG pool in our growth and income allocation (60 percent exposed to equities and real estate investment trusts, while 40 percent of the portfolio is in more fixed income type investments). If you are an individual investor with the Foundation, you can directly contact Chris Spaugh with new instructions at [email protected] or 888-722-7923.
Vince Holbrook is Director of Communication & Marketing for the Moravian Ministries Foundation in America