Category: March 2016 – The Slow Money Issue

My Personal Journey from Conventional Finance to Slow Money

Marco Vangelisti

By Marco Vangelisti, Founder of Essential Knowledge for Transition

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I am a refugee from conventional finance.

It all started in the most innocent and promising way — a graduate student in math and economics at the University of California in Berkeley lands a job in the 80s with a think tank spearheading what would come to be called the quant wave in finance. We were applying mathematical models, statistical techniques and state-of-the-art computers (imagine a computer the size of a large refrigerator with the brain of your iPod Nano) to the field of investing, which at the time was the purview of fundamental analysts and stock pickers. Just for reference, in those days there was no email and no internet in our office.

What a thrill to find real life applications for the many years of theoretical math, which had been the staple of the last six years of my education.

Fast-forward 30 years, and that graduate student was now part of a team managing $20 billion in emerging markets equity in a very well respected investment management firm. It was a glamorous job. I had smart colleagues and influential clients around the world. We were also doing great — we were managing the best performing emerging markets equity fund with a 10 year track record and our clients loved us.

The only glitch was my curiosity about how our quantitatively constructed 300-name portfolio achieved such an amazing performance. You must know that I have always been a passionate and committed environmentalist. I never even applied for a job that required me to commute and I currently do not own a car. I am also passionate about social justice. Suffice it to say, I feel very much at home in Berkeley, CA.

RainForest+PalmAgWhen I looked at some of the best performing stocks in the portfolio that year I found a palm oil company in Malaysia that had destroyed tens of thousands of acres of original rain forest in the Borneo to plant a monocrop of palm oil plants — eliminating massive swaths of orangutan habitat in the process. In fact, part of their stock performance was predicated on obtaining carbon credits for planting trees.

Ironically, most of our clients were foundations and endowments. In fact, some of the best-known environmental foundations had invested in our fund and celebrated our strong performance. Paradoxically, I had donated to one of them for their work protecting the orangutan habitat.

So, let’s recap. An environmentalist who donated to an environmental foundation for its work in preserving orangutan habitat finds himself managing that same foundation’s assets, and funding through one of the portfolio’s companies the very destruction of said habitat. We were all doing our jobs in the most skilled and ethical way. The CIO of the environmental foundation, whose task was to preserve and grow the foundation assets in perpetuity (notice: a luxury not afforded to the thousand year old rainforest) had selected the best performing fund in that sector of the market. Our team, which had the fiduciary responsibility to manage our clients’ assets so as to maximize the risk-adjusted return, delivered exceptional results and grew the foundation’s assets. And yet, money that was set up to do good was funding activities directly contrary to the purpose for which it was granted.

That was when the cognitive dissonance between my personal values and my livelihood became too loud to ignore and I knew I had to leave my glamorous job. This was in early 2009, when the economy was tanking and the stock market was in a nosedive. Needless to say, it was not an easy decision to leave, as jobs in the investment management industry can be very well compensated. Yet, I felt I had no choice.

Orangutan_marchThe intermediation of global finance is, I believe, at the very core of the many environmental and social problems we face. We live in a global economy driven by global financial capital, which is for the most part managed by fiduciaries legally bound to strictly confine themselves to financial risk and return considerations. All the non-financial impacts of an investment, what an economist will call “externalities,” like the destruction of the rainforest, the pollution of rivers, the displacement of communities, etc. cannot be considered by fiduciaries. Through this intermediated arrangement we are rendering these externalities invisible to the owners of capital. We are all collectively unaware of what our investments are really doing out there in the world. All we ask of the people managing our money is to focus exclusively on the financial performance of our investments — their return and their volatility.

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, a UN initiative focused on “making nature’s values visible,” published a very important study in April 2013 called “Natural Capital at Risk: the Top 100 Externalities of Business.”[1] It was a result of a massive global study over 15 years which applied environmental economics techniques to measuring in dollar terms the value of the natural capital we use for free — like water, land and natural resources — and the cost of “externalities” like pollution of the air, water and land. The results of the study were staggering. Our global economic activity in 2009 caused a loss of unpriced natural capital of $7.3 trillion. Considering that the global GDP, the total output of goods and services produced worldwide that year, was about $62 trillion, the unpriced natural capital used in the process amounted to more than 10 percent of the global GDP. In other words, we have been treating nature as a business in liquidation in order to subsidize our economic activity worldwide and therefore the financial returns of global investment capital.

An alien looking at this beautiful blue planet might see something quite odd. A species which calls itself homo sapiens and which is utterly dependent on the natural systems that developed on this unique planet over billions of years, has come up with a strange game of numbers played over a complicated network of computers that forces it to take whatever is left of those natural systems, commoditize them, dismantle them and sell them for parts. That is pretty odd. And yet, I have a confession to make. Three years after leaving my finance job, my personal investment portfolio was still playing the odd game the alien observed. That is, until I had an insight as I was sitting on a meditation cushion doing Metta practice. I was imagining sending loving kindness to all living beings around the world. The image of the destroyed rainforest came to my mind, and then it hit me. I was already affecting a lot of living beings around the world with my very investments, and the impact certainly did not feel like loving kindness to them.

I realized then that I had to overcome my concerns about the increased risk of giving up broad diversification in my investment portfolio and the potential loss of investment return. I divested from all international investments, all large capitalization stocks and all mutual funds, and retained mostly local investments. Basically, I sold all investments for which I did not have a complete understanding of their ultimate impact on communities and ecosystems.

What I found perplexing was the fact that it was easier for me to align my livelihood to my values by walking away from my prior finance job, than it was to align my own investments — despite that the personal financial cost of the first decision was much greater than that of the second.

I realized that money in the form of investment capital, especially in our global and highly intermediated financial system has a very unfortunate power — it allows for the separation of our intentions and personal values from our agency in the world as expressed by our investments.

I also realized that through my traditional investments I was involved in a massive intergenerational injustice. The financial returns I relied upon to provide for my comfortable retirement came at the expense of future generations, since a large part of those returns was predicated on extractive activities that diminished the natural capital future generations will need to survive.

In the last six years I have been involved in direct funding of mostly Slow Money enterprises in Northern California where I live. The process has called for an investment of time as well as money, since direct investing requires taking a close look at each business or project and, at times, advising the entrepreneur receiving funding. And yes, local investing can be risky. I experienced investment losses in two areas — pre-revenue start-ups and direct personal loans to entrepreneurs whose character I did not know well enough. But it can also be greatly rewarding. Seeing local businesses thrive and knowing that your investment had a part in their success is wonderfully gratifying.

Local investments are also investments for the long haul, since there is no developed secondary market that could provide liquidity (the ability to sell the investment to someone else for cash). Risk, liquidity, a steep learning curve and time commitment are the primary challenges we face in realigning our values with our investments, yet such realignment is the moral imperative of our time and our responsibility towards future generations.

 

Article by Marco Vangelisti, Founder, Essential Knowledge for Transition (http://ek4t.com). Marco worked in finance for 25 years and for the last 6 in the investment management industry. He is a founding member of Slow Money and in the leadership team of the Slow Money Northern California network. He is a 100% impact investor and shares his experience doing direct Slow Money investments with communities around the country to help them increase their capacity for local investing through workshop and lectures. Marco developed Essential Knowledge for Transition – a curriculum for engaged citizens to understand the money and banking system, the economic system and the financial system and how we need to transform them. He speaks nationally as guest lecturer and author.

Article Note:

[1] http://ek4t.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Natural-Capital-at-Risk.pdf

Moooo-ve Over Big Dairy: The True Story of a Goat Dairy Cooperative

By Taber Ward, Co-Founder and Executive Director; and Madelynn Evensen, Education Coordinator and Herd Manager of Mountain Flower Goat Dairy

Setting the Stage

I don’t know anything about goats… What do they eat? How do you milk them? Does the milk taste weird? How many babies do they have? Wait, they need to give birth EVERY YEAR to produce milk!? Where do you take them in the winter? Why don’t some of them have ears?”

AuthorsWe hear these questions every day at Mountain Flower Goat Dairy.

Mountain Flower is a nonprofit, working, urban goat dairy and education center located in downtown Boulder, Colorado, one mile north of the city center. For us, the answers to those questions are basic to our knowledge about goat care and the life cycles of mammals. But, as farms get bigger and further from population centers, the secrets of how agriculture, life and nature work are lost bit by bit, inch by inch, row by row.

The Big Bottleneck in Small-Scale Animal Production

Since Mountain Flower Goat Dairy opened its barn doors four years ago, we have been available to the public to foster a reconnection with dairy, agriculture and the Earth. What we have learned is that our community craves this lost knowledge and hands-in-the-earth experience with life. Our volunteer roster is full (with a waitlist), our raw-milk share is more in demand every day, our summer camps and tours are booked solid. We literally don’t have enough goats or goat products to go around.

The logical next step is to expand. However, we started this downtown farm with a mission to provide humanely produced dairy products to the local community; it was never our intent to go big or industrialize. The challenge was to scale up, despite problems intrinsic to large-scale animal operations. How can we meet the demand of our consumers? How can we increase our revenue and capture economies of scale to pay living wages to our workers, charge reasonable prices to our customers and nurture the Earth and our animals? How can we make a living as farmers without industrializing our means and modes of production?

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The answers to these questions emerged unexpectedly in July 2015, when we met with Slow Money founder and Chairman Woody Tasch to learn about scale, investment, values and sustainable agriculture. We told him we were ready to scale up and asked how to reach out to investors, something we had never done. We had been a bootstrap operation, relying on a little donated seed money and a lot of help from human and goat friends.

A Brief History of Boulder’s Urban Goat Farm

Mountain Flower was founded with five goats and a personal donation of just $20,000 from founder Taber Ward, now executive director of the dairy. Volunteers labored alongside her, including co-founder Jonathan Vaught, as well as board members, neighbors, relatives, friends and landlords. We managed to keep our heads above water by starting our five goat raw-milk share in 2013, adding summer camps, tours and birthday parties in 2014 and applying for grants and soliciting small donations in 2015.

Goat&LLamaAmazingly, the dairy has never been in the red. Somehow, just when we need it, money comes in and we get through the last harsh weeks of winter, when the animals are pregnant and we are not producing milk.

We are also very fortunate to be supported by our landlords, Catherine Long Gates and her husband, Dennis Gates, of Long’s Gardens, 25 acres of the last working agricultural land within Boulder city limits. This parcel has been in Catherine’s family since 1916, farmed with flowers, especially iris, their current crop, ever since. Third-generation farmers, the Gates continue to both cultivate the land and foster appreciation for local agriculture throughout the community. They believe in our mission and help us today with infrastructure updates, pasture management and composting, and generously share their knowledge of the cycles, rhythms and ecosystems that we are part of, too.

Fast forward to today. Currently we have 100 herd-share members, to whom we distribute raw milk. This year, we will increase our milk production and membership. We partner with the city’s North Boulder Recreation Center to host seven, week-long summer camps for children ages six to 11 and offer after-school programming through local high schools and social services. Our thriving volunteer program depends on the dedicated people who contribute consistently to the success of our farm, while learning how to raise their own herd and produce their own dairy products. In addition, we have public visiting hours every Saturday, April through November, when visitors learn about goats through hands-on interactions and our mobile education set-up.

Reducing Inefficiencies and Breaking Bottlenecks: Cooperatives as a Way Forward

Back to our July meeting with Woody Tasch: It was clear that traditional investment was not a good route for Mountain Flower. He understood that our mission was not to get big and make a lot of money, so he suggested an alternative: “Have you thought about a dairy co-op model?”

We hadn’t, but, as soon as he suggested it, the course was clear. A co-op would allow us to scale up, increase our purchasing power and capture economies of scale, without denaturing the fabric of our agroecosystem and sacrificing the health of both our animals and the land.

Many of the volunteers working with us also had a dream to start their own farms and, in the two to three years they had been with us, some had purchased land or bought a few of our male goats for grazing. We are proud to report that these are now the first co-op producer members.

A cooperative model allows us to partner with other producers, consumers, workers and distributors to scale up our model without compromising the integrity and values of small, family-run farms. We will all work together – cooperate – to purchase common infrastructure (i.e., grade A dairy equipment to pasteurize our milk); share knowledge and labor (even dairy farmers need vacations!); increase our purchasing power by buying necessities like grain, alfalfa and nutritional supplements in larger quantities; and share marketing and distribution channels. The co-op model allows each farm to retain its own identity as an L.L.C., while sharing a common brand, standards for treatment of animals, sanitation, herd health and land stewardship. Members sign agreements that bind them to uphold these standards.

Cooperatives are nothing new; Organic Valley, Land o’ Lakes, Ocean Spray and REI have withstood the test of time. Cooperatives are not a get-rich-quick endeavor, so the model is not appealing to folks seeking an immediate, high return on investment. Instead, members receive slow and steady dividends from sales of the product, after an initial membership buy-in investment.

Once a member joins a cooperative, the total value of that member’s contributions of service or labor, (if a worker cooperative), or the value of the member’s consumption, (if a purchasing/consumer cooperative), is deemed that member’s “patronage.” Return on equity comes in the form of a “patronage dividend,” which is based upon a formula of the total patronage of the cooperative, divided by each member’s individual patronage. The amount of “patronage dividend” or “patronage refund” distributed to members and the amount retained by the cooperative to support continued operations and growth is determined by each individual cooperative based on the needs of the members and the business.”[1]

While our new dairy cooperative is a for-profit enterprise, the intent is to share the risk, maintain our values around sustainable agriculture and support the viability of our local community of farmers and land stewards.

GoatFarm

Vote Goat! – Beetcoin Crowdfunding

The newly established Mountain Flower Cooperative applied to Slow Money to participate in its entrepreneurial showcase at the Snowmass Slow Money Gathering in the fall of 2015. Our application was accepted and we had our first shot at talking to investors. Our pitch to the investor crowd at the event did not lead to any financial investments, but we were elated when the Beetcoin crowdfunding campaign resulted in $44,000 granted to us as a three-year, 0 percent-interest loan. We paid a lawyer to help us incorporate our cooperative properly and bought a machine bucket milker to start milking our herd mechanically. The funds also will be used to initiate work on our new grade A dairy, to bring pasteurized milk to market.

For us, the crowdfunding campaign leveraged Slow Money’s national network and we raised much more money than we could have alone. In fact, we tried a crowdfunding campaign in 2014, which fell flat, yielding only about $400. The Beetcoin campaign enabled us to work with other farmers and Slow Money’s networks to form a local-farm platform that was much more compelling to donors and local-farm advocates nationwide. Most of our donations were just $25, but that small amount made a world of difference.

We don’t know yet if this cooperative model will work for us, but we’ve changed our paradigm from “success or failure” to “this is all a big experiment.” We try to remember that there is no endpoint, no destination, but an aspiration to fit into the cycles and rhythms of life – and maybe even relax and have fun along the way. As poet Mary Oliver reminds us, “…the world offers itself to your imagination…over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”

 

More about Mountain Flower Dairy at- mountainflowerdairy.com

ARTICLE BY:

Taber Ward – Co-Founder and Executive Director

Mountain Flower’s daily operations, employee supervision, herd-health, food safety protocol, volunteer programs, milk shares and education programs are overseen and directed by Taber Ward, J.D., Co-Founder and Executive Director of MFD. Taber has a background in goat husbandry, farm management and a law degree with a focus on public health, food and agricultural policy. Taber also sits on the State of Colorado Farm to School Task Force and was appointed to the Boulder County Food and Agriculture Policy Council in 2014.

Madelynn Evensen – Education Coordinator and Herd Manager

Madelynn started volunteering at Mountain Flower in 2013, and in 2014 became our part-time education coordinator. During this time she was also the Market Coordinator for the Boulder County Farmers’ Market where she worked to support local agriculture and provide a space for the community to learn about where their food comes from. We are happy to announce that Madelynn joined Mountain Flower full-time as of September 2015. Madelynn moved to Boulder in 2012, shortly after graduating from the University of California Santa Barbara, where she studied Anthropology with a focus on food systems. While attending UCSB she began working on local farms, which ignited an interest in a more hands-on agricultural learning experience. That interest lead her to Growing Gardens in Boulder, where she interned for two seasons, and then to Mountain Flower in 2013 where she began to assist with education projects.

ARTICLE NOTE

[1] R.P. Burrasca, Susan Grossberg, Anne Misak, and Jason Wiener Editors: Anne Misak and Michelle Sturm, An Introduction to Financing for Cooperatives, Social Enterprises, and Small Businesses, June 2015, available at http://www.jrwiener.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/finance_guide_final_june_2015.pdf

Slow Money and the State of Soil

By Woody Tasch, Founder and Chairman of the Slow Money Institute

By Woody Tasch, Founder and Chairman of the Slow Money Institute

 

“Beetniks Against Global Warming.” There’s a placard you never saw in Paris.

Because to a Beetnik—someone who has participated in a Slow Money Beetcoin campaign or anyone whose occasionally countercultural tendencies are tempered by an appreciation of local entrepreneurs and farmers— investing in a small food enterprise near where we live is as important as traveling thousands of miles to negotiate international targets on CO2 in the atmosphere.

Which is not to compare the two. But it is to say that even while faced with global social and environmental challenges of imponderable complexity, we can affirm the significance of the slow, the small, and the local.
This is what those of the Slow Money persuasion did, once again, in 2015. More than $6 million has gone this year into 83 small food enterprises, bringing the total since 2010 to more than $46 million into 450 deals. The 2Forks Club (Carbondale, CO) made its first loan this year—a $23,500 zero-percent loan to Zephyros Farm of Paonia—and the Knives and Forks Investment Co-op (Vancouver, BC) introduced a new model to our family of investment clubs. Our first regional online Beetcoin campaign exceeded its target, raising more than $56,000 for several Colorado food enterprises (more details here- https://slowmoney.org/beetcoin). Slow Money Minnesota launched. Slow Money North Carolina hosted its first regional gathering. Slow Money Northeast Kansas held its first entrepreneur showcase.

Beetcoins_stackedWe are building a movement of individuals who—not content to delegate our fate to politicians, CEOs, technologists, economists, regulators, certifiers, fiduciaries, and pundits—are choosing a constructive, hopeful course of action. We are affirming our sense that in the world of faster and faster, bigger and bigger, more and more global, we need not only new technologies and new policies, but also new sensibilities and new behavior, without which the words sustainable and transparent and accountable and socially responsible and metrics and impact will mean little in the end.

We are modeling this new behavior, imperfectly, pragmatically, learning as we go. Our conversation about food, money, and the soil continues to deepen.

While heads of state work towards international climate solutions, the earthworms among us keep busy in the soil of a restorative economy.

We may lend an ear to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who said earlier this month as the Paris proceedings opened:

Justice demands that, with what little carbon we can still safely burn, developing countries are allowed to grow. The lifestyles of a few must not crowd out opportunities for the many still on the first steps of the development ladder.

Or we may heed the words of John Roulac, CEO of the organic food company Nutiva:

The elephant in the room in Paris—and it’s quite a big elephant—is that for some reason the world’s government leaders, and many climate groups, have omitted the planet’s two leading carbon sinks, soils and oceans, from the main climate agenda … In this age of fascination with high technology, we choose to ignore the earthworm (tiller of the soil) and ocean plankton (our indispensable oxygen generator) at our peril.

Or we may take to the streets, placard held high:

“Beetniks For Peaceable Finance”

When the protesting and diplomacy are done, we must get down to the business of investing. We cannot only vote with our consumer dollars or our political contributions or our charitable donations. We also have to vote with our investments. In so doing, it is entirely OK, no, essential, to admit that there is more that we don’t know than that we know. We are moving in a fundamentally new direction, doing what we can to nurture an ethos of humility and affection.

I have no idea how to make peace directly with the violence that is emanating from the Middle East and maybe this is the point. I wonder: Is it some kind of cosmic coincidence that the most virulent rejection of western civilization has emerged from the birthplace of agriculture?

Stumped by such imponderables, I can only reflect that we of the exceptionalism kind know how to wage war remotely, to target precision bombs from high altitude halfway around the world, but we don’t know how to make peace with the land.

Making peace with the land means making peace with local farmers. It means stepping away from the violence of today’s news and reconnecting with the places where we live and with the soil. It means choosing patterns of food production that do less harm, helping us move away from dangerous over-reliance on fossil fuels and other petrochemicals.

When we join a CSA, we are making this kind of peace. When we shop at the farmers’ market, we are making peace. When we take a little of our money out of Wall Street and put it into small, local, or organic food enterprises near where we live, we are producing small quotients of peace.

So now let’s take a few moments to put down the placards, put away the check books, invite our imaginations to the table and appreciate what we’ve all been up to, together, partners in the Earthworm School of Local Food and Peaceable Finance.

The State of Soil

“If we don’t get agriculture right, then we can’t get industrialization and consumerism and globalization and urbanization right.”

The State of the Soil is weak.

We are strong in terms of tillage, but weak in terms of fertility. We are strong measured in chemical and mechanical power—millions and millions of tons of NPK, petrochemicals, herbicides and pesticides and the sophisticated technologies to apply them—but we are weak in terms of soil erosion, weak in terms of our connection to the land, weak in terms of sense of place. Our industrial systems are taking carbon from the soil instead of building carbon in the soil. We have less and less organic matter, and fewer and fewer people who know what it feels, smells or tastes like.

This is a crisis in its own right, but it is also a spoke in the wheel of a larger crisis. Some might opine that food and agriculture are not merely a spoke, but are actually the hub, because if we don’t get agriculture right, then we can’t get industrialization and consumerism and globalization and urbanization right, and so, we can’t ever really get at the great systemic crisis of climate change and the increasing dysfunction of our institutions.

This is what New York Times writer Mark Bittman was getting at in 2015 when he wrote: “The world of food and agriculture symbolizes most of what’s gone wrong in the United States.” He went on to pose the following question:

Is contemporary American agriculture a system for nourishing people and providing a livelihood for farmers? Or is it one for denuding the nation’s topsoil while poisoning land, water, workers and consumers and enriching corporations? Our collective actions would indicate that our principles favor the latter; that has to change.

Surely, things in the food system have to change. But what also has to change is the way we frame things in overly simplistic, either/or terms. Nourishers vs. denuders. Disempowered consumers vs. greedy corporations. We must resist these labels and the overly simplistic world of us vs. them. If we do not resist, then our conversations will be little more than tribal squabbling. Or worse. They will lead to full-blown righteous struggles between good and evil.

I am not a nourisher and you are not a denuder. I am not a disempowered consumer and you are not a greedy corporation. We are all investors, that is, we are all directly or indirectly invested in the systems we hope to change, and our position vis-à-vis these systems and one another is way more nuanced than us vs. them labels. Our intentions and beliefs and hopes and imagination are way more nuanced, way more beautifully ambiguous and full of meaning than that. Our interdependence is way more nuanced and beautiful than that.

For instance, it is a certainty that some in this room have investments in Monsanto or Exxon or McDonald’s, whether you know it or not, through one of your index funds or mutual funds or retirement accounts. That doesn’t make you greedy or evil. It doesn’t make you a denuder. But it does raise the stakes in terms of the need to avoid the blame game.

Us vs. them is to imagination what Roundup is to weeds. And Twinkies are to nutrition.

Happily, later in that same New York Times piece, Bittman wrote: Let’s try to make sense of where the world is now instead of relying on outdated doctrines like ‘capitalism’ and ‘socialism’ created by people who had no idea what the 21st century would look like.

I couldn’t agree more. This is our urgent task: to get beyond the false political and economic choices of bygone eras. We can’t find our way through the problems of the 21st century if we are wearing 19th and 20th-century goggles.

Here’s how E.F. Schumacher put it:

We have become confused as to what our convictions are. The great ideas of the nineteenth century may fill our minds in one way or another, but our hearts do not believe in them all the same. Mind and heart are at war with one another, not, as is commonly asserted, reason and faith. Our reason has become beclouded by an extraordinary, blind and unreasonable faith in a set of fantastic and life-destroying ideas inherited from the nineteenth century. It is the foremost task of our reason to recover a truer faith than that.

Now, you may not have thought you were signing up for an exploration into the relationship between reason and faith, or into what comes after capitalism and socialism, when you put on your scarf this morning. But that’s precisely what is needed if we are going to preserve and restore the soil, and it is precisely what we are doing every time we make an investment in a small, local or organic food enterprise.

The word “small” is key here, because we are not undertaking some great project of system redesign at the level of macro-economic theory or ideology or national policy. We are undertaking it directly and with the utmost pragmatism, one small food enterprise at a time, one CSA at a time, one seed company at a time, one rooftop urban farm at a time, one less-eutrophied aquifer at a time, one fewer Big Mac at a time, one soil-building investment at a time.

In Closing

if you spend more of your household budget on food, and you get food of higher quality, food that is fresher, more biodiverse, more local, less tainted with chemicals, and the provision of which has done less damage to soil, water and air, is your standard of living higher or lower? Italians spend on average 14.8 percent of their household budget on food, compared with an average of 6.6 percent in the U.S. Most economists would interpret this in only one way: Italy’s standard of living is lower than that in the U.S., because after buying food Italians have less money to spend on other consumer goods. A meta-economic earthworm would interpret this in an entirely different way: Italians recognize the centrality of food to culture and so have not rushed to trade in culture for commodities.

This is some of what E.F. Schumacher was after in Small Is Beautiful. And unless you believe that increased consumption is synonymous with improved well being, that there is no such thing as too much consumption, or mindless consumption, or destructive consumption, then you will find Schumacher’s work thought-provoking, maybe even inspiring. So, if you haven’t read Small Is Beautiful, do it. Some of the particulars are dated, but the underlying thinking is timeless.

 

To find out more on The State of Soil and get the latest news from Slow Money go to- www.slowmoney.org

Article by Woody Tasch, the Founder and Chairman of the Slow Money Institute and author of “Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered” (Chelsea Green). Since 2010, dozens of local Slow Money networks and investment clubs have catalyzed the flow of $46 million into 450 local and/or organic food enterprises in the U.S., Canada and France.

Woody is widely renowned as a thought leader in patient capital, mission-related investing and community development venture capital. He is former Chairman and CEO of Investor’s Circle (IC), one of the oldest angel networks in the country and the only one dedicated to sustainability; since 1992, IC members have invested more than $200 million in early stage ventures. Woody was founding chairman of the Community Development Venture Capital Alliance and Treasurer of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation during the 1990s, where he spearheaded the integration of asset management and grant making, including a substantial investment in Stonyfield Farm, now the world’s largest organic yogurt producer.

Woody has worked as an entrepreneur, venture capitalist, board member and consultant with many companies and non-profits. Early in his career, he developed management case studies at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (Mexico), birthplace of the Green Revolution.

Woody is a frequent speaker and has been featured in The New York Times, Huffington Post, Resurgence, San Francisco Chronicle, The Sun and many other media outlets. Utne Reader named him one of “25 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World.”

Woody graduated in 1973 Magna Cum Laude from Amherst College, where he won the Collin Armstrong Poetry Prize.

The State of Green Business, 2016

by Joel Makower, Chairman & Executive Editor, GreenBiz Group

GreenBiz16_Cover..3jpgThe good news is that there’s some good news. And that bad news is getting, well, less bad.

That’s one way to read this year’s State of Green Business.

Our ninth annual report published in early February and produced in partnership with Trucost (www.trucost.com), continues our tradition of taking the pulse of corporate progress in sustainability, in the United States and around the world. It looks at both common measures (energy, waste and carbon) and some less-common ones (corporate reporting of natural capital profit or savings, for example, or companies’ low-carbon investments) over the past five years.

The report assesses the performance of U.S. companies in the S&P 500 index as well as those in the MSCI World Developed Index, which includes more than 1,600 companies in 24 developed markets. It also offers up the 10 trends for 2016 that we think you should be watching.

Let’s start with the trends. We’re pretty proud about our track record here, as we identify waves that are getting ready to crest. Last year, for example, we identified food waste[1], stranded assets[2] and green bonds[3] among last year’s trends to watch. All seemed to garner increased attention and action during 2015.

For 2016, we identify the circular economy, green infrastructure, carbon recycling, microgrids and the b-to-b sharing economy among our 10 trends. All, we believe, will gain traction in the months ahead, becoming a growing part of the corporate sustainability scene.

Another is the growth of the “blue economy” — the newfound focus on the business of oceans, from mapping and mining to stewardship and “smart sailing” initiatives for the shipping industry. There’s a cottage industry emerging in turning ocean plastics into materials, transforming a pollutant into a product. And growing attention to sustainable fishing, including the human rights aspects of the commercial fishing industry. All told, a sea change in thinking about oceans.

Just the Facts

The second half of the report are the numbers — a set of more than 30 metrics produced with Trucost — assessing how companies, in aggregate, are making progress on key environmental measures.

One promising area of progress is in the financial cost of natural capital impacts — the aggregate dollar value of environmental degradation caused by companies’ resource use and emissions. Trucost calculated the value of hundreds of natural-capital inputs consumed (such as water or commodities like fossil fuels) and outputs generated (such as waste or greenhouse gas emissions) by companies’ operations and supply chains over the last five years.

After years of increases, the costs took a downward shift for the most recent year of data, suggesting that companies are becoming more efficient and environmentally responsible.

Still, business has a long way to go before declaring victory. In the U.S., the value of natural capital used by business exceeds $1 trillion per year, or 6 percent of national GDP, in terms of the environmental and social impacts associated with pollution, ecosystem depletion and related health costs. This number is almost $3 trillion for global companies.

If you put that number into context by comparing it to corporate profits, you get a troubling picture. The profits of more than half of all U.S. and global companies would be wiped out if these companies had to internalize and pay market rates for their environmental impacts.

The trends are more positive when it comes to other trends, including low-carbon investments, fossil-fuel divestment, sales of green bonds, investor use of environmental data, companies’ use of science-based targets and increased efficiency in energy, water and waste.

For example, 51 percent of U.S. companies and 49 percent of global companies publicly have disclosed greenhouse gas reduction targets, as of 2014, the most recent year with full data. That’s up about 10 points from five years earlier — and doesn’t count the relative deluge of commitments that were made last year in the run-up to COP21. Water-reducing targets are up even more.

The report also shows a modest but notable increase in the number of companies with science-based greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, the beginning of a promising trend. So, too, companies’ reporting of the climate emissions from the use phase of their products: Growth roughly has tripled over the past half-decade.

Money Talks

Investors are finally waking up, and not just the so-called socially responsible ones. In the report’s foreword, Trucost CEO Richard Mattison cites the Montreal Pledge (http://montrealpledge.org), which commits investors to measuring and disclosing the carbon footprint of their portfolios on an annual basis, which attracted 120 signatories representing just over $10 trillion in assets under management.

And the U.N.-led Portfolio Decarbonization Coalition (http://unepfi.org/pdc), formed to help cut greenhouse gas emissions by mobilizing institutional investors committed to decarbonizing their portfolios, “smashed through its initial target of $100 billion, and is now overseeing the decarbonization of $230 billion in assets under management.”

There’s also ramped-up efforts by giant pension funds in both the United States and Europe, along with the aforementioned market for green bonds (www.greenbiz.com/tag/green-bonds), which has tripled to $42 billion in just two years. All told, it suggests that the smart money is looking for low-carbon and sustainable outcomes.

Said Mattison: “We can say that 2015 was the year that the investment community made critical commitments to finance sustainable growth.”

And, he might add, 2016 could be the year when mainstream investors recognize that sustainability is no longer a “nice to do,” but an opportunity for revenue growth, risk mitigation and other means to create shareholder value. That, indeed, would be a game-changer.

DOWNLOAD State of Green Business 2016 Report:  http://www.greenbiz.com/report/state-green-business-report-2016

 

ARTICLE NOTES:

[1] https://www.greenbiz.com/article/state-green-business-food-waste-emerges-trash-bin

[2] http://www.greenbiz.com/article/state-green-business-stranded-assets

[3] www.greenbiz.com/microsite/100061/article/state-green-business-money-flows-where-sustainability-grows

Article Source: GreenBiz website

Ice Cream Social: The Struggle for the Soul of Ben & Jerry’s

by Brad Edmondson, book author

[Note To Reader: This is one of GreenMoney’s most viewed articles ever – it originally published in the March 2014 issue of GreenMoney Journal.]

 

IceCreamSocialcover-2Ice Cream Social is the first book to tell the hidden story of a beloved company. Ben & Jerry’s ice cream has millions of customers who are passionate about its unusual flavors with unusual names, like Cherry Garcia and Americone Dream. What many of its fans do not know, however, is that Ben & Jerry’s has struggled valiantly for 35 years to live up to a vision its employees call “linked prosperity.” This is the simple but radical idea that the owners of the company should share their success with all of their stakeholders – everybody – including employees, suppliers, distributors, customers, cows, and even the people who own stock in the company.

In the 1980s, co-founder Ben Cohen and a fellow board member, Jeff Furman, pushed Ben & Jerry’s to set a course that a generation of socially responsible entrepreneurs would follow. In 1991, Ben & Jerry’s was probably the first publicly traded American company to offer health and other benefits to same-sex partners of employees. It was also the first American company to produce a transparent audit of the impacts it had on society, positive and negative. It took unusually aggressive steps to limit its environmental impact, and it set a level of charitable giving that was four times higher than the average for US corporations.

Ben & Jerry’s took radical, crazy-sounding ideas and proved they could work. They showed that optimizing a business for linked prosperity is fun when you’re doing it right, and that this approach creates amazingly loyal suppliers, employees, and customers. Their efforts made it easier for the socially conscious entrepreneurs who followed them. But breaking these trails wasn’t easy.

The company has a three-part mission statement, and the three parts are equal and interrelated. It wants to make the world’s best ice cream, to pursue progressive social change, and to provide fair compensation to employees and shareholders alike. Ben & Jerry’s stuck to these principles as it became an international brand. But the company eventually grew beyond the managerial abilities of its board, and after years of struggling, they were forced to sell to Unilever, the world’s second-largest food company. Co-founder Ben Cohen walked away from the deal with $41 million, and Jerry Greenfield got $9.5 million. Yet both of them have also said that losing control of their company was one of the worst experiences of their lives, and they still don’t want to talk about it.

The three-part mission did survive the sale, however. The founders and the board accepted Unilever’s offer only after negotiating a detailed agreement that guaranteed them a continuing role in the company and gave them legally enforceable powers.

Under the agreement, Ben & Jerry’s continues to exist as a corporation chartered in Vermont. But it is a “close corporation.” Howard Fuguet, the company’s lawyer during the negotiations, defines this legal term as “basically a corporation that has only one stockholder. And in the case of Ben & Jerry’s, the stockholder grants certain powers to the board. One of the board’s powers is to appoint new members without the shareholder’s approval. This means that the shareholder can never fire the board.” These non-Unilever directors control nine of the board’s eleven seats.

The guiding principles of the contract are set out in a four-page Shareholders Agreement and parts of a sixty-five-page Agreement and Plan of Merger, along with several attachments. They are public documents, on file and available through the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, and fourteen years after the sale, they are still in use. The agreements exist in perpetuity, which means they won’t ever expire. And this is the crucial difference between Ben & Jerry’s and other socially responsible businesses that sold themselves to multinational corporations. The folks in Vermont aren’t going anywhere.

The sale agreements give the Ben & Jerry’s board of directors primary responsibility for “preserving and enhancing the objectives of the historical social mission of the company as they may evolve,” and for “safeguarding the integrity of the essential elements of the brand.” Unilever has primary responsibility for the financial and operational aspects of the business, and it also retains all powers not expressly given to the board.

“The idea was to follow the historical pattern of the three-part mission,” says Howard Fuguet. The agreements captured the tension that had always existed between the product quality, economic, and social parts of Ben & Jerry’s and set up a system of checks and balances so the three parts could keep moving forward together. “The important thing, historically, was that no part of the mission should be more important than any other part,” he said. “They are supposed to be equal.”

The sale agreements also describe the job of the CEO in detail. They require the board of Ben & Jerry’s to agree with Unilever on an annual business plan and delegation of authority to the CEO, with Unilever having the final decision on both counts. They also allow Unilever to hire and fire the CEO after “good faith consultation” with the board. But the board has the express power to prevent the CEO from changing product standards, introducing new products, or changing marketing materials or any use of the Ben & Jerry’s trademark. Some of the CEO’s compensation is pegged to the company’s social performance, and this part of the compensation package is decided by the board of Ben & Jerry’s. The agreements require Unilever to pay a “living wage” to all Ben & Jerry’s employees, based on local calculations of the cost of what the board calls “a decent life.”

The agreements also require Unilever to contribute $1.1 million a year to the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation, plus adjustments to ensure that its contribution will increase in step with inflation and increased sales. They require Unilever to fund an independently audited annual report of Ben & Jerry’s social performance, and they call upon Unilever to develop its own system of social assessments.

These points were negotiated in marathon sessions between Ben Cohen and Richard Goldstein, the chief of Unilever’s North American operations. “It was by far the most unique deal I have ever been involved in,” said Goldstein, who negotiated dozens of acquisitions for Unilever. “When we were getting toward the end of it, Ben used to call me at home at all hours. My wife would answer the phone and he’d say ‘Yo, it’s Ben.’ She’d say, ‘Ben, he’s traveling. I’m going back to sleep.’ And after we signed the deal, Jerry and his wife asked my wife and me to come to their house for dinner. I can’t remember ever doing something like that. I was flattered.”

Ben Cohen’s public image is that of a happy-go-lucky hippie, but he is actually a shrewd businessman who is capable of driving a hard bargain. He negotiated the sale agreements under incredible pressure, as a bidding war for the company heated up, lawsuits were filed, and friendships were frayed. “He was disciplined,” said Pierre Ferrari, another board member who went through the sale. “He pushed the process. The sale agreements have precise numbers in them. That was Ben.”

Cohen is also a perfectionist. After the sale, he left the board of directors and never returned, citing irreconcilable differences with Unilever. Today he and Jerry are paid to represent the brand, but he keeps his distance from the company and has, at times, been sharply critical of Ben & Jerry’s multinational parent. But his old partner in the social mission, Jeff Furman, stayed on. Jeff is currently Chair of the Board of Ben & Jerry’s.

The story of the company’s endless pursuit of linked prosperity offers answers to the questions Ben and Jeff first posted in the 1980s: What would the world look like if businesses got serious about pursuing social and environmental justice? What if a business was directed toward several equally important goals, with profit being only one of them? And what would happen if social justice activists controlled the boards of directors of a large, global enterprise? Could that work?

There’s a second, related question. It’s the question of legacy. Thousands of business owners do value their employees, the natural environment, and the community at least as highly as their own bank accounts. But investing in these areas rarely produces an immediate financial return, and many investors see social investments as unnecessary costs. So how can socially responsible businesses retain their progressive values after the founding generations retire? Or, to put it another way, how can someone give up control of a successful enterprise without throwing away its purpose?

Jeff Furman doesn’t know the answers to these questions, and, like Ben, he would also prefer that Unilever did not own Ben & Jerry’s. He stayed to protect the vision of linked prosperity and pass it on to the next generation. And, he says, he knows that the struggle to reconcile profit making with social justice will never end. At Ben & Jerry’s, however, the struggle has a permanent seat in the boardroom.

 

Article by Brad Edmondson is an award-winning journalist and the former editor of American Demographics magazine. He is regularly posting new material about Ben & Jerry’s at the sitewww.icecreamsocialbook.com

How 2015 Set the Table for Major Agricultural and Environmental Success in 2016

by Environmental Defense Fund staff

 

In 2015, U.S. agriculture proved to be a willing and powerful partner in the path to sustainability. We’ve seen farmers, ranchers and food companies make major headway in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving soil health, restoring habitat for at-risk wildlife and protecting freshwater supplies.

Here are some of this year’s highlights:

• Approval of the first carbon offset protocol for crops in a cap-and-trade market (for U.S. rice growers), followed by approval of a grasslands protocol and a huge investment from USDA to develop a fertilizer protocol. These protocols reward farmers for conservation measures that reduce emissions and offer businesses new opportunities to offset the environmental impacts from their operations.

• Launch of the innovative SUSTAIN platform throughout the United Suppliers agricultural retailer network. SUSTAIN, developed in coordination with EDF, trains ag retailers in best practices for sustainable farming and aims to enroll 10 million acres in the program by 2020. So far, over 300 sales representatives in Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Ohio have attended training. And food companies interested in making SUSTAIN a feature of their sustainable sourcing work include Campbell’s, Unilever, Kellogg’s, General Mills, and Smithfield.

• A “not warranted” listing decision for sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act, due in large part to ranchers’ commitments to develop and implement conservation solutions for the bird. Habitat exchanges – a solution developed by EDF and partners in agriculture and industry – are now available in Colorado, Nevada and Wyoming for landowners to earn new revenue for protecting and enhancing greater sage-grouse habitat.

• Release of Colorado’s first-ever water plan to ensure the health and vitality of the state’s streams, rivers, communities and wildlife – without harming farmers. The plan addresses development of financial mechanisms to incentivize participation in alternative water transfer mechanisms and subsidize agricultural water system optimization. This innovative water planning can now be a model for other water-stressed communities.

So what lies ahead for 2016? We asked our experts to share their thoughts and wishes for the New Year.

Reducing Habitat Loss

From Eric Holst, associate vice president of working lands:

• Aside from another championship for the Golden State Warriors, I’m excited about the potential to put the monarch butterfly back on a path to recovery in 2016. Populations have declined 90% over the last 20 years – and the possibility of listing the species under the Endangered Species Act would indicate massive failure on the part of the conservation community to stimulate action. 2016 is the year to bend the curve back to recovery by tapping into the potential of agricultural lands to provide needed milkweed and wildflower habitat for this iconic American species. More details at- www.edf.org/ecosystems/why-we-need-new-way-protect-wildlife

• In addition to launching a habitat exchange program for the monarch butterfly in 2016, I look forward to seeing exchanges formally launch in Colorado, Nevada and Wyoming for the greater sage-grouse, and in California’s Central Valley for multiple species, including Swainson’s hawk, Chinook salmon and riparian songbirds. With the launch of these markets will come numerous opportunities for farmers and ranchers to earn new revenue for conserving wildlife habitat. More details at- www.edf.org/ecosystems/habitat-exchanges-how-do-they-work

Eliminating Fertilizer Pollution

From Suzy Friedman, director of agricultural sustainability:

• In 2016 I want to get the SUSTAIN platform 30 percent of the way towards our enrollment goal of 10 million acres. I also want to replicate sustainability programming across the ag retail sector, with strong support from food companies. Bringing the SUSTAIN model to scale holds huge potential for sustainable ag. More details at- http://www.sustain.ag

• One of the things I’m most looking forward to seeing on the ground in 2016 is a race to the top for nutrient management tools that help farmers be more efficient and sustainable. Keep an eye out for a new program to be launched in 2016 that will bring transparency to these tools – so that farmers can have certainty that the products they’re using deliver results. That means saving money and eliminating waste from fertilizer use. More details at- http://blogs.edf.org/growingreturns/2015/08/03/taking-the-bloom-and-gloom-out-of-lake-erie/

Reducing GHGs From Agriculture

From Robert Parkhurst, director of agriculture greenhouse gas markets:

• I’m excited to work with our new partners in 2016 — ranchers, almond growers and rice farmers. We’ll see carbon credits being generated across these diverse agricultural landscapes, which will benefit growers and the planet. More details at- www.edf.org/ecosystems/greenhouse-gas-markets-agriculture

• With the recent adoption of the rice protocol by the California Air Resources Board, I’m especially excited to witness the sale of the first rice credits to a California company in 2016, verified and regulated under the state’s cap and trade program. More details at- http://blogs.edf.org/growingreturns/2015/06/25/its-official-rice-farmers-now-eligible-for-carbon-offset-payments

Rebalancing Water Use

From Kevin Moran, senior director of EDF’s Colorado River program:

• One of the goals I am personally excited about in 2016 is taking a leadership role in getting Arizona and the Imperial Irrigation District to assist in reducing the structural water deficit in the Lower Basin of the Colorado River. It’s been widely known that demand for Colorado River water has exceeded the river’s supply in recent years, so I am hopeful that with Arizona continuing to lead on water, we will catalyze a shift toward demand management in the Lower Basin that promotes flexibility and resilience throughout the entire Colorado River system.

• To achieve this goal, we need to make real progress on piloting agricultural water efficiency practices linked to ecosystem benefits, which EDF is pursuing in partnership with the University of Arizona’s ag extension office and Yuma farmers. Through pilot programs, we will influence how Yuma agriculture invests in water efficiency to advance both sustainable agriculture and ecosystem and water system management benefits.

Rebalancing Water Use

From David Festa, senior vice president of ecosystems:

• In 2016, I would like to see California Governor Jerry Brown and the state legislature unleash the potential for water sharing by blowing up the state’s “paper dams” – a patchwork of outdated laws and regulations that have disproportionately affected disadvantaged communities and the environment during the drought. Agriculture has a big role to play in water sharing. Through a whole host of practices – from efficiency, to fallowing, to crop switching – many farmers could sell 10% to 20% of their water for other uses while improving their bottom-line.

 

EDF’s agriculture team would like to thank all of the partners – from individual farmers to major food companies – for their help in making U.S. agriculture more sustainable and, ultimately, more prosperous.

More to come in 2016! More information on EDF at- www.edf.org

Organic Valley Passes $1 Billion Milestone

from Organic Valley

In late December 2015 CROPP Cooperative/Organic Valley reached a remarkable milestone: The farmer-owned cooperative surpassed $1 billion in sales. Founded in 1988 by seven struggling farm families in Southwest Wisconsin, Organic Valley now has a membership of 1,800 farmers producing organic food in 35 states. It is the first billion-dollar organic-only foods company.

This landmark caps an extraordinary year for Organic Valley (www.organicvalley.coop). Two new product lines illustrate the range and quality of the brand: In 2014, the cooperative brought two brands of organic milk protein shakes to market—Organic Balance and Organic Fuel—and in 2015 Organic Fuel became the #1 selling organic protein shake across all grocery channels. In August 2015, Organic Valley launched Grassmilk yogurt, a premium cream-on-top yogurt made with 100 percent grassfed milk and no grain, serving the growing market for premium organic dairy.

As the cooperative creates and markets new products, it’s also growing into mainstream and convenience channels to meet increasing consumer demand for high-quality organic food wherever they shop—a reality underscored by Organic Valley’s February 2016 launch of Good To Go, an adult single-serve milk, and the roll-out of Mighty Bar organic meat snacks under sister brand Organic Prairie.

Support for Organic Valley’s core products also remains strong, with half & half, butter, and cheese winning best-of-class awards and recognition in 2015. “We see our growth as win-win-win,” said VP of Brand Marketing Lewis Goldstein. “Our original mission of saving family farms also happens to produce some of the best food on the planet that’s the healthiest choice for everyone—the farmers, their animals and farmland, and consumers.”

Consumer support for Organic Valley has helped the cooperative continue to put farmers first by paying a high, stable price for their work. Paying farmers fairly ensures a future for family farming culture while rejuvenating the soil, protecting water quality, and eliminating antibiotics, synthetic pesticides, artificial hormones, and GMOs from a portion of the food chain. Consumers value that choice.

Director of Public Affairs Anne O’Connor, who oversees the cooperative’s social responsibility and philanthropic giving efforts, said, “More than ever, people want to buy brands that are about more than just profit, but also about people and the planet. In our growth and the growth of our industry, we remain committed to our core values of social responsibility, honesty, and caring for our communities. It’s the best way to provide the best organic food.”

 

Source: Organic Valley

Organic’s Top Ten in 2015: The Biggest Organic News of the Year

From the fields to Congress, from research labs to our supermarkets, organic had a bumper year – by the Organic Trade Association (OTA)

 

2015 was a big year for the U.S. organic sector. Organic demand flourished. Organic products of all types sprouted up everywhere–at our local supermarkets, online, even at our favorite fast-food restaurant. Major organic policies–including the drive for an unprecedented organic research and promotion check-off–advanced in Washington. American organic grabbed a bigger spotlight on the world stage, and new research continued to prove the far-reaching benefits of organic.“Organic reached many milestones in 2015. We saw real breakthroughs in organic being recognized as a healthy option for consumers, a greener option for agriculture and our environment, and a serious option to help meet global food needs,” said Organic Trade Association (OTA) Executive Director and CEO Laura Batcha. “Organic is leading the way to a healthier food and agricultural system, and OTA looks forward to helping organic advance even more next year.”

A Look at the Top Ten Organic Developments in 2015:

1) Organic sales boomed. OTA’s 2015 Organic Industry Survey showed organic sales in the U.S. in 2014 reaching a new record of $39.1 billion. Organic food sales hit $35.9 billion, up 11 percent from the previous year. Sales of organic non-food products shot up 14 percent to $3.2 billion. Organic food sales made up nearly 5 percent of all U.S. food sales, and for the first time traditional retailers sold 50 percent of the total volume of organic products. Online, the number of shoppers buying organic doubled. Eating out, organic lovers found organic on the menus of their favorite casual and even fast-food restaurants. More details at- http://ota.com/news/press-releases/18061

2) Organic industry moved forward on a trail-blazing organic check-off. In a ground-breaking move for the nation’s organic sector, OTA petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to begin steps to conduct a vote on an organic research and promotion check-off program. The action reflected three years of dialogue with the organic sector to craft a check-off tailor-made for organic. The move to collectively invest in its future represented a game-changing move by organic stakeholders, and would enable the sector to raise funds to boost organic research, promote the organic brand, and increase organic acreage in the U.S. More details at- http://ota.com

3) Organic standards were tightened and improved. In a four-day public meeting in the fall, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) recommended the removal of an unprecedented eleven materials from organic’s National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. NOSB’s action reflected the innovations made in organic practices that have enabled the use of fewer and fewer synthetic inputs. Once the recommendations are approved by the National Organic Program, these materials will no longer be allowed in producing, processing or handling organic food. More details at- http://ota.com/news/press-releases/18555

4) New federal food and agricultural policies took note of organic. The unique needs and practices of organic agriculture were recognized by federal policy and rulemakers in critical new regulations. In its final rules to implement the historic Food Safety Modernization Act, the Food and Drug Administration revised earlier proposals regarding compost and manure handling and other proposed rules that would have negatively impacted organic. In an improvement in federal crop insurance coverage for organic farmers, USDA expanded the number of crops with organic price premiums and strengthened the organic safety net. More details at- https://ota.com/advocacy/food-safety/fda-food-safety-modernization-act

5) Organic was shown to be bee-friendly, and the White House paid attention. An important and timely report released by The Organic Center showed that organic agricultural practices maintain the health and population of vital crop pollinators, including bees which have been declining at an alarming rate. Following the release of the report, OTA met with the White House to begin discussions on including organic as a key part of the Administration’s solution to support pollinator health. More details at- http://ota.com/news/press-releases/18208

6) Benchmark studies yielded key insights into global organic trade. Studies spearheaded by OTA on the trade flow of organic products offered valuable data for farmers, policymakers and all organic stakeholders in making future industry investment and policy decisions. One study revealed a robust global appetite for U.S. organic, and strong evidence of American farmers losing out on some key markets by not growing more organic. Another study proved organic equivalency arrangements to be a net positive for all parties. More details at- http://ota.com/news/press-releases/18062

7) Organic profitability increased. Organic famers made money. Farm-gate sales of organic products totaled $5.5 billion, up a whopping 72 percent from four years earlier, the USDA found in its 2014 Organic Survey released in September (www.agcensus.usda.gov/Newsroom/2015/09_17_2015.php). A separate report from USDA’s Economic Research Service showed significant financial returns with organic crop production, largely due to the organic price premiums. A Washington State University study found that organic farming is more profitable than conventional agriculture. More details on the study at- https://news.wsu.edu/2015/06/01/organic-agriculture-more-profitable-to-farmers/#.Vm4rNUorJ8w

8) Consumers of all types and in all parts of the country chose organic. Organic looked like America. As the availability of organic widened and organic offerings became more varied, there was more diversity in organic buyers. The faces of organic-buying families mirrored the U.S. population in terms of ethnic background, said OTA’s U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes and Beliefs 2015 Tracking Study. The majority of households in all regions of the country made organic a part of their supermarket and retail purchases. More details at- http://ota.com/news/press-releases/17972

9) American organic had a bigger presence on the international stage. From Europe to Asia, U.S. organic commanded a brighter spotlight on the world stage. In Milan, Italy, OTA represented U.S. organic for the first time in a World’s Fair (http://ota.com/news/press-releases/18499). In Washington, D.C., officials signed an organic equivalency understanding between the U.S. and Switzerland, marking the final step in opening the valuable European market to the U.S. organic sector (http://ota.com/news/press-releases/18271). In Tokyo, Japan, OTA hosted the first-ever Organic Day in Japan, showcasing hundreds of American organic products to thousands of enthusiastic Japanese consumers (http://ota.com/news/press-releases/18571).

10) Research revealed the environmental and human health benefits of organic. From improving soil health and supporting water quality, to reducing our exposure to pesticides and mitigating climate change, the latest research showed the many benefits of organic food and agriculture. For a complete look at the organic research breakthroughs in 2015, see The Organic Center’s list of this year’s most important findings. More details at- http://ota.com/news/press-releases/18670

 

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is the membership-based business association for organic agriculture and products in North America. OTA is the leading voice for the organic trade in the United States, representing over 8,500 organic businesses across 50 states. Its members include growers, shippers, processors, certifiers, farmers’ associations, distributors, importers, exporters, consultants, retailers and others. OTA’s Board of Directors is democratically elected by its members. OTA’s mission is to promote and protect ORGANIC with a unifying voice that serves and engages its diverse members from farm to marketplace. For more information go to- www.ota.com

Contact Person:

Maggie McNeil – mmcneil@ota.com

(202) 403-8514 or (202) 615-7997

Campbell Labels Will Disclose G.M.O. Ingredients

by Stephanie Strom, The New York Times

 

Breaking from its industry rivals, Campbell Soup (www.campbellsoupcompany.com) will become the first major food company to begin disclosing the presence of genetically engineered ingredients like corn, soy and sugar beets in its products.

The company, the maker of brands like Pepperidge Farm, Prego, Plum Organics and V8 in addition to its namesake soups, is taking the unusual step — and possibly risking sales by alienating consumers averse to genetically modified organisms — as big food corporations face increasing pressure to be more open about their use of such ingredients.

Food companies have begun printing labels to comply with a new labeling law in Vermont, which has become a battleground over labeling that other states have been watching closely. Beginning in July, Vermont will require disclosure of genetically engineered ingredients, a measure opposed by most major food companies, which are seeking to supersede any state’s legislation with a voluntary federal solution.

Campbell is also breaking with its peers by calling for federal action to make mandatory a uniform labeling system of foods that contain such ingredients, commonly known as G. M.O. labeling, said Denise Morrison, chief executive of Campbell.

“We’re optimistic that a federal solution can be reached in a reasonable amount of time, but if that’s not the case, we’re preparing to label all our products across the portfolio,” Ms. Morrison said in an interview.

She said about three-quarters of the company’s products contained ingredients derived from corn, canola, soybeans or sugar beets, the four largest genetically engineered crops. The change in labeling is expected to take 12 to 18 months.

The first example provided by the company, for a Spaghetti O’s label prepared for Vermont, is sparsely worded and does not specify which individual ingredients are genetically altered. It simply states at the bottom of the label: “Partially produced with genetic engineering. For more information about G.M.O. ingredients, visit www.WhatsinMyFood.com .”

Other companies have reformulated a handful of products to replace such ingredients. General Mills now produces non-G.M.O. Cheerios, and others have put labels on some products verifying that they contain no genetically engineered components, like Tropicana juices.

But none have gone as far as Campbell, whose move is reminiscent of that by Whole Foods Markets (www.wholefoodsmarket.com), which almost three years ago created an uproar when it announced that, as of 2018, it would require all products sold in its stores to have labels disclosing the presence of ingredients from genetically altered crops.

More mainstream grocers like Kroger and Safeway have moved to highlight their selection of organic products, which by law cannot contain any genetically modified ingredients, and have quietly urged big food manufacturers not to oppose demands for G.M.O. labeling.

The number of products verified by the Non-GMO Project, a nonprofit group that certifies foods that are free of ingredients from genetically engineered sources, is now in the tens of thousands.

But many companies have long argued that a patchwork of state laws with different requirements for G.M.O. labeling will be cumbersome and expensive, and the quirks in the Vermont law are making their case.

Ms. Morrison noted, for example, that in Vermont, the cans of Spaghetti Os will have to be wrapped in one label stating that the product contains ingredients from genetically engineered sources because they fall under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration. But Campbell does not have to disclose that Spaghetti Os with Meatballs contains such ingredients because that product is governed by the Department of Agriculture — and the Vermont law applies only to products overseen by the F.D.A.

“A state-by-state patchwork of laws could be incredibly costly not only for our company but for the entire industry,” Ms. Morrison said. “That’s why we want the federal government to come up with a national standard that is mandatory.”

Campbell will seek advice from the Department of Agriculture and the F.D.A. about what language it might use on its packaging. In an interview with The Des Moines Register in December, Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, said he planned to hold a meeting with food companies and others in the hope of reaching a compromise before the Vermont law goes into effect.

“I’m going to challenge them to get this thing fixed,” Mr. Vilsack told The Register, adding that he was worried about “chaos in the market” if other states follow suit. “That will cost the industry a substantial amount of money, hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more, and it will ultimately end up costing the consumer,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department said no date had been set for the meeting, nor had any decisions been made about who would attend.

Ms. Morrison said that complying with Vermont’s law was expensive but that establishment of a national mandatory labeling standard to take effect over a period of time would allow companies to work the changes into their business operations with little cost. She noted that adoption of the 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, which required companies to add nutritional information to their labels, did not significantly raise costs.

Ms. Morrison said she could not speculate on how the move to label all of Campbell’s products might affect the company’s sales. In 2011, food manufacturers themselves introduced a program called Facts Up Front to make information about the amount of sugar, salt, fat and calories in their products even more obvious by putting it out front in an easy-to-read format, which had no notable impact on sales.

Last year, Campbell created the website (www.whatsinmyfood.com) that offers information about the ingredients in its products and how they are used, including those items that come from genetically engineered crops.

It discloses, for instance, that among the ingredients in Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup, the vegetable oil, monosodium glutamate and modified food starch may come from genetically engineered sources. The website has had no apparent impact on sales, according to a company spokeswoman.

“We’ve always believed consumers have a right to know what’s in their food,” Ms. Morrison said. “We know that 92 percent of Americans support G.M.O. labeling, and transparency is a critical part of our purpose.”

Phil Lempert, a food industry expert and founder of www.supermarketguru.com, said it could be risky for a company to disclose genetically altered ingredients. “I think it would get a lot of credit for transparency and that its stock would get a pop, if it were publicly traded,” Mr. Lempert said. “But I think a consumer could be confused by it and put the product back on the shelf and grab something else.”

Mr. Lempert and other marketing experts recommended that the company use clear language to inform its consumers.

“We’re in uncharted territory here,” said Carl Jorgensen, director of global consumer strategy and wellness at Daymon Worldwide, a consulting firm. While studies have shown that consumers favor such labeling, he said he did not know of data collected on the impact of labels on sales.

Campbell joined other major food companies in fighting efforts to impose mandatory labeling in California and Washington State, spending more than $1 million, according to the Environmental Working Group. It is also a member of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade group that has spent millions trying to get a bill passed in Congress that would make labeling voluntary and pre-empt state labeling efforts.

“We will withdraw from any coalition that doesn’t support mandatory labeling,” Ms. Morrison said. “We were involved in fighting the state ballots in California and Washington out of concern over a state-by-state patchwork, yet we didn’t participate in the fights in any other state beyond those. Any money we did spend after that was in support of seeking a federal solution.”

 

Article source: The New York Times

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