The natural ambition for that struggle is to succeed and thus become the establishment, brushing the old guard aside. But how do you know when you’ve made it? Simple: when someone comes along to do the same to you.

In which case, those who have put their cash and cachet on the line for the socially responsible investment (SRI) and fossil fuel divestment movements should be smiling today, with the launch of US investment company Freedom Capital.

Freedom Capital has been founded explicitly to seek out opportunities in assets such as fossil fuels and armaments that have seen other investors exit in droves due to ethical concerns. They’re looking to attract both the Conservative right – who do in fact regard those investments as ethical – and those who simply don’t care about the ethical dimension but see an opportunity for profit.

What’s more, Freedom Capital is an impact investor, pursing an agenda beyond pure financial returns, making it an interesting mirror for the more traditional pro-environmental impact investors.

If you’re environmentally minded or don’t like the idea of investing in guns, success for Freedom Capital would look pretty grim indeed, so why should you be smiling?

Because the moment a company was founded in opposition to SRI – when someone felt the need to create an explicit pro-fossil fuels option – is the moment that SRI and divestment transitioned from challengers to champions, and became the ones to beat.

For a less ethically fraught example, look at investor and consumer darling, Apple.

Apple was once a disruptor brand, challenging Microsoft’s hegemony in some markets (computers) and basically inventing the market in others (iPods, iPhones). Now, it either has the monopoly or is one of the oligarchs in all of these markets, and anything remotely good developed by a competitor is routinely lauded as the ‘[insert Apple product here] killer’.

Apple should (and does) take challenger products seriously by continuing to innovate, but its execs can also smile at the fact that they’re held up as the gold standard, as the one to beat. The moment we stop describing things as ‘Apple killers’ is the day they need to worry.

So what does Freedom Capital mean for the SRI and divestment movements? It means they can’t rest on their laurels, as they’ll have new challenges to face. But they can also reflect on a job well-done, thanks to this tacit recognition that fossil fuel divestment and socially responsible investment have become the mainstream. That’s a PR win any day.  

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