Category: January 2016 – Community Impact Investing

World’s First Diversified Fossil-Free Index ETF Launches on New York Stock Exchange – ETHO

Etho Capital releases ETHO (NYSE Arca: ETHO) as the first index ETF to exclude all fossil fuel companies and the first public investment product to select equities based on climate efficiency while rigorously screening for social responsibility.

ETHO, the world’s first diversified, socially responsible and fossil-free exchange-traded fund (ETF), was successfully launched in mid-November 2015 on the New York Stock Exchange by investment management company Etho Capital, in partnership with Factor Advisors, a subsidiary of ETF Managers Group.

The ETHO ETF is based on the Etho Climate Leadership Index (ECLI), an index of 400 companies announced in October that is completely divested of fossil fuel companies, rigorously screened for sustainability criteria, and constructed of the most climate-efficient companies in each sector. The ETHO ETF offers investors a product with broad diversification while remaining socially and environmentally responsible. It is part of a series of financial products that will be released by Etho Capital, which is dedicated to taking sustainable investing mainstream.

The ETHO ETF is composed of U.S. public equities in the ECLI, which combines quantitative climate emissions data with socially responsible investing expertise to create a diversified index that is optimized for both sustainability and financial returns. The ECLI has been closely studied to understand how it would have performed historically compared to major relevant indices. In 10-year back tests, the ECLI outperformed the S&P 500 Index on a risk-adjusted basis while reducing greenhouse gas pollution per dollar invested by 50 to 80 percent.

The launch of the ETHO ETF fills a critical void in the fossil-free investment sector, which is the fastest-growing investor movement in history. Foundations, endowments and trustees are considering ESG metrics as part of their fiduciary duty more often when making investment decisions, and individuals are increasingly looking to align their investments with their values. The ETF will serve the explosive growth of the movement to divest portfolios from fossil fuel companies and invest in a clean energy future.

In September, institutions and individuals representing more than $2.6 trillion in assets under management were committed to fossil fuel divestment. This number is likely to grow, as 84 percent of Millennials say they favor ESG investing, and roughly $41 trillion will pass to Millennials from baby boomers over the next 35 years. Further pointing to the the growing trend of socially responsible investing, $59 trillion has been committed to the U.N.’s Principles of Responsible Investing through more than 1,300 signatories.

Global leaders are preparing to address greenhouse gas reductions in Paris at COP21, and investors are increasingly aware of the risks of portfolio exposure to fossil fuel companies. Two major, recent examples that emphasize these risks include President Obama’s rejection of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and the New York attorney general’s new investigation of Exxon Mobil for potentially misleading the public about the impacts of climate change. Etho Capital controls these kinds of risks through its fossil-free investing products that focus on the most climate-efficient and socially responsible companies.

For more information about Etho Capital’s new ETF, please visit www.ethocapital.com

 

Quotes About ETHO:

Paul Hawken, the renowned entrepreneur, author and founder of the climate solution organization Project Drawdown (www.drawdown.org): “ETHO is a not just a new category of ETF, it is a discerning screen that redefines what an ETF can do and impact. Like all great investments, it has a clear-eyed view of the future of money and people.”

Conor Platt, Co-Founder, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Investment Officer of Etho Capital, as well as Founder of Confluence Capital (www.confluencecapital.com): “Our research shows that investing in climate-efficient companies can yield higher returns. Investors want options that prioritize both profits and the planet, and ETHO is helping fill these needs. The ETHO ETF allows investors to rest assured that their money is supporting the most sustainable, forward-looking companies in the world whose management teams are planning for our climate in a changing, competitive landscape.”

Ian Monroe, Co-Founder, President and Chief Sustainability Officer of Etho Capital, as well as Founder of Oroeco (www.oroeco.com) and Lecturer on climate change and life cycle assessment science at Stanford University (www.stanford.edu/~imon): “Investors of all ages are increasingly concerned about climate change, but younger investors are especially focused on aligning their portfolios with their long-term sustainability because they have the most to lose from the ripple effects of a rapidly warming world. At Etho Capital, our goal is to empower everyone to invest in climate sustainability and social responsibility while gaining competitive financial returns. The ETHO ETF combines all these elements and makes them accessible to the full spectrum of investors, ranging from large institutions to college students investing for the first time.”

Vanessa Green, Campaign Director of Divest-Invest Individual (http://divestinvest.org/individual): “The ETHO ETF is a leading model of the principled, competitive investment vehicles that today’s investors demand in the face of climate threats and related market risk. It will encourage accelerated capital shifts and challenge competitors to raise the bar, which is a priority if we want to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”

 

More Information

About Etho Capital

Etho Capital (www.ethocapital.com) is a mission-driven investment management company committed to helping solve climate change by bringing sustainable investing mainstream. Etho’s mission is to build the world’s best fossil free investment solutions by providing superior environmental, social, and financial performance. Etho’s innovative and thoughtful approach combines quantitative sustainability science and stakeholder expertise with the diversified returns and risk management of index investing.

EUROSIF appoints Flavia Micilotta as new Executive Director

Ms Flavia Micilotta appointed as new Executive Director of EUROSIF, the leading pan-European sustainable and responsible investment membership organisation.

 

On December1, 2015 the EUROSIF announced the appointment of Ms Flavia Micilotta as its new Executive Director. Ms Micilotta joins from the Brussels based Foreign Trade Association (FTA), the umbrella organization that promotes social compliance (BSCI) and environmental performance management (BEPI), where she worked as Sustainability Consultant.

In her role at the FTA, Ms Micilotta developed a supply chain program by fostering partnerships across Europe and South East Asia for international retail companies and was responsible for coordinating stakeholder management and engaging with policy makers.

Over the years, Ms Micilotta has accumulated a wealth of experience on Corporate Social Responsibility and SRI, with a particular focus on valuing intangibles through ESG performance, across sectors. She worked on SRI for Vigeo group and KBC group and as sustainability consultant for Deloitte and EY. She is one of the founding members of the UN Global Compact in Belgium and a former board director of the Belgian Sustainable Investment Forum, BELSIF.

Ms Micilotta commented: “I am very pleased to join EUROSIF and have the opportunity to lead such a well-respected and influential organization.  Europe leads the world in terms of sustainable and responsible investment and my aim will be to ensure that the voice of EUROSIF’s members continues to play a major part in that success.”

Thierry Philipponnat, Président of the French sustainable investment forum FIR, commented, “We are delighted that EUROSIF has appointed Flavia to this important role. Her experience and energy will ensure EUROSIF remains at the centre of the EU’s important policy deliberations in this area”.

Volker Weber, President of the Austrian, Swiss and German sustainable investment forum, FNG added, “We are delighted with this appointment.  As the European sustainable and responsible investment market continues to evolve and grow, it has never been more important to have a strong voice in Brussels representing all the members of EUROSIF.”

Jaime Silos, President of Spanish sustainable investment forum SpainSIF commented; “SpainSIF welcome Flavia’s appointment.  It is important that Europe’s major financial markets are effectively engaged in supporting the development of a sustainable European capital market system and we look forward to working closely with Flavia and her team.”

EUROSIF also announced that the board had agreed a number of governance changes to the organization designed to strengthen the representation of its members and the support for the executive team. These changes are: Giuseppe van der Helm stepping down as President with immediate effect following his resignation from VBDO, the Dutch SIF and the appointment of Will Oulton from UKSIF as interim President.

The board of EUROSIF would like to express its gratitude to Mr van der Helm for his contribution to EUROSIF during his time as President of the association.

 

About EUROSIF

Eurosif (www.eurosif.org) is the leading pan-European sustainable and responsible investment (SRI) membership organisation whose mission is to promote sustainability through European financial markets. Eurosif works as a partnership of Europe-based national Sustainable Investment Forums (SIFs) with the direct support of their network which spans across over 400 Europe-based organizations drawn from the sustainable investment industry value chain. These organizations include institutional investors, asset managers, financial services, index providers and ESG research and analysis firms totalling over €8 trillion in total assets. Eurosif is also a founding member of the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance, the alliance of the largest SIFs around the world. The main activities of Eurosif are public policy, research and creating platforms for nurturing sustainable investing best practices.

For Further Information:

Flavia Micilotta, Executive Director, +32 (0)2 274 14 36, flavia.micilotta@eurosif.org

Dimitrios Mavridis, Communications Executive, +32 (0)2 274 14 35, dimitrios.mavridis@eurosif.org

Rebels With A Cause – Natural Investments Believes Capitalism Can Be More Than Just Profits

by Jeff Schlegel, Financial Advisor magazine

 

The folks at Natural Investments LLC  (www.naturalinvestments.com) see themselves as different from mainstream financial advisors, and consider their clients to be different from garden-variety investors. In short, the Natural Investments team takes pride in being out of step with conventional Wall Street and financial services norms. It is, they will tell you, what makes them who they are.

The advisors who make up the Natural Investments (NI) network are scattered from coast to coast, as well as beyond in Hawaii. Most work from home, and Hawaiian shirts and tie-dyed shirts are the uniform of the day for some of them. NI advisors have backgrounds ranging from social/environmental activism and the ministry to scientific research and Wall Street. But what unites them is a passion for sustainable and responsible investing, which is the new version of SRI that formerly was known as—and is still sometimes used interchangeably with—socially responsible investing.

NI advisors are into green-economy investing and companies in any sector that earn a profit without negatively impacting the planet and its denizens. They also facilitate community- and local-based investing for clients that can run the gamut from a private-equity offering that buys organic farmland to loans with various purposes such as boosting small local businesses or helping low-income people pay their mortgages and stay in their homes. NI believes the latter types of unconventional investments both promote the public good and help diversify client portfolios.

The firm was founded 16 years ago, but its founders had been practicing and writing about SRI since the days when it was considered kooky. And with a recently published book written by NI’s three partners that introduces the concept of resilient investing, the firm is trying to take the SRI space to the next level.

“We’re a fairly quirky firm,” says Christopher Peck, a managing partner and NI’s chief compliance officer, who works in Windsor, Calif. “Even though we may look a little quirky and our personalities are, too, I don’t want to undersell the fact it’s a super-professional group. In college, we were the kind of folks who were drinking a beer at 11:00 at night and talking about what we read in class. We don’t necessarily conform to the standard box, but we’re totally into what we’re doing.”

NI’s investment minimum is $50,000, but it has numerous high-net-worth clients and its aggregate assets under management are roughly $260 million. It’s a fee-only firm that also does financial planning on a project, hourly or retainer basis. It has slowly built up its advisor network over the years, but it isn’t looking to build an empire.

The firm’s patriarch is Jack Brill, who began his career as an SRI advisor 30 years ago and was an original member of First Affirmative Financial Network, which remains the largest network of SRI advisors. His son, Hal, followed in the family business, so to speak, and together they launched Natural Investment Services Inc. in 1999, the same year they and Cliff Feigenbaum, the editor of the GreenMoney Journal (www.greenmoney.com), wrote a book called Investing With Your Values, Making Money and Making a Difference. It was Jack Brill’s second book, the first being Investing From the Heart in 1992.

Michael Kramer came on board as the third advisor in 2000, followed by Peck four years later. Jack Brill is now retired, and today Hal Brill, Kramer and Peck are NI’s three partners. The firm reorganized as a limited liability company in 2007, and the rest of the advisors who’ve joined NI are independent contractors.

“We’re owner-operated and have no employees, and the three partners run the firm in addition to having their own clients,” says Kramer, who works from Keauhou, Hawaii. “We kind of function informally as a cooperative rather than a hierarchal structure built around management and a central office making decisions.”

Kramer notes that NI has never recruited anybody. “They’ve all approached us because they felt a resonance with the values of our firm,” he says. “We get approached periodically, and we’re very selective because we want to make sure it’s the right fit with our very small company. The people we bring on really have to walk their talk and not just see this as business. We want people where this is really core to who they are because clients want us to be leaders in social and environmental change. ”

Capitalist Conundrum

So-called values-based investing goes by many names including different takes on SRI, ESG (environmental, social and governance), impact investing and others. But whatever you call it, the overall sector in recent years has transcended its fringe status as both retail and institutional investors have funneled more money into the space.

According to US SIF—the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, assets under its definition of SRI (sustainable, responsible and impact investing) zoomed 76% from the start of 2012 to the start of 2014, to $6.57 trillion. That accounted for more than one out of every six dollars under professional management in the U.S., the group says.

Regarding performance of SRI-type investments, there are a number of studies showing that incorporating environmental and social factors into investment portfolios doesn’t negatively impact financial returns. Meanwhile, the number of SRI-related investment funds and other products is growing, but like with any sector the track record is mixed. Nonetheless, proponents such as NI believe SRI can provide comparable ROI versus conventional investment vehicles.

Despite SRI’s growing acceptance, it still carries a stigma that it’s not “real” investing. “There’s a little bit of weird sexism about it where like it’s not sufficiently macho to care about other people and you should just power through and make a lot of money, and then in a show of patriarchal magnanimity you give a little bit to the poor,” Peck says.

A lot of what drives NI is its clients, many of whom aren’t fans of go-for-the-jugular capitalism.

“A lot of our clients are reluctantly wealthy, in a way,” Peck explains. “A common profile is they’re inheritors and not entrepreneurs; they work at a nonprofit or are artists or do some kind of activism. There’s a little bit of a rebellious streak there, certainly against the broader Wall Street message.”

And that informs NI’s investment and philosophical approach. On its website, NI addresses the “corporate agenda” and its potential negative consequences for social justice and the global environment, while acknowledging that corporations also provide us with a lot of good things. “Each of us, as investors, consumers and citizens, must be conscious of how we interact with corporations,” the website says.

For its part, NI says it devotes “a great amount of research and soul-searching to finding ways that investment capital can be best used to achieve our client’s financial goals while encouraging greater corporate responsibility.”

In some ways, this soul-searching represents an inner tension the company has with its very livelihood. “We feel it because we’re in this industry where standard Wall Street thought has, in my opinion, defined capitalism in an extreme way,” says Susan Taylor, an NI advisor in Louisville, Ky. “And we have lots of clients who are longtime activists and social critics who question whether they should even be in the stock market. We live between those two perspectives.”

“I think extreme capitalism, where profit is the only thing that matters, isn’t the way capitalism was intended,” she continues. “Our planet and social structure can’t survive with that version of capitalism. That’s not sustainable in the long run on a social or mental health model, or any way you look at it. How do we take what works with capitalism and make it better, and make sure human and environmental health have a priority that supersedes profits? Yes, profits matter, but it can’t matter exclusively.”

That might sound like Hippie Economics 101, but Taylor has a PhD in economics from the University of Maryland, formerly worked as a corporate economist at Bank of America and describes herself and her firm as “unapologetic capitalists.” She and her husband, Andy Loving, an ordained Baptist minister, operate their practice called Just Money Advisors, which they affiliated with the NI network in 2011. They saw NI as a good fit because it was open to the type of less-traditional, community-oriented impact investments they like to make.

Freewheeling, Yet Disciplined

All NI advisors serve on the investment committee, and they rotate quarterly so that everyone plays a role in analyzing the holdings and recommending changes in the model portfolios. “We like to make changes by consensus as much as possible, and that’s possible at a small firm when everyone can get on a conference call and have real conversations,” Kramer says, noting that NI advisors can customize and deviate from the models if they think it’s suitable.

Despite the seeming freewheeling, democratic process, the investment committee is anchored by Scott Secrest, the firm’s director of investment research who’s located in San Luis Obispo, Calif. He affiliated with NI in 2005. “At Natural Investments, we’ve been fortunate—either by design or happenstance—to attract a group of advisors with expertise in a variety of different areas including regenerative or other types of alternative investments,” Secrest says.

But while NI considers its forte in less mainstream, perhaps more exotic sustainable-oriented investments to be one of its strengths, these vehicles aren’t right for all investors because of their liquidity and risk-reward considerations. So Secrest does the legwork to find more traditional investment vehicles.

“My role is to apply all of the best practices in mutual fund portfolio management to what’s available in the SRI sphere, which is a big and growing list,” he says.

NI offers its clients a variety of model portfolios that include SRI, green-economy and fossil-fuel-free portfolios. Each has different allocations ranging from aggressive to conservative.

It also uses separate accounts, along with various alternatives—including private debt and equity—for its higher-net-worth clients. But most of its investment vehicles are SRI-focused, retail-oriented funds such as the Shelton Green Alpha Fund and the Pax World Global Environmental Markets Fund.

Resilient Investing

NI is down to two-and-a-half active partners as Hal Brill downshifts into semi-retirement. Going forward, Peck expects the firm to expand its ownership base. “We’re having that conversation now about adding new partners, and that’ll probably happen in the next year or two,” he says.

And looking 10 years out, Peck also expects NI to grow its membership. “I definitely see us with roughly 50% more advisors, finally covering the Central time zone and serving progressive clients across the entirety of the country,” he says.

NI says the wonders of modern technology make it possible to efficiently run a small advisory firm across multiple time zones. “While we don’t have water-cooler conversations, as a cloud-based company we are able to use online technology to operate quite smoothly,” Kramer says. “This enables any of our advisors to effectively manage client accounts from anywhere while giving us the capacity to provide compliance monitoring and cover for each other.”

He adds that some key programs they use are Black Diamond Performance Reporting, RedBlack, Redtail and Morningstar. Nonetheless, some challenges remain. “We are a bit frustrated finding an affordable video conferencing tech that will work for the size of our team,” Peck says. “That’s a nut still to crack.”

NI members meet en masse once a year, usually at the annual SRI Conference produced by First Affirmative Financial Network. By all accounts, the group meshes well together. “There’s wonderful collegiality,” Taylor says. “Our meetings are interesting because we come from all over and there are lots of cultural variation with different backgrounds.”

And NI keeps moving forward in its mission to help foster the gentler side of capitalism and to view investing in a different way. Hal Brill, Kramer and Peck earlier this year published The Resilient Investor: A Plan for Your Life, Not Just Your Money, which looks at people’s financial investments; personal and social assets such as skills, relationships and community; and tangible assets including homes, shared infrastructure and ecological systems in the context of various future scenarios.

“With our latest book, we’re already assuming people have got the sustainable investing story and we’re moving on to the next step in the evolution and pushing the boundaries,” Peck says. “What we’re pointing out is your portfolio includes a much broader array of investments than you think.”

Peck and others at NI believe the book continues the firm’s efforts to be thought leaders in the SRI space and, by extension, the financial services industry in general. To them, these endeavors, along with their active role in shareholder advocacy work with major corporations and public advocacy in Washington, D.C., are part and parcel of their jobs as financial advisors.

But while NI may not be your standard-issue advisory firm, not all of its members think of themselves as being unusual within the broader advisor universe. “I don’t feel like I’m quirky or on the outside looking in,” Taylor says. “I just feel this is our sector; this is our piece of the work.”

 

Article from the Dec 2015 issue of Financial Advisor magazine

http://www.fa-mag.com/financial-advisor-magazine/issues/2015/12

Top 10 Stakeholder Issues Report of 2016 (Part 2 of 2)

From Future 500

Each year, Future 500 releases a report of what we predict will be the most critical social and environmental issues driving corporate-stakeholder engagement in the coming year. This year, we anticipate that corporations will be challenged to go even further than last year, using their economic influence on policy and politicians while being asked to take a bigger stand on global issues. This dynamic will be showcased at COP21 in Paris, where stakeholder expectations of companies’ commitments to mitigate climate change will culminate.

In 2016, we predict that stakeholders will continue to organize around issues like chemicals, water scarcity and local control of resources, challenging the private sector to drive change in their supply chains, make more time bound commitments and be more transparent. We anticipate increased focus on women impacting the global economy and concern around global ocean health, an issue moving to the forefront of our list.

As presented in the following analysis, 2016 promises to be another exciting year to break through conflict and drive workable solutions through proactive stakeholder engagement opportunities. We hope that our annual report continues to help companies and their stakeholders see beyond conflict to find ways to collaboratively forge common ground solutions to our most pressing global problems.

[2016 Issues #1 – #5 are available in Part 1 of this article]

6 – TOXINS: My Body, My Temple
By Marvin Smith, Sr. Manager of Stakeholder Engagement

Concerns around the toxicity of chemicals used in consumer products will remain a key focus for a diverse set of stakeholders worldwide in 2016, especially as brands jockey to be viewed as chemically conscious industry leaders. From “Mommy bloggers,” to mainstream NGOs and foundations, advocacy groups are calling for the decrease to outright omission of chemical hazards that can negatively impact human health as well as ecosystems. Many groups continue to push for stricter laws (e.g. Toxic Substances Control Act – TSCA), while others are pressuring brands to minimize particular chemicals of concern in their products.

In the past two years, several retailers have responded to growing NGO and consumer pressure to adopt green chemistry purchasing policies. This has fostered innovation as producers developed and refined alternatives to phthalates, heavy metals, fluorinated chemicals, antimicrobials, flame-retardants, and others. With 2016 being the 25th anniversary of the term “Green Chemistry,” we expect stakeholders will step up their effort to mobilize consumer pressure on companies to both adopt sustainable alternatives to chemicals of concern and be more transparent about chemicals in their products and the potential dangers they pose.

Relatedly, we expect brands and NGOs to continue battling over marketing terms like “natural” or “preferred chemical.” Without a strong governmental or widely accepted self-regulating body to rank the safety of particular chemical classes, activists and brands will bludgeon the public on the merits (or dangers) of particular chemicals, with a potential risk of either side resorting to legal attack if they see cause to mislead consumers through green-wash marketing.

Despite this potential rancor, we are seeing efforts to produce chemically safer consumer products led by coalitions of major brands monitored by watchdog NGO groups. In 2016 and beyond, we see these coalitions increasing their requests of brands to employ their influence to encourage legislative action leading to the stricter regulation of chemicals (see Issue 1).

7 – WOMEN’S PURCHASING AND C-SUITE POWER
By Tara Holmes, Sr. Manager of Marketing & Communications & Shilpi Chhotray, Sr. Manager of Stakeholder Engagement

Conscious-minded consumerism based on brand trust will grow in 2016. One factor leading this trend is how women continue to drive a majority of household purchasing decisions and the main factor influencing women’s trust is their perception of how well a brand incorporates environmental and social standards into their supply chain and product line (look out VW!). And as women enter more executive and board level positions within companies and organizations, environmental, social and governance – or ESG – factors will more likely be elevated, enhancing both internal and external corporate behavior.

The 30 Percent Coalition, a group comprised of over 70 members, including women’s organizations, institutional investors and corporate governance experts, is committed to placing women in 30 percent of board seats across public companies by 2016. Already, efforts by the 30 Percent Coalition have resulted in 20 major companies, including big names with big dollars like Walmart and Avon, adding more women to their boardrooms.

The efforts of the 30 Percent Coalition and others are reinforced by growing consumer support for companies committed to gender diversity and equality. The Buy Up Index, for example, is mobilizing consumer awareness through an innovative app that rates brands and the companies behind them based on gender diversity in the boardroom, C-Suite, workforce, philanthropy, and how they market to women. The Buy Up Index highlights companies making stereotype-busting ads and disclosing information about companies, such as paid maternity leave.

In addition to gender diversity, stakeholder focus on gender equality in corporations will also grow in 2016. 2015 was an exemplary year for LGBTQ rights with 366 major businesses earning a score of 100% according to Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, the national LGBTQ benchmarking tool related to corporate policies and practices. Encompassing equal pay, paid maternity leave, diversification in the boardroom, LGBTQ rights are increasingly garnering the spotlight, forcing brands to take note.

With the recent release and rapid growth of the Buy Up Index and that of groups like the 30 Percent Coalition, in 2016, we predict that companies will continue to feel pressure to incorporate gender equality and diversity throughout their internal operations as well as their product lines.

8 – POST-CONSUMER WASTE
By Danna Pfahl, VP of Stakeholder Engagement

For decades, recycling and packaging regulations have come in a recurring cycle of waves. Each wave of legislation, typically proposed by NGOs and government stakeholders, generates a counter-wave of voluntary initiatives led by industry. We see this approach shifting in 2016.

Industry’s current approach is to discuss packaging waste under the umbrella of the circular economy, promoting voluntary initiatives like the Closed Loop Fund and the Recycling Partnership. NGOs current approach from groups like UPSTREAM is to advocate for producer responsibility for all their products rather than pressuring government to advance product-by-product mandates and bans (e.g. Plastic Bag ban) at the state and local level. Lack of agreement on how to solve the core problem of waste minimization, further exacerbated with stagnant recycling rates, have created a chasm between the public and private sector, creating a need for corporate campaigners to activate to motivate progress. Groups like Make It, Take It have targeted Kraft Foods over flexible pouches while SRIs like As You Sow continue to rank companies on their positions around certain recycling policies.

As noted in Issue 2, ocean campaigners are intensifying their focus on the impacts of plastic pollution. These groups have found a natural alliance with recycling campaigners working to stop post-consumer waste on land. Given plastic packaging is identified as among the top five types of marine debris, and with a forecast for large global increase in demand for plastic packaging, it is not surprising that responsible use of plastic will continue to be a target for activist campaigns in 2016.

Looking ahead, we expect environmental NGOs to focus globally on efforts to stop trash in the developing world from entering oceans, while recycling advocates focus locally in the developed world for increased materials recovery and reuse, particularly in the U.S., a nation lagging far behind other developed nations. While the local and global nature of these campaigns may appear separate, the overlap in problem and potential solutions are closer than they may appear and we look forward to tracking this progress in the coming year and beyond.

9 – BEYOND COAL: What’s Next for Electric Utilities
By Brent Tarnow, Sr. Manager of Stakeholder Engagement

2015 was a dramatic year for climate change awareness building through multiple stakeholder and activist campaigns, including the momentum built off of the People’s Climate March in New York City.

We see this trend amplifying in 2016 as the push for clean energy intensifies. For example, the world’s biggest carbon emitters – the U.S. and China – began setting the tone for the run-up to COP21 with joint commitments that are intended to drive down carbon intensity of their respective economies, with significant long-term implications for coal powered electricity – still one of the most prevalent forms of electric energy production.

In the U.S., the EPA enacted transformative climate regulations limiting carbon pollution from power plants, the largest source of carbon emissions in the country. The passage of the Clean Power Plan has some advocates declaring victory in the “War on Coal,” yet we continue to see coal plants unfolding in the developing world. Though the Clean Power Plan has been robustly challenged by industry, it has withstood and maintained the rigor its proponents intended. Regardless, utilities will continue to face stakeholder pressure and a changing regulatory landscape that requires decreasing fossil fuel use and increasing more efficient and renewable energy sources.

After years of vitriol between climate activists and electric utilities, we are beginning to see positive, collaborative paths forward. Electricity providers should continue to expect activist opposition over issues like coal ash storage, water use, insufficient energy efficiency programs, social justice issues, and transparency in political spending, but what’s increasingly important is the noticeable shift away from debating the “War On Coal.” Instead, stakeholders and companies are exploring net metering in utilities’ growing solar programs, greater incentives for rooftop solar, more involvement and transparency in a utilities PUC hearing, and enhanced energy efficiency programs. We see this marked shift in approach and open dialogue accelerating in 2016 and beyond.

10 – LOCAL CONTROL: It’s Not Just About Climate Change
By Kellen Klein, Sr. Manager of Stakeholder Engagement

Over the past few years, we have repeatedly identified the energy sector and its infrastructure as hotspots for stakeholder activism (see Issue 9). We see this approach continuing into 2016 with a lens on battles to protect local water resources. We also predict that stakeholder focus will shift from a focus on the fossil fuel industry to more tangible, on-the-ground impacts to local land and water ecosystems, private lands, and social justice that can arise from energy production and transport.

Several key trends are fueling ongoing stakeholder concern about energy production across the globe, particularly as lessons are learned from challenges associated with North America’s dramatic fossil fuel energy growth. Most obvious is the mainstream media’s growing interest in covering the recent slew of spills, explosions and “bomb train” accidents. Such coverage elevates community concerns, particularly within areas abutting energy development and transport infrastructure. Community safety and rights are of the utmost concern in this case, and issues surrounding risks and exposure transparency only fuels mistrust.

The second, correlated trend is the advancement of a growing body of research assessing the health impacts of fossil fuel extraction. Recent reports by watchdog NGOs and universities are fueling debate about the extent to which oil and gas development threatens local residents and natural resources. Air pollution, exposure to toxic chemicals, water contamination, and land integrity (contamination, earthquakes) are of greatest concern to stakeholders, and have led to staunch opposition from California to Poland.

Stakeholders have historically focused on fighting energy sector expansion efforts in municipalities, but are now shifting to challenge the fossil fuel industry’s use of, and impact on, public lands. Emerging organizations are challenging the legal frameworks that allow energy companies to explore and transect these parcels at marginal rates, while local grassroots groups are battling to halt what they see as corporate land grabs of cherished wild places. From the national parks of the UK to the scenic rivers of the Pacific Northwest, companies should anticipate growing stakeholder opposition whenever they approach undeveloped natural landscapes.

The common theme linking these strands of energy activism is the concept of “local control.” Most frequently heard in academic circles, the concept is rooted in the belief that local residents are most knowledgeable of and invested in their community and are therefore best suited to make decisions about community development. Major funders and NGOs may operate at the national or international level, however, these groups are increasingly opposing energy development locally – fortifying preexisting grassroots efforts and elevating the concerns of local citizens who are aligning forces with national and multi-national organizations and funder networks.

Whether an LNG export terminal, fracking well, oil train, or tar sands pipeline, the energy industry should expect growing opposition at every turn in 2016. Stakeholders have proven the efficacy of the localized community-based approach to energy activism and campaign success to date suggests that this dynamic will persist well into 2016 and beyond.

 

For more information about the report, please reach out to Mary Ann McDonnell at: mmcdonnell@future500.org

Article Source: Future 500 website at- www.Future500.org

Top 10 Stakeholder Issues Report of 2016 (Part 1 of 2)

From Future 500

Each year, Future 500 releases a report of what we predict will be the most critical social and environmental issues driving corporate-stakeholder engagement in the coming year. This year, we anticipate that corporations will be challenged to go even further than last year, using their economic influence on policy and politicians while being asked to take a bigger stand on global issues. This dynamic will be showcased at COP21 in Paris, where stakeholder expectations of companies’ commitments to mitigate climate change will culminate.

In 2016, we predict that stakeholders will continue to organize around issues like chemicals, water scarcity and local control of resources, challenging the private sector to drive change in their supply chains, make more time bound commitments and be more transparent. We anticipate increased focus on women impacting the global economy and concern around global ocean health, an issue moving to the forefront of our list.

As presented in the following analysis, 2016 promises to be another exciting year to break through conflict and drive workable solutions through proactive stakeholder engagement opportunities. We hope that our annual report continues to help companies and their stakeholders see beyond conflict to find ways to collaboratively forge common ground solutions to our most pressing global problems.

1 – BRAND POLITICS: Reigning in Government Affairs
By Brendon Steele, Director of Stakeholder Engagement

Last year, we highlighted the changing paradigm facing consumer-facing brands and their suppliers, where brands and retailers are now expected to both own the environmental and social impacts of their products and supply chains and stake clear, public positions on a myriad of hot political issues – even if immaterial to a company’s business.

Many issues – such as labor rights for an apparel company – are easy to anticipate, but some issues can blindside a company. What can be anticipated is that with the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections, a company’s political giving, the degree of income inequality between its executives and employees, and its record relating to any hot political issues, may all be placed in the spotlight, without warning.

Furthermore, new campaign tactics have been emerging in response to longstanding political gridlock. Version 1.0 was to encourage new supply chain standards – regulation by retail – by big brands and retailers such as Disney and Walmart. In the emerging version 2.0, advocacy stakeholders are now encouraging companies to take proactive public policy stances and even activate their political lobbying for certain solutions. Given the significant influence corporations have over politics and branding, this demand is no surprise. Taking a neutral stance of “we don’t lobby” or “we’re not involved in politics, period” will not inoculate a company from pressure to ultimately take a public position, particularly if a company’s leaders espouse a sustainability goal while their government affairs networks are subverting that goal.

As advocates of all stripes assert pressure, they will ask: What are your lobbyists telling legislators on climate? Why do you publicly support a public policy to price carbon while supporting groups (e.g. ALEC) that seek to undermine such efforts? If you are to associate with organizations that hold positions contrary to your public policy goals, how do you assert your power to influence that organization?

While sometimes divisive or distracting, the ability to anticipate and proactively and coherently answer such questions will separate future corporate leaders and laggards in the eyes of advocacy stakeholders as well as the general public.

2 – THE RISING BLUE ECONOMY: Valuing Oceans
By Shilpi Chhotray, Sr. Manager of Stakeholder Engagement

Commercialization of our oceans presents an array of growing problems for stakeholders and will only ramp up in 2016. The rise of the so-called “Blue Economy” has motivated government and industry alike to come to the table to discuss how to combine market based solutions, sound policy, and innovative technology to protect our oceans and coastlines. Yet even with these cross-sector strides, companies should expect increased stakeholder pressure in the coming year to accelerate solutions for marine protection and ocean pollution.

To safeguard marine resources, NGOs like The Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, and Pew Charitable Trusts are pushing industry to integrate greater sustainability and human rights standards into their supply chains. Shipping vessels, fisheries and aquaculture operations, deep-sea mining companies, and the cruise industry are particular targets. Greenpeace ranks the top US seafood retailers annually based on their sale of “red list” seafood, storewide policies, and transparency information, driving greater consumer awareness. In its annual report card, Friends of the Earth assesses how well cruise lines are shifting to greener alternatives, helping push passengers to “cruise wisely” – factoring shipper’s human health and the marine environment practices into consideration when booking trips.

Brand-wise, in 2015 Whole Foods took the top spot for their efforts in confronting illegal fishing and for protecting sensitive marine habitat.

Plastic pollution, with its impacts on both marine life and human health, has also risen to the forefront as a top focus for stakeholders. Last year, we saw a number of groups – campaigners, activists, celebrities, and mainstream NGO’s – mobilize around this issue. Activist groups like 5 Gyres and Story of Stuff mobilized against progressive companies like Unilever and Johnson and Johnson, calling for a phase out of micro-beads in toothpaste and face wash. Mainstream NGO’s like Ocean Conservancy enlisted several industry players into the Trash Free Seas Alliance to take a stand against floating plastics.

In 2016, we see efforts to monitor the health and monetization of ocean resources expanding as more and more groups join stakeholder coalitions to increase pressure on business and government to protect our global oceans.

3 – CLIMATE POLICY BATTLES: Next Round
By Brendon Steele, Director of Stakeholder Engagement

In 2016, we will continue to see the entrenched splintering of corporate asks on climate protection, a continuing long-term effect of the disintegration of the enormous environmental coalition that unified to back 2009 U.S. cap-and-trade legislation. However, with COP21, the new EPA Clean Power Plan and the upcoming U.S. Presidential election, climate activists are beginning to rally for the next round of climate policy battles, both globally and domestically.

The fossil fuel divestment movement gained steam in 2015, mobilizing a dedicated set of advocates and pressuring philanthropic organizations, universities, and pension funds to divest from fossil fuel companies. While development of unconventional sources like the Canadian tar sands and the Arctic have historically motivated significant activism, the downturn in global oil prices has left activists feeling like the market has finished what they started. Companies will continue to see opposition to fossil fuels across the board, from Oil Sands, to Arctic drilling to energy transport and fracking, but less targeted as campaigns shift to the federal and multi-national arenas.

Attention will now turn global, focusing on the Post-COP21 talks. Industry and government leaders will be making commitments to carbon reduction plans that various NGOs groups will hold them accountable to implement in 2016 and beyond. Companies that don’t take public climate positions (see Issue 1) will be seen as laggards, and targeted by global activist groups once the dust settles after COP21. From Canada, to Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, and China, businesses will be pressured by stakeholders to use their political influence to urge these governments to take action.

In the U.S., companies should expect pressure on two fronts: first, to support President Obama’s Clean Power Plan during the 2016 election, and regardless of who is elected, to communicate that support to the new president. Secondly, and more slowly-burning, we expect to see renewed pressure to support a federal climate policy – focusing on carbon pricing mechanisms like a revenue-neutral carbon tax rather than cap-and-trade. Pressure may take the form of public statements to private requests, to talking directly to lawmakers.

While a revenue-neutral carbon tax may sound far-fetched, the concept is attracting unexpected bipartisan support from increasing numbers of Republicans, from oil companies such as ExxonMobil, from traditional environmental leaders such as James Hansen, and from grassroots advocates like Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Understanding the nuance of carbon pricing now – especially revenue neutrality – will help companies align better with stakeholders in 2016 and beyond.

4 – RESTORATIVE FORESTS & AGRICULTURE
By Erik Wohlgemuth, COO

2016 will likely be the year when we begin to see the implementation of deforestation-free supply chain commitments, enabling transformative change in the health of the world’s forests and the people who depend on them.

We anticipate continued pressure on brands and suppliers to make deforestation-free supply chain commitments across commodities but also a marked increase in pressure on companies (signatories to the Bonn Challenge, the UN Declaration on Forests, the Consumer Goods Forum Deforestation Resolution) to follow through on their commitments. As NGOs and companies commit to the harder work of implementation, the focus will shift to distinguishing leaders and laggards, as typified by Greenpeace and RAN’s recent criticism of Cargill. Additionally, companies will feel heightening pressures to commit to large-scale landscape level conservation and restoration efforts.

In the midst of this battle are certification standards, criticized for not going far and fast enough, lacking stringent auditing and accountability to ensure compliance. FSC, generally considered the leading standard by NGOs and corporations for responsible forest management, is criticized for moving too slowly to meet demand while other standards bring more hectares under certification oversight that many feel are too weak. Will some standards innovate and strengthen quickly enough to pressure FSC? Is it FSC or none at all? Or will we see innovations in areas such as large-scale landscape conservation and restoration that leapfrog certifications?

Driving supply chain improvement will only get us so far in protecting forest and agricultural systems around the world. Many countries are also cracking down on dissent and the freedoms of civil society. There must be concurrent regulatory action to control corruption, patronage to elites, and shifting market distorting incentives that drive deforestation. More leading companies will therefore be challenged to leverage their political and economic power to pressure governments to take stronger regulatory action and allow constructive dissent (see Issue 1).

Such actions will be increasingly important in 2016 as the global economy currently shudders from slowdown in China. Lynchpin countries in global efforts to protect forests, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil (will the soy moratorium be extended?), China (land grabbing), Canada, and Russia, will be called on to step up regulatory action. But these countries face competing economic and political pressure to unleash domestic resource development as Indonesia is doing in aggressively encouraging palm oil production for domestic biofuels use.

Pressures for quick fix economic development measures threaten the success of broader countrywide commitments at COP21 to control carbon emissions through more systemic level protection of forest and agricultural lands, suggesting the world will again prove incapable of firmly committing to solutions to address the growing costs of adapting to a warming planet.

Will early implementation leaders like Wilmar and Asia Pulp and Paper maintain their position? Will Cargill, ADM, McDonalds, and PepsiCo, slower in their implementation, catch up? What form will NGO pressure on these companies take given the high stakes? As some of these questions get answered in 2016, it will be another interesting year for forests.

5 – WATER IS FOR FIGHTING OVER
By Kellen Klein, Sr. Manager of Stakeholder Engagement

With record-setting heat waves and droughts now regularly making international headlines, many stakeholders are seizing the opportunity to capitalize on growing public awareness of global water stress. For companies, that means moving beyond basic conservation and watershed cleanup projects. As highlighted in Issue 1, advocates and funders now want businesses to build on public attention by advocating for more responsible water policy, funding for aging infrastructure, and discussing how society values water resources.

In North America, all eyes are on California’s resiliency given the state houses the majority of many U.S. crops for domestic and overseas consumption. California is staggering from a fourth year of record-breaking drought that has led to increased fires across the state, emergency restrictions for water users and fines for those who waste. Stakeholders have also been active on this important issue, collectively adopting a “good cop-bad cop” approach that mirrors tactics seen in other water-stressed regions around the world. For example, campaigners and the media have publicly called out industry sectors and businesses perceived as lagging on water stewardship, hoping to “drought shame” them into better practices. Simultaneously, business-friendly NGOs have implemented new voluntary conservation programs, multi-stakeholder dialogues and task forces, while policy advocates have attempted to garner support for more proactive efficiency and monitoring regulations.

This combination of crisis and activism may finally be yielding water reductions in California, but global stakeholders remain largely unimpressed by the private sector’s efforts to protect water resources.

A dearth of water monitoring and limited transparency mean that many companies have little to substantiate their efforts, particularly when it comes to truly knowing the practices of their developing world suppliers. The lesson is one that spans issues and geographies – full disclosure is now the new norm and companies should fear that “gotcha” moment that could arise anywhere within their supply chain. Companies operating in water stressed regions should expect particular scrutiny and should be prepared with data (or better yet, have already shared it) if they hope to avoid becoming a campaign target. To reduce risk, companies should be engaging even their fiercest critics, who share understanding of the immensity and complexity of the challenges, to find ways to advance mutual solutions.

While the growing threat of water stress should be enough to scare most industry sectors into action, many stakeholders in thirsty regions fear progress will halt when (or if) rains return. Consequently, we anticipate a strong early-2016 push by western U.S. and EU water funders and NGOs to secure new policies, safeguards and best practices capable of outlasting even a “Godzilla” El Nino. Brands with a presence in Southeast Asia and China should be especially wary – the combination of drought, pervasive water pollution, and growing social activism could spell scandal for those linked to dirty or gluttonous suppliers.

As societies across the globe grow more concerned about their water resources, water-related campaigns and initiatives are rapidly climbing in importance. Recognizing the complex intersections of our food, water and energy systems, organizations across sectors can expect more nuanced asks from stakeholders and more robust expectations for how they should interact with water systems far beyond company walls.

Throughout 2016, we anticipate that major water users should expect increasing pressure to lend their voice in support of progressive water policy measures, such as simplified water markets and better pricing mechanisms. Those operating in wetter climes should capitalize on reduced attention by proactively identifying collaborative water stewardship opportunities – such as the Alliance for Water Stewardship and Water Action Hub – that reduce both reputational and operational risk.

 

[2016 Issues #6 – #10 are available in Part 2 of this article]

For more information about the report, please reach out to Mary Ann McDonnell at: mmcdonnell@future500.org

Article Source: Future 500 website at- www.Future500.org

Introducing EarthFolio: Power to the Every Investor

By Kim Lisagor for Earthfolio

earthfolios

 

What you need to know:

Sit at the virtual boardroom table as a sustainable shareholder.

EarthFolio leverages technology to lower fees and minimums.

Sustainable investing has exceeded $6.5 trillion in assets.

Picture this: You are seated at a conference table where stiffly suited executives are thumbing through the pages of an end-of-year report. You are wearing your bathrobe and bunny slippers, but no one seems to notice.

The company’s CEO floats a proposal to shift its energy sources to a mix of wind and solar. You glance around the room; the suits do not respond.

“I support this,” you announce. “It makes sense on every level.” As you lay forth your arguments, the executives give their full attention to the oddly dressed disruptor in the room. They nod in agreement, and the proposal passes with unanimous support. Just like that, you are a climate superhero.

Fantasy? Not entirely. When you vote with your investment dollars, you become a stakeholder in companies you care about and an advocate for issues that matter to you.

EarthFolio is your seat at the virtual boardroom table.

EarthFolio is a revolutionary online investing website that quickly and easily creates your investment plan and then expertly manages your investments, so you don’t have to. And the best part? EarthFolio only invests in companies that are considered “best-in-class” in up to ten environmental, social and corporate governance categories.

Think of it as a robo-advisor that keeps your head and your heart in sync.

Robo-whatnow?

You shop online. You book your travel online. You bank online. Almost every aspect of your life is digital. And now, investment advice and portfolio management are going online as well.

Robo-advising is the term that describes investment advice that’s delivered through the Internet instead of through a traditional advisor. Going robo means you answer a series of questions online, and in seconds you get an investment plan personalized to you. No appointments. No big fees. No need to change out of your pajamas.

Sophisticated, personalized investment advice was once a luxury item. Robo-advisors have democratized the investing process with low fees and low minimums, making it affordable and accessible for all. It’s no wonder the concept’s popularity has skyrocketed in recent years.

Invest like a superhero

What sets EarthFolio apart from other robo-advisors is a belief that investing isn’t just a transaction; it’s an opportunity to own companies that are aligned with your values.

If this resonates with you, you’re in good company. More and more investors are choosing funds that are engaged with promoting environmental and social progress. That’s especially true among women and millennials; in a recent survey, seven out of ten said they value the social and environmental impact of their investment choices.

In fact, one in six dollars under professional management is invested in socially responsible assets—$6.57 trillion in 2014. You know what happens when a critical mass of investors choose social responsibility? Change happens.

In recent years, socially responsible investors have transformed companies from the inside out by advocating for issues ranging from gender equality to ecological conservation to financial transparency. Not surprisingly, Wall Street studies are now showing that companies that are good corporate citizens perform competitively over the long-term.

The folks behind EarthFolio were among the earliest drivers of this movement. Fifteen years ago, they had the foresight to start helping investors use their dollars to impact the planet in a personal and meaningful way. With EarthFolio, they have unleashed the full potential of that vision, bringing the change-making power of socially responsible investing to the entire online world.

For the first time, the fantasy of the virtual boardroom is real. With EarthFolio, you have the power to change the planet from the comfort of your home.

You don’t have to be a CEO or politician to influence corporate behavior; the glow of your laptop is the only spotlight you need. And if you look closely at your reflection in the screen, you may notice that your bathrobe looks remarkably like a cape.

 

For more information go to- www.earthfolio.net

Article by Kim Lisagor has written about sustainability for Outside, Mother Jones, Men’s Journal, and USA Today. Her latest book is “Disappearing Destinations: 37 Places in Peril and What Can Be Done to Save Them”. Kim studied nature literature at UCLA and has a graduate degree in journalism from UC Berkeley.

The Four P’s of Impact Investing

By Justin Conway, Vice President of Investment Partnerships, Calvert Foundation

Calvert

I hope you enjoyed your Holidays with family and friends as much as I did. In talking with mine about what we’re thankful for, health is always is at the top of my list, which then elicits my mother’s story of how my strong health foundation started with her making all my baby food rather than buying processed options. I don’t remember, but supposedly my diet consisted of lots of pureed peas. They also were part of a recent family meal (fortunately not pureed), so amongst all the talk and eating of peas, I decided to focus this article on what I often refer to as the 4 P’s of Impact Investing. These are related to the barriers our industry faces in making private impact investments more accessible to potential investors…specifically those offered by community development and other impact investment firms and managers.

The first P is the resounding refrain we hear from investors and advisors – we need “Product. There are many impact investment opportunities for those that can source and structure unique private transactions, but very few opportunities that have been productized to access a broader set of institutional and retail investors. While in some cases accessing a broad investor base isn’t appropriate, for those that can actively use investment dollars to help them scale their work, it’s a question of how their capital needs match with what specific types of investors will expect in terms of risk, return, liquidity, structure, and other elements of an investment’s overall package. And whether those needs and the investment package should be focused on high net worth and institutional investors that are able to be more flexible in terms of their approach, or whether they could be suitable for a broader range of investors that often require a more standardized product structure like retail investors and financial advisors.

The next P is Platform, which goes hand in hand with product. Platform is the distribution piece impact investments need to reach investors. These can be unique to a specific product, an online marketplace of options, and/or established platforms at brokerage firms. There are a number of promising efforts underway to create platforms of impact investments with industry credibility and the flexibility in structure and terms that many impact products need. Given that the majority of investment dollars are in the brokerage world, there is even more demand and potential for impact products to raise capital there. The brokerage barriers to entry are significant though, with initial requirements of having a product that has a good track record, with national registration and appeal that is structured similarly to other products can be electronically traded, and is looking for at least $100 million.

So you’ve got a product and a platform, now you need to focus on the third P – Promotion. Let’s face it; most people are not actively looking for impact investments on a regular basis. Tons of potential, but if you build it, they don’t just come. While people are saying in survey after survey they want to align their investments toward creating a better world, and we see increasing signs of this playing out, it takes getting concrete opportunities in front of people for them to take action. Significant education and marketing efforts are needed to bring opportunities to investors in a way that resonates. Promotion doesn’t necessarily mean mass-marketing, but you have to think through how to get this in the eyes and hands of people you think will be inclined to take action…and be prepared to do so many times, as it often takes reaching people multiple times over extended periods before they are comfortable to take action. Even the most outwardly committed investors often move very slowly with their decisions. Financial advisors who are often the gateways to investors of all sizes need to be effectively educated about available impact investment opportunities, which are growing but still very limited at this time.

Creating a compelling product and platform, and effectively promoting it is hard work, and that’s where the fourth P comes in – Partnership. The social and environmental issues we are grappling with are tough; the investment models to address them can be complex; the barriers to entry for accessible investment products are high; we’re all limited in resources and time. Therefore it is very important for players to recognize the specific value they bring, and partner with other players to advance mutual goals more efficiently and effectively. Fortunately, our industry works together well and there are significant opportunities to collaborate with others and leverage our strengths.

In addition to collaborating with those deeply involved in impact investing, it is also important to look to those currently outside of our industry to leverage their capabilities as well. Technology is dramatically changing the way people invest, and an increasing number of public and private organizations are beginning to see how impact investing aligns with their work. There is so much impressive experience and innovation that has gotten our industry to this point, and now it’s a question of how impact investment firms continue to innovate and evolve to make broader connections that continue to advance our efforts.

While perhaps not framed this way before, Calvert Foundation is really focused on these four Ps. Twenty years ago, our visionary founders at Calvert Investments, and the Ford, MacArthur, and Mott foundations recognized a gap in how community-based organizations were able to access private investment capital. Since then, we’ve focused on developing a convenient, standardized investment product that allows all types of investors to support high impact organizations and projects serving real community needs. We’ve taken our product, the Community Investment Note, and made it a CUSIPed offering available on hundreds of brokerage platforms so that investors and their advisors can do impact investing alongside their other investments.

Calvert Foundation is seeing a surge of demand from community organizations and new models for impact capital both in areas we’ve supported for a while like affordable housing, small/micro business, and education, as well as in newer sectors ranging from new clean energy technologies and global health. In order to meet these growing and evolving needs, we’re very intentionally leveraging partnerships with organizations like Capital Impact Partners, MicroVest, and the Inter-American Development Bank to get more capital effectively working in communities; partnering with foundations like Ford, Heron, Kresge, and MacArthur to create new structures and opportunities for investment capital to serve unmet needs in specific cities and themes; partnering with government entities including the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, US Agency for International Development, and the State Department to support efforts to open-up new areas for impact investing; partnering with technology and financial services firms to make impact investments more accessible; and partnering with organizations like AARP Foundation and those active with Latino and Indian diaspora communities to extend the impact investing conversation to new audiences. The result of these partnerships is a growing list of investment options and campaigns that allow investors to respond to the local needs that are of interest to them – from Ours To Own campaigns in Baltimore, Denver, and the Twin Cities…to Raices (www.calvertfoundation.org/initiatives/raices) and the India Investment Initiative (www.calvertfoundation.org/initiatives/india) seeking to engage Latino and Indian disasporas in supporting social enterprises in their communities…to Age Strong (http://agestronginvest.org) supporting the needs of a growing, aging population.

In all, Calvert Foundation is about turning all the interest in impact investing into action that meets the needs of both communities and investors. Effectively matching those up isn’t easy and takes many forms, and we seek to collaborate with other organizations in addressing these P’s and other challenges so that impact investing realizes its potential.

Of course there are many other important P’s to impact investing – from people being the most critical element of our work, to policy advances that can help us really develop the field, to place-based investing and pay-for-success becoming increasing focuses of our industry – but these four P’s are how I organize key challenges in making community and impact investing more accessible. In closing, I’d recommend two industry reports that provide a deeper and different dive into many of these issues: Scaling U.S. Community Investing: The Investor-Product Interface (www.thegiin.org/knowledge/publication/usci) by the Carsey School of Public Policy and Global Impact Investing Network, and Expanding the Market for Community Investing in the United States (http://www.ussif.org/files/Publications/USSIF_Expanding_Markets.pdf) by US SIF, Initiative for Responsible Investment, and Milken Institute.

Finally, thanks Mom for all the peas!

 

Article by Justin Conway, Vice President of Investment Partnerships at Calvert Foundation (www.calvertfoundation.org), a nonprofit financial services firm that has helped thousands of investors channel over $1 billion in impact investments to social enterprises throughout the U.S. and around the world. He is also President of Calvert Foundation’s wholly-owned subsidiary and registered investment advisor, Community Investment Partners. Justin manages the firm’s financial services and distribution relationships, leads the investor relations and marketing team, and works closely with the investors and financial advisors at the forefront of using investment capital for social impact. 

Prior to Calvert Foundation, Justin managed the Community Investment Program of the Social Investment Forum and Green America, worked on human rights in Asia and Central America, and received a Master’s in Applied Economics from Johns Hopkins University and a Bachelor’s in Sociology and Statistics from James Madison University. Justin serves on the board of US SIF, the association of financial professionals engaged in sustainable and responsible investing, as well as numerous other advisory boards and committees in the impact investment field.

A Dialogue on Community Development and Impact Investing: Featuring Ron Phillips and Ellen Golden of CEI

Ron Phillips is the founding CEO of Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI), the Community Development Corporation (CDC) and Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) based in Maine. He will be stepping down from CEI in July 2016 after 38 years. Ellen Golden is the Senior Vice President for Corporate Development and Managing Director of CEI Investment Notes. She is stepping down this month after 37 years with CEI.

Together Ron and Ellen have formed a venerable team in the development of CEI, a publicly and privately funded $150 million organization – plus the largest allocatee in the U.S. of the federal New Markets Tax Credit program (over $800MM). CEI’s primary market is Maine with an increasing presence throughout rural America – now in 26 states. CEI has 85 employees and a 40 person volunteer board and advisory board.

CEI

CEI provides financing, technical support and related policy development for small, medium and micro enterprises, natural resource industries of farms, fish and forests, community facilities such as child care and health care, and affordable housing. Lately it has been investing in renewable energy projects, and revitalizing small town real estate in rural Maine. CEI (www.ceimaine.org) has cumulatively financed over 2,500 enterprises, created/sustained 30,000 jobs, counseled 46,000 fledgling businesses, created nearly 1,700 affordable housing and 5,600 child care slots.

The following is a dialogue between the Ellen and Ron, where they reflect on their commitment to the CDC/CDFI field, a field with roots in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. They also discuss how all of this relates to the rising social consciousness for impact investing today.

Ellen:  Ron, why did you get involved with CEI and the community development corporation/community development financial institution (CDC/CDFI) field? You often say CEI’s roots are in the civil rights movement of the ‘60s. What does that mean?

Ron:  Simply put, it means empowering people and places disenfranchised from a full life and hope. CDCs are grassroots organizations born in the ‘60s as part of President Johnson’s War on Poverty. Then Senators Jacob Javits and Robert Kennedy of New York authored legislation to fund CDCs which were piloted by the Ford Foundation.

 

Ellen:  As I recall, CDCs were created with the promise of hope for low-income people. What does that look like in the community?

Ron:  CDCs raise money to invest in low-income rural communities and urban neighborhoods. They build decent housing, revitalize commercial real estate and finance small businesses, education, and the arts. They develop community assets that create jobs and opportunities for those out of the mainstream and also nurture and affirm identity among young people. Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation in Brooklyn was the first of many to be funded, and it’s still vibrant today, investing in a holistic, targeted way to create impact. CDFIs, which emerged in the ‘90s, continue the tradition of CDCs, but with a greater focus on financing.

 

Ellen:  How did you get involved with CDCs?

Ron:  Many of us who came of age in the ‘60s wanted to make a difference in the lives of people and places at the margins of society, whether by income, race, or even place of birth! I organized CEI in 1977 but it all started earlier in NYC. I attended Union Theological Seminary and worked with church mission organizations in Harlem on a college-bound black education academy, at the United Nations on third world development, and at the National Council of Churches on corporate social responsibility. I got a lot of exposure to grassroots groups struggling for economic prosperity all over the U.S. and globally.

 

Ellen:  And today, there are thousands of CDCs across the country, not to mention 1000 CDFIs. There is a rich 50 year history of raising capital, investing in place and affecting people and communities – you can draw a line right from civil rights to impact investing – and to CEI. But in a rural place like Maine, there had to be something to bring people together. What was the spark that led to CEI?

Ron:  I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. A Maine state agency was planning on establishing a CDC just as I moved to Maine from NYC with my wife, who’s from Maine, and our little kids. The initial state effort wasn’t funded, but I kept it going with fishermen, farmers, bankers, churches, community groups, businesses by turning to churches, and other federal sources like Department of Labor and community action agencies for support. Foundations, churches, community groups and the government have been at this for a long time. Banks have played a role with passage of the Community Reinvestment Act in 1976. The private sector is critical as are CDC/CDFI intermediaries that bridge the gap between public and private sectors.

But what about you Ellen? You went from an adventure with women entrepreneurs to engaging wealthy individuals in impact investing!

Ellen:  I too was a child of the ‘60s. I was nurtured by the social and political movements of those times. While you were at Union, I was next door at Barnard College. I too saw the power of collective action and grassroots organizing. My involvement in women’s issues and the feminization of poverty focused my attention on economic issues.

 

Ron:  But what drew you to CEI?

Ellen:  I moved to Maine in the 1970’s looking to connect with community and to address social, economic and environmental issues. I knew that economic empowerment was important for social and economic justice. CEI was place-based, building community strength and capacity, helping those at the margins and a great platform for addressing women’s economic issues.

 

Ron:  You got involved in CEI’s early development and growth, but then shifted your focus to develop a program to help women entrepreneurs. What motivated you?

Ellen:  The limitations of employment opportunities for women were clear, and business ownership offered an alternative. But, not being taken seriously made it hard for women to access flexible capital and information. My early research revealed a structural mismatch between women’s businesses and the business assistance system. Targeted resources were one way to support women’s economic empowerment. Access to capital mattered, but the right advice delivered well enhances its impact. Impact investing is not just investing in things…it’s investing in people, capacity, and information. That is what we do at CEI – over 3,500 individuals get business, first time homebuyer and foreclosure counseling every year.

 

RonCapacity building is obviously critical, but how does policy make a difference? Can it change the environment for development? Someone once said, “Capital is a necessary but insufficient ingredient in community development.”

Ellen:  Yes, policy is important as a way to institutionalize values and best practices. We change policy to build resources and to prevent harm, e.g., regulating predatory mortgage lending or requiring sexual harassment training for businesses with 15 or more employees. By working on all fronts – capital, advice and policy, we have the possibility of helping at the individual, community, state, and national levels.

 

Ron:  Don’t you think impact investors can truly be a source of support for people and communities at the margins?

Ellen:  Yes, but we still have a long way to go to connect socially conscious investors with the disadvantaged populations of our society. To succeed, we need catalytic capital in the form of grants and gifts as well as investments. I hope impact investors will understand our industry and its history and help advocate for state and federal resources as well as bringing their own connections to philanthropy.

 

Ron:  We have a range of financial products available to those who want to invest in people and communities. Loans and grants from foundations, banks and government, as well as capital contributions, mission investing from churches, venture capital, SBA guaranteed loans, tax credits, and especially now CEI Investment Notes. After 50 years, our field is sophisticated. Although national intermediaries get much of the attention (e.g., LISC, OFN, Enterprise, Impact Capital, LIIF, TRF), there are thousands of place-based development entities across the country that create opportunities for national investing.

Ellen:  With our collective experience and capacity, impact investing becomes a formidable force for the CDC/CDFI industry, especially when combined with philanthropic giving. We need to advance the cause of place-based CDCs/CDFIs with impact investors as well as the fundamental importance of public-private collaboration.

 

Ron:  Yes, and also we need to get better at explaining to impact investors that government plays an essential role in addressing the needs of low income people and communities and that there is value in working with intermediaries and grassroots organizations.

Ellen:  I agree. After all, intermediaries are themselves social enterprises, guided by mission and values, and set up to channel capital to purposeful outcomes and impact.

 

Ron:   You reminded me of a recent publication by the San Francisco Fed, What Works. It seems to me we’ve made some key points in this dialogue. We’re part of this 50-year community development history that goes back to civil rights, empowerment, and opportunity.

Ellen:  You know, government resources were key to building the field. Impact investors have a role to play, but impact investing must be viewed in context and understood as a complement to other types of resources.

 

Ron:  Absolutely. Government is important to level the playing field. Agencies like the SBA, USDA, HUD, HHS and the CDFI Fund, not to mention the major foundations like Ford and MacArthur, national religious denominations, and state and local government are essential. In bringing this dialogue to a close, I would ask you to share one of the hundreds of CEI stories to illustrate how we make a difference.

Ellen:  For me it does come down to the person and place. I often think of a young single mother who started a residential cleaning business using environmentally friendly products with CEI’s help. We provided a lot of business assistance and a small loan of $6,500. It wasn’t easy but that business generated the income needed to leave welfare and the confidence to pursue a college education. It was a transformative experience for her and her family. So, what is your story?

 

Ron:  You know that I always turn to fish. CEI’s first major investment was in a fish-processing co-op in Boothbay Harbor in 1979. A legendary 1910 fish plant burned down just after the community and fishermen purchased it to preserve the working waterfront from tourism development. Two hundred people gathered at the town office to take action. CEI showed up, rallied fishermen, local investors, a bank, and the SBA and helped rebuild a facility that was virtually the last remaining fish processing enterprise in the harbor. It is a story of local ownership, entrepreneurship, private and public capital working together create sustainable social and economic opportunity.

As long as we can engage impact investors in this important work, there is hope, don’t you agree?

Ellen:  Yes.

 

Biographies:

Ronald L. Phillips is president and founder of Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI), a nonprofit community development corporation (CDC) and community development financial institution (CDFI) based in Wiscasset, Maine. Organized in 1977 with roots in the civil rights movement, CEI’s mission is to create economically and environmentally healthy communities in which all people, especially those with low incomes, can reach their full potential. CEI has pursued this mission primarily in rural regions by creating jobs, affordable housing and social services for people and places left out of the economic mainstream. The organization seeks the “Triple Bottom Line” by applying economic, equity and environmental criteria in its investments. Supported by private foundations, individual and institutional investors, local, state and federal agencies, CEI has mobilized over $2 billion for financing and technical assistance in development of small, medium and micro businesses, natural resources industry sectors of fish, farms and forests, community facilities such as family and center-based child care, and affordable housing. In partnerships with other CDFIs and community development entities, CEI is making investments outside of Maine in northern New England, upstate New York, and other regions. Ron was selected by the James A. Johnson Fannie Mae fellowship for the class of 2002. He has served on numerous boards such as the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston, and currently is on the national board of LISC and Rural LISC advisory board, and the Federal Reserve Bank Board of Governors Consumer Advisory Council. He is a graduate of Boston University with a B.A. in comparative literature; a M. of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York; and Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program AMP. Contact him at- rlp@ceimaine.org

Ellen Golden is a Senior Vice President at CEI where she is Managing Director of CEI Investment Notes, Inc. (CEI Notes), a CEI affiliate that aggregates capital from accredited investors to support CEI’s triple bottom line financing programs. She has over thirty years of experience in community economic development with particular expertise in program design, management and implementation; market assessment; partnership development; and resource and policy development. Previously, she managed CEI’s Business Development Services and is the founder of the Women’s Business Center at CEI and StartSmart, a microenterprise program for new Mainers. She currently serves on the boards the Maine Association of Non-Profits and Maine Initiatives and co-Chairs the Steering Committee of the Community Investing Working Group for US SIF. She was a founder of the Association of Women’s Business Centers, MicroNet, the Maine Entrepreneurship Working Group, and the Maine Women’s Policy Center and formerly served on the following boards: the SBA Advisory Council for Maine, the Maine Women’s Lobby, Association for Enterprise Opportunity, the Maine Commission for Women, and the National Commission on Women’s Voices in the Economy. She has received advocacy awards from the SBA for her work on behalf of Women in Business, Minority-owned Businesses and Financial Services. She was recently inducted into the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame. Contact her at- efg@ceimaine.org

 

Self Help Credit Union’s Green Impact Capital

Melissa Malkin-Weber

By Melissa Malkin-Weber, Sustainability Director, Self-Help Credit Union

self-help

When I finished graduate school in 1994, I wanted to build a meaningful career using my training in law and public health. More specifically, I had two major goals: to create a more sustainable planet, and to invest my money in a way that was consistent with my social justice values. Ideally, I would weave the two together.

I was fortunate. Right away I became a contractor for the Environmental Protection Agency. As paychecks started coming in, I also became a member of Self-Help Credit Union, a community development financial institution (CDFI) that offered more than the usual checking and savings. Self-Help has long been known for its innovation, from its early days of helping worker-owned businesses to cutting-edge work in mortgage lending for low-income families. As a new member, I invested in a Green CD and watched with appreciation as Self-Help expanded its green focus, making more loans to land trusts and recycling businesses and adopting energy efficiency standards for its new residential developments, while my deposit earned a steady financial return.

In 2011, when I came on board as Self-Help’s first-ever Sustainability Director, Self-Help gave me an explicit challenge: implement sustainability solutions across every business unit of the organization, inside our walls and outside with construction partners, borrowers and allies. I had a head start on the challenge because of the foundation laid by an internal Environmental Stewardship Committee, a longstanding group of enthusiastic volunteers. They continued to provide legwork and a sounding board as we began to broaden and deepen the organization’s sustainability efforts.

In a short time, we have increased investments in green projects and become more strategic about integrating environmental sustainability into our day-to-day work, from encouraging more car-pooling among our staff to incorporating major energy conservation in multi-million dollar projects. We developed processes to weigh the benefits of energy upgrades against expenses, and we selected the most practical, cost effective options for our buildings. We received grants to supplement our own efficiency investments, updated our energy tracking and benchmarking, and engaged vendor partners in improving their environmental practices.  At the same time, we worked on environmental awareness among all of our staff, emphasizing that even small actions count—such as using one paper towel instead of two.

At the end of two years, we measured all of the successes, large and small. We were delighted to find that we had greened Self-Help activities to the tune of $1.7 million (net present value) when we totaled projected energy savings, program benefits and new green loans.

Financing a Greener World

Building on the momentum of these successes, we expanded our lending for green businesses, buildings and nonprofits. Cumulatively, Self-Help has made $249 million in direct loans to sustainable businesses, nonprofits, and community facilities, ranging from healthy foods systems ($14.5 million); energy efficient buildings and homes ($137 million); recycling businesses ($15 million); and solar farms ($75 million and counting).

Our lending to solar developers has been the recent star of our green lending. A huge number of solar farms have been installed across North Carolina in recent years, fueled by state tax credits and other policies. We at Self-Help saw a unique opportunity to make a big impact in a short time, and we worked together to harness some of Self-Help’s strengths: an innovative spirit, a willingness to learn fast, and a committed staff that responds to a call for “all hands on deck” whenever necessary. We also drew on longstanding partnerships with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), leveraging its renewable energy loan guarantee program. As a result, the USDA Raleigh office has issued the agency’s highest number of loan guarantees nationally, fueled primarily by Self-Help’s solar loans.

In the past three years, Self-Help has closed more than $75 million in loans to utility-scale solar farms, and we expect that amount will more than double by the end of 2015. The benefits of these solar projects are cascading through the surrounding communities. Utility-scale solar, in particular, is compelling for its local economic impact. It creates thousands of jobs year-round in rural and often impoverished counties. These counties earn personal property taxes on solar farms, providing hundreds of thousands of dollars in new county revenue that can fund economic development, infrastructure and vital services. Landowners who lease their land to solar farms get double or triple the income generated from farming, while retaining possession of the land and putting it to a productive use with a negligible environmental impact.

Working with a Business that “Gets” Green

While it has been a heady experience to be part of the solar industry in North Carolina, I take particular pride in sharing stories of the remarkable borrowers we serve. One of our notable partners is Rush Creek Lodge, an eco-lodge now under construction in Yosemite National Park. It will become a certified B Corporation, which means it operates for profit and also to benefit society. When complete, Rush Creek will be the first new resort in Yosemite in over 25 years, offering more than 143 beautiful rooms and operating in ways that promote sustainability and social justice.

When Rush Creek’s leaders sought financing, they wanted a lender who shared their commitment to triple bottom-line goals—people, planet and profit. Thanks to an introduction by RSF Social Finance, a peer CDFI, Self-Help was fortunate to become that partner. We immediately recognized a kindred spirit in Rush Creek. In underwriting the project, Self-Help particularly valued Rush Creek’s focus on workforce development through a self-funded program developed and already in operation at Rush Creek’s sister property, the Evergreen Lodge. Working with agencies throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, the lodges provide internship opportunities and full-time social service staff to help high-potential young adults develop strong employment and life skills. This program has helped over 200 youth prepare for successful futures, often while exposing them to the great outdoors for the first time in their lives.

In addition, Rush Creek demonstrates a strong commitment to sustainability in a number of ways, including these:

100 percent of onsite water will be reused. When it opens this spring, Rush Creek will have the largest commercial grey water system in the state of California, followed in size by Evergreen.

Rush Creek will employ a rooftop solar photovoltaic system. Any excess power generation will go back to the grid.

All aspects of operations encourage energy conservation, including guest rooms with smart thermostats and water-conserving appliances, and meals created with local sourcing of organic produce, meats and baked goods.

Together with capital partners like Self-Help, the owners of Rush Creek have pushed the boundaries of traditional hotel development while maximizing positive environmental and social outcomes.

A Pioneering Partnership to Save Energy at Home

In addition to working with individual businesses to support exemplary practices, Self-Help also relishes opportunities to collaborate with other like-minded financial institutions. Our alliance with Craft3 breaks new ground in financing home improvements to amplify positive environmental and community impact.

Craft3, another peer CDFI serving Oregon and Washington, provides home energy-efficiency (EE) loans in partnership with a nonprofit called Enhabit. The program allows a homeowner to finance energy efficiency upgrades, such as insulation, duct-sealing and high-efficiency heat and hot water. A key innovation is that homeowners are able to access financing without putting any money down. They repay the loan through their regular utility bills, a mechanism known as on-bill repayment (OBR). Financed projects aim to reduce the homeowner’s energy use by 15 percent annually. The program also includes a workforce agreement with participating contractors that helps build energy-efficiency expertise among minority- and women-owned businesses.

Craft3 approached Self-Help with a groundbreaking proposition: Would we help establish a “secondary market” for their EE loans? In other words, Craft3 was looking to sell its loans in order to recycle capital and make more loans with the proceeds from the sale.

We jumped at the chance. Together, Craft3 and Self-Help packaged a first-of-its kind transaction, allowing Craft3 to sell its EE loans to Self-Help. Through two loan sales in 2013 and 2015, Self-Help has purchased 1,716 loans originated by Craft3 totaling $22 million. We hope this partnership with Craft3 will help spawn similar programs around the country to bring greater energy efficiency through OBR financing.

Commitment Meets Moxie

Sustainability at Self-Help is, at heart, a team sport, driven by passion and commitment. Our organizational culture celebrates the internal advocate who jumps in with two feet to champion new opportunities where mission impact and financial sustainability overlap. As the examples here demonstrate, we have developed a culture that constantly says yes to new ideas and new ways to pull together smart capital and measure success by a triple-bottom line.

I’ve been Sustainability Director here for almost six years, and I sometimes still pinch myself when I look at my business card. Every day I’m stretched to find the most creative and effective ways to save energy for our operations, to support our borrowers and communities where we work, and to learn new energy sectors so that we can make smart investments.

Self-Help’s work is fueled by the passion of our members and depositors who believe that impact capital can change the world. Funds invested in Self-Help’s Green Certificate of Deposit and other accounts support sustainability work by providing capital for the kind of loans described in this piece. Join us! Consider investing with us by emailing-  green@self-help.org or visiting-  www.self-help.org/invest

Learn more and stay abreast of new ideas: Go to-  www.self-help.com/green follow me on Twitter @selfhelpgreen , and follow Self-Help’s blog at-  www.self-help.org/blog

 

Article by Melissa Malkin-Weber, Sustainability Director, Self-Help Credit Union

Melissa has worked across a broad span of hands-on sustainability practices. At Self-Help Credit Union, she integrates the triple bottom line into the organization’s financial products, operations, and buildings portfolio. She led Self-Help to realize over $1.7 million in net present value from initiatives in this sector, including $180,000 energy savings in our own operations. Melissa previously directed the residential energy efficiency and indoor air quality research program at Advanced Energy and worked in industrial pollution prevention at RTI International. She earned her law degree from University of Michigan, and her Masters from UNC’s School of Public Health.

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