I love to steer any conversation to one about my rescue dog. With the unique circumstances of 2020, I document my sustainability journey as my anxiety-prone, two-year-old rescue sleeps in a semi-permanent state of her head in my lap. But from the looks I get when I tell yet another Charley anecdote, I appreciate that animal welfare, a personal value fundamental to my existence, is not a core pillar to everyone’s value set. Because of individual differences like this, a precursor to both employees and clients joining the Ethic community is articulating our personal experiences and the values that have been shaped by them.
Naturally, my value set originates with my parents. Growing up, I didn’t associate their actions with sustainability, but now I see their lessons through this lens. They taught me that my gender was neither a rationale nor a justification by never using gender as either one. They taught me the importance of healthy habits by living active, health-conscious lifestyles themselves. And they taught me the virtue of financial literacy by helping others achieve financial independence.
When I arrived at college, I recognized my fortunate upbringing and challenged myself to broaden my experiences and, in turn, my values. My education included a public policy major (essentially a degree in social responsibility), volunteer work in the local, Durham, North Carolina community, and travel abroad opportunities. Early in college, I spent a week in the breathtaking landscape of the Norwegian fjords. While there, hikes were canceled due to flood-submerged trails and posted signs illustrated how much farther Norway’s glaciers recently stretched. Climate change can sometimes feel academic and inaccessible, but my trip to Scandinavia was my firsthand education. Rising temperatures are melting the world’s glaciers at an unprecedented pace, and the eyewitness evidence stuck with me.
I realize now that this is a contradictory statement; I was learning about climate change and increasing my personal carbon emissions in the process. Part of exploring our sustainability journey at Ethic is realizing we can always do more. I cherish the cultural and environmental education that trips like this one provide, and I continue to identify sustainable ways to travel. In a further effort to take responsibility for my personal carbon footprint, I’ve also fluctuated between different vegetarian diets for the past 10 years.
I was in awe of my intelligent and diverse peers at Duke, an institution that is 52% female and 49% people of color. After college, my passion for financial literacy brought me to investing. When I started my finance career, I immediately lost that inclusive community. At my former employers, I joined women’s networks and led corporate diversity initiatives, including partnering with leadership teams to identify where in the recruitment pipeline we were losing these strong candidates.
In spite of this personal sustainability journey, aligning my profession with these personal values was not on my radar at the beginning of 2019. A recently minted CFA charterholder, I figured I was on the path to a stock-picking, portfolio management career. However, as many of my Ethic teammates have experienced, I lacked a sense of purpose in my work. Exploring how I could feel more fulfilled, I volunteered to lead the research for my former employer’s first environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) actively managed mutual fund. Broadening my education with conferences, my true edification came from being a bystander to a few industry members’ covert conversations and their harrowing questions. What minimal prospectus description would cause an investment research firm to categorize a fund as the coveted ESG label? Who would notice if managers didn’t really make changes to their investment processes or simply added ‘ESG’ to a current, outperforming fund? In short, how could they capitalize on these viral three letters and attract the next investor dollar?
I mulled over the conversations I had been privy to, and I feared the potential implications on causes that were core to my personal identity, including animal welfare, climate change, and corporate diversity. These issues drive my day-to-day lifestyle actions, but I understand the marginal impact my choices have on these issues when compared to the potential magnitude of a resource-conscious company’s impact. I believed then, and still do, that the asset management industry has a unique opportunity to be an impact catalyst and hold corporations accountable. That brings me to where I am now, at this moment, in my sustainability journey. At Ethic, I hope to be part of a broader shift that helps advisors and investors transition their capital towards companies that treat their resources with respect and away from companies that do the opposite.
Corinne Merriman, CFA, studied Public Policy and Markets and Management at Duke University and is a Client Relationship Manager at Ethic.