Paul Hawken continues his campaign against the SRI industry in this Alternet essay. Once again, Hawken cites plenty of examples to sustain his point that “socially responsible investing” is nothing more than a label. As I read the responses to this article, I noted much of the same criticism that Hawken has received from the industry itself: “We have to start somewhere, and it’s better to invest in marginal companies to encourage them to do more right than to not invest in them at all.” I think such responses miss the point of Hawken’s criticism, though. His main point isn’t that these funds are investing in “marginal companies” (and that’s a pretty slippery phrase), but rather that they’re promoting themselves as green and progressive while engaging in the same old tactics of language games and lack of transparency. First, these funds should invest in companies that are working towards sustainability; as Hawken points out, these companies do exist, but they’re probably not currently at the top of the big indexes. Secondly, these funds have to demonstrate their differences from the more traditional funds by practicing honesty, transparency, and responsibility to shareholders’ expectations of more than just higher financial returns. The more I read Hawken’s criticism, the more I think that those who would label him as some kind of half-cocked radical just aren’t paying enough attention to what he’s saying.
Update: Greenthinkers.org points us to another defense of Hawken’s position.
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