Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Liberal Investors Let Cash Attest Their Convictions

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Liberal Investors Let Cash Attest Their Convictions

Article excerpt

AMBROSE BIERCE, writing in 1906, called corporations "ingenious devices for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility." While he may have had a Machiavellian view of the corporate business world, a growing number of individuals and organizations are also beginning to demand ethical standards and social conscience of companies.

No longer labeled off-beat and unrealistic, this emerging group is putting its investment dollars where its heart is and making a tidy sum of money to boot. "Doing good while doing well," the refrain of socially responsible investors, is moving into the mainstream. That investors had made $625 billion worth of social investments by 1991 attests to its broadening appeal.

Measured against the long history of business enterprise, however, this 20-year old phenomenon has yet to fully define itself. In the process of accomplishing its goals, it needs to reassure society's conservatives that the more shrill pioneers of socially responsible investment are not tarring all business with Bierce's brush.

Screening companies by social ethics has grown in sophistication since the early 1970s when companies were largely assessed on their alcohol, smoking, gambling, nuclear power, and military contracts. These simple screens have been supplemented by a host of more subtle ones like product safety, employee relations, and environmental protection. To help the budding social investor develop his own investment criteria, a slew of new books are available, the most recent of which is "Investing for Good." Jointly authored by Amy Domini, Peter Kinder, and Steven Lydenberg - all old hands in writing about social investing - the book offers a thorough step-by-step guide to making your money work for you. It also refrains from beating the social drum too loud.

The tome is written for the relatively unsophisticated investor, however.

Those unfamiliar with the nuts and bolts of the markets and monetary instruments - and all the jargon that accompany them - will find it a good road map. Clearly written, "Investing for Good" manages not to be patronizing despite some of its more elementary explanations: "An annual report is a financial statement that state laws require every corporation to supply to its shareholders. …

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