Responsible Investing on the Air

By Jennifer Siegel

Published September 30, 2005, issue of September 30, 2005.
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Marc Sussman may be a certified financial planner with 28 years of experience in the financial services industry, but his top priority is not the bottom line.

“I’m more interested in making an impact on people’s lives, and that’s not giving 7 versus 8%,” he told the Forward in a recent interview. “There’s nothing wrong with having money. There’s nothing wrong even with having a lot of money, but there’s something wrong with thinking that having a lot of money means something.”

Sussman’s goal is to help clients make investment choices that are both financially sound and socially responsible — and he’s taking his message to a wider audience on his new weekly radio show, “Green America,” which debuted on the New York affiliate of Air America Radio on September 24. The show will deliver equal parts financial-planning advice, socially-responsible investing education and inspirational guests. The September 24 edition featured Adam Weismann, a New Jersey-based “freegan” who scores most of his worldly possessions by picking through the trash, and Noah Bokat-Lindell, the 15-year-old founder of the Web site

Sussman acknowledged that the timing of the show’s arrival is somewhat ironic: In recent months, it came to light that Air America had borrowed $750,000 from the Gloria Wise Boys and Girls Club in the Bronx under mysterious circumstances. The network has since agreed to pay back all of the money, a move Sussman applauds.

On his show, Sussman plans to air offbeat segments on everything from retirement planning to balancing a household budget, with an overall focus on socially-responsible investing. The first socially-responsible mutual fund, Sussman said, was opened in 1982 to avoid investing in companies that did business in South Africa under apartheid. Today, various funds avoid companies involved in the so-called “sin” industries — tobacco, firearms, gambling, alcohol — as well as companies with poor records on human rights, diversity and the environment.

Sussman wants to see more people choosing to put their dollars behind such funds, which today represent only a tiny fraction of the mutual fund industry. “The message of my show,” he said, is that “it’s a constant process of trying to work on yourself.”

In fact, Sussman, who began his career selling insurance, readily admits that he was not always so socially conscious. But previous work as a music teacher at a Jewish day school led him to become active in New York City’s Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, a Jewish fraternal organization that for more than 100 years has stood for the principles of social and economic justice. For the last 10 years, Sussman has been the organization-endorsed financial planner, with his office in the group’s building.

So might Sussman be on his way to becoming the next Al Franken?

“How should I put this?” he said. “Anger is not really a big part of my message. We’ve got enough to worry about with what we do ourselves that we don’t have to spend all our times focusing on the negative message, which is what’s wrong out there.”

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