Socially Responsible Investing with GreenMoney Journal’s Cliff Feigenbaum

July 30, 2014

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so honored to have with us Cliff Feigenbaum. He’s the founder and Managing Editor of GreenMoney Journal and GreenMoney.com. Welcome to Green is Good, Cliff. CLIFF FEIGENBAUM: Great to be here. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hey, we’re so excited and honored to have you on today. You’re doing really important stuff but before we get talking about your great brands, GreenMoney Journal and GreenMoney.com, which by the way, for our listeners out there, I’m on GreenMoney.com right now. You can follow along as we speak with Cliff today. It’s a great website, GreenMoney.com. Before we get talking about all that though, Cliff, talk a little bit about your story and your journey leading up the founding of the GreenMoney Journal and GreenMoney.com. How did you even get here? CLIFF FEIGENBAUM: Well, you know, I was learning about money in my life through watching my father go through a lot of financial success and then the opposite and he ended up going bankrupt and dying of a heart attack at 46 of extreme financial stress and it really taught me some lessons about looking at my own relationship with my money and my own financial thoughts and feelings so then I was working at a hospital in the northwest and I was trying to be more aware of my financial situation and so I discovered that the 401(k) program that I had chosen some years before was full of mutual funds full of tobacco stocks and I thought for a health care institution, this is really inappropriate and I don’t want to profit from tobacco and I don’t want this in my portfolio so it was really an awareness that if I’m having trouble making basic, informed financial decisions, there’s probably lots of people who are and that’s kind of how I ended up starting GreenMoney. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow, and how many years ago was that? CLIFF FEIGENBAUM: That was 1992. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Oh my gosh. Wow, that’s incredible. 1992. CLIFF FEIGENBAUM: Well, it’s been a really incredible journey , as you call it, and we have felt very strong about people getting a stronger relationship and understanding of what moves them about their business, thinking about what they want to do in the world. What do they want to profit from in their investments and what don’t they want to profit from, really, to me, an important question that no one asked me when I got started but it’s part of our conversation really with our readers. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow, and I want to also mention how did you and Bloomberg Press get together? And you wrote a book called Investing With Your Values: Making Money and Making a Difference. Share a little bit about that story and how that went and how’s that book going so far? And for our listeners out there, please go to Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, or your local bookstore and buy Cliff’s book. This is important stuff, everybody. How’d that happen? CLIFF FEIGENBAUM: Well, I had been publishing the GreenMoney Journal for about five years and the phone rang and it was Bloomberg Press and they said, “We’ve heard about you, we’ve heard about socially responsible investing, and we want to do a book about this,” and I said, “Well, I’m not really sure that we can work together because you believe just in profits and we believe in principles and profits,” and they said, “No, no, no, no, we see this coming. We really want to be on the forefront. We know that you’re a leader. We won’t hardly edit the book at all because you know more about it than us so we really, really want you to do this,” and so that was in 1997, and it was a great honor to have a Wall Street firm acknowledge sustainable investing, socially responsible investing, in this way so it’s not available right now because it’s long since past but a friend of mine is writing the second who co-wrote the book with me. He’s writing a book called The Resilient Investor and that’s coming out in January so that’s gonna be kind of a part two to what we were writing because every chapter that we wrote in the book, the different aspects of green investing and sustainable investing, became so big and so expansive that each chapter could become its own book and so it was a very exciting and very interesting time but each of us who wrote the book, I wrote it with two other folks, Hal and Jack Brill, and we all just, our businesses just blossomed after that and they manage money and so we never got back all together to write another book but it was really quite a thing to go to Bloomberg Headquarters and everything and launch the book. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is great, and so for our listeners out there again, go to Cliff’s great website, www.greenmoney.com. I’m on it right now. It has so much amazing information that’s important for everybody out there who’s managing their own household income and their personal finances and trying to make a future for themselves. Talk a little bit about what are the different elements of green and sustainable investing, Cliff? CLIFF FEIGENBAUM: Well, there’s really three parts to this, and I really wanted to say that people who are managing their own investments or if they have a financial advisor or planner or money manager, they need to know about this because they need to know about people’s values and what they want to profit from and what they don’t want to profit from and so the three aspects to sustainable investing, which is kind of the second part of what started as socially responsible investing, has kind of morphed into and grown and matured into sustainable investing and the first part of that is where you kind of look at screening out things. What don’t you want to profit from? For me, it might be tobacco, alcohol, gambling, weapons, slave labor, things like that. For me, I don’t want to profit from it. On the flip side, you look at what do you want at what do you want to profit from? What company, what practices do you want to make money from? For me, it’s renewable energy. It’s organic and natural foods and those industries are doing really well and I think those are leading to a more sustainable, green future and I mean green as both environmentally as well as in my wallet. The third aspect is shareholder activism whereas through the socially responsible sustainable mutual funds that are out there, they vote your shares in a more responsible way that can influence corporate behavior and influence boards in a way that, again, is more sustainable for our future, is more sustainable for our bottom line because all of these issues that we’re talking about are bottom line issues; the well-being of your workforce, the well-being of what you’re putting out there as a product. What are you creating in the world and is it healthy? Is it good for the environment? If it’s not, you shouldn’t be doing it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: How is it different from socially responsible investing, Cliff? I get confused. Socially responsible sometimes is interchanged with green and sustainable. How do you differentiate those terms? CLIFF FEIGENBAUM: Well, sustainable is much less about social issues and it’s much less about what not to do. Sustainable investing is much more about investing in a positive future. What are the good companies to invest in? So, it’s a more on the positive side of the investing curve than the negative, just staying away from bad companies, so that’s one of the major differences and the other part of sustainable investing that I really like is called community or impact investing where you invest locally in banks or credit unions, loan funds that are in your own state or in your own community or even internationally. Calvert Foundation is one of those that’s really been a leader in this area and so it’s something I actually wrote the chapter in the book on, community investing, and so it’s something that we talk a lot about. How do you have more of an impact with your money in your own community? And, I can give you an example of here in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I live, we have something called the Home Life Investment Fund which helps people understand how to get their family economics in line to be able to buy a house, get their credit in order, understand what’s happening in their financial lives, so they have to go through a lot of financial literacy before they qualify for a Home Life home and so it’s a really great program and they have investment notes so it’s something that I personally invest in and it’s something that happens to be in my community, which I like to support not just mutual funds that are on Wall Street, but how do I have an impact in my own city? JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so interesting, investing locally like that. Your website, again, is just amazing. I’m just entranced with it while talking to you here, www.greenmoney.com. You talk about everything from investing to shopping. Why that kind of range? Why isn’t it just straight blocking and tackling, investing, return on investment, things like that? Why do you branch out into these different issues, Cliff? Why is that important holistically speaking? CLIFF FEIGENBAUM: We wanted to really talk to people about where their money interfaces with the world and everybody shops. Everybody goes to the grocery store. Not everybody invests. Maybe they invest a little bit. Maybe they can only afford a Pax World fund that starts at $250. Maybe some of our listeners have $100,000 or more to invest so we really try and speak to everybody because we have a little something for everybody, I believe, and so we don’t manage money; we manage information and that’s always been GreenMoney’s focus is to help people understand about their relationship with their money. Where is it going? Who are they supporting? Because they can really make a difference with their shopping dollars. Seventy percent of our economy is based on shopping and consumer so you can really shift companies by where you put your money, who you support. I happen to be a big supporter of Whole Foods and so I shop there and invest in the stock, which for me, is an exciting way to do both so it’s something that in fact, our newest issue is on sustainable agriculture and organics because that’s a topic that really matters a lot to a lot of people and a growing number of people. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Share a little bit about that. Share about the June issue talking about sustainable ag and organics. Share a little bit about why is that important and why does that affect really so many of us and all of our listeners? CLIFF FEIGENBAUM: Well, I’ve really liked organics and sustainable agriculture for a long time as an investor and as a shopper because it affects our economy on so many different levels from even the environment to the farmer to not using as many chemicals to farm worker health to our own personal health to animal welfare. It has so many different aspects that we can align with if we want to be more aware of our personal health. I really feel that supporting my own personal health through buying organic is part of my health care plan. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. Cliff, why is it important for people to become aware of what business practices and products they are willing to profit from and what they are not willing? You’ve given some great examples in terms of guns and tobacco and alcohol and you’ve given another great example on the other side of Whole Foods. Talk a little bit about how you deal with people emotionally and how you help guide them to become conscious investors and more conscious with regards to their interrelationship with money. CLIFF FEIGENBAUM: Well, I think one good example of that is like right now, Monsanto is a company that’s very controversial. It’s in the GMOs and so does somebody believe that genetically modified organisms and GMO food is good for the world or not good for the world? Maybe Monsanto is in their mutual fund and they don’t even know it yet or just going and buying organics, make sure that you are not buying anything that’s a GMO so to me, that’s just a real quick thought but for me, the idea of asking yourself what do I want to profit from and what don’t I want to profit from is really money is an individual decision about how we spend it, how we invest it, how we manage it, and just getting clear about that and asking yourself. It doesn’t happen all at once. It didn’t happen all at once for me. It was really this continues to be an evolution for me personally as well. I write about things and bring in writers and topics that I care about, that as I see as the next topic and edge to pay attention to and so we write it in a very inviting yet challenging way. We really are so well connected after 20 years that if we invite somebody to write on a topic, we pretty much get them to say yes and I’ll just say that we approached the organics industry, it’s now a $35-billion industry, so 25% of the carrots sold in America are now organic, even at a Safeway and normal grocery stores, so it’s an expanding marketplace and that’s where we want to be. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We’ve got about four minutes left, and you just brought up a great topic. You just said the next edge. I see that in July, your topic is the next generation of sustainability leaders, same thing as the next edge in many ways. What do you see as the next edge of industry? What are the mega trends and who are the leaders that are gonna take us there? We got about four minutes left so I’d love you to share with our listeners your crystal ball on the future of sustainability investing. CLIFF FEIGENBAUM: Well, it is an exciting issue for me. In fact, I’ve actually asked a guest editor to invite his young up-and-coming friends to share their views on the future business world and so I can’t give away too much but I have to tell you this is gonna be one that people want to read. I’m excited. In fact, later this week I get the new articles in and so it will be on the website, GreenMoney.com. The July issue will be up there as well as people can sign up for our e-journal for free and so they can read this issue but people like Elon Musk of Spacex, to me very fascinating, and Jeff Bezos of Amazon. There’s really, really interesting people out there doing interesting things. I can’t keep anymore. I am so excited that sustainability has just exploded. It just blossomed so much. I’m paying attention to local food and the local food movement as well. I think that’s a key part of sustainability is understanding where our food and our water comes from because those are essential to our life and having that supply and clean water and clean food, that’s a sustainability edge that not only can we look for, but we can invest in and I think that sustainability should be the kind of companies that make money and not just companies doing bad things making money. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We’re down to a minute or so. Any last thoughts for our investors out there who feel that it’s hopeless, that they’ve invested too much already? Any last thoughts on how to turn it around and that it’s never too late to turn around their finances and become conscious investors? CLIFF FEIGENBAUM: Well, you can start really small, and also, I don’t want this to intimidate people that there’s actually a mutual fund company out there that has kept their initial investment of $250 the same since 1970. It’s the Pax World Fund. They’ve got great returns. They’ve got a great family of funds, even emerging markets, green technology funds, as well as their Pax World Balanced Fund. It’s where I suggest everybody to start because it’s a low minimum. It creates an avenue for your wealth to go to and be created so that’s one of my suggestions and I look forward to anybody asking a question of me. They can email me at Cliff@GreenMoney.com as well. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s wonderful, and you can subscribe to Cliff’s great, great newsletter at www.greenmoney.com. Just hit the subscribe here button and get with it. Become a conscious investor. Thank you, Cliff, for being a financial sustainability investment evangelist and leader. You are truly living proof that green is good.