Everything that we learn, memorialize, and connect over, is rooted in a story. Storytelling is everything. I’ve always been enamored with stories, so it comes as no surprise that my favorite aspect of working at Ethic is the endless opportunity for storytelling. If there’s an article in the press related to a cause our client is passionate about, we share that story with them. In return, we get to hear about the personal experiences that have defined that client’s values over time. It truly never gets old. In fact, some of the most moving stories I’ve heard are from my own Ethic teammates, chronicling the personal journeys that led us all to where we are today. While everyone’s path to Ethic is unique, we are all united in our mission: to address the defining issues of our time by accelerating the transition to sustainable investing. So, what are some of our personal sustainability stories? Let’s start with mine.
I reflect on my own journey to sustainability from my parents’ house in Maine, sitting on the same couch from which I submitted an application to Ethic. Once again, I have found myself walking the beach where I took my first steps; the beach my parents met on. It’s an image frozen in my memory: this stretch of land at low tide, where the houses turn into dunes and a footbridge connecting the marsh fades behind tall grass. Recently, and for the first time anyone in my family can remember, the sea wall towards the north end of the beach was pulled down by a high tide. I was up early that morning and stepped outside with a pair of binoculars to see the waves crashing against the concrete. It looked like Disney’s famed log flume ride Splash Mountain, and I selfishly noted the distance from the crashing waves to the wall behind which my parents’ house stood. My mind immediately went to rising sea levels, to which Maine is particularly vulnerable. While there are four main causes of sea level rise in Maine, the two largest contributing factors are changes in ocean circulation causing coastal storms such as Nor’easters to occur more frequently, and a steadily increasing rate of ice melt since 1992. It’s all too easy to think of climate change as this concept from which we are largely removed. Sure, it’s affecting people in far-flung areas or will impact future generations, but not us, not here, and not now. As humans, we’re not wired to respond to abstract threats, but my day-to-day interactions with the world around me are clouded by thoughts of climate change — all too often and all too quickly. Climate change is difficult to understand. The headlines are alarming and the conversations are frantic. As a story, its narrative is vague and at times contradictory. So why do I care?
It’s hard to pinpoint a core memory that shifted my path towards sustainability, but I do know that it’s rooted in my childhood. Growing up, I didn’t fully grasp or appreciate just how conscious a consumer my mom was. She was intentional about the products we purchased and the way we engaged with our environment. As the matriarch of a family of six, she was keenly aware of our carbon footprint. She was mindful. Plastic water bottles were a rare treat, reserved for school field trips. Enjoying your dessert was contingent upon finishing your dinner, as food waste wasn’t an option. When my friends closed out their summer with shopping trips for shiny new school supplies, I was flipping through our stash of spiral notebooks, recycling the used pages and crossing out my siblings' names on the cover. Good as new!
As an undergrad at Trinity College, I pursued majors in English and Urban Studies. I was fascinated with the built environment, all of the ecological and social implications of the rate at which people are moving to cities. This led me to sustainable urban development, and sustainability in general. I loved using creative writing, mainly short pieces of fiction, to create stories around the places and people I was learning about. A successful internship landed me a postgraduate position in Manhattan. It was a cushy set-up doing market research, but despite my best efforts, I couldn’t find any meaning in the work I was doing day after day. This position did, however, afford me the privilege of time, so I could continue to explore my passions and values. With every newsletter I subscribed to, every podcast I listened to, and all the ideas furiously jotted down in my notebook, one thing became clear. My daily thoughts and actions were driven by some inexplicable fascination with sustainability.
Then, a project at work required speaking with some industry experts on environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing. Because of the passion with which these experts spoke, their eagerness to educate, and above all, the stories they told, I was totally hooked. Research led me to Ethic and the stars aligned. Today, I’m still pinching myself. I’m so incredibly grateful that so early on in my career, when my peers are still figuring out what it is exactly that they care about, the work I’m doing every day directly impacts the causes that drive me.
When I onboarded at Ethic this past January, one of my first tasks was to craft my own personal mission statement. As the initial step in our client journey, this exercise involves reflecting upon the basic values and principles underlying one’s personal goals. Everyone has values, but a mission statement goes a step further by serving as the established standard by which these values are measured. That’s not to say that these foundational documents are set in stone. I would imagine that my values will continue to evolve with personal growth. This act of putting pen to paper and defining my mission statement has given me a new sense of direction. That formerly inexplicable pull towards sustainability is now outlined by the pillars upon which my mission statement is built, like sustainable agriculture, climate change, and education.
Today, much like the story around climate change, I often feel like a walking contradiction. I’m quite clear on the fact that changing our reliance on animals as food is one of the fastest ways to fight climate change as an individual. The animal farming industry has terrible consequences for the environment like deforestation and nitrous oxide emissions. Still, I’m the first person at the table to ask for a bite of your fried chicken sandwich. I have committed to purchasing only second-hand or sustainable products, and my favorite pastime is sifting through the thrift shops in Manhattan’s East Village. Still, I’m all too familiar with the exchange policy of my favorite online consignment stores, and the greenhouse gas emissions that are a byproduct of delivering that new wallet to my apartment. I have three roommates who have been my best friends since childhood. Still, when I open our fridge to find untouched yet spoiled groceries, or a recycling bin filled with food, I merely mutter an incoherence around food being the largest single source of waste in the U.S.
My personal sustainability story has many chapters ahead. We’re playing a long game here. I continue to develop my own voice in the conversation, with the goal of becoming a pragmatic sustainability activist. As a firm, Ethic is uniquely positioned to be a voice for change, a thought leader in the transition to sustainable investing. As long as our community remains curious about how the issues we cover impact our daily lives, then we can forge this path to sustainability together.
Claire Quigley studied English and Urban Studies at Trinity College and works on the Ethic Business Development team.