Our 2021 Wish For Everyone

We believe that 2021 will see a strong resurgence of environmental awareness.  We hope that reading this will inspire you to get personally involved. NOW is the time to start remediating all that has been done to our planet and the people on it.

We, as a firm, are working very hard to do just that!  We want to lead by example and demonstrate some steps we have taken in the last year which we are particularly proud of. Taking the first step is important, but we want to come back and report on our continued efforts.  If we can do it so can you! There are no secrets here!

In our office and at my home, you will find evidence of our commitment to Sustainability. If you haven’t seen my first post, click here to learn about my new Prius Plug-In Hybrid. I’m thrilled to report that between 12/21/19 and 12/21/20 I have only used ⅔ of a tank of gas!  The Pandemic helped, but so did the fact that I am only 10 miles from my office! What’s even more amazing is the fact that this car actually cost almost the same as the regular Prius I had at the time I bought this one!

Another step I took at home in 2020 is the solar panels I installed on my roof. This is an excellent example of using Other People’s Money (the best kind of money) to enhance financial wellness, as my utility company installed them, they guarantee them and will repair them as needed for the next twenty years. They also stay with the house if I choose to sell it. I put no money down to get them installed, and for the use of my roof, I get “credits” against my electric usage. This is an easy step that anyone can take!  

You will find the same focus in our office.  We have LED Lights throughout (in fact, we just replaced the last legacy fluorescent bulb when it failed), we chose to locate our office next to the town’s recycling center, use reusable personal items, and our electricity is generated by Wind Power through a firm called Arcadia Power, who lets us track our usage and compare ourselves to typical consumers in our area. In addition, through our use of Docusign for all of our paperwork, we have reduced our waste significantly. Here’s a quick look at what we DIDN’T use in 2020 across our organization just by using Docusign for all of our paperwork:

To quote an old saying, “you can tell about them by the company they keep”. Let’s look at this list! A good starting point is our membership in the Principles for Responsible Investment and support for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.  We Also belong to US SIF, the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, as well  supporting the Ceres Charitable Foundation and Environment America.  Lastly we are an award winning Certified B Corp whose mandate is to make our business a BENEFIT to consumers World Wide. (click here to see our scores and how they have changed over time). 

One of our main goals for 2021 is to continue to work with more organizations working to advance solutions to environmental and social issues. In this regard, we would like to take our clients and friends along with us, figuratively if not in person!  Let us be your leader, all you need to do is follow our progress on our blog and take inspiration from our Impact Reports.

Here’s to a year of global recovery!!

Remembering John Lewis

The world lost a great leader this week when Congressman John Lewis passed away. Lots of words have already been written honoring him, and others will do a better job than I can explaining why his legacy matters, and how we as a country can honor his legacy. I strongly encourage you to read the articles I’ve linked to, but the purpose of this post is to tell a personal story, and share how he touched my life, and how he helped to set me on the path I choose to walk to this day.

When I was 11, I had a unique opportunity to shadow Representative Lewis for a day and cast 4 votes on his behalf on the floor of the House of Representatives. The bill of the day was the Patients’ Bill of Rights, which for the first time gave patients the right to sue health insurance plans that cause injury by denying care or providing substandard treatment.

Max, John Lewis, and Max’s dad Eric, on the steps of the Capital Building, October 8, 1999

The day itself was a whirlwind, but a few moments are crystallized in my memory, sitting in Representative Lewis’s office and feeling, for the first time (although definitely not the last), the weight of history, and the struggle it took to build a country that values inclusiveness, and stands against racism. As I watched a video his staff had made about his life and legacy, I was inspired to use my life and career to participate in his work. I didn’t know how at the time (I was 11 years old after all), but my experiences that day have inspired me ever since.

Max in John Lewis’s office, watching a video created for the Representative’s 50th birthday

I was lucky enough to spend the entire day with him, including a private tour of the capital, a ride in the Congress-only elevator and walks through the tunnels that run under DC. The entire day I listened to his stories, to his journey, and his passion. Spending a day with a living legend, who walked with Dr. Martin Luthor King Jr., gave me a sense of connection to that fight, and an understanding that it is not yet over.

Max & John Lewis, in the Capital Rotunda, October 8, 1999

As I looked back through my parents’ photo album from that trip (and thank you mom, for the time you put in to preserving these memories), I was struck by the picture below, by the expressions on our faces as we looked up at the capital. This picture captures John Lewis’s energy, and the hope and passion he inspired in me. He truly led by example.

Across everything I’ve read in the days since his passing, one quote spoke to me more than all the rest, and it’s what I’ll leave you with. I am proud to count myself as one of the people the President is referring to here, when speaking of John Lewis’s Legacy:

“He loved this country so much that he risked his life and his blood so that it might live up to its promise. And through the decades, he not only gave all of himself to the cause of freedom and justice, but inspired generations that followed to try to live up to his example.”

President Barack Obama

Where to buy sustainable PPE & support communities that need your help

We’re proud to be a Certified B Corp (see our scores here), and we try to raise the visibility of members of this amazing community whenever we have the opportunity. Today, we’re highlighting companies in the B Corp community that have shifted to producing sustainable Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). If you are in need of PPE, and want your dollars to support small businesses with a social mission,  check out the list below, which is maintained by the folks at B Lab. The list notes the order sizes each have available, and whether the firm employs individuals in highly impacted communities.

As always, we don’t receive compensation for this kind of thing, and we won’t earn a commission or anything else as a result of this effort. We’re just putting this out because we believe it’s the right thing to do.

What we’re doing internally and the importance of planning

In the spirit of full transparency, we thought it would be worth taking a minute to discuss how Common Interests has prepared for emergencies.

  • Our first priority is the security of our clients’ accounts and our ability to provide access and up-to-date information in times of crisis. To this end, we have conducted rigorous due diligence on our partners, and have evaluated their business continuity plans. We invite you to read the business continuity plans for our key partners here:
  • Our second priority is making sure that our firm is protected so that we can continue to serve our clients. Too many people rely on us for us to get sick. Here are the steps we’re taking:
      • Our office functions almost entirely on cloud based systems. Our phones, trading system, meeting platforms, website, and client files are all hosted on separate secure cloud servers with redundant backups. We converted to these systems in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and have been training and preparing for the next disaster since then. We have relied on these systems to continue working from the road at conferences in the past, and have full confidence in our ability to continue to serve our clients from anywhere with a stable internet connection and a power outlet.
      • We re-configured our scheduling tool to provide additional clarity and make additional options available to our clients, while restricting non-client meetings. Our firm has offered Virtual meetings for years, and we’re extremely comfortable meeting over video chat with screen-sharing. To protect both ourselves and our clients, we are encouraging everyone to meet with us virtually or over the phone.
        • Give the new configuration of our scheduling tool a spin below! We’re here to talk. Please feel free to use it to find a time to chat, even if you only have a quick question (there’s an option for that!)



 

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition

It’s been an especially brutal week so far in the markets, which reminds us of a classic Monty Python sketch.

Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition.

We can’t claim to have seen the new Coronavirus, COVID-19 coming. That’s kind of the point. Outbreaks happen suddenly and without warning. There are no ‘catalysts’ for an event like this, and as investment managers and Financial Advisors, the past few days have been difficult, to say the least. Bob and I have been on the phone with clients constantly, and expect to hear from more in the coming days. There are a few common threads to these conversations:

The Chief Weapon is Surprise… Surprise and Fear. Fear and Surprise

Like the Spanish Inquisition, the COVID-19 virus plays on our fears. As investors, we have to balance what we see and read against the goals we set and our timelines. We’ve been devouring as much information about the current outbreak as we can, attending webinars from our partners at MSCI (based on research they published a few weeks ago), reading the thoughts of managers that specialize in investing in the asian markets, and talking with clients about their goals, their timelines to meeting their goals, and whether our current strategy is still appropriate. I’m thankful that we started having these conversations at the beginning of the year, and that we’ve focused on how much risk is appropriate to take.

The truth is, nobody knows when something like this will hit, how bad it will get, or where the ‘bottom’ will be. All we can do is think through the amount of risk we’re willing to take, and stick with that strategy, having faith that this too shall pass. We invest for a reason, whether that’s saving for a house, college, retirement, travel, or any of the other reasons we save, there is always a reason. I encourage you to think beyond the short term fluctuations of the markets, and evaluate your overall strategy. Are you taking the right amount of risk for you?

We recommend some comedy to get you through the week.

And Bright Red Uniforms:

If you would like to meet with us to review your risk tolerance, here’s our scheduling tool:

 


Ways to Green your Business

Our blog has been dark for the past few months because we’ve been deep into what we call “disclosure season”. At the beginning of the year, we’re asked to ‘show our work’ and verify that we are who we say we are by the two main sustainability organizations we belong to: the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment, and B Lab, which certifies B Corps. We’re now approaching the end of that cycle, and ahead of sharing the results from these efforts, we wanted to give you an idea of what we go through to be a sustainable company, and how you can do the same for yours.

We discovered this series of infographics created by companydebt.com, who urged us to share them with the world. These track pretty closely (although not exactly) with the processes we’ve used to become a more sustainable company, so we thought we’d share!

We’ve prepared for extreme weather by instituting a work-from-home policy to maintain service during natural disasters. Our phones are cloud-hosted and should remain active even during an emergency.

Supply chain risk is critical, and understanding this is one of the major trends to watch this year!

 

Check this out: we’ve done most of this already, and reported back on it in our recent Impact Report. 

Did you know that the single biggest hidden cost to most employers is turnover? The “S” in ESG stands for “Social”, which is supposed to measure exactly these risks.

Businesses that haven’t thought this through will be more at risk. This forms the basis of our investment philosophy (read the bit under the SDGs)

 

Thanks again to the folks at companydebt.com for putting this together!

Safer Internet Day 2020

Safer Internet Day was this week, and as we do every year, we like to use this event to highlight our commitment to protecting our clients’ privacy and keeping data secure.

Our way of helping is to highlight a few of the tools we employ to help protect ourselves in the wilderness that is the internet. This post won’t cover antivirus software, but we’ll be looking at the free tools we use to help prevent tracking and reduce (not eliminate) your vulnerability online.

  • The first line of defense is an adblocker. These tools are designed to prevent you from seeing advertising online. We HIGHLY recommend that all of our clients and friends install one and keep it up to date. Our preferred adblocker is Ublock origin, which is available for Chrome here, and Firefox here.
  • Here’s another reason to install this RIGHT NOW: once you’ve visited our website, our advertising will take over your devices for the next three months if you’re signed in to chrome. While we make it extremely easy to opt out of our advertising, most people don’t realize that you have to visit our privacy policy page to disable this, and that it only works for our website. An adblocker will remove all of the ads from the internet, including ours!

  • After this, we like to look at a pair of tools from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. This group is one of the strongest advocates for privacy and an open internet, and we support their work whenever possible. The first tool we recommend, especially for laptops or other computers that you travel with, is called HTTPS Everywhere (you can install it from that page). This tool helps force your connection to a website over a more secure connection, which can help protect your data and especially any login credentials that you use. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing.

  • The second tool by the EFF is called Privacy Badger. This tool blocks invisible trackers, including the ones that the big tech companies use to track you across the internet. Privacy comes at a price however, as you’ll quickly learn just how much the web relies on these tools – this one WILL break certain websites, especially those that are pulling services from multiple sources. However, it can be incredibly illuminating to see just how much you’re being tracked across the web.
  • Finally, we recommend a VPN, especially when travelling, and ESPECIALLY when travelling internationally. A VPN (or Virtual Private Network) is a tool that allows you to create a secure connection to another server before going out on the wider internet. We recommend using a tool like this whenever you’re connected to a WiFi network you don’t control, as they will prevent the owner of the WiFi network from snooping on your connection. Of course, this merely shifts who you trust from the person running your local WiFi hotspot to the VPN provider you’ve chosen to work with. We recommend doing due diligence on any VPN provider you choose to work with. We’re not going to disclose the firm we’ve chosen for security reasons, but we will be more than happy to recommend a few if you contact us.

This year, we’re adding one new item to our recommendations. Facebook recently added a new ability for you to see and manage what data they collect about you when you’re not using Facebook. Here’s their guide to understanding this, and here’s their guide to deleting your off-platform activity.

Continuing our Holiday Donation Tradition in 2019

Watch the winners of the ESG & Impact Film Festival!

As a member of the advisory board for the InvestmentNews ESG & Impact Forum, I helped to judge the film festival we presented at the event. We’re proud to present the films we selected below.

The Bee Rescuer This film won the Judges Choice award!
Directed by: Bidit Roy. Amit Godse, otherwise known as The Bee Man, founded a social enterprise, Bee Basket, which rescues bee colonies from urban areas.

I have a personal connection to this one. My family keeps bees in partnership with friends who live in Lancaster County, PA. We’ve lost a number of Bee Hives over the years for various reasons, and bee conservation is a subject near and dear to my heart.

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The Story of TRU Colors This film won the Audience’s Choice award!
Directed by: Meagen Verdi & Akeem Grady. How one company is driving change in Wilmington, NC by hiring a workforce composed of only active gang members.

After this film was shown, we had the privilege of hearing from the filmmakers and one of the gang members in this film. It was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve had, and it reinforced to me the impact that investments can make. The Audience Choice award was well deserved!

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POKO’S STORY
Directed by: Michael Schmidt-Olsen. Poko, a farmer in northern Ghana, learns new farming techniques to combat the devastating droughts and brushfires caused by climate change that are ravaging the region.

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Lever
Directed by: Stephen Lamb. ESG investing strategies are a way to align values with investments, but don’t necessarily effect change. A look inside the powerful force of shareholder activism.

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One Island
Directed by: Mitra K. Bolouri Rasmussen. A look inside a small Danish island that is run 100% with renewable energy.

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Cesar’s Workshop
Directed by: Robin Pogorzelski. An army veteran from Rwanda who lost his leg to the civil war now makes his living by serving others.

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BIOME – Harvesting Rain
Directed by: Travelling Tripod Films. This film showcases the positive impact of BIOME Environmental Trusts’ work in government schools struggling with water availability in rural Bangalore, Karnataka, India. The project is funded by Wipro Cares.

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Leafy Greens
Directed by: Stephen Lamb. An exploration of impact enterprise. Can businesses succeed with the dual motives of profit and purpose?

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Grow Your House
Directed by: Andrés Klimek & Sergio Donis. This film shows how bamboo can be used to construct houses in a low-cost and dignified way for people living in poverty.

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The Soapmakers of Samabogo
Directed by: Hannah Stanton-Jones & Tadg O’Keeffe. In the southern plains of Mali, a group of intrepid women entrepreneurs has come together to form a collective of soapmakers, enhancing the lives of themselves and their families.

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Igniting Impact Trailer
Directed by: Akira Chan. Igniting Impact is a short documentary featuring entrepreneurs who are creating impact by aligning with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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InvestmentNews also has these videos on their website as well, with more information about the event.

Hear from Common Interests in the news

As part of the InvestmentNews ESG & Impact Forum, Max was selected as one of 3 advisors who were asked to share some advice with other Financial Advisors who are considering using ESG Analysis in their practices. Hear from Max and his colleagues here:


You can view this on the InvestmentNews website here.


You can view this on the InvestmentNews website here.

We’ll have more on this event in the coming days. Check back soon!