February 2010

Four financial and investment professionals engaged in a stimulating panel discussion at Bethesda Green February 18 around the topic of Sustainable Investments and the Green Economy.

The panelists and audience covered topics from microfinance to macroeconomics, as well as socially responsible investing, credit unions, small business loans, green jobs and sustainable agriculture.

Participating as panelists were Paul Hilton, Director of Advanced Equities Research at Calvert Investments; Tim Brown, Manager of the Mid-Atlantic Federal Credit Union’s Bethesda branch; Chris Belchamber, owner of CB Investment Management; and Art Stevens, Relationship Manager at the Calvert Foundation.

Panelists at the Sustainable Investments event

(L to R) Paul Hilton, Calvert Investments; Tim Brown, Mid-Atlantic Federal Credit Union; Chris Belchamber, CB Investment Management; Art Stevens, Calvert Foundation

Hilton, Brown and Stevens discussed what their organizations are doing to promote sustainable business practices and a healthy environment. For example, Calvert Investments–a mutual fund company–pushed Dell to start a computer recycling program. Mid-Atlantic Federal will give you a lower car loan rate if you’re buying a car that gets 25 mpg city or higher. And Calvert Foundation invests in things public investors usually avoid, such as low-income housing and elder care.

Belchamber gave an overview of the current economic mess and explained how the current U.S. monetary system, with its exponential debt and growth, is unsustainable. Investors are moving into physical assets, he said, and more people are becoming aware of the shortcomings of the current system, giving him hope we’re moving toward a better way.

At times the talk rose to esoteric and technical levels about first-loss funding, currency debasement, fiduciaries and community development financial institutions.

But there were some simple messages to take away. Hilton noted that your money has social and environmental value, in addition to financial, and that you can use it as leverage to create change, just like Calvert Investments does. For example, he said if your company’s 401K plan does not have a Socially Responsible Investment option, ask for one.

Belchamber recommended thinking about who has your money: Is it a big national bank or a smaller local institution? If you keep your money in the community, you have more control over it—and what gets done with it.

Brown echoed that sentiment and explained how credit union members are actually owners, too—unlike bank customers. When you join a credit union such as Mid-Atlantic Federal, you have a say in board elections and credit union policy.

Stevens added that credit unions do not face market pressures that publicly-traded banks do. Often credit unions have 5 to 10 year strategic plans; their vision doesn’t stop at the next quarter. Taking the long view makes them inherently more sustainable.

It was an information-packed evening. In the end, the main messages included: There are Socially Responsible Investment options out there for investors big and small; your money and investments can have an impact on corporate behavior and the environment; local, community banking options exist that give you more of a voice and may be more responsive to you; and it pays to become more mindful of your money management.

Bethesda Green Happy Hour at Black's Feb 4

A big crowd showed up for the Bethesda Green First Thursday Happy Hour.

We hosted a wonderful Bethesda Green First Thursday Happy Hour at Black’s Bar & Kitchen last Thursday, February 4. Approximately 75 people came by to mingle and discuss green issues – not to mention the impending snowstorm. The area between the bar and the wall adjacent to the patio was packed with folks.

Black’s provided free appetizers and snacks.

Dave Heffernan, communications director for Bethesda Green, gave a quick welcome and introduced At-Large County Council Member and Bethesda Green Co-Chair George Leventhal, who spoke briefly and thanked the volunteers for their support.

Ralph Smith and George Leventhal

Bethesda Green volunteer Ralph Smith and Co-Chair George Leventhal

I talked to a solar entrepreneur, some architects and LEED designers, and a few energy efficiency/audit folks — as well as many Bethesda Green regulars. There’s always an exciting vibe at these happy hours, because everyone there is working toward a greener, more sustainable future.

Gabriela Zamora won the raffle for the $100 Gift Certificate to use at Black’s Bar & Kitchen or any of the other restaurants in their group.

Mark your calendars: The next First Thursday Happy Hour will be at Flanagan’s Harp & Fiddle, March 4 from 5 to 8 p.m. at 4844 Cordell Ave. in Bethesda. There might be some green beer for the green crowd — join us!

Barbara Silverman, Nuray Anahtar and Dave Feldman

Bethesda Green Executive Director Dave Feldman with interior designer Barbara Silverman (L) and architect Nuray Anahtar (center).