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Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is an idea that corporations have to consider the interests of customers, employees, shareholders, communities, and ecological considerations in all
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Socially responsible investing (SRI) describes an investment strategy which combines the intentions to maximize both financial return and social good.
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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Mar/Apr 2003 : Headlines

Headlines

The Color of Community Money
Green banking pays economic, environmental dividends at grassroots level.

Green banking”—in which community investing dollars from banks, credit unions, venture capital firms, foundations and other organizations are directed to support environmentally beneficial businesses and non-profits that might otherwise be overlooked by traditional financial institutions—is making major strides across the United States. Forest preservation, clean water production, eco-tourism, responsible farming practices and the recycling of discarded materials are just some of the activities that are being supported through “community investing” dollars.

Individual and institutional community investors also make it possible for local organizations in urban and rural areas to create jobs, provide financial services to low-income individuals and supply capital for small businesses, affordable housing and vital community services.

The Community Investing Campaign, a project of the Social Investment Forum (SIF) Foundation and Co-op America, has singled out 10 organizations that “best exemplify the building of economic opportunity and hope for individuals through community investing.” Organizations recognized by the campaign are: Chittenden Bank (Brattleboro, VT); Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (Wiscasset, ME); Permaculture Credit Union (Santa Fe, NM); Rudolf Steiner Foundation (San Francisco, CA); Self-Help Credit Union (Durham, NC); ShoreBank Pacific (Ilwaco, WA); Sustainable Jobs Fund (Durham, NC); Underdog Ventures, LLC (New York, NY); Vermont Community Loan Fund (Montpelier, VT); and Wainwright Bank & Trust Co. (Boston, MA).

Making a Connection

For socially aware individuals and institutions, the powerful attraction of community investing is the opportunity to connect with the lives of people and make a concrete difference in them. Consider these examples:

* Chittenden Bank’s Socially Responsible Banking Program allows depositors to benefit conservation, affordable housing, business and economic development, community building and education. Chittenden lendee Beeken Parsons of Shelburne, VT, designs and creates hand-crafted furniture with wood harvested from sustainable forestry.

* Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI) is a non-profit community development corporation and community development financial institution. Candice and Dan Heydon of Oyster Creek Farm & Mushroom Co., Damariscotta, ME, first came to CEI in 1993 for start-up financing for their gourmet mushroom business. Among the environmental aspects of the business are its reliance on the sustainable harvest of a renewable, non-timber forest product and its virtual elimination of any waste products.

* Lea Clayton borrowed from Self-Help Credit Union to purchase 15 acres near the Haw River in rural Alamance County, NC, where she is developing an organic farm using a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) business model.

* Underdog Ventures, LLC, a community venture fund, made an investment to help Happy Planet Foods of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, grow its organic juice business. Its Legacy Fund invested $250,000 in Happy Planet. As part of that investment, Happy Planet employees and shareholders have agreed to donate $500,000 in cash and stock to the Underdog Foundation to support grants to environmental organizations.

*
Wainwright Bank provided a line of credit to the Silent Spring Institute, a non-profit research institute in Newton, MA, dedicated to identifying the links between environmental exposure and women’s health.

Community Investing on the Rise

A 2001 study from the SIF shows that “community investing” is now the fastest-growing category of socially responsible investing in the United States: Individual and institutional assets flowing into community investing organizations grew by a substantial 41 percent between 1999 and 2001, increasing from $5.4 billion to $7.6 billion. According to the SIF, the overall growth rate for community investing now exceeds that of socially responsible mutual funds, all types of screened portfolios (including separate accounts for institutions and wealthy individuals) and socially concerned shareholder advocacy.

The Community Investing Campaign is a joint partnership of the SIF and Co-op America. For a comprehensive list of community investing alternatives, visit the campaign’s Web site at www.communityinvest.org.


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