In this episode of the BSuite podcast, Anne Richardson interviews Sonia Kowal, President of Zevin Asset Management, an ethical investment management firm and certified B Corporation. Determined not to sugarcoat the gravity of ongoing climate devastation or social injustice, Sonia calls for more corporate integrity and shares strategies and resources that can empower both large scale and individual investors to use their money to advocate for socially responsible business practices while raising awareness of the dangers inherent in misleading or greenwashed corporate claims.
Sonia Kowal’s Realizations of Investment Banking
When she entered the world of investment banking after college, Sonia was shocked to find herself mired in unethical but fairly common investment practices including a sense of complacency regarding issues like the profitability of child labor or pollutive mining techniques that clearly affect the health and wellbeing of communities around the world. When her shared observations were met with resistance, Sonia channeled her energies into a new position at Zevin Asset Management, a firm which has pioneered ethical investment strategies since its founding in 1997. Today, she serves as president of Zevin Asset Management where she drives positive change by guiding her team towards investments in values-driven companies committed to making a difference in the world at large.
How Investors Can Hold Companies Accountable on Social Initiatives
Anne and Sonia discuss accountability and how investors, above all, have the power to hold corporations to higher standards of environmental and social responsibility. For those privileged enough to have the resources to jump into the markets, engagement in shareholder advocacy initiatives can pressure corporations to support diversity and equity, paid family leave, affordable healthcare, and other positive social initiatives while mitigating their negative contributions to the climate crisis and racial and economic injustice. Individuals and institutions looking to take action through investment can turn to socially responsible firms, like Zevin Asset Management, who ensure that their clients’ investments meet their high standards by conducting ESG due diligence, voting in shareholder meetings, and partnering with large-scale investors to encourage positive change.
How Financial Literacy Can Lead to Activism
Today, many resources exist to break down barriers to investing and combat misinformation. Schools are including financial literacy in their curriculums, and increasingly diverse audiences are gaining access to investment education. Sonia highlights a group, Invest for Better, which provides women with the training they need to participate in values-aligned investment. She also shares that some companies, including her own, Zevin Asset Management, are moving away from traditional retirement contribution matching policies in favor of offering their employees a percentage of their salary whether or not they are able to participate in company matching benefits at a particular time.
Hope for Corporations and the Climate Crisis
Anne and Sonia dive into the grim reality of the climate crisis and its direct relationship to corporate decision making. They share their mutual frustrations with corporate greenwashing, acknowledging that feelings of helplessness and anxiety are widespread, and also speak to their sources of hope. Anne and Sonia agree that this crisis warrants urgent steps, and that even small actions can snowball into more powerful initiatives. Everyone, from business leaders to community organizers to individual citizens, can make a difference when it comes to holding those in power accountable.
Relevant links about socially responsible investing:
- Zevin Asset Management
- Invest for Better Group
- Zevin Asset Management’s Shareholder Advocacy Guide
- Book: Activate Your Money: Invest to Grow Your Wealth and Build a Better World by Janine Firpo
- Book: There is Nothing For You Here: Finding Opportunity in the Twenty-First Century by Fiona Hill
- Book: The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson
- Podcast: The BSuite Season 3 Episode 7: Strategies for Financial Sustainability with Charley Cummings of Walden Mutual Bank