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July 02, 2003
Summer Reading List, SRI-Style
    by William Baue

Prominent figures in the socially responsible investing community recommend SRI- and CSR-related books, and as well as some great titles from outside the field.


What's on your summer reading list? While most people use summer as an opportunity to escape into a thriller or a romance while sifting their toes through the sand, SocialFunds.com readers may want to augment these with a few titles concerning social, environmental, or economic issues. So, SocialFunds.com asked a handful of prominent figures in the socially responsible investing (SRI) and corporate social responsibility (CSR) communities to recommend a few such books.

The results are eclectic, to say the least, ranging from indispensable titles in the field to delightfully unexpected suggestions, with a few titles from outside the SRI/CSR realms thrown in for good measure.

Many recommendations venture beyond SRI into the broader realms of economics.

Peter Kinder, president of KLD Research & Analytics, recommends Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich by Kevin Phillips as "the book on which the Democrats should have run their 2002 campaign." The book explains "how the growing inequalities in wealth and the increasing power of transnational corporations are destroying American democracy," according to Mr. Kinder.

Tessa Tennant, executive chair of the Association for Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Asia, recently added The Dollar Crisis: Causes, Consequences, Cures by Richard Duncan to ASrIA's recommended readings webpage.

"His conclusion? We must establish a global minimum wage, starting with key exporting industries, and he makes the economic case for doing so," Ms. Tennant says.

Joan Bavaria, president of Trillium Asset Management, urges those interested in SRI to read a volume that has yet to be published. Corporate Governance and Climate Change: Making the Connection will soon be released jointly by the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) and the Investor Responsibility Research Center (IRRC).

Phil Rudolph, who oversaw CSR issues at McDonald's as its former international general counsel, pairs two familiar titles: The Sustainability Advantage: Seven Business Case Benefits of a Triple Bottom Line by Bob Willard, and Natural Capitalism, by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins.

"I put these books together because they are similar in their overall theme, i.e. that business can comfortably--even profitably--exist in a sustainable world," Mr. Rudolph says. "A refreshing departure from the demonization of corporations that sometimes occurs in the CSR dialogue, and an effective way to get the attention of CEOs and Boards of Directors."

Perhaps the most pertinent recommendation to SRI professionals is a book from outside the SRI field.

"This is not your typical SRI tome," says Frank Coleman, executive vice president of Christian Brothers Investment Services, of Influencing with Integrity: Management Skills for Communication and Negotiation, by Genie Z. Laborde. "But it is an invaluable tool for those who are involved in shareholder advocacy, which involves working with companies to 'negotiate' changes in their behavior around a variety of issues."

"I have found this book to be very helpful to get me to understand that while my work is driven by a passion for change, it is also practically about communicating effectively with people to bring them into a negotiated agreement and to do so ethically and honestly," says Mr. Coleman.

On the other end of the spectrum, Michelle Chan Fishel, director of the green investments program at Friends of the Earth, recommends The Divine Right of Capital: Dethroning the Corporate Aristocracy by Business Ethics editor Marjorie Kelly. In this polemic, Ms. Kelly questions the very legitimacy of stock ownership, which she contends gives undo power to those who do little to create capital.

Or is it corporations who have too much power? Daniel Litvin's Empires of Profit: Commerce, Conquest and Corporate Responsibility, recommended by Bennett Freeman, managing director for corporate responsibility at Burson-Marsteller and a State Department official in the Clinton Administration, asks just this question.

Don Reed, a senior consultant with Ecos Corporation, a consultancy that advises
companies on sustainable growth, also focuses on the question on power.

"Just [as] Sun Tzu's The Art of War isn't really just about war, Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals, which I think is an underappreciated classic, isn't really just about community organizing--both are about power and change," says Mr. Reed.

This list ends with the quirkiest but perhaps the most useful book of all: How to Behave and Why, a book recommended by Mr. Rudolph that nominally addresses children, but speaks to those of all ages.

"The two biggest questions to ask ourselves in life, at any age, are: Are most of the people I know glad that I am here? Am I glad that I am here myself?" asks author Munro Leaf. "Anyone who can honestly answer 'YES' to those two questions most of the time has learned to BEHAVE in this world and to live a happy life."

 

 
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