Moving Towards SRI – Thoughts from Otsego Land Trust

Otsego Land Trust located in Cooperstown, NY, has a three-pronged approach to land protection: 

  • Conservation easements;
  • Ownership and stewardship of a series of public access lands along water known as our Blueway; and
  • Educational programming focused on connecting people to healthy lands and clean waters that sustain us.

We incorporate into all of our work and communications, in whatever form they take, the imperatives of reciprocity and responsibility—in other words, what goes around comes around, and we’d better not just be responsible to the earth that sustains our lives in the present, but also to the generations coming after us whose lives are totally dependent on the decisions we make today.

In that context, the ecological, environmental challenge of climate change is one of biggest – some would say the biggest – challenges human beings have ever faced.

For Otsego Land Trust, as for so many land trusts, that reality can seem daunting.  OLT has encountered within our organization and within our community the whole array of responses to climate change that are prevalent everywhere.  We have moved forward with an understanding that climate change should not be a political issue, but a conservation issue based on legitimate science, just like, for example, invasive species, wetlands restoration, and habitat preservation.  In this context, we have incorporated climate change in our recently completed strategic plan, which reads that OLT will conduct an assessment to determine organizational responses to contemporary conservation challenges – such as climate change, invasive species, biodiversity decline, the damage to or destruction of important habitats and ecological balance and other environmental challenges – that have a direct impact on organizational activities including: the creation of easements, the stewardship and monitoring of easements, and public education on major conservation issues.”

Activities to date include making the decision to engage in Socially Responsible Investing.  In Otsego Land Trust’s initial foray into investment, the board felt the need to be extraordinarily cautious.  We invested in a socially responsible portfolio with a negative screen on fossil fuels only where it would not increase anticipated risk or diminish returns.  OLT wanted investment returns that were consistent with our conservation mission and that would also meet our fiduciary duty to manage OLT monies responsibly and in a way that generates resources for the organization to meet our mission.  With the guidance of a good investment firm , Divest-Invest Philanthropy to whom we were referred by 350.org, and a good deal of research and reading into socially responsible investing on our own, we have been able to meet these investment goals.

We are also in the process of building a climate change page on our website focused on what our own OLT community members are doing to address climate change, along with educational resources for people interested in learning more.  Since climate change has been made a political issue and can, like any other issue of politics, generate heat and controversy, we move cautiously but determinedly to address it within the context of our mission as a land trust. Within our organization, we make room for all perspectives while at the same time moving steadily forward in a way that acknowledges our responsibility as a conservation organization to address the conservation issue of climate change. 

Helpful links:

CLIMATE CHANGE

Climate Change Evidence and Causes: An overview from the Royal Society and the US National Academy of Sciences

The Consensus Project

Climate Change and National Security in the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review

INVESTMENT/DIVESTMENT

Adding Good Deeds to the Investment Equation, The New York Times

Divest / Invest – Resources

The Argument for Divesting from Fossil Fuels is Becoming Overwhelming, The Guardian

Divestment Video