Exclusive Interview: Andrew Behar, CEO of As You Sow
Tuesday, November 10th, 2015 By
Andrew Behar, As You Sow CEO, has 30 years of experience as a Senior Executive and strategist in the clean-tech, communications, and life science sectors. Prior to joining As You Sow, Andrew founded and was CEO of a clean-tech start-up developing innovative fuel cell technologies. He served as COO for a social media agency focused in the sustainability space and has been a strategic consultant in the nonprofit sector. He has founded and run start-ups in the medical device and communications areas and serves on the boards of several high-tech innovation companies. Andrew is also an elected board member of US-SIF, the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment. Today he talks to Blue & Green.
In 140 characters or less – what is As You Sow?
As You Sow is a non-profit environmental advocacy organization focused on corporate responsibility. We challenge big corporations to make big changes.
What was the driver for creating As You Sow – what gap did it fill?
Corporations are the most powerful entities on the planet, capable of enormous good and crushing destruction. By law they serve their shareholders, but in the name of “shareholder value” they wreak immense harm through environmental degradation, social transgressions, and governance secrecy. As You Sow was created to address this issue and challenge corporations to shift their policies for long-term sustainability while simultaneously increasing shareholder value and reducing risk.
Who is it primarily for?
As You Sow is building a movement of active investors who will no longer abdicate their power. There are 91 million Americans who hold ownership positions in corporations that continue to put toxins in our food system, emit carbon pollution into our air, control our political system, externalize their costs to the rest of society, and reward their CEOs in ways that create massive imbalance and injustice.
What difference does As You Sow want to make?
As You Sow is creating change by using the levers of the financial markets to shift the incentives for corporations so that an increasingly clean, just, and equitable future is driven by market forces. Positive environmental, social, and governance corporate policies both reduce risk and increase shareholder value. Moving more and more corporations toward greater and greater responsibility and sustainability will make an increasing difference in our lives and our future.
What are the barriers to making that difference?
We find that many people are locked into a pattern of thinking that does not enable them to analyze risk in a changing world. We see that illustrated particularly strongly by the fossil fuel industry. Boards and company leadership appear to be determined to keep to “business as usual” even if it means the destruction of their own corporate value. We see them driving toward a cliff and taking the rest of us with them.
The cartoon below captures the misguided nature of the thinking we confront every day. It’s time to bring in climate-competent Boards and if necessary, pull the rip cord on hundreds of golden parachutes. A new generation of leadership is needed that can assess the risks and either wind down operations altogether or make a transition to a clean energy future.
Who’s helping you overcome those barriers?
There is a groundswell of attention to real sustainability coming from many directions. The growth of the socially responsible investing community is amazing. A recent study showed 73% of all investment managers worldwide now use Environmental, Social, and Governance criteria for making investment decisions. This rewards good management and penalizes bad.
Companies that are forward thinking are going to thrive. Companies that are stuck in the past will perish. The recent decision to reject Keystone XL pipeline is the result of grassroots, investor, policy, and legal action all happening in both independent and strategically coordinated ways. What happened with KXL demonstrates the power that people have to make change.
Is investment action today commensurate with the significant economic, social and environmental challenges we face?
In terms of investors shifting capital into companies that are focused on thriving in the future, we see that the groundwork is laid and now the shift is happening. Wall Street is still years behind, but new tools are shining a bright light on the myths and opacity of a corrupt and self-serving system. As You Sow recently launched a web tool to let people know what fossil fuel stocks they own, hidden inside their mutual funds and 401ks.
It’s called Fossil Free Funds – just Google Fossil Free Funds to find it – its free, and kind of fun! We discovered that people want to own what they own, but if they own mutual funds, they have no idea what actual companies they own. This is just the start of a broad movement of investors taking responsibility, and aligning their values with their investments.
How can people – individuals and organizations – find out more about As You Sow?
Our web site www.asyousow.org is the best place to start. Sign up for our newsletters and notifications of our reports – we publish about five reports every year on a variety of issues, like CEO Pay, Fracking, Waste, financial risks of fossil fuel investment, toxins in the food system and more. Our recently launched web tool mentioned above is at www.fossilfreefunds.org. It enables anyone to see the fossil fuel stock holdings hidden inside their mutual funds and 401ks. Every year we publish www.proxypreview.org a comprehensive listing and analysis of all the environmental and social shareholder resolutions filed for the year. As You Sow is a nonprofit funded entirely by donors—no corporate money!—please support our work! www.asyousow.org/donate
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