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Nicole Froio headshot

Just Futures Offers Sustainable 401(k) Options for Nonprofit Workers

By Nicole Froio
A graphic of people stacking coins in a pile — Just Futures

(Image: Nuthawut/Adobe Stock) 

Nonprofit workers dedicate their lives to making the world a better place. But once they retire, they rely on 401(k) plans that are generally terrible for the planet. 

Most companies invest the money put into these funds in assets like gas, oil and coal. Often, nonprofit workers looking for reliable retirement plans don’t have sustainable and ethical options. If they want to retire, they have to rely on unethical and planet-destroying investments, a steep cost for survival in retirement when you’ve spent your life working to address the issues those investments caused.

This is the problem Just Futures, a platform that connects nonprofits and their workers with conscientious investment, seeks to address. Founded by movement activists, nonprofit workers and volunteers, Just Futures offers nonprofit organizations alternative options to the retirement plans that actively harm the planet and those living on it. The organization just ran its first pilot program with nearly a dozen nonprofit organizations across the country.

“When we come into new organizations, they’re like: ‘Where have you been? We've been looking for you,’” George Guerrero, CEO of Just Futures, told TriplePundit. “That's the sort of feedback that makes it really gratifying.” 

Just Futures screens companies for complicity in climate change, the prison industrial complex and immigrant detention, weapons manufacturing, employment discrimination, union busting, predatory and discriminatory lending, the promotion of hate speech, and asset managers that voted against shareholder resolutions that support racial justice. The organization also scores companies on whether the investment will provide good returns for their clients. 

“We have the notion that elements that are specific to climate are fundamentally rooted in social justice issues and social equality issues that resonate within other parts of society,” Guerrero said. “They're all interconnected. People and the planet are inexorably tied together, so impact on climate has an impact on people, and vice versa. All of those elements are factored into how we think about the investment solutions that we build for our clients.”

The elephant in the room is the question of whether investment — or capitalism itself — can truly be ethical. For many social justice activists, capitalism is the root of social issues that can only be solved through an equitable redistribution of resources that capitalism does not allow. Just Future recognizes this tension and doesn’t pretend it’s not an issue, Guerrero said. 

“We are an investment organization. We’re investing people's money. Those dollars go into public trading companies — it’s capitalism,” Guerrero said. “So, there's a fundamental contradiction in how some people think about all these elements, and we're open and upfront with our clients about that. It's about the emphasis on fiduciary-first and how values can layer into that responsibility. But I wanted to name that because we're not putting ourselves out there as an idealized, 100 percent [ethical] solution. That doesn't exist because you're always going to have that tension.”

The interconnectedness of social justice issues means that war profiteering is recognized as a huge source of planet-warming emissions, for example. 

“The weapon industry is something we screen for and that we are cognizant of,” Guerrero said. “It is a sector we de-emphasize, and we can point to a rationale relative to risk management [because of] the volatility of companies that are involved in that type of business. This is part of that tension that I was referring to.” 

Part of Just Futures’ mission is the concept of a just transition, a framework that seeks to guarantee that the global transition to a net-zero economy is fair and inclusive to all workers, communities and social groups.   

“It’s about moving from an effectively extractive system, an extractive economy that we live in, to one that's more restorative, cooperative,” Guerrero said. ”It's not going to happen overnight, this kind of change. It's not a light switch. It's more of a dimmer …where the illumination that's required to signal that change happens over the course of decades. It's probably not going to happen in my lifetime. But we hope that Just Futures is just one of many agents of change.”

Nicole Froio headshot

Nicole Froio is a writer and researcher currently based in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. She has a doctorate in Women's Studies from the University of York. She writes about gender in pop culture, social movements, digital cultures and many other topics.

Read more stories by Nicole Froio