Impact Voices | February 21, 2024

We invest for the common good. So let’s call it ‘Common Good Investing.’ 

Terry Mollner

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Guest Author

Terry Mollner

Any time two people come together, they have two choices. They can give priority to the common good of the two of them, and label it “friendship,” “partnership,” or “marriage.” Or they can part ways.

If many people come together, they have the same two choices: to give priority to the common good of all of them, or part ways. If they give priority to the common good of all of them, we call it “a human society.” 

Last summer, in discussion with Matt Patsky, CEO of Trillium Asset Management, I argued the same is true for companies. Any citizen or organization in a human society that is not giving priority to the common good has left the human society and is now in competition with it.

It is time to ask companies to keep the agreement they have already made by being an organization in our human society: to give priority to the common good. It is time to speak directly to this priority. 

What’s in a name?

Since the 1970s our industry has had many names. Some of them were “socially responsible investing,” “sustainable investing,” “ESG investing,” and “impact investing.” Our goal has been to give priority to investing in companies that are giving priority to the common good or at least working toward doing it.

This article tells the story of how four ESG investment firms in Boston, in conversations and meetings during the last half of 2023, realized it is time for our industry to go to its next level of maturity. 

We decided it is time that our industry’s name clearly identifies what we have done since its inception: “common good investing.” 

Since the beginning of our industry, we have ignored the common good as the highest priority of companies. We have asked companies only to “care more” about the employees, communities, and environment. Their highest priority has remained the financial interests of a few people, the “shareholders.” 

That is not giving priority to the common good. 

Shareholder value can still be their second priority! But if it is their top priority, they have left our human society – now a global human society – and are in competition with it. 


Matt agreed with how I framed this issue for our industry. We organized a meeting at Trillium with two other investment firm leaders: Leslie Samuelrich of The Green Century Fund and Geeta Aiyer of Boston Common Asset Management. 

Together with Trillium, the three Boston-based firms manage more than $12 billion. Andrew Bellak, CEO of our ESG wealth management firm, Stakeholders Capital, was also present. 

At that next meeting, a conference call, Matt suggested a way we could cooperate to launch this new movement. We could create the first common good investment fund in The Green Century Fund. Trillium and Boston Common would be its two subadvisors (those who evaluate the social behavior of companies and invest the capital). All liked this idea.

Leslie raised the point, “Yes, but we need $60 million under management before we will break even.” I then offered to raise not only that $60 million but $180 million so each firm could launch a common good investment fund. 

We had done this before. In 1982, I co-founded the first family of socially responsible mutual funds, the Calvert Funds. We received no publicity until there were a few other “socially responsible” mutual funds, as they were labeled then. Then a flood of articles began to appear  in every major and minor publication about this “new movement” – and continued appearing for two decades. 

Journalists don’t like writing a vanity piece about one company, but they love being the first to let their readers, listeners, or viewers know about a new movement. At our late 2023 meeting, we agreed to have me take the lead to raise the $180 million to support this strategy. I got Tim Freundlich, founder of ImpactAssets, and Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever, to agree to help with the effort. I began to speak with progressive foundations about transferring some of their assets to these three mutual funds to launch the first three common good investment funds.

Then I awoke in the middle of the night with a realization: it would be better if all ESG mutual fund companies simply added “common good prioritization” as an additional social criterion for investing. This could help our movement mature and become widespread. And it would save the hassle of creating new mutual funds and raising the $180 million, so we dropped that idea.

Top priority

On our next conference call, we concluded we have been giving priority to the common good all along – we were just not talking about it! 

We all seek companies that are giving priority to the common good or working towards doing it. The ESG criteria we have always focused on break that aspiration down into behaviors that provide evidence they are doing it.

We agreed now is the time to begin talking about what we do as “common good investing.” This is investing in companies that are either giving priority to the common good or working toward doing so. 

The important action we needed to take was to begin labeling what we are doing as what it has always been, “common good investing, or CGI.” 

We then explain why we are doing it. It is focusing on the priority of companies, because that priority determines everything they do. As organizations within our human society, they have already agreed to do it. We are just asking them to keep the agreement they have already made.

We discussed strategies on how to get this change of our movement’s name, and why it is important to do it, out into the world. We concluded we should have an appropriate firm write a thought leadership “white paper” on this.

Amy Domini of Domini Funds in Boston, who wrote the 1980 book, Ethical Investing, may present this suggestion in her keynote at the Confluence Philanthropy conference in March.

Confluence Philanthropy is an association of progressive foundations, family offices, and wealthy people who are very influential in this movement.

That is the story of how we concluded we will now give priority to the highest priority of companies and label what we are doing “common good investing.”

By being part of our human society on Earth, we will ask corporations to keep the agreement they have already made with the rest of us. And we will describe the other social criteria we use for investing as some of the behaviors we study to evaluate if they are doing it. 

Our priority is no longer asking companies to “care more” about the employees, communities, and environment. Our priority is to evaluate how much companies are moving toward giving priority to the common good “in all they do.” Why? Because they are part of our human society and, therefore, they have already agreed to do it. 

Their second priority can be increasing the financial return to the shareholders, but now they will be sure it is not at the expense of people and the planet – that is, of the common good.

Terry Mollner is founder and chair of Stakeholders Capital.