Changing the World: ESG, Earth Day, Volunteers

Margaret Mead was an American cultural anthropologist, author and speaker. She earned her bachelor’s degree at Barnard College in New York City and her MA and PhD degrees from Columbia University. She published 21 books but was known more for the force of her personality than the accuracy of her conclusions. Here at Intelex, we promote the accuracy of data and encourage allowing the data to tell the story, Margaret Mead relied on observations, rather than data, to reach her conclusions.

While I strongly support the use of data to come to well-researched and well-founded conclusions, I have to admit that my favorite quote is one from Margaret: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

The power of those words and of that conclusion never fails to get me in all the feels. The only time we become powerless is when we refuse to act. If we are committed to making change, we will create change. I’ve seen this on a micro scale in my own life and I’m seeing it on a global scale with environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing.

What Is ESG Investing?

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing is the practice of investing in companies that score highly on environmental and societal responsibility scales created by third-parties, independent companies and research groups. If you support environmental and societal responsibility, then ESG is a way to put your money where your mouth is.

“The underlying premise is that there are certain environmental, social and corporate governance factors that actually impact business,” said Hank Smith, head of Investment Strategy at The Haverford Trust Company, in the article Environmental, Social And Governance: What Is ESG Investing? in Forbes. “Considering those factors gives investors a more holistic view of companies, which can help mitigate risk and identify opportunities.”

As noted in the article, the three criteria used to evaluate companies for ESG investing include:

  • Environment – What kind of impact does a company have on the environment? This can include chemicals involved in its manufacturing processes, sustainability efforts/supply chain and its carbon footprint.
  • Social – How does the company improve its social impact, both within the company and in the broader community? Social factors can include LGBTQ+ equality, racial diversity in both the executive suite and staff overall and inclusion in both programs and hiring practices. This includes how companies advocate for social good in the wider world, beyond their spheres of business.
  • Governance – How does the company’s board and management drive positive change? Issues surrounding executive pay, diversity in leadership and transparency with shareholders are part of governance.

“At its core, ESG investing is about influencing positive changes in society by being a better investor,” noted Smith.

My Own Personal ESG Moment

I moved to my neighborhood 20 years ago. It was just beginning to rebound from poverty, crime and urban blight. Years of neglect of buildings and public spaces and parks and the disenfranchisement of residents had created a perfect storm of downward momentum. But a few people – mostly artists and musicians – had a vision. They saw the rundown houses, storefronts and warehouses as cheap studio and living space. Once they moved in, coffee shops and galleries followed, then restaurants and small shops.

I took a leap of faith and invested my money – my life savings – in a 110-year-old house, hoping that the neighborhood would continue to rebound and my investment would be safe.

Still, the neighborhood was in transition. Another quote that resonates with me is from Antonio Gramsci: “The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.”

Some monsters came out in my neighborhood. I was shocked to my core one morning when I woke up to learn that a triple homicide had taken place at a small corner store two blocks from my street. My neighborhood was in the news and not in a good way. One of my neighbors and I began to brainstorm ways we could change the public perception of our neighborhood. We knew that our neighbors were great people who cared about their homes and city, but how could we show that?

We wrote a proposal for a small grant to beautify our street and the surrounding street corners. To our surprise, it was accepted. We engaged with 36 property owners, helping them clean up their yards, plant flowers and create corner gardens at the four corners of the street. That was 18 years ago, and that core group of neighbors remains strong, regularly attending safety meetings and participating in neighborhood events.

From that success, my neighbor and I reached out to the wider community. Lincoln Park, a one-block square park in the center of the neighborhood, had been updated, but the project ran out of money before flower beds could be designed and planted. While the park was clean and had a new gazebo, playground equipment and lighting, it wasn’t as eye-catching as it could be. We founded a group, the Tremont Gardeners, with the mission of keeping the park clean and creating four corner gardens to welcome visitors into the small park and to plant trees and shrubs around the gazebo.

We called ourselves “guerilla gardeners” at first, since we went ahead with our beautification projects without official permission from the city. We decided that it was better to beg forgiveness than ask permission. During those early days, police on patrol regularly stopped to ask what we were doing and why, so we had t-shirts made so we seemed “official.” The slogan on those t-shirts was the Margaret Mead quote.

In those early years, we spent our own money to purchase plants and tools, investing in our neighborhood, our neighbors and our shared future. Call it my first experience with ESG.

Long-Term Investments in Community

Twenty years later and the flower beds in the park are established and thriving. Multiple pocket gardens and community gardens have been launched by the original members of the Tremont Gardeners. We’ve grown from a group of six people to nearly 20, and we sponsor a spring flower and vegetable sale that has grown so large it has become a news story.

When I think about those early days of pulling weeds, sweeping up broken glass, gingerly picking up needles and other nastiness and painting over grafitti, and then I look around the park and the neighborhood and realize how far we’ve come in just 20 years, I realize the difference a few committed citizens can make in the world.

Whether you are committed to helping to end climate change, or to neighborhood cleanups, or to the principle of ESG investing, you can make a difference and help restore our earth.

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This entry was posted in Environmental & Sustainability Management and tagged , , by Sandy Smith. Bookmark the permalink.

About Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the Global EHSQ Content Lead for Intelex Technologies. Formerly the Content Director for EHS Today, she has been writing about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990. Her work as a journalist and editor has been recognized with national and international awards. She has been interviewed about occupational safety and health for national business publications, documentaries and television programs; has served as a panelist on roundtables; and has provided the keynote address for occupational safety and health conferences.

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