Five years ago Pope Francis published his encyclical “Laudato Si,” in which he called for environmental justice and fundamental social change in the face of global warming. To mark the occasion, in June 2020, the Vatican urges Catholics to take practical steps to fulfill this mission and has encouraged Catholics to divest from fossil fuel-based industries.
In recent years, many faith-based organizations have made bold statements about climate justice being a key component of their faith and stewardship of Earth and her people. Bill McKibben, a long-time environmentalist, in September 2019 was quoted in The Washington Post: “The gospel call to love one’s neighbor is, in our time and place, most fully a call to do something about climate change, because at the moment, we’re drowning our neighbors, sickening our neighbors, making it impossible for our neighbors to grow food.”
Answering to these calls, 16 congregations of US-based Dominican nuns began a collaboration with Morgan Stanley to create a $130 million “climate solutions fund.” In a press release, the bank called the fund a “first of its kind collaboration, to find investment solutions which focus on climate change and aiding marginalized communities that are disproportionately impacted by global warming.” Examples of the fund’s “holistic” approach to climate solutions include “investments in energy efficiency software” as well as “more mature opportunities like fruit producers with water-saving hydroponic irrigation systems.”
Sister Patricia Daly, a nun from a congregation in Caldwell, New Jersey, helped create the fund, the nuns began organizing in 2018 after they pooled $46 million. Daly said the sisters have long wanted to invest in companies and technology that are actively working toward the United Nations sustainable development goals, which include ending poverty, improving access to clean energy, curbing climate change.
When they couldn’t find a fund with that focus, since most sustainable investment funds do not holistically address all of the goals, the congregations enlisted Morgan Stanley to create a new fund themselves and set a standard for future investing.
“This fund is engaged in impact investing rather than screening,” said Angelo Collins, a member of the leadership council for the Dominican Sisters in Wisconsin. “The fund advisors and managers are looking to support and provide investments in corporations that are doing positive good.” Collins said that many Dominican congregations in the US consider social justice a central tenet of practising their faith, and that the fund will bring social justice to the forefront of the church’s investing efforts.
Daly hopes that their efforts attract investors of all kinds, rather than just faith-based organizations. “We wanted this not just for ourselves but for other investors — not just faith communities. There are also healthcare systems and other private investors who have joined in this initiative.”
In its press release, Morgan Stanley emphasized that the fund will invest in ventures that are proactively pursuing sustainable and equitable climate goals. “Every dollar invested in our climate program will seek to have a concrete climate impact measurement ranging from tonnes of CO2 emission offset and litres of water saved, to reduction in air pollution levels, in addition to generating compelling private markets returns”.
This is not the first time Catholic Sisters have engaged themselves in these issues. In December 2019, BlackRock faced heat from an investment fund representing 9,000 nuns from The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, declaring that it was failing its investors and the planet by refusing to be more active in divestment of fossil fuels from its holdings.
Whether we’re a person of faith or not, there’s never been a better time to be more engaged in climate action, taking the lesson from the Sisters. We have the power to create the sustainable future we wish to see for ourselves and our neighbors.