Since 2020, I have been a member of Nuveen’s Responsible Investing Leadership Council, which brings together thought leaders in the investment industry from around the country to discuss – you guessed it – everything about responsible investing. Given the pandemic, the council’s first in-person meeting was in Chicago in June.

The meeting kicked off with an interactive session dissecting a UVA Darden Business School case study on CalPERS’ divestment of tobacco stocks in the early 2000s. Approximately 15 diverse investment professionals attended the meeting, and each member respectfully shared their unique views on whether CalPERS made the right call. I think Jon Hale, Ph.D., CFA, director of sustainability research for the Americas at Sustainalytics, succinctly summarized it best by saying, “If I divest or remove, then I’m the same or worse off.” Another council member took things a step further by sharing a hypothetical scenario to demonstrate the indirect ripple effects of divestment. For instance, if Exxon is financially impaired due to meaningful investor divestment, it’s possible the company could lay off low-income employees in emerging countries to cut expenses. Although investors intend to cause no harm, divestment ultimately contributes to inequality in this scenario.

Throughout the event, my two greatest takeaways from this gathering were:

  • A question – should the U.S. assess gross well-being as opposed to gross domestic product (“GDP”) when measuring the country’s value-added? Simply put, gross well-being expands on GDP by measuring sustainability and happiness.
  • Unlike traditional investing, responsible investing is subjective. For example, what is “green”? The definition of a green investment means something unique to each of us. The inherent subjectivity of sustainable investing necessitates continual education in this space.

As a lifelong learner, I look forward to participating in future meetings with my fellow council members as we work together to elevate the responsible investment industry.