Leslie Christian is president of Progressive Investment Management, a Seattle- and Portland-based financial services corporation that since 1982 has offered socially responsible portfolio management services to individuals and institutions. Leslie is a chartered financial analyst with more than 30 years of experience in the investment field, including nine years in New York as a Director with Salomon Brothers Inc. Progressive Investment Management is actively involved in the socially responsible investment community, promoting corporate responsibility through social screening and shareholder activism. In 1999 Progressive established Portfolio 21, a no load global equity mutual fund investing in companies throughout the world that are incorporating environmental sustainability into their business strategies. In 2004 Leslie, along with others like lawyer Bryan Redd and with some of my input on the Genuine Wealth accounting model, co-founded a new company, Upstream 21, which is directing financial capital to small businesses supporting environmental sustainability in local economies.
Upstream was conceived by Leslie to address a fundamental shortcoming of financial services, particularly opportunities for individuals to invest in their local economy. In most publicly traded corporations and many private corporations, the majority of the shareholders are absentee owners who have purchased shares in the secondary market, are passive investors and expect that the company will place their interests above all else, including the employees who work to provide profits, the communities that support the businesses and the ecosystems that sustain them. Upstream 21 was designed with a mandate, supported by its legal structure, charter, bylaws and culture to serve the common good. Moreover, it is a financial services model that questions the fundamental economic imperative for more growth. Short-term financial growth, as practiced today, is not only one-dimensional but also dangerous and misleading. According to Leslie, Upstream 21 is shifting the priorities of investment from short term profit maximization to long term value creation, ultimately to sustainability.18 Upstream wants to grow true wealth: healthy communities, fair and equitable business practices, regenerative ecosystems, personal well being and security for the future.
Upstream 21 provides investors an opportunity to invest in local ecomonies by purchasing shares in Upstream 21, which has itself acquired locally-owned businesses committed to sustainability, environmental stewardship and building vibrant communities. Upstream 21 acquires companies that are committed to sustaining their communities, their natural environment and long-term economic vitality, and seek investors who are committed to this mandate. Upstream seeks to become a long-term owner of already successful companies known for their integrity and respect for their employees, environment, and community. By purchasing these progressive companies, Upstream 21 will become a catalyst for advancing these community values. In this role, it will strengthen the activities of its portfolio companies by providing synergies between partners, access to capital, greater operating efficiencies and management practices that serve the common good. Companies will be included in the Upstream 21 portfolio if they share the vision, values and operating principles of Upstream 21.
There are several things that makes Upstream 21 unique. First, it is the first corporation in Oregon legal history to have been incorporated with a charter explicitly stating that its responsibilities extend to due consideration of its subsidiaries' social, legal and economic effects on their employees, customers and suppliers, and on the communities and geographic areas in which these
I don't believe that the solutions in society will come from the left or the right or the north or the south.They will come from islands within those organizations; islands of people with integrity who want to do something. — KARL HEINRIK ROBERT15
companies operate. Long-term as well as short-term interests of Upstream and its shareholders and the effects of both Upstream and its subsidiaries on the environment are also considered. Second, in local economies, investments will continually redefine the corporate mandate. Risk to the investor will be managed by carefully selecting a diversified group of well-established companies with proven track records. The hope is that investors will realize a reasonable long-term financial return, while contributing to the betterment of local communities. Third, Upstream 21 is organized to redefine, redistribute and renew real or genuine wealth, not only financial wealth. By redefining wealth as well-being, meaningful work and family life and security rather than money only, Upstream 21 expands the scope of normal business thinking.
By acting locally, Upstream 21 can build more personal relationships between investors and the businesses they invest in. A more direct relationship is created between the household as a purchaser of goods and services and local enterprise. Now, as investors have a direct personal interest in the success of the businesses they invest in, they support themselves and others by purchasing life needs from these businesses. Money should stay in the community. This gives new meaning to the adage "buy and live locally while thinking globally."
Upstream 21 expects to drive demand for societal well-being outcomes like fair and equitable compensation for employees, company investment in renewable and sustainable practices (including renewable energy and purchasing of local produce), local procurement of goods and services and environmental practices which are restorative of land, air and water while still providing shareholders a reasonable — but not excessive — financial return.
Leslie Christian believes that Upstream 21 models a new capitalism which advances local economies by building — rather than eroding — their natural, social and economic capital. In principle, the model can be replicated in any community and virtually at any population or geographic scale.
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