When the Exxon Valdez tanker plowed into a reef in March 1989 and spilled millions of gallons of crude oil into the pristine waters of Prince William Sound, the massive damage to the Alaskan environment set off angry cries across America.

One of the anguished voices belonged to an idealistic Boston money manager named Joan Bavaria, who has spent a decade on the front line of social investing, searching out companies that make safe products and pursue worthy social goals.

Within months of the Valdez spill, as the cries of anger turned to cries for action, the 47-year-old social activist emerged as the driving force behind a new and potent alliance of investors and environmentalists that was formed to force corporations to accept more responsibility for their environmental conduct. The members of the coalition, called Ceres, hold millions of shares of stock in major corporations.

Out of their alliance came the Valdez Principles -- a tough 10-point code of conduct that asks corporations to disclose their environmental problems and act decisively to remedy them.

"We are trying, in a very fundamental way, to change the way corporations look at the environment and at their practices around the environment," said Bavaria, whose coalition controls $150 billion in pension and mutual funds and represents environmental groups with some 10 million members.

The stringent standards of the Valdez Principles, the heightened public concern about pollution and new federal cleanup laws have all combined to put environmental issues on the front burner in the board rooms of America.

In the coming year, more than 50 major corporations will get shareholder resolutions from environmental and church groups, asking the companies to sign the Valdez Principles. Boiled down, they ask corporations to end air and water pollution, conserve energy, market safe products, pay for damages to the environment and make public reports on their progress.

That is more than many corporations are willing to promise -- primarily because they fear they might open themselves to legal problems.

But the principles fit neatly with Bavaria's vision of the future, which is that U.S. corporations will learn to live with tough environmental standards -- just as they now live with tough accounting standards.

Bavaria is in it for the long haul.

"We're not going to go away," she declared.

On the wall of Joan Bavaria's cluttered Boston office is a sign that reads: "Life is a test. It is only a test. If this were your real life, you would have been given better instructions."

Bavaria can smile at the sign. When she started out, she had no instructions on how to crack Boston's male-dominated, rigidly traditional world of banking and money management. Nor did she have any guide to building her own investment firm or to creating powerful social coalitions.

Those close to her say her success stems from her ability to gain the trust of people, her talent for leading groups to consensus and, most of all, her patience.

Denis Hayes, co-chairman of Ceres and the organizer of Earth Day 1990, said, "In both the environmental community and the investment community ... senior, powerful, influential women are rare. Joan is emerging as a power {because} in addition to her strengths ... she is a woman who can play men's games better than most of the men she deals with."

For all her tact, however, Bavaria is no pushover. John G. Guffey Jr., chairman of the Calvert Social Investment Foundation, recalled a meeting at which a woman launched into a long lecture on animal rights. Bavaria listened for a while and then interrupted, saying, "I ask you to stop." The subject, Bavaria said, was not on the agenda.

She can also be decisive. Author Amy Domini, who worked for Bavaria at her Boston investment firm, recalled a staff meeting at which an employee said she couldn't finish a report because she couldn't get time on one of the office computers. Bavaria reached for the phone and made a call. "How much would it cost to put a computer on every desk?" she asked.

In a relatively short time, Domini said, there was a computer on every desk.

Energy to Burn

Bavaria's high-energy level allows her to function in several worlds at once. At home in Marblehead, Mass., she can be found jogging along the paths of a nearby cemetery. She likes hiking and even tried sky diving a few years ago.

In Boston, she runs her company, the Franklin Research and Development Corp., from a renovated building in the old leather district. The red brick and exposed wooden beams fit Bavaria's style, conveying a sense of the past and affirming the aesthetic value of restoration.

Franklin, owned by its employees, studies public companies, their products and their policies toward employees and customers. It then packages its research and sells it to others in the social investment field.

Franklin also has a stake in the emerging area of managing funds for socially conscious clients, controlling some $220 million in all.

Generally, Franklin's clients will not invest in companies that sell liquor, tobacco, military weapons or pollute the air or water. Companies that do business in South Africa also are screened out.

Bavaria is active in the Social Investment Forum, an association that counts as members some 600 individuals and firms involved in social investing. She created the forum in 1984, was the first president and remains a board member.

Finally, there is Ceres, which demands much of her time and has brought her international recognition. Bavaria recently spent several days in Tokyo, talking to Japanese groups about social investing, environmental issues and the Valdez Principles.

Bavaria's life is based on simplicity. On her frequent trips, she travels light and carries her own bags. In Washington, she stays at the Dupont Plaza Hotel, which offers her company a competitive rate. When the Ceres board meets in Washington, it gathers at the National Cooperative Bank and members pay for their own sandwiches and soft drinks from a nearby deli.

Looking back on the development of her philosophy, Bavaria said she drew inspiration from "A Sand County Almanac," by conservationist Aldo Leopold who believed in what he called a "land ethic." In his book Leopold wrote, " ... Quit thinking about decent land use as solely an economic problem. Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and aesthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. ... "

Bavaria was born in western Massachusetts, in a town called Greenfield, and grew up in nearby Shelburne Falls. She was the first of four daughters born to Aubrey and Ruby Crocker. Her father was in the bakery business.

Even as a youngster, Bavaria was an organizer.

"I was always starting clubs so I could be president," she recalls. One of her clubs, she confessed, was a Perry Como fan club.

Bavaria graduated from Arms Academy high school in 1961, where she showed artistic talent. At 17, she went off to the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. But her studies turned out to be frustrating.

"I was very aware when I was trying to paint that I had nothing in my head that was anything other than ideal," she said.

In 1962, Bavaria married her high school sweetheart, Frederick Clark, who delivered apples from his father's orchard to her father's bakery. They were married for three years, and she had two sons. Christopher is 27, Colin is 24. She and Clark were later divorced.

In 1967, Bavaria went to work at the Bank of Boston, a bastion of traditionalism that wasn't quite ready for Bavaria -- or for her lunch-hour exercise class.

"I couldn't stand either shopping or eating," she said. "It seemed like a total waste of time." So she talked to a friend at the Joy of Movement Center, got the bank to approve space, printed a flyer for employees and submitted it to the personnel department.

The flyer featured the Joy of Movement logo, two silhouetted figures dancing back to back with flowers between them, she said. "Personnel kicked it back. They said the logo was suggestive," Bavaria said. "And the Joy of Movement name reminded somebody of toilet training."

Despite her activism, the bank put Bavaria in its training program and within 18 months she was managing 50 accounts in the bank's trust division.

At the Bank of Boston, she met Steven Bavaria, whom she married in 1971, a marriage that lasted 17 months -- and reached a crossroads and divorce when he was transferred to Australia.

In 1975, Joan Bavaria left the bank to go to work for Franklin Management Corp., a Boston money management firm, headed by Donald Falvey Jr. They were married in 1981.

It was Falvey's financial backing, Bavaria said, that allowed her to open Franklin Research. But after almost 10 years, she said, she and Falvey are splitting.

How does she feel about her three marriages?

"I've always had a strong call to be what I could be. And I guess that sometimes, for a woman, that gets in the way of preserving relationships. I don't have any bad feelings about any of these experiences. I don't regret doing them and I don't regret getting out of them. I guess you could say 'sequentially monogamous' is what I've ended up being."

Corporate Standard

Bavaria's battle to make the Valdez Principles the standard for corporate behavior will be opposed by many in the corporate world. But few companies and industries will ignore the steadily growing public concern about global warming, acid rain and toxic waste.

Many corporate officials share the view of Harvey Alter, manager for resources policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who said the Valdez Principles showed that Ceres was "naive" about the way companies operate and that companies could achieve the same environmental goals on their own.

"Ceres," he said, "has put up a litmus test in which a company has to say 'yes' or 'no.' It's not that easy."

Up to this point, Bavaria and her colleagues at Ceres (short for Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies) have been using persuasion and the threat of shareholder action to gain signers for the Valdez Principles. Bavaria said any thoughts of boycotts would be far in the future.

In the coming year, each of the Fortune 500 companies will be asked by Ceres to fill out a 37-page questionnaire about their environmental problems and policies.

Bavaria said it may be easier for some companies to fill out the questionnaire than it is for them to sign the Valdez pledges.

On the other side, the Ceres effort will be helped by major institutions that are interested in social investing.

Among the members of Ceres, for example, are the California and New York City pension funds and 250 Catholic and Protestant church groups that operate under the umbrella of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.

Among the environmental groups that belong to Ceres are the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, the National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation and the Wilderness Society.

One of the most powerful demands for corporations to sign the Valdez Principles has come from the $16.4 billion New York City Employees Retirement System fund. The fund has asked the Exxon Corp., Occidental Petroleum Corp. and Champion International Corp. to sign the Valdez Principles.

A Monumental Task

On the first anniversary of the Valdez oil spill, Bavaria toured Prince William Sound and wrote, "The extent of the damage is still disputed and probably will be forever. But one thing was crystal clear ... such disasters need not happen ... they must not happen ... and we must not let time heal this wound so well that we forget the tears, the tragedy and bet again on luck to pull us through. ... "

If that sentiment makes Bavaria sound like someone with a mission, the impression is correct. She believes that American business has two bottom lines and only one is profitability. The other is the health of the planet. In short, Bavaria wants to see fundamental changes in the way corporate America does business.

How difficult will that be? "Monumental," was her one-word reply.

Is it going to be her life's work?

"It may be." THE VALDEZ PRINCIPLES

We will minimize and strive to eliminate the release of any pollutant that may cause environmental damage to the air, water or earth or its inhabitants. We will safeguard habitats in rivers, lakes, wetlands, coastal zones and oceans and will minimize contributing to the greenhouse effect, depletion of the ozone layer, acid rain or smog.

We will make sustainable use of renewable natural resources, such as water, soils and forests. We will conserve nonrenewable natural resources through efficient use and careful planning. We will protect wildlife habitat, open spaces and wilderness, while preserving bio-diversity.

We will minimize the creation of waste, especially hazardous waste, and wherever possible recycle materials. We will dispose of all wastes through safe and responsible methods.

We will make every effort to use environmentally safe and sustainable energy sources to meet our needs. We will invest in improved energy efficiency and conservation in our operations. We will maximize the energy efficiency of products we produce and sell.

We will minimize the environmental, health and safety risks to our employees and the communities in which we operate by employing safe technologies and operating procedures and by being constantly prepared for emergencies.

We will sell products or services that minimize adverse environmental impacts and that are safe as consumers commonly use them. We will inform consumers of the environmental impacts of our products or services.

We will take responsibility for any harm we cause to the environment by making every effort to fully restore the environment and to compensate those persons who are adversely affected.

We will disclose to our employees and to the public incidents relating to our operations that cause environmental harm or pose health or safety hazards. We will disclose potential environmental, health or safety hazards posed by our operations, and will not take any action against employees who report any condition that creates a danger to the environment or poses health and safety hazards.

We will commit management resources to implement the Valdez Principles, to monitor and report upon our implementation efforts, and to sustain a process to ensure that the board of directors and chief executive officer are kept informed of and are fully responsible for all environmental matters. We will establish a committee of the board of directors with responsibility for environmental affairs. At least one member of the board of directors will be a person qualified to represent environmental interests to come before the company.

We will conduct and make public an annual self-evaluation of our progress in implementing these principles and in complying with applicable laws and regulations throughout our worldwide operations. We will work toward the timely creation of independent environmental audit procedures, which we will complete annually and make available to the public.