By investing directly in an institution, rather than purchasing stock, an investor is able to create a greater social impact: Money spent purchasing stock accrues to the stock's previous owner and may not generate social good, while money invested in a community institution is put to work. For example, money invested in a Community Development Financial Institution may be used by that institution to alleviate poverty or inequality, spread access to capital to under-served communities, support economic development or green business, or create other social good. In 1984, Trillium Asset Management's founder, Joan Bavaria, invited Chuck Matthei of the Institute for Community Economics (ICE), an organization that helps communities create and sustain land trusts, to a meeting of US SIF (formerly the Social Investment Forum). It is likely that this was the first time a nonprofit organization with a loan fund would meet directly with SRI managers. Trillium clients began investing in ICE later that year.
The modern era of socially responsible investing evolved during the political climate of the 1960s. During this time, socially concerned investors increasingly sought to address equality for women, civil rights, and labor issues. Economic development projects started or managed by Dr. Martin Luther King, like the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Operation Breadbasket Project in Chicago, established the beginning model for socially responsible investing efforts. King combined ongoing dialog with boycotts and direct action targeting specific corporations. Concerns about the Vietnam War were incorporated by some social investors. Many people living during the era remember a picture in June 1972 of a naked nine year-old girl, Phan Thị Kim Phúc, running towards a photographer screaming, her back burning from the napalm dropped on her village. That photograph channeled outrage against Dow Chemical, the manufacturer of napalm, and prompted protests across the country against Dow Chemical and other companies profiting from the Vietnam War.
During the 1950s and 1960s, trade unions deployed multi-employer pension fund monies for targeted investments. For example, the United Mine Workers fund invested in medical facilities, and the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) financed union-built housing projects. Labor unions also sought to leverage pension stocks for shareholder activism on proxy fights and shareholder resolutions. In 1978, SRI efforts by pension funds was spurred by The North will Rise Again: Pensions, Politics, and Power in the 1980s and the subsequent organizing efforts of authors Jeremy Rifkin and Randy Barber. By 1980, presidential candidates Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Jerry Brown advocated some type of social orientation for pension investments.
SRI had an important role in ending the apartheid government in South Africa. International opposition to apartheid strengthened after the 1960 Sharpeville massacre. In 1971, Reverend Leon Sullivan (at the time a board member for General Motors) drafted a code of conduct for practicing business in South Africa which became known as the Sullivan Principles. However, reports documenting the application of the Sullivan Principles said that US companies were not trying to lessen discrimination in South Africa. Due to these reports and mounting political pressure, cities, states, colleges, faith-based groups and pension funds throughout the US began divesting from companies operating in South Africa. In 1976, the United Nations imposed a mandatory arms embargo against South Africa. From the 1970s to the early 1990s, large institutions avoided investment in South Africa under apartheid. The subsequent negative flow of investment eventually forced a group of businesses, representing 75% of South African employers, to draft a charter calling for an end to apartheid. While the SRI efforts alone did not bring an end to apartheid, it did focus persuasive international pressure on the South African business community.
Trillium Asset Management was founded in 1982 by Joan Bavaria and is the oldest independent investment advisor devoted exclusively to sustainable and responsible investing (SRI) in the United States. Originally named Franklin Research & Development, the company was started to provide a space for investors to match their money with their values. In 1984, Bavaria also co-founded The Social Investment Forum, now known as the US SIF – The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, one of the first organizations serving social investors.
The mid and late 1990s saw the rise of SRI’s focus on a diverse range of other issues, including tobacco stocks, mutual fund proxy disclosure, and other diverse focuses.