Gathering around the dinner table to link money and values

Rebecca Kowalski shares a recent family trip to the US and the SDG considerations it brought up

I’ve just returned from a family reunion in the US. Conscious of the carbon footprint of the journey, I’ll attempt to partially offset emissions by extracting some UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)-linked considerations from the trip.

We were in California and Oregon, where cities are vibrant and the coastline marvellous. UN SDG 15, Life on Land struck me first however, aptly illustrated with a tree symbol. The arboreal diversity of this area is incredible – a panorama of different shapes and hues of palms, cedars, cypress, redwoods, spruce and cottonwood. Walls of trees displaying the beauty of biodiversity, as well as its carbon absorption and storage benefits. With one of the highest rates of per person emissions in the world, the US also has a richness of features that offer emission reducing solutions. Soaking up nature brought home the importance and the potential investor appeal of investment funds that avoid harm to the natural environment.

With the worsening Californian wildfires in recent years, I was surprised that UN SDG 13, Climate Action, was not a conversation topic. The physical risks are very present – the Californian family had come close to a house evacuation in 2020 and the New Englanders had struggled to breathe due to the Canadian wildfire smoke that turned New York skies orange this year. 

However, in a country where long car journeys and frequent domestic plane keeps families together, the Inflation Reduction Act really needs to get to work on delivering new energy and transport options.

The environmental issue that was centre table was SDG 6, Clean Water and Sanitation. Access to a clean and adequate water supply was a subject of discussion relating to which state to live in and which property to buy. Some of the homes we visited had state of the art technology but were piped up to a creaking plumbing and sewage system. No surprise that water-themed investment funds have high exposure to the US market. It’s a theme based on investing in basic needs, rather than the latest wants.

Moving on to social goals, several UN SDGs raised their heads. Goal 4, Quality Education; Goal 10, Reduced Inequalities; and Goal 16, Peace, Justice and Strong institutions. Several of the US parents homeschool their children, believing this the best way for them to safely fulfil their potential. Investment in businesses that support access to on-line learning will resonate. This was an investment theme that thrived during the pandemic but in the States there are more than viruses that parents wish to shelter their children from.

A couple of days in San Francisco were eye-opening. Initially, the city shook me, and not due to seismic activity. Never have I seen such a stark and wide gap between the richest and poorest. In the centre of the city, two blocks away from ranks of designer stores, hotels and restaurants, there is homelessness, publicly drugtaking, searching through bins and getting on with life on the streets. Poverty and homelessness are a terrible thing for those enduring it. Investing in businesses and projects that seek to provide fair pay, equal opportunity and help people improve their lives is a small step towards closing the gap. If we don’t address the cracks in society, they will widen. Global impact bond funds offer potential to direct funds to projects aligned with such aims.

We also visited Alcatraz while in the city, a trip in history that taught much about the present. An exhibition about the US incarceration system revealed that more than two million are currently behind bars, the highest percentage of the population in the world. The visitor survey indicated the majority thought this was wrong and favoured reform of the system. 

Education, law, housing, government, media and finance were all systems that came under question around the dinner table, with one relative saying they wanted to buy gold bars so as not to engage with financial markets, fees and paperwork! I explained how investing in a certain manner can allow you to align value with values and express your individuality, just as you do in what you wear, what you talk about and what you eat.

As three generations of a family came together round a table in America, it was inevitable that uniting our money with our values would be raised as a means of addressing the state of the world.