|L to R: John Tepper Marlin, Stephen Hine, NYC.|
Photo by Alice Tepper Marlin, March 26, 2012.
I've always thought the EIRIS acronym to be extremely clever, although I am told I may be have been reading too much into it. The Greek word eiris means messenger; in Greek mythology Iris was both a messenger - especially from Hera, Zeus's wife - and also the goddess of earth and sky. She is often portrayed as a rainbow, which reminds me that the rainbow was the Biblical message to Noah that never again will such a flood cover the earth. Which clearly doesn't mean no more tsunamis and rising sea levels.
EIRIS was founded in London in the 1980s by a consortium of churches and charities that needed an institution to do research on the social responsibility of companies. They picked Peter Webster to run it and picked well, since he is still their Executive Director nearly 30 years later. At that time the New York-based Council on Economic Priorities (CEP) has been going strong for a decade and a half. The business model for EIRIS was similar to that of CEP, and worked better in the UK and Europe than it did in the United States, as it has been increasing the portion of its income that comes from institutional investors. It is comparable in the United States to the Boston-based Kinder Lydenberg and Domini (KLD), which was able to offer its research in return for soft dollars. KLD has been absorbed by a larger organization that mostly provides traditional measures of investment performance.
The good news about EIRIS is that it is growing, with a staff of 60 people distributed in London, Boston and Paris. It is working with seven overseas partners and the group is called the EIRIS Global Platform. On March 22, EIRIS announced the global launch of the EIRIS Sustainability Ratings, which will provide a comprehensive assessment of more than 3,000 public companies worldwide. For the first time, EIRIS will be rating companies on a 5-point scale (A through E). Long ago, in its infancy, EIRIS provided only "binary" ratings, i.e., whether or not the company complied with a specific law, standard or screen. It has progressively added increased detail and in this latest development is combining the measures into a single Sustainability Rating for each company.
I asked Stephen whether the user could change the weights assigned to the 5-point environmental, management systems, reporting and performance component ratings that make up the overall score. He said: "Yes, clients can manipulate the weightings," although it could be complicated. Clients utilizing the EIRIS Portfolio Manager software have an easier time of it, since one of the inputs is a question about weights to assign each of the criteria.