Are SRI funds as clean and green as you think?

Bill McKibben’s groundbreaking Rolling Stone story (Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math) and 350.org’s Do the Math divestment campaign raise important and difficult questions about fossil fuels. One that is starting to roil the world of socially-responsibly investing is this: How should mutual funds that strive to be green or sustainable or socially responsible deal with the fossil fuel companies in their portfolios? Should they divest, as McKibben argues?

That was the topic of a column I wrote last week for the Guardian Sustainable Business, which generated some noteworthy responses. It’s part of the British newspaper The Guardian, which has one of the most popular English language media websites in the world. Here’s how the column begins:

“We’re going after the fossil fuel industry,” Bill McKibben tells about 1,800 cheering fans in a Washington, D.C. theatre. “They’re trying to wreck the future, so we’re going after some of their money.”

Al Gore notwithstanding, McKibben -- an author, academic and founder of the grassroots climate group 350.org -- is America’s leading environmental activist. His 21-city Do The Math tour begins a campaign to persuade colleges, churches, foundations and governments to divest their holdings in coal, oil and natural gas companies.

“It does not make sense,” McKibben tells the Washington audience, “to invest my retirement money in a company whose business plan means that there won’t be an earth to retire on.”

He’s right about that, but the divestment campaign raises a thorny question: Where can investors who worry about climate change put their money?