ALL GREEN FUNDS AIN’T SO GREEN

So maybe you grew up in the sixties and came of age in the seventies. If so then maybe you saw all the immoral destruction and violence that the sixties brought and found it hard to reconcile with all the optimism and hope that you were instilled with in childhood. Maybe you even joined the ‘counter-culture’ in order to work for those constitutional ideals that seemed so lost under a veil of hypocrisy and the exigencies of war, ends supposedly justifying means. Then the seventies came along and the end of the war brought an end to the violence, but it brought no end to the quest for ideals, ethics and morality. The generation that once had ‘taken it to the streets’ was now taking it back to the land, growing it organic and building it green, self-sufficient and socially responsible. The generation gap narrowed as young people skipped a generation to find out what their grandfathers knew, before it was too late. Riots and protests and hard rock and hard drugs gave way to Earth day and crafts fairs and bluegrass festivals and homebrew. The hope and the optimism and the joy came back into everyday American life.

Much water has passed under the bridge since the sixties and seventies, but if you’re like me you never lost sight of the ideals that that era instilled in you, especially with respect (deep respect) to Nature and the ‘green’ way of life. Giant leaps in technology are not at odds whatsoever with that, if anything offering new possibilities for enhancing it, the ways and means of high civilization available without the smog and congestion of large cities. But meanwhile a new specter has spread over the horizon, runaway global climate change that threatens to undo all the advancements of civilization, destroying people and cultures in its wake. So you probably worked hard and sacrificed much, for your goals and the future. So maybe by now you’ve even been at least moderately successful, have a few bucks to spare and would like to invest in something and somebody who shares your goals and is working and putting money into industries that are clean, green, and not so mean. There are so many companies out there with so many different business plans and mission statements that are so much paper and hot air, how do you know who to trust and most importantly, where do you start? The answer to the first question remains uncertain, but the answer to the first seems easy- green funds.

That’s what I thought at least. Let the green fund companies pick and choose among the winners and losers, applying criteria both socially and financially responsible in their mix and match of funds. So what if green funds score a point less than the others on bottom-line returns? That’s not the point that matters. The point that matters is DOING SOMETHING GOOD aka MAKING A DIFFERENCE aka SAVING THE PLANET. The kind of cowboy capitalism that has defined the American economy until recently is the problem, not the solution. I don’t want to lose money mind you, and as a small businessman for much of my life, I hold free enterprise sacred, but I’m looking for sustainable growth and development, not the kind of wild speculation that destroys lives and ways of life in its quest for a big bottom line. So last August (2008) I googled ‘green funds’ and eventually settled on Winslow Green Funds as a starter investment, as much because I could apply online as anything else, which suits my highly mobile, frequently international, lifestyle. Who knows what they’ll do anyway? You do the best you can, but ultimately you pay your money and take your chances.

So no problem, right, I put the money in and watch it do a little dance of ups and downs but ultimately all’s well, right, gaining a few points in the long run? I wish. The first hint that something was wrong was when they asked for ‘proof of residence,’ required under the Patriot Act, they say. Well, they could have mentioned that beforehand, since I HAVE spent most of the last ten years in Thailand, but it shouldn’t be any problem since I continue to pay taxes, maintain an address, and use credit cards, etc., all in the US. But they’re real specific- they want a statement from my employer… or a utility bill. This would be a joke if it weren’t so real, laughable if it weren’t so insulting, excusable if it weren’t so stupid. I mean, do they really ask Bill Gates for this kind of information? I haven’t had an employer in over thirty years, though I’ve frequently BEEN one, and since I was subletting at the time had no utility bill in my name. I would assume many people don’t, since any multi-person household would likely have only one name on the bill. But this is a GREEN FUND, for Christ’s sake; aren’t we trying to get off the grid- with solar, wind, and renewable energy? I once lived five years in the woods without (public) utilities. Does that mean I have no right to invest? I should mention that I have many bank accounts and IRA’s and credit cards without any problem, ever.

Nevertheless, I’m a nice guy and shy away from confrontation, so I decided to wait to see if a utility bill would be imminent, since my newly immigrated wife and I were trying out different situations at the time. When it became obvious that a utility bill would not be forthcoming, I finally responded to their request explaining that I couldn’t comply and asked that they either waive that particular requirement or allow me to convert the account to a SEP-IRA, of which I have many, or as a last resort, simply give me my money back, and forget the whole thing. They chose the latter option. There’s only one problem. In the meantime, the economy had crashed and my money was worth only some sixty cents on the dollar ON THE DAY THEY CLOSED THE ACCOUNT (a day of their choice, not mine). It seems they invest heavily in foreign currencies (what could be ‘greener’ than that?), and of course those were the first markets to go berserk when the economy crashed, rushing TO the dollar, which means that the Winslow so-called ‘green fund’ was speculating against the dollar. Nice guys, eh?

First they hassle me to death and then ultimately steal some $3800 that I could really use. They’re “sorry for my loss” of course, but since they “acted in good faith,” see no compelling reason to return my money. But these are people just like me, right, people with families and mortgages? Surely something that calls itself a ‘green fund’ must be a co-operative or at least a credit union, right. No, it’s just another bank, looking at the bottom line. All subsequent communication after the initial application came from US Bank, the same bank behind Portfolio 21 and presumably many others so-called ‘green funds,’ using your money to speculate in the currency markets, something which can have profound- and frequently negative- impacts on developing countries and our own as well. The concepts of speculation and stability are mutually exclusive.

Though admittedly a gray area, it was a gray area of Winslow’s own making, a problem waiting to happen. Nevertheless the only relevant date involved was the date of initial monetary transfer, not an arbitrary date chosen by them at which my account was at its lowest. So I guess the moral of the story is to be careful with whom you entrust your money and make sure that you know all the details in advance. Or better yet, forego the banks altogether and invest your money in organizations and businesses that directly help people and that engage in activities that are truly part of the solution to global warming and global hunger and global injustice, not just money manipulators pretending to care about the environment and social responsibility. That’s what I’m going to do from now on. For most banks, the color green is simply one thing- the color of money.

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