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Activity 3: Socially Responsible Investing

Activity time: 25 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Preview Handouts 2 and 3. Copy both for all participants.
  • Ask members of the congregational Finance committee, Investment committee, or governing Board and/or other appropriate leaders about the congregation's investment policies. Ask whether Socially Responsible Investing is a guiding philosophy. Be prepared to share what you learn with the group.

Description of Activity


Socially Responsible Investing, or SRI, is one way some UU congregations, groups, and individuals bring spiritual and religious values into investment. SRI pays attention to the idea that investment is fundamentally a relationship between the one providing capital through investment and the one creating something of value. A socially responsible approach to investing requires an investor to make determinations about value beyond financial return and to act on those decisions. In effect, there is a "double bottom line," where both financial performance and social effects are important, often supporting one another.

Explain that your purpose in this activity is to unpack SRI so that participants can explore if and how it might be part of personal and/or congregational financial practices. This workshop is not the place to debate SRI in congregational investment policies. Suggest appropriate congregational leaders with whom interested participants might study and discuss the issues in more depth after the workshop.

Distribute Handout 2, Ten Things All UUs Should Know About Socially Responsible Investing. Explain that the handout is an abbreviated version of a page on the UUA website. Invite volunteers to read each of the ten items. Ask if participants have any knowledge or experience with SRI. Invite them to briefly share their experiences.

Distribute Handout 3, Fossil Fuel Divestment Debate. Explain that there are two main positions in the current debate: Some believe the UUA should completely eliminate from our stock portfolio companies that extract, refine, and distribute fossil fuels; this is called divestment. Others believe we should use the UUA's position as shareholder to pressure such companies to adopt more environmentally friendly policies and practices. Invite participants to read the handout. Tell them the Summer 2013 issue of UU World (in print or online) has the full essays.

Ask for comment and discussion about the fossil fuel debate. After about five minutes, explain that although you could spend a great deal of time debating, the issues are complex, and engaging this debate is not the focus of this workshop. Invite participants instead to focus more closely on SRI, using the fossil fuel debate as a case study to help understand how SRI works. Lead a discussion using these questions:

  • Why is financial performance an important consideration in socially responsible investing?
  • Is it "moral" to maximize financial returns while still paying attention to social justice issues (the double bottom line)? What do your religious and faith commitments tell you about this?
  • Is it possible to separate socially responsible investing from other kinds? Is there a way that "social considerations" are really an inseparable part of making any good investment?
  • How do the principles of SRI as articulated in Handout 2 and the examples of SRI actions in Tim Brennan's essay in Handout 3 refute the commonly held belief that financial performance and social responsibility are in opposition?
  • What are some advantages and disadvantages of the three different approaches to SRI: investment selection, engagement, and community investing (#3, #4, and #5 on Handout 2)? How would you connect each strategy with your Unitarian Universalist principles and values?

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