Intern Reflection: The Importance of ESG to Young Investors
This summer, JLens welcomed two fantastic interns through the Kohn Summer Intern Program at JVS. Danny is a rising sophomore at the University of California, Santa Barbara, majoring in Economics and Environmental Studies, and Sarah is a rising junior at the University of Michigan majoring in Math and Spanish, minoring in Religion. Here they share a reflection on their experience.
Before we began working as interns at JLens, neither of us could tell you what ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) stood for. Now, after scoring dozens of companies on ESG metrics ranging from workers rights to net-zero emissions goals, we have a clear understanding of the power companies hold to make positive change. Over the course of our internship, we have been able to conduct investor advocacy, and have learned of the importance of ESG investing. This experience has led to our understanding of why our generation is interested in investing with a values focus.
Investing, specifically with an ESG focus, is a way for young people like us to make an impact in the corporate realm. The intersection between corporations and economics, and climate change and social causes, is clear. For example, corporations play a huge role in preventing action to fight climate change, and have historically been instrumental in creating the climate crisis we face. Investment in companies that are working to fight climate change and mitigate their impact on the planet creates positive change, and so does choosing not to invest in companies harming the planet. ESG investing, as the name suggests, not only addresses the climate crisis, but also human rights, diversity and inclusion, and the treatment of workers, amongst other issues, all of which are important topics to young people.
Drawing inspiration from the Jewish value, “hocheach tocheach,” or constructive rebuke, JLens offers criticism and recommendations to companies through advocacy. We were able to participate in advocacy calls with large companies including Walmart and Charles Schwab, where we asked difficult questions about renewable energy targets, workers rights, and other ESG metrics.
Additionally, JLens offers companies a unique opportunity to understand the benefits of promoting religious coexistence in the workplace. On our first ever call with a company during week one of the internship, we asked a question about availability of prayer rooms to employees. The company’s representative was caught off-guard and remarked that they had not considered this policy. It was an enlightening experience for us to see that some of the ESG principles we are advocating for have yet to be identified by many powerful companies, making it even more important for JLens to bring up these topics.
On another call, JLens discussed religious coexistence practices with Verizon. Since the last conversation with JLens in 2020, Verizon has worked to make their policies more explicit and available internally to employees. Spurred by questions from this conversation, Verizon plans to develop a clear policy regarding dietary accommodations for catered meetings and events to provide Kosher and Halal options, and they are considering creating an interfaith employee group.
We were also able to attend many coalition calls with ESG investing firms about a wide range of topics, such as the problem of materials in companies’ supply chains being sourced from the Uyghur region of China, and the discrepancies in companies’ net-zero emissions targets. Along with JLens, other ESG investor groups are pushing companies to make more ambitious emissions reduction targets and other ESG improvements. Investor advocacy is capable of pushing action when the political realm struggles to do so, because when JLens, along with other organizations, continue to bring up questions and recommendations about ESG metrics such as religious inclusion, energy goals and emission targets, corporations feel immense pressure to change and become more sustainable.
ESG investing is the perfect segue for college graduates to continue supporting the issues they care about even after they are no longer surrounded by college activism. It is becoming increasingly clear that individual actions are not enough. Investing with an ESG-focus is a way young people can take action on issues they feel are most important. Collective action is more effective than individual action, and with ESG investing, individuals can take action to be part of larger movements. Working with ESG investing organizations provides further opportunities for people to make a difference in the economic and corporate realm, an area which is critical to engage with in order to create change. As we begin investing ourselves, we will take what we have learned about ESG while working at JLens to help inform our decisions.