Moral good meets ‘best practices’ at Chicago business summit

By Benjamin Mann

Chicago, Ill., Oct 15, 2011 / 07:22 am (CNA).- Amid fears of a European financial crisis and continuing anti-corporate protests in the U.S., the Knights of Columbus sponsored a Oct. 13 summit in Chicago to discuss ethical and sustainable business growth.

Carl Anderson greets Cardinal Francis George at the financial summit in Chicago. Credit: Knights of Columbus

“We understand fully that to be sustainable an investment must be sustainable in both senses of the word: sustainable in terms of its business model, and in terms of ethical outlook,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, head of the Catholic fraternal and charitable group which is also a top-rated life insurance company.

Just as the ethics of investors matter, Anderson explained, “so does the guiding philosophy and ethical standards of those people leading the company being invested in. How are the people who work for that company treated? Is that company a good neighbor in its community?”

“These and the questions like them – which could be considered extra-financial criteria – are critical to sustainable investing,” he said.

Supreme Knight Anderson shared his thoughts on business ethics alongside several investing experts at the event, including Joel Shapiro of Timbervest, Luther Ragin of the FB Huron Foundation, Noel Friedman of MSCI, Mary Jane McQuillen of Clearbridge Advisors, and Brian Corbett of Carlyle Partners.

Chicago’s Cardinal Archbishop Francis E. George also delivered a short address to the crowd, on the importance of ethics for sustainable economic growth.

Anderson, CEO of an organization that manages $17 billion in assets, told conference attendees that faithful businesspeople have the opportunity “to pioneer what I would call a ‘personalist capitalism,’ one that puts as central the value of the individual and the effects of a decision on people.”

“We cannot have two consciences, one for home or church and one for the office,” he stated.

He explained that the Church’s view of each person “as an end rather than (as a) means is something that all of us can take to heart,” and apply consistently in every area of life.

Anderson noted that the Knights of Columbus’ own investments follow a set of guidelines derived from the Church’s social doctrine.

“Our securities investments are screened to prevent investing in any companies that deal in abortion, contraception, pornography, for-profit healthcare, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, alcohol and tobacco products.”

“Each of these areas damages the human ecology by violating some aspect of the dignity an individual is owed.”

This investment strategy, he explained, takes into account the long-term effects of business decisions not only on the natural world, but also on individuals, families, communities, and society’s shared interests.

“In other words,” he said, “sustainable investing requires respect for both the environment and the human ecology.”

Anderson warned against “models that seek to maximize profits at the expense of everything else,” indicating that such strategies are not only wrong, but also bound to fail because of the damage done to the personal qualities and connections known to economists as “human capital.”

Conversely, he pointed out, a company that has strong “core values … can be effective and achieve superior returns” in the long run.