Positive forms of social investment.
We seek to be affirmatively socially responsible. We select companies that produce something that benefits our environment, such as alternative energy, recycling, clean air and water, pollution control, energy conservation, natural and organic food. We choose companies with fair labor practices, non-discrimination in hiring policies and environmentally responsible operations.
In addition, we use socially conscious, federally insured banks and credit unions who are committed to serving their community needs for holding cash in the short term.
A complete list of holdings can be found under ‘OUR HOLDINGS‘.
Our Areas of Responsible Investments
Renewable energy is produced cleanly from natural sources. It will not disappear or be depleted like fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas). It does not add to environmental pollution by emitting greenhouse gases during the extraction of fuel sources and generation of electric power.
We seek to have investments in the following areas:
The development of new wind power generation has become widespread and is often competitive with conventional power plants. (Photo courtesy of Vestas Wind Systems A/S)
The cost of photovoltaic (PV) solar has declined significantly, and efficiency has improved. Utility scale PV solar projects are generating significantly more electric power every year. Smaller scale arrays are seen on residential rooftops and commercial establishments. Solar PV is competitive with conventional electric power in many geographic areas.
Large concentrated solar thermal (CST) power plants use mirrors to concentrate sunlight to heat a liquid. The heated liquid is used for steam generation which powers electric generators. These facilities are operating and/or being developed in the U.S., Europe, Africa, Latin America and Asia. While the technology is presently more expensive than PV solar, it has the advantage of enabling energy storage in molten salts, for use when the sun goes down.
Electricity is being generated using the motion of waves, tidal current, and temperature differential. Ocean energy is not limited to the time of day or overcast skies. The timing of currents and waves are understood and reliable. The process is expensive and not yet widespread, but new technologies are bringing it closer to commercial operation.
Large scale Hydropower is a clean, well established power source, but limited by geography. Pumped hydro is used for energy storage. Low-impact and “run-of-river” hydropower is being developed in different areas as a more environmentally responsible use of water resources for power generation.
Geothermal Energy is produced by heat from sources below the Earth’s surface. Steam created by these underground heat sources is used to spin turbines which generate electricity. Its use is limited to certain geographic areas, but it is a reliable, constant energy source. Smaller geothermal systems, making use of underground pipes, are used to produce heat for commercial establishments and homes.
This is a broad category encompassing a variety of fuels produced from biological sources.
Waste gas emitted from landfills, breweries, and waste water, is used as fuel for conventional gas fired electric generators and fuel cell powered electric generation. It is more environmentally beneficial to collect and burn this gas or use it in a fuel cell than to release it into the atmosphere.
Ethanol is used as a supplement or an additive to gasoline. It is produced from agricultural products, such as corn, wheat, fruit, wine, and various kinds of cellulose materials including stalks and wood chips. Second generation technology makes use of a variety of crops to produce ethanol.
Bio-diesel can be produced from crops such as rapeseed and soybeans, and from animal fats or wasted vegetable cooking oil. Bio-diesel is cleaner than petroleum-based diesel fuel.
Fuel cells are batteries that are not recharged but are instead continuously supplied with fuel. Hydrogen and oxygen are the fuels. The principal by-product is drinkable water. The system is sometimes called “fireless electricity.”
Fuel Cell Variations
There are many differences in size, techniques and efficiency.
Transportation Fuel Cells
A few public transit bus systems in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia are using fuel cell powered vehicles in demonstration proejcts. Several major automobile companies are building and demonstrating fuel cell vehicles. We have not yet seen a well developed, operational vehicular fuel cell. Most vehicle fuel cells presently depend upon utility-produced electricity to provide the hydrogen fuel. This is using electricity to make electricity.
Stationary Fuel Cells
Fuel cells are being produced, sold and used for local production of electricity, often referred to as distributed generation. We see this as a promising area of investment that is expected to economically compete with utility generation. The larger fuel cells are able to derive fuel from waste water, biomass in dumps, gas from coal mines and the gas exuded from industrial operations. The great heat of the larger stationary fuel cells can internally separate the hydrogen from these raw fuels.
Portable Fuel Cells
Miniature portable fuel cells were being developed to supply small electronics like cell phones and laptops with electricity from butane and other liquid fuels. They have been expensive and slow to develop. Small battery technology, along with the wide scale development of public charging options has made this area unlikely to develop commercially.
Hydrogen has been touted as the fuel of the future. It can be used in fuel cells or burned as a heat source to drive electric turbines with very low emissions.
Where does the hydrogen come from?
Sources for the separation of hydrogen are fossil fuels (natural gas, oil, coal), biomass fuels (ethanol, waste gas) and electricity. Electrolysis is the process by which electricity is used to separate water (H2O) into hydrogen and oxygen. The electricity often comes from conventional utilities, but it can also come from renewable sources such as solar and wind energy.
Many stationary fuel cells can create the hydrogen fuel they require by reforming natural gas, methane, ethanol and/or biomass. This is very efficient.
Conservation includes building insulation and more efficient lighting, heating and cooling systems, motors and electrical equipment. Efficient glass keeps heat or cold in or out while letting light in.
Co-generation uses a single fuel to produce, simultaneously, electricity and heat or cooling. For example, a hospital may use the same fuel and equipment to simultaneously produce steam heat, hot water and electricity – yielding a lower fuel bill for the hospital, reducing fuel use and lowering or eliminating pollution.
We have investments in batteries that are less toxic, easily recharged and which contain a larger charge for a given weight and volume. They serve to store wind and solar energy. They are used in all electric and hybrid cars and for additional energy storage and back up power for other power systems. In some cases inverters are needed to convert direct current to alternating current. We seek investments in these companies, too.
Recycling conserves energy and resources. Market changes affect recycling opportunities. From time to time we have invested in scrap metal, paper and cardboard recovery systems, as well as recycling process equipment.
Concern for preserving timberlands and natural habitats of endangered species has reduced timber harvests. We seek to invest in companies that produce paper and packaging by recycling the “urban forest” of waste paper. When available we consider investment in companies that produce wood products from recycled wood and sustainably managed forests.
We invest in companies which focus on organically grown, healthy food and pesticide-free products.
When we find suitable opportunities, we may invest in batteries for electric vehicles, railroads, bicycles, and ships using renewable energy for propulsion , which serve to reduce pollution and save energy.
We may invest in water related companies which provide clean potable water, sewage treatment, filtration equipment, equipment for energy efficient water distribution, and/or development of technologies to make salt water potable.
Renewable energy and energy conservation serve to maintain clean air and a natural environment.
Natural gas is the cleanest hydrocarbon fuel. It is often used for heating and for efficient combined heat, air conditioning and electric power generation. It is sometimes used for peaking to balance the load on the electric grid. It also serves as the base fuel for certain types of fuel cells.
There are environmental concerns about natural gas extraction by hydraulic fracturing, carbon emissions from methane leaks and the amount of greenhouse gases generated by using natural gas for energy. We may invest in natural gas distribution utilities or companies which use natural gas for cogeneration, combined heat and power, or to produce hydrogen or power fuel cells.
The Fund may invest in conventional energy companies when they are actively developing or producing such items as photovoltaic solar cells, fuel cells or developing other products and technologies related to the Fund areas of interest.
Coal and oil are fossil fuels that cause environmental damage when mined and release pollution when combusted.
Oil is a finite resource. New technologies may make greater oil production possible, but will also increase environmental damage in the process. In the past, a significant part of U.S. oil supply was imported from foreign sources and may be again in the future. Many of these sources are in unfriendly, politically unstable regions. Foreign oil dependence may be seen as a basis for military actions.
Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel. It still provides the largest share of US electricity. New technologies may make it a cleaner source of energy, but the increased cost has led the industry to resist the development of “clean coal” projects. Mining activities continue to cause major environmental damage.
Atomic Energy is not included as an area for alternative energy investment – it is unsafe and expensive. There is a significant potential for accident or attack, unresolved radioactive waste disposal problems and frequent community opposition. Dismantling and decommissioning existing facilities appears to be more expensive than originally projected due to problems with safe disposal of radioactive materials and components.
Socially Irresponsible Business Practices
It is our principle to not invest in companies with:
unfair/discriminatory labor practices
employment of children
poor treatment of people in developing countries
discrimination of any sort, including that based on religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or disability
damaging environmental policies
animal testing practices
We remain alert to changing social concerns.
What effect does screening for social responsibility have?
The Fund periodically faces the dilemma of considering investment in a company that produces a promising environmental product, but whose other characteristics are not acceptable to our socially responsible standards. There are various degrees and subjective judgments concerning this topic. We tend towards avoiding companies with negative behavior at the expense of missing out on a promising product.
We solicit and use information and opinions of our shareholders, many of whom are knowledgeable about the technologies in which we invest. We equally invite the opinions of shareholders about the propriety of the companies in which we invest.