USSIF conference

US SIF FORUM 2022: Engaging with industry partners on the evolving impact investing landscape

We were glad to be in person at the US SIF Forum 2022 June 6-8 for the first time since 2019. The conference featured impact investors like Calvert Impact Capital as well as asset managers, institutional asset owners, data providers, financial advisors, and other practitioners. The Forum is a “big tent” of leaders focused on advancing a growing industry from policy to shareholder advocacy to community investing while sharing best practices and addressing new challenges.

From a unique location on the Santa Ana Pueblo in New Mexico, this year’s conference included Lawrence Montoya, a former Pueblo President who kicked off the Opening Keynote, and a session on the current economic landscape for investing in Indigenous Peoples. Other highlights of the conference were sessions on climate and social justice, Diversity Equity & Inclusion (DEI), and impact reporting standards . The conference served as an urgent call to action, consistently asking the pressing question of, if not now, when?

Climate, social justice, and DEI/JEDI

Experienced climate investors discussed aligning net zero targets and commitments in portfolios. They highlighted that investing for climate justice is more than just screening out fossil fuels, it includes regenerative agriculture, labor practices, and addressing the unequal impacts of climate change on different geographies and socio-economic groups. While the urgency of investing to address climate catastrophe dominated this conversation, there was also a focus on the intersectionality of economic and social justice.

Calvert Impact Capital’s Justin Conway participated in a panel on advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and racial justice, along with representatives from Domini, E & I Consulting, and Trillium Asset Management. Many of Calvert Impact Capital’s domestic portfolio partners trace their roots back to tackling disinvestment in communities of color and see their work – providing access to quality housing, jobs, healthcare, education, access to finance, a healthy environment – as a response to structural racism. Our portfolio partners' clients are 70% women and 80% people of color, so it’s important for us to see similar diversity represented in the organizations themselves. And it’s not just about how an entity invests or representation, but how an organization’s policies and practices reflect DEI priorities. One of the challenges discussed given the desire to provide deeper demographic stats on staff, especially among smaller organizations, is how to do that without singling-out specific staff, at least not without their express permission to perhaps be more easily identified.

Impact reporting and standards

What was clear from multiple sessions focused on greenwashing in investment products was the importance of measuring and sharing material information and more robust detail on processes and outcomes. In addition, asset managers were cautioned to avoid “cherry picking” when reporting on impact and instead sharing the full story of both the good and the bad. Put simply, say what you do and do what you say.

As a founding signatory to the Operating Principles for Impact Management, we encouraged conference participants to explore the principles. Signatories commit to integrating impact measurement and management (IMM) best practice throughout the entire investment lifecycle and critically, disclosing these IMM practices annually. They also submit their practices for periodic independent verification, ensuring accurate and transparent disclosures and mitigating against impact washing.

How Advisors can deliver content clients want

In a very practical session on talking with clients about impact themes and other topics in the advisor space, it was clear that clients want connection, engagement and responsiveness, and are less interested in virtual events. Interestingly, research suggests that clients want short videos, bullet points, and one to two pagers versus long-form content, webinars or deep dives. There is a definite decline in the amount of time people are willing to commit and content they are willing to consume and advisors must deliver more with less.

The conference was energizing and inspiring; a great reminder of the value of connecting with partners and participating in industry conversations in person. We have a lot of work ahead, but we remain optimistic and enthusiastic to tackle the challenges with our partners and we look forward to connecting with more of you in the coming year.