Some Montana State University employees want more socially responsible options when it comes to investing their retirement funds, so they can put their money where their values are.

To raise awareness of socially responsible investing, a nationally known expert, Leslie Samuelrich, president of Green Century Capital Management, has been invited to give a free, public talk on Oct. 8, at 7:30 p.m., in MSU’s Norm Asbjornson Hall.

Samuelrich, who has more than 25 years experience in socially responsible investing, has been quoted in Bloomberg, the New York Times and other publications. She is a guest lecturer on impact investing at The Wharton School.

She will discuss shareholder advocacy — using stock ownership in companies to promote causes — as well as her company, which seeks to help people save for retirement without compromising their values.

Paul Lachapelle, an MSU political scientist and Extension specialist in community development, said Monday that socially responsible investing has grown nationally.

“There’s definitely kind of a moral imperative,” he said. “Do I want to invest in companies that use child labor or despoil wetlands or (contribute to) climate change?”

Lachapelle has also been advocating that the Montana University System should offer university employees more choices when it comes to their own retirement investments.

“This is my money, and they’re restricting the choices that are available,” he said. “Many of us are concerned about environmental causes or social causes, and then we put our funds into (industries) working at cross purposes.”

Kevin McRae, deputy commissioner of higher education, replied that an MSU employee has expressed interest in ESG funds — environmental, social and governance funds.

“The retirement program … is researching the option, and it’s possible that it could be available in the future,” McRae wrote in an email.

That’s what officials said 18 months ago, Lachapelle said.

Consultants have advised the committee that recommends investment options for university employees not to add such ESG funds, he said, because too many choices could confuse or discourage people from investing in their retirement.

“It’s extremely paternalistic,” Lachapelle said.

He argued that industries producing carbon could face greater volatility in the market in the future, and some employees would like to divest their portfolios of such volatile industries and choose more sustainable investments.

The list of investment options available to MUS faculty and professional employees includes mutual funds in small and mid-sized business stocks, bond funds, international funds, high yield and market index funds. There is one “social” fund, the CREF Social Choice Account.

Just one option “is not a choice,” Lachapelle said. “They claim there would be too many choices, but they’re variations on vanilla ice cream. We want strawberry ice cream.”

“This is a very serious concern of mine,” said Rick Lawrence, MSU professor of remote sensing and director of the Spatial Sciences Center. “I’ve raised concerns about being forced to invest in companies” that don’t share his values.

Not many university employees are aware of the issue, because many are too busy, Lawrence said, but when people do become aware of it, many share his concerns about investing to support sustainability.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2633. Follow her on Twitter @gailnews.

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