Tag: Featured Articles

How the Future of Water will Impact Businesses and Communities

By Doug Pushard, KuelWater and HarvestH2O

Above – A water mechanical room, fully monitored with online controls, in a Santa Fe, NM home which integrates city water, gray water and rainwater into a system that distributes water inside and outside of the house. The system was designed by Doug Pushard of HarvestH20 and installed by 1st Choice Plumbing. The Libert’s Home Project won the WERS Award in 2023 for the Lowest Residence Water Use in the country.
Doug Pushard Kuel WaterWater is the essence of life, and yet it is almost universally taken for granted. This is at a time when we are seeing unprecedented and dire water issues crop up around the world. Here is a quick sampling of some of the headlines from this just this year… and it is only April:

Mexico City may be months away from running out of water

In winter 2021, more than 150,000 people living in Jackson, Miss., were left without running water and it has gotten worse

Agriculture built these High Plains towns in Colorado, now it might run them dry

Today, water is readily available to most of us, but not all. Per the United Nations, five (5) billion people, or 2/3 of the world’s population, will face water shortages by 2050. This is not just somewhere else in the world; it is also coming to the USA.

Most surprising is that the technology has existed to solve our most pressuring water problems for years, but impediments abound to prevent solutions from being implemented.

Water is managed as a resource (i.e., drinking water) and a waste product (i.e., stormwater). Water is managed as both a business and as a common good. Water is segregated into different operating silos to optimize differing business models. Yet, at the same time, an abundance of water in one operating unit is not considered a resource for another. Population growth and new housing development are two major issues underlying the need to find more water, yet water is not linked to land use management.

Balancing all these issues while ensuring safe, readily available drinking water, attracting and managing employees in today’s complex work environment, keeping both the sewage smell away from population centers and flood waters at bay, is enough to overwhelm most water professionals.

Yet, cracks in the dam are beginning to appear that will dramatically change how we view water.

Business and the Importance of Water

  • General Mills has recognized the importance of water to its businesses and includes the risks to this critical business component as a strategic component. They have committed to advancing water stewardship plans for their most material and at-risk watersheds in their global value chain. They are also exploring, through research and farmer pilots, regenerative agriculture as a means to improve water quality and quantity impact.
  • The Google water stewardship strategy is centered around assessing and addressing water-related risks to their business and the opportunities we have to not just mitigate those risks, but also create solutions that can be scaled beyond our own corporate footprint and to partner with others to address this shared challenge. Their stated goal is to replenish 120% of the freshwater volume they consume, on average, across their offices and data centers, and help restore and improve the quality of water and health of ecosystems in the communities where they operate.
  • More and more businesses now have an executive in charge of Sustainability, and water is managed as critical to the core business.

New Views on Water

Efforts like One Water, National Blue Ribbon Commission, the International Association of Plumbing & Mechanical Officials’ (IAPMO) Water Demand Calculator, and water ratings are pushing new views on water:

  • The US Water Alliance’s “One Water” approach manages all water—whether from the tap, a stream, a storm, an aquifer, or a sewer—in a collaborative, integrated, inclusive, and holistic manner. One Water can change and regenerate how we live, our opportunities, our environment, and our society. This initiative pushes for a new way of viewing and managing water from a utility perspective.
  • The National Blue Ribbon Commission advances best management practices to support onsite, non-potable water systems within individual buildings or at the local scale. They assist code officials in updating building codes to enable new uses for existing and previously untapped water sources.
  • Pipe sizing curves for sizing the pipes installed in every US building have not been updated since the 1940s! Every new building using these antiquated curves is putting in tremendously oversized pipes and costing everyone money. IAPMO has released a Water Demand Calculatorthat accurately sizes the required pipes and is working with permitting agencies to ensure these new pipe calculations are accepted by permitting agencies.
  • A water rating is a performance-based methodology that qualifies and, in some cases, incentives, water efficiency. Applicable for single-family and multifamily residential properties, water ratings can project future water usage while preserving design and product choice freedom. Land use departments could use a water rating, such as the Water Efficiency Rating Score (WERS), to help communities enable sustainable growth while ensuring adequate water supplied for existing residents.
Doug Pushard Day - Doug receiving Santa Fe Mayor's 2023 Proclamation Award
Doug Pushard receiving an award from the Mayor of Santa Fe – A Proclamation calling ‘June 23, 2023- Doug Pushard Day’ for all of his work on water for the City of Santa Fe. (From left to right – Mike Collignon, Green Builder Coalition and co-founder of NGWS; Christine Chavez, Water Conservation Dept. for the City of Santa Fe; Doug Pushard, KuelWater and HarvestH2O and co-founder of NGWS; Glenn Schiffbauer, Green Chamber of Commerce and co-founder of NGWS; and Alan Webber, Mayor of the City of Santa Fe.

New Water Technology Companies

New water technology companies are beginning to push into areas that will cause code officials to become very uncomfortable but will save water and eventually find a way into the market.

  • Orbital graywater recycling shower recycles shower water while taking a shower. This type of device will reduce potable shower water use by 70-80% and is not allowed by current plumbing codes in the United States. Products like these are being installed in Europe today and will eventually find a way into the US.
  • Tiny homes come equipped with graywater systems, which includes kitchen water in the waste stream. Graywater codes exclude kitchen waste from graywater discharge in almost all state and national plumbing codes, yet thousands of these new units are being sold and installed across the country.
  • Treating blackwater to drinking water quality is a known science. Other countries have been doing this for over a decade. Yet only California now has standards to enable water utilities to begin the years-long process of bringing this ‘new’ source of drinking water online.
  • Smart Water meters, both whole house and landscape meters, are becoming widely available. These meters increase homeowners’ awareness of water and directly attack the 10%+ water leakage reported in end-user water usage studies. This will give homeowners newer, more accurate meters than the utilities have installed. The data from products like these will drive increased awareness, because now awareness is down to the fixture level. That was impossible just 10 years ago.
  • Google is partnering with the state of New Mexico using satellite imagery to locate leaking water pipes. New Mexico loses between 40-70% of treated drinking water in some older systems due to breaks and leaks. This new partnership and technology will drive future water savings in New Mexico and hopefully in other states in the near future.

As the above illustrates, technology, policies, and perceptions are changing, water source uses are changing, and weather patterns are changing. All things water are beginning to change and will drive how we view and manage water.

Communities and Water Management

Communities will need to rethink how they manage water. No longer as a silo (i.e., a potable water company, a sewer company, a land use and planning department, etc.), but instead as one collective effort. Water conservation will no longer be a revenue-reducing effort, but a water-producing department. Stormwater and blackwater will be considered potable water sources, not waste streams. Onsite residential reuse (i.e., rainwater, graywater, and/or blackwater) will become commonplace and part of a community’s sustainable growth plan. Integrating management of all water resources and future water demand management through land use codes.

The Next Generation Water Summit (NGWS), held annually in Santa Fe, NM, brings together the building and development community, water reuse professionals and water policymakers in a collaborative setting to share and assist in pushing these efforts forward. Workshops, presentations, tours, and networking have been part of the NGWS since its inception almost ten years ago. The theme of the 2024 Next Generation Water Summit is: Solutions for a Changing World. Join us for this event on June 20th and 21st, live or virtually. Many of the topics in this article will be featured at this year’s NGWS. Join us in creating the water future we all need. 

 

Article by Doug Pushard, the founder of KuelWater. He also founded  HarvestH2o.com over 20 years ago as a personal expression of his interest in the subject of rainwater catchment, water reuse and water conservation. Doug has been published and featured in several magazines, including: ARCSA Newsletter, BUILDERnews, New York Times, High Country News, Back Home, EcoStructure, Green Fire Times, Home Power, Lowe’s Online, OnTap, Plenty, Santa Fe Real Estate Magazine, Santa Fean Magazine, Smart HomeOwner, SUN Monthly, Sustainable Santa Fe, Sustainable Taos, Timber Home Living, Taos News, Turf Magazine, Water Today, Fox News, Green Patriot Radio and others. Additionally, Doug has presented on rainwater, water reuse and water conservation at conferences around the United States.

Doug is an active participant on several code committees, works with communities to update the land use and water codes, teaches water courses at Santa Fe Community College and Red Rock Community College, is a technical advisor to the Water Efficiency Rate Score development team (WERS), a performance-based home and multi-family water efficiency measurement system, a WERS certified instructor, a Qualified Water Efficient Landscape (QWEL) irrigation and graywater certified instructor, a life-time member of American Rainwater Catchment System Association, and is a co-founder of the Next Generation Water Summit.

Energy & Climate, Featured Articles, Food & Farming, Impact Investing, Sustainable Business

The Economic and Water Impacts of the EPA’s “Slaughterhouse” Rule

By Marc Yaggi, Waterkeeper Alliance

Pictured is reported to be the largest hog slaughterhouse in the world. It is located in Tar Heel, North Carolina, operates under Smithfield Foods, Inc., and is wholly owned by the WH Group. Approximately 35,000 hogs are slaughtered there each day and waste is discharged into the Cape Fear River. Photo credit: Rick Dove, Waterkeeper Alliance

Marc Yaggi, Waterkeeper AllianceThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a decision to make. Right now the agency is considering new water pollution standards for slaughterhouses and rendering facilities in response to lawsuits from environmental organizations. These standards are urgently needed to correct a long-standing regulatory failure to control one of the nation’s largest industrial sources of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. Despite its stated mission to safeguard human health and the environment, EPA’s current regulations do not address phosphorus discharges, and the agency has neglected to update water pollution standards for other harmful pollutants from this industry for nearly twenty years, as required by the Clean Water Act.

This is no accident. Large industrial animal agriculture companies have invested millions of dollars in lobbying to ensure the status quo, which in turn, protects their growing profits. This includes U.S. domestic sales, which were estimated at $267 billion in 2021, and a projected goldmine of global industrial meat production associated with expansions of beef, pork, and chicken exports since 2010. It is reported that the four largest meat processing conglomerates operating in the U.S., which control approximately 55 percent to 85 percent of the market for pork, beef, and poultry, have collectively increased their gross profits by 120 percent and net income by 500 percent since 2019.

As global meat production continues to rise to meet a projected doubling of meat-based protein consumption by 2050, corporate owners of these large facilities are not incentivized to modernize their systems, treat their waste, and control their discharges that typically contains nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as blood, fat, oil and grease, fecal bacteria, disease-causing pathogens, detergents, and heavy metals. Without regulatory scrutiny and guardrails, “Big Agriculture” will persist in operating without consequences, reaping all the profits while communities drown in its toxic brew of pollution.

Slaughterhouses that discharge pollution directly into US waterways - Waterkeeper Alliance

According to EPA’s data, there are 5,055 slaughterhouses and rendering facilities in the U.S. and 3,879 of those facilities are discharging approximately 112 million pounds of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus into 2,736 water bodies every year. These massive, untreated discharges are directly linked to significant impacts like water contamination and algal blooms, which can render water unsafe for drinking, unfit for recreation, and uninhabitable for aquatic life. Communities exposed to nitrogen compounds in drinking water are linked to higher incidences of colorectal cancer, thyroid disease, birth defects, and —in infants under six months of age— “blue baby syndrome,” a potentially fatal condition.

While industry takes advantage of the economic benefits of their polluting business practices, they simultaneously jeopardize the future of rural America’s economic development in multiple ways. Local economies suffer from the devastating consequences of nutrient-fueled algal blooms, which deplete oxygen in water and result in fish kills and “dead zones” in iconic water bodies like the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Hazardous pollution from large slaughterhouses disproportionately impacts local drinking water sources, fisheries, recreation, and tourism in rural areas, while also harming community health and finances.

Contaminated water and land represent significant economic liabilities, with pollution from large slaughterhouses driving down property values for residences and businesses while escalating public health risks and associated costs. Further, the dominance of large processing facilities over smaller, less polluting plants negatively affects small and family-owned farms that rely on these independent local facilities for processing.

The pollution originating from slaughterhouses and rendering facilities also compounds environmental injustice, disproportionately affecting low-income communities and communities of color. EPA data reveals that 74% of slaughterhouses directly discharging pollution into rivers and streams are located within one mile of under-resourced and low-income communities, as well as communities of color. Despite this acknowledgment, the agency has taken minimal action to shield these vulnerable communities from the unequal burdens imposed by corporate interests. Instead of perpetuating these injustices, EPA has an opportunity to right this wrong through proposed new water pollution control standards for larger, more polluting slaughterhouses and rendering plants while avoiding significant impacts and costs to small firms and facilities.

Slaughterhouses that discharge indirectly into waterways - Waterkeeper Alliance

Unfortunately, the agency’s current preferred rulemaking option – Option 1 – is the weakest option and would still allow thousands of larger slaughterhouses and rendering plants to continue their business-as-usual practices that create local environmental and economic harm. At a minimum, EPA must adopt the pollution standards set forth in the proposed rule Option 3, which would include nitrogen, phosphorus, and conventional pollutant limits on 133 facilities that directly discharge pollutants into waterways and 1,485 facilities that discharge to municipal wastewater treatment plants. EPA estimates that Option 3 will cut the total amount of nitrogen pollution from the industry by 83 percent (or 76 million pounds annually) and phosphorus pollution by 94 percent (or 20 million pounds) with tangible public health, environmental, and economic benefits for communities and local businesses.

It is crucial for EPA to address pollution stemming from larger slaughterhouses and rendering facilities, including those indirectly discharging waste to municipal wastewater treatment plants. These treatment plants are frequently overstressed, underfinanced, and ill-equipped to handle industrial waste. Continuing this practice allows the industry’s waste and harmful pollutants to pass through the system and discharge into waterways, likely contributing to 73 percent of treatment plants evaluated by EPA violating their Clean Water Act permit limits, and forcing the clean-up costs onto the public. EPA has also determined that interference from discharges to municipal wastewater treatment plants is costly in terms of worker safety, physical plant integrity, effectiveness of operation, and liability for permit violations.

It is important to note that there is effective technology that is readily available and widely used for wastewater treatment globally, which slaughterhouses and rendering plants can use to comply with the pollution standards in EPA’s proposed rule. Under Option 3, industry compliance with the pollution standards is also economically achievable. For instance, EPA projects that 99.1 percent of discharging facilities would incur expenses amounting to less than one percent of their revenues to comply with Option 3 limits for nitrogen and phosphorus. By modernizing major corporate processors, stringent water pollution standards would stimulate investments in American infrastructure and foster employment opportunities in rural areas, including an estimated net increase of 1,603 local jobs for operating and maintaining the industry’s upgraded treatment technology.

It is evident, both environmentally and economically, that EPA must correct its decades-long inaction by firmly rejecting industry influence and committing to a modernized, robust regulatory framework that supports an investment in the health and sustainability of rural communities, life-supporting waterways, and the economy. Our communities deserve nothing less than the highest level of clean water protections as mandated by law.

 

Article by Marc Yaggi is Chief Executive Officer of Waterkeeper Alliance, a U.S.-based, global water advocacy organization. Before joining Waterkeeper Alliance, Marc was a Senior Attorney and Watershed Program Director for Riverkeeper, Inc. and previously served as a Staff Attorney with the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, D.C. He has a degree in Administration of Justice from The Pennsylvania State University and a J.D. and an LL.M in Environmental Law from the Pace University School of Law.

Energy & Climate, Featured Articles, Food & Farming, Sustainable Business

Investing in the Future of Water and Sanitation

By Elan Emanuel, WaterEquity

Photo courtesy of WaterEquity/water.org

Elan Emanuel WaterEquityAccess to safe water and sanitation is a fundamental human right under binding international law. Yet today, a global water crisis still persists. 2.2 billion people—or 1 in 4—still lack access to safe water and 3.5 billion people—or 2 in 5—lack access to safely managed sanitation. While gains have been made over several decades, the effects of climate change have become a large and looming factor, halting progress made. Though the role of the public sector remains paramount in addressing the crisis, private impact investment has recently also emerged as a powerful tool.

Investing in Household Water and Sanitation Solutions

Impact investing focuses on generating positive social and environmental impact while seeking financial returns. In the realm of water and sanitation, investment plays a pivotal role in supporting innovative solutions, especially at the household level. Among low-income consumers, at least 600 million people could access water and sanitation products, services, and upgrades if financing was available, equating to what WaterEquity estimates as $35 billion of market demand over the next decade.

WaterEquity has approached this market opportunity through an investment strategy focused on providing debt capital to financial institutions in emerging markets to expand water and sanitation lending. These financial institutions use this capital to grow their water and sanitation microloan portfolios, as well as to on-lend to local enterprises delivering water and sanitation innovations, products, and services. Since our start in 2016, WaterEquity has deployed more than $360 million in capital to this strategy across four private investment funds, reaching more than 5 million people with increased access to safe water and sanitation.

Over 93 percent of the low-income end-clients taking out these microloans are women. This is no accident, as the funds have specifically targeted women beneficiaries by integrating gender into our investment and decision-making processes. And the microloans are repaid at the average rate of 97-99% within 12-24 months. Ensuring equitable access to safe water and sanitation cannot be accomplished without giving women the power and the capital to solve for their futures.

Investing in Climate-Resilient Infrastructure

Installation of water pipes, courtesy water
Photo courtesy of WaterEquity/water.org

Financing the “last mile” of water and sanitation access at the household level will only take us so far in reaching the billions affected. There is also a tremendous need and market opportunity for sustained investment in potable and wastewater infrastructure seeking to increase access to water and sanitation services, improve water quality, and mitigate the impacts of water scarcity. Moreover, with traditional infrastructure often vulnerable to damage from extreme weather events, investment in resilient systems is essential for ensuring sustainable access to water and sanitation services.

By investing in climate-resilient infrastructure, WaterEquity’s Water & Climate Resilience Fund aims to reach 15 million people with water and sanitation access, and indirectly benefit millions more through improvements in water quality and scarcity. Investments include government tendered projects such as the construction of decentralized water treatment plants, the upgrading of existing infrastructure to withstand extreme weather events, and the implementation of smart water management systems. The Fund will also invest directly in growth companies that are developing and deploying innovative technology and services within the sector. These projects and companies enhance the reliability and efficiency of water and sanitation systems at scale, while also contributing to the overall climate resilience of underserved communities.

Conclusion

Impact investing has the potential to transform the landscape of water and sanitation, addressing the complex challenges posed by the water crisis, climate change, and gender disparities. By supporting innovative household solutions and investing in climate-resilient infrastructure, impact investors can contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals and improve the well-being of communities around the world, aligning values with the potential for financial returns. This holistic approach not only addresses immediate water and sanitation challenges but also builds resilient communities capable of withstanding the impacts of a changing climate. Through strategic and socially responsible investments, we can ensure a future where safe water and sanitation are accessible to all.

water.org photo of woman gathering safe drinking water from pump
Photo courtesy of WaterEquity/water.org

 

Article by Elan Emanuel, the Chief Investor Relations Officer at WaterEquity. Elan is responsible for mobilizing investments and partnerships with a broad portfolio of investors to accelerate WaterEquity’s impact addressing the global water and sanitation crisis. He brings 15+ years of experience in developing public-private partnerships to this role. WaterEquity emerged out of Water.org and was cofounded by actor Matt Damon and Gary White.

 Prior to WaterEquity, Elan led Fair Trade USA’s global cocoa program, where he established and directed strategic partnerships with large multi-national corporations, NGOs, and agricultural cooperatives. Additionally, Elan has extensive experience in the legal sector, domestically for Hanson Bridgett LLC, and internationally for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the Sierra Leone Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Elan holds a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a Juris Doctor from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law.

Energy & Climate, Featured Articles, Food & Farming, Impact Investing, Sustainable Business

GreenMoney Interviews: Kirsten James on Ceres’ Valuing Water Finance Initiative

Above – Water Treatment plant photo by tuastockphoto courtesy of Ceres

Cliff Feigenbaum interviews Kirsten James

As the global water crisis worsens, so do financial risks facing companies and their investors. Kirsten James, senior program director of water at the sustainability nonprofit Ceres, answers questions from Cliff Feigenbaum, GreenMoney founder about the Valuing Water Finance Initiative, which is a global, investor-led effort driving companies to prioritize water risk and act as responsible water stewards in their operations and supply chains.

Cliff:  What work has Ceres done related to water?

Kirsten: Freshwater is essential for people, ecosystems, and business. Growing water scarcity and pollution is threatening these systems and slowing the pathway to a climate resilient future. Research shows we’ll be unable to meet even 56 percent of global water demand by 2030. No industry is immune from financial risks stemming from this crisis.

Seeing this writing on the wall, we’ve spent more than a decade establishing the business case for the private sector to act on water risk. We’ve worked closely with investors on integrating water risk into their investment decisions and developed resources to help them understand water risk in their portfolios. Our research and corporate benchmarking has shed light on industry practices threatening freshwater supplies and how companies are responding. This information has empowered investors with the guidance and the data they need to evaluate how companies are managing water risk.

Cliff:  How did this work pave the way for the Valuing Water Finance Initiative?

Kirsten: Through this pioneering work we did on water risk, we saw the need for ambitious action to match the scope of the water crisis and the systemic risks affecting communities, nature, and economies. We developed the Valuing Water Finance Initiative, aimed at driving companies to make water risk and water management a priority in their business strategies. Because water is key to their success as a business.

This work is hitting home with investors and the initiative has taken off. Just two years after we launched it, nearly 100 investors representing more than $17 trillion in assets have joined. These investors are committing to engage with 72 large companies from four water-intensive industries—food, beverage, apparel, and high-tech—on their water management practices.

Cliff:  How does Ceres see investors’ efforts through the Valuing Water Finance Initiative leading to action on the ground?

Kirsten: Companies aren’t just at risk from dwindling water supplies and polluted water, they’re making these risks worse by mismanaging and undervaluing water resources. Investors play a crucial role, as shareholders of companies, in compelling businesses to preserve and protect the water supplies they depend on.

Through the Valuing Water Finance Initiative, investors are encouraging companies to develop holistic water management strategies by focusing on six Corporate Expectations for Valuing Water. These expectations set ambitions around the full range of water issues that large companies should meet by 2030. This timeline is critical to slowing the pace of deteriorating water resources across the globe and meeting the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goal for Water (SDG6).

Investors, through dialogues and, in some cases, shareholder resolutions and other strategies, are making progress working with companies on taking important steps, such as conducting water risk assessments in their supply chains and developing strategies to act on this critical information. Managing water risks in their supply chains is critical because they make up a significant portion of where companies depend on and have an impact on water.

Cliff:  How are you gauging companies’ progress?

Kirsten: Ceres’ recently released benchmark report assesses how the 72 focus companies are performing against the Corporate Expectations. It is an important resource for investors as they continue to engage with companies because it provides more context around companies’ water stewardship efforts—where they are excelling, where they are lacking, and how they can accelerate or expand their efforts.

The analysis, which we developed using publicly available company disclosures, offers a snapshot of where each company is on its water stewardship journey. No company is leading the way or close to meeting the Corporate Expectations lined out by investors, but we were encouraged to see 11 of the 72 companies making substantial progress. However, with only seven years until 2030, there is significant work ahead for most of the companies we assessed.

Irrigation pipe photo by Surachat, courtesy of Ceres

Cliff:  How can companies step up their actions in the face of worsening water scarcity and pollution and related financial risks?

Kirsten: Results vary by company and industry, but our research highlighted key areas for improvement. For example, many companies are using less water, but they need to make similar progress in addressing the impact their operations and their suppliers’ operations have on polluting water. This will help them bridge other gaps, such as protecting the ecosystems that are vital to freshwater supplies and ensuring that the communities where they operate and source commodities from have clean water.

Most companies can also do better ensuring that their public policy activities support sustainable water management. Advocating around water issues with governments, businesses, and civil societies can strengthen and broaden companies’ water stewardship efforts and impacts.

Many companies have made notable strides. They are demonstrating innovative and effective water solutions, including working with other stakeholders to address shared water challenges. Peers can learn from these examples in building their own water management strategies.

Cliff:  How can investors accelerate action?

Kirsten: In our discussions with investors, they have said they will look to companies to implement and advance leading practices, starting with risk assessments of their entire value chains and setting targets that home in on high-risk watersheds. Investors will also consider whether companies’ boards and senior leadership oversee water management strategies and integrate water risks and opportunities into strategic business planning for direct operations and supply chains.

Companies must take a leading role in tackling water risks impacting global water resources and economic security. Investors can fuel progress by taking an active ownership approach and using their power of influence to urge companies to understand their water vulnerabilities and take deliberate steps to avert financial fallout from the unfolding water crisis.

 

More About Kirsten:

Kirsten James directs Ceres’ strategy for mobilizing leading investors and companies to address the sustainability risks facing our freshwater and agriculture systems. Her work includes leading the Valuing Water Finance Initiative, an investor-led effort which seeks to drive corporate action on water-related financial risks. Previously, Kirsten served for five years as the director of California policy and partnerships at Ceres.

Prior to Ceres, Kirsten worked for nine years at a regional water resource-focused NGO, as their Science and Policy Director. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in environmental science and management from the Bren School at University of California Santa Barbara.

Energy & Climate, Featured Articles, Food & Farming, Impact Investing, Sustainable Business

Climate-Smart Forestry: From Niche to Mainstream

By Bettina von Hagen, EFM

Above: Scotts River Headwaters, Siskiyou County, CA. Photo courtesy of EFM

Bettina Van Hagen EFMEFM, the forestland investment company I co-founded, is celebrating its 20-year anniversary next year. And yet, the premise upon which we started EFM – that commercial forests could and should be valued and managed for the full range of goods and services they produce – timber, carbon, biodiversity, water provision, recreation, scenic values, tribal and indigenous values and rural livelihoods – is as enduring and critical today as it was twenty years ago. In many ways, it is more so, because the world has caught up with the critical truth that healthy, intact and functioning ecosystems – particularly forests – are fundamental to the earth’s life support system at the very moment that these ecosystems are unraveling due to climate change and human pressure. 

Moreover, there is broad recognition that any hope we have on limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees celsius is predicated on protecting and expanding the capacity of forests (and other natural systems) to store carbon and enhance resilience in the face of climatic change, such as increased fire incidence. As the world decarbonizes, expanding the capacity of forests, grasslands and oceans to sequester and store carbon is estimated to provide 37% of needed emission reductions in the next decade (Griscom et al 2017).  

Today EFM has over $250M of assets and 150,000 acres of forestland under management and advises clients globally on investments in natural climate solutions. We have established three co-mingled forest investment funds and are launching our fourth fund, along with expanding our advisory work on natural climate solutions. Our approach is to purchase forests in ecologically significant landscapes, restore them to greater productivity and health, and lock in the improvements through conservation easements, carbon contracts, habitat banks, and selective sales to tribal and community entities. These strategies provide cash flow while the forest continues to grow. As timber inventory builds, the forest can resume producing timber without significantly compromising biodiversity, water quality, and habitat by using harvesting techniques like thinning and variable retention harvests that retain large trees in the landscape and improve species diversity and structural complexity. Meanwhile, financial returns are diversified and strengthened by monetizing not just timber but emerging ecosystem service markets.  

Forest thinning on the Olympic Peninsula - courtesy EFM
A recently thinned EFM forest property on the Olympic Peninsula. Thinning removes trees that are not growing well or are too close to their neighbors, thus providing greater light and nutrients to the remaining trees. It also allows selection of desirable species and wildlife trees and shapes the future forest.

I came to my lifelong fascination with the natural world on a visit to the Galapagos when I was 14. In this iconic place of adaptation and speciation, which inspired Darwin and countless others, the world, and the forces that drive it, began to make sense to me as well. I went on to study Biology and then earned an MBA at the University of Chicago. While the latter taught me the language of finance, I have never seen anything in the business world that competes with the magnificence and sophistication of the survival, collaboration, and competitive strategies exhibited by natural systems on display in that first visit to the Galapagos. All that to say the obvious: that Nature, having tested strategies over millennia, is our best teacher on what works best in an ecosystem, and we ignore her lessons at our peril. EFM’s approach is rooted in understanding those natural forces and working with them to manage forests and other ecosystems for resilience and enduring economic and social value.

Following my MBA, I tried my hand at commercial banking but hungered for applying my energy and skills to things that mattered. Having grown up nourished by my mother’s textile design business in Peru and witnessing the chilling effect of a Marxist regime, I deeply valued private enterprise. I also appreciated the general theory of the invisible hand of the market and the drive to market efficiency, forces that also shape the natural world. However, it became evident that the invisible hand of the market fails to create social benefit in the face of pervasive negative externalities. The primary forests in the Pacific Northwest, where I was living in the early 90s, were being logged at an alarming rate. Natural capital, built over millennia, was crumbling, with a false conviction that logging “decadent” old-growth forests was good economics. It was instead a classic market failure, rife with imperfect information and negative externalities, with presumed “profits” driven by liquidating natural capital that had taken millennia to build. Following this conversion of primary to simplified forests, the wetter forests near the coast have continued to produce timber, albeit at a reduced rate, while the less productive forests in the interior have been left damaged, unproductive, and fire prone, with hundreds of sawmills permanently shuttered and a sharp decline in economic opportunity in rural communities.

To enhance salmon habitat EFM leaves riparian tree buffers - removes barriers and prohibits aerial spraying of herbicides
Pacific salmon, bring ocean nutrients to forest streams, and, in turn, forests provide habitat and food for spawning salmon and their young. Over 137 wildlife species, in addition to humans, rely on salmon for food. To enhance salmon habitat, EFM leaves wide riparian tree buffers, removes barriers to salmon passage and prohibits aerial spraying of herbicides, which is a common industrial practice.

Initially under the auspices of non-profit Ecotrust, I launched EFM with co-founder Spencer Beebe in 2005 to demonstrate a new approach to buying and managing forests that would create enduring value and provide investors with both a competitive return and the knowledge that their investment was rebuilding the health and vitality of forests at a landscape scale. Managing forests for carbon is particularly well-suited to the forests of the western U.S., where native species – Douglas-fir, hemlock, spruce, Ponderosa pine, and others – routinely grow to 200-300 years old. Transitioning forests from the industrial standard of clearcut harvest at 35-40 years to longer rotations with significant permanent retention of large trees can double the carbon stored in the forest.  

Reestablishing mature ponderosa pines - one of most fire-resistent - is central to EFM climate-smart forestry
EFM is working to restore large ponderosa pines in interior forests. Ponderosa pines are one of most fire-resistant trees in the west, and this resistance increases as the tree matures. Re-establishing ponderosa pine stands, which were decimated by past logging, is a critical element of EFM’s climate-smart forestry.

At the same time, these older, more complex forests are excellent for biodiversity, from spotted owls to marbled murrelets, from elk to bear, from lichen to fungi. Further, EFM concentrates large trees in riparian areas and actively restores rivers, improving habitat for iconic Pacific salmon, that move between ocean and mountain streams in their life cycle. These restoration strategies enhance the value of conservation easements, which pay landowners to maintain and restore forests, as well as the provision of cold, clean water and the recreational and scenic value of forests.

Finance tends to be a male-oriented profession, and forestry even more so. We have been outsiders from the start, not just as a woman-owned and woman-led forest investment management company, but also because of our departure from the conventional strategy of maximizing timber returns to instead consider the whole forest, focus on long-term value rather than short-term profits, and embed conservation and community at our core. EFM has taken full advantage of our outsider status: the ability to move easily among many communities – from impact investing to landscape scale restoration to carbon finance to tribal land repatriation – which has opened doors not available to entities focused on a timber-only strategy.

And now the edges that we occupy are slowly becoming the norm, as institutional investors are increasingly demanding investment strategies that generate positive impacts, and EFM’s strategy is becoming mainstream. With growing demand for well-managed forests, EFM has set a course to significantly increase its assets under management, with a strong pipeline of projects that deliver significant impact and the desired financial target. With this momentum, we feel more optimistic than ever that forests and other natural systems can finally get their due: to provide us – all of Earth’s residents – with the goods and services we need – timber, water, food, habitat, carbon storage, climate regulation, recreation – while continuing to build natural capital for generations to come. 

 

Article by Bettina von Hagen, CEO & Board Chair of EFM. Bettina helped launch EFM and joined the company as CEO in 2008. Bettina has spent the past 30 years working to promote economic viability, social equity, and environmental health in the Pacific Northwest with a particular focus on forestry. A former vice president of Ecotrust’s Natural Capital Fund and commercial banker, Bettina has over 30 years of experience in banking, impact investing, and fund management. She also has significant expertise in ecosystem service markets, particularly the forest carbon market, where she is involved in developing protocols for forest carbon projects at the state and federal levels. Previously, Bettina was Vice President at Ecotrust for forestry programs and for the Natural Capital Fund, a fund which invests in key businesses and initiatives in the conservation economy. Prior to joining Ecotrust in 1993, she was a vice president and commercial lender at First Interstate Bank of Oregon. Bettina has an MBA from the University of Chicago.

Energy & Climate, Featured Articles, Impact Investing, Sustainable Business

Unlocking Opportunity for Female Entrepreneurs Through Non-Traditional Financing

By Stella Tai & Kersy Azocar, Praxis Mutual Funds & Greenline Access Capital

Pictured above: Gladis Avila, owner of Venbisustore LLC (center) with Gleidys Arias, Program Manager (left) and Kersy Azocar, President and CEO (right) of Greenline Access Capital.

Stella Tai and Kersy AzocarFemale business owners face specific and unique challenges. Kersy Azocar, President and CEO of Greenline Access Capital shares her personal experience with applying for a business loan and the barriers that she encountered:

“When I applied for my first loan, prior to reviewing any of my information or asking any questions, the banking specialist immediately mentioned that I may need my husband to cosign the loan. When I told the specialist that I was in the financial industry and that I did not need my husband’s help to qualify for financing, he would not budge. I did not apply at that bank – they did not deserve my business. Implicit Bias and Barriers in financing such as this are a common reality for women all over the world.”

For many years, women have had a more difficult time accessing capital and typically have had a higher cost of capital. Because traditional services have failed to reach many of them, women business owners need alternative channels to access capital, offering more support and opportunities.

A recent, post-pandemic study by the U.S. Department of Commerce demonstrated what we already know: that female-led businesses play an important role in the economy as shown in the chart below. There are over 1.2 million women-owned business, a third of which hire five or more employees. 

Percentage of Women-Minority-Hispanic Owned Employer Firms by size-US Census
Source: US Dept of Commerce / US Census Bureau

Women-Owned Businesses Meet Community Needs

Even with widespread pandemic-induced layoffs, women started businesses at a higher rate than men. Increased flexibility in schedules especially for women with school-aged children motivated more women to start their own businesses. They often brought that flexibility to their employees through work-from-home opportunities and creative hybrid work schedules. 

A Gusto News study found that women were more likely to open businesses with a community focus and these were often in the personal services, healthcare, education and non-profit fields, proving that when they thrive, the whole community benefits.

Unique Challenges Faced by Female Entrepreneurs

In the U.S., research has shown that women face greater capital constraints than men. Compared to men, female entrepreneurs –especially those from low-to-moderate income communities – often do not have a long track record of business ownership, have little to no pre-existing wealth, lack home equity and collateral, and often have poor credit history. Due to these factors, female entrepreneurs are often disqualified from traditional financing. This means that for many, self-financing or costly forms of capital with higher interest rates are their only option.

Those are not the only barriers for female entrepreneurs. Despite significant growth potential, there is an underlying perception that it is difficult to get traditional financing, which leads to an unwillingness to go through seemingly tedious loan search and application processes that take up precious time and are costly. Additionally, female and minority-owned firms are disproportionately denied when they need and apply for additional credit, and depending on location, there may not be any other firms offering the type of capital these entrepreneurs need.

The United Nations identified the need to invest in women in two of its Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 5 (gender equality) and Goal 8 (decent work and economic growth) both pay particular attention to creating opportunity for female entrepreneurs. There is immense opportunity for sustainable investors and capital providers to meet the needs of women business owners who are in need of financing to support and grow their businesses.

How Capital Providers Can Help

There are a number of ways capital providers can meet the needs of female entrepreneurs when it comes to financing. 

First, capital providers need to be cognizant of the fact that there is a gender barrier that prevents many women business owners from accessing traditional financing. Providers can and should actively work to reduce and eliminate these barriers. 

A good place to start is to analyze the lender’s history of ‘who applies for’ versus ‘who receives’ financing and the reasons for denial. Additionally, capital providers can proactively create products that are a good fit for female entrepreneurs and allow for outside the box thinking when it comes to risk and return.

A recent partnership between Greenline Access Capital, a mission-driven nonprofit financial institution that works to address the continued and persistent gap in access to capital for financially underserved entrepreneurs in Philadelphia, PA, and Everence Financial®, a faith-based financial services company, seeks to bridge this gap.

Since 2021, Greenline has served more than 250 people and has helped 48 clients connect with $5.3 million in grants and loans, including 23 loans from Greenline’s own funds. Of these loans, 48% were made to women-owned businesses. By collaborating with Everence, Greenline is able to connect mission-driven funds with underserved businesses, many of which are women-owned. By combining the provision of capital, customized technical assistance and training focused on entrepreneurial and financial success, these types of organizations are helping bridge the gap in serving communities and individuals often excluded.

By creating long-term relationships with organizations like Greenline Access Capital, capital providers can support impact at scale by increasing efficiency and productivity for all parties. These partnerships can cross public, private and non-profit capital sources and can function locally, regionally or across the country. Though more work is required, especially at the beginning of the relationship, in the long run these partnerships will pay off for both capital providers, alternative lenders and underserved communities. 

Family Need Meets Business Opportunity

Venbisustore LLC is a mission-driven business owned by Gladis Avila that sells cultural, hand-made products to support entrepreneurs in Venezuela. The business was born out of the need to support her family in Venezuela during COVID-19. The business imports handmade arts and crafts from different cities and towns in Venezuela and is currently supporting four families that make the handmade products.

Gladis met Greenline Access through one of its partners, The Welcoming Center and became a client. Through their help she received a microloan and a matching grant from the City of Philadelphia which helped her purchase inventory and equipment so that she would be ready for the holiday season and increase her sales. Her plans for the future include opening a store in Philadelphia, PA. Greenline is excited to help Gladis connect with mission-aligned organizations such as Everence for additional funding when she needs it.

How Investors Can Help

It is no surprise that impact investors are particularly interested in supporting these women-owned small businesses that are important drivers of the economy. Through community development investing, investors can support mission-driven alternative lenders, like Greenline, that focus on connecting female entrepreneurs with capital. These institutions are nimble and innovative in reaching women business owners in a way traditional lenders often are not. 

A simple way for individuals or institutions to support women-owned businesses in underserved and underrepresented communities is to identify investment products that channel all or a portion of assets to community development investing. This can include mutual fundslike Praxis Mutual Funds, a fund family of Everencethat invest a portion of each fund in high-social impact community investments through qualified partners. 

Community lending specialists, like Calvert Impact or Capital Impact Partners, offer products for both institutional and retail investors. And many community development banks and credit unions offer ways to channel financing to benefit specific communities. To learn more, visit: praxismutualfunds.com, ussif.org/communityinvesting, or inclusiv.org

Community development investing can help move us closer to a more equitable and inclusive economy by closing the gender gap in business ownershipand we all have an important role to play.

 

Article by Stella Tai, Praxis Mutual Funds and Kersy Azocar, Greenline Access Capital.

Stella Tai, Stewardship Investing Impact and Analysis Manager, Praxis Mutual Funds. Stella provides primary leadership for the promotion, integration and development of impact investing and reporting. Stella guides the development of financial products that meet the needs of low-to-moderate income communities, helps promote the integration of faith and finances through Everence products and services, and works to grow opportunities for impact investments. Connect with Stella on LinkedIn.

Kersy Azocar is the President and CEO of Greenline Access Capital, a mission-driven nonprofit financial institution that works to address the continued and persistent gap in access to capital for financially underserved people by providing customized lending products and services. Greenline has served more than 250 people and has helped over 48 clients connect with $5.3 Million in Grants and Loans, including 23 Loans from Greenline’s funds.

Prior to joining Greenline, Kersy worked for 13 years at a Philadelphia-based Community Financial Development Institution (CDFI) where she managed a microlending department with a national scope leading the organization to become the #1 SBA microlender in the region and top 10 in the nation for over 7 years. In 2021, Kersy was the Project Manager of the Pennsylvania COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program (CHIRP), a $17 million-dollar grant program created by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to support businesses in the hospitality industry. The program was managed by the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC).

Originally from the Dominican Republic, Kersy prides herself on being able to address the needs of emerging and existing entrepreneurs providing a hands-on approach rarely encountered in the industry. She is nationally recognized, and able to leverage her expertise in the microlending and financial industries.

About Praxis

Praxis Mutual Funds is a leading faith-based, socially responsible family of mutual funds designed to help investors integrate their finances with their values. Praxis is the mutual fund family of Everence Financial®, a comprehensive faith-based financial services organization helping individuals, organizations, and congregations. To learn more, visit praxismutualfunds.com and everence.com.

Consider the fund’s investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses carefully before you invest. The fund’s prospectus and summary prospectus contain this and other information. Call 800-977-2947 or visit praxismutualfunds.com for a prospectus, which you should read carefully before you invest. 

There can be no guarantee that any strategy (risk management or otherwise) will be successful. All investing involves risk, including potential loss of principal. 

Praxis Mutual Funds are advised by Everence Capital Management and distributed through Foreside Financial Services, LLC. Investment products offered are not FDIC insured, may lose value, and have no bank guarantee. 

Praxis Mutual Funds

1110 N. Main St., P.O. Box 483, Goshen, IN 46527

 

Featured Articles, Impact Investing, Sustainable Business

Making Gender Visible: A Path to Systemic Inclusion

By Geeta Aiyer, Boston Common Asset Management

Above: a human-generated image of a visible and invisible light spectrum

“Exclusion and harm on the basis of gender are so pervasive as to be invisible, normalized, and ignored.” 

Geeta Aiyer Boston Common Asset MgmtThis was the opening sentence in my 2021 piece, “Making Gender Visible.” Three years later, gender-based inequity, violence, and harassment remain intransigently woven into commerce, economics, and social systems. As attempts to undo the progress of recent decades are mounting at the political level, many companies are changing course by either slowing or abandoning efforts designed to aid the transition to a more inclusive economy. The result is a persistent, enormous gender gap, with gender parity still 131 years away.[1]

Until now, gender has not received adequate priority and has been largely confined to a single data point under workplace diversity efforts. While workplace-focused efforts that call for advancements like enhanced disclosure and board diversity are vital to supporting the infrastructure necessary to evolve toward gender equality in corporate environments, lasting change will require more comprehensive gender prioritization across corporate value chains. 

Public equity investors have a unique opportunity to motivate companies to design for inclusion and create genuinely inclusive systems within their organizations and throughout their value chains. Determined to equip investors with the tools to activate their voice, my company, Boston Common Asset Management, developed Investor Guidance for Prioritizing Gender in 2022. The guidance supplies engaged investors with critical questions and essential tactics for motivating companies to adopt gender-specific approaches using an integrated, full value chain approach.

Underpinning this approach is the understanding that a corporate strategy that prioritizes inclusive gender governance can positively impact each aspect of a company’s value chain, as detailed below:

  • Workplace operations impact a company’s leaders and employees via gender representation, benefits, compensation, health, safety, and well-being.
  • Supply Chain practices impact business relationships between tier-1 suppliers and beyond.
  • The Product/Service Marketplace and its participants are directly and indirectly impacted by how and what a company designs, develops, and disseminates.
  • Communities are directly or indirectly impacted by a company’s business and/or community-focused activities.

Since gender-driven harms broadly impact industries worldwide, Boston Common is applying its Gender-Priority approach in industry-focused engagements, starting with those we identified as having the highest risk of gender bias – pharmaceuticals, apparel, technology, and finance. Our Inclusive Finance initiative, for example, focuses on representation, gender targets, and metrics. We inquire about the degree to which companies consult with marginalized communities and customers to inform their approaches to inclusive finance, responsible lending, and product design. My colleagues, Lauren Compere and Amy Orr, are two driving forces behind this work. Lauren recently contributed to an Oxfam report on gender inequity in the food system, yet another area where women and gender-diverse people face harmful inequities despite their significant and essential role throughout the food production value chain.

In a broad range of industries, responsible corporate decision-making can mitigate exploitative supply chains, harmful marketing practices, and unsafe workplaces, all unpriced externalities justified in the name of delivering strong returns to investors. These externalities are far from being “priced in” to a company’s financials, and yet, they relentlessly persist and indeed incur societal costs when left unchecked. One needn’t look further than the recent Coronavirus pandemic to see the persistence and societal costs of gender bias.

As investors who believe in the power of active ownership to advance social change, we acknowledge our opportunity to use our collective voice on behalf of individuals forced to navigate faulty, unjust systems. We must strive to understand the obstacles women encounter across the value chain by going beyond simply counting the number of women in the workplace. Instead, we must address and shed light on the many obstacles and exploitative systems found throughout corporate value chains, like the shortcomings of social audits, and the risk of Gender-Based Violence and Harassment (GBVH) faced by women farm workers, to name just two. We believe a full value chain approach is required to systematically dismantle gender bias and motivate companies to consider gender as a critical factor in decision-making in workforce diversity efforts, supply chain partnerships, product development, marketing, and community interactions. We will continue our work toward this goal and share the outcomes of our ongoing company dialogues with you in the months ahead. 

 

Article by Geeta Aiyer, CFA, President & Founder, Boston Common Asset Management and Lead Portfolio Manager, Sustainable US Value. Geeta combines over 30 years of experience in finance with a passion for environmental and social justice. Under her leadership, Boston Common Asset Management has built a strong investment record and meaningfully improved the policies and practices of portfolio companies through impactful, proactive shareholder engagement. Geeta was an early innovator in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing and remains an influential leader today. She is the lead Portfolio Manager for Boston Common’s US Large-Cap Value Strategy.

Geeta was recently named to TIME Magazine’s inaugural TIME100 Climate list, recognizing the most innovative leaders driving business climate action. Among other awards, she was honored by Investment News as an Innovator and recognized at the CERES conference for Building Sustainability into capital markets. For her diversity advocacy, she was named one of Boston Business Journal’s Power 50 Movement Makers in 2021. In 2022, Geeta was honored with TiE Boston’s Lifetime Achievement Award, which celebrates entrepreneurs who have pushed the boundaries of what is possible. Earlier that year, she received an honorary degree from Regis College (Weston, MA), and GreenBiz named her one of 25 “badass women shaping climate action.” Before founding Boston Common, Geeta was President of Walden Asset Management and worked at US Trust Company (Boston) and Cambridge Associates.

Geeta serves on the Boards of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. (NRDC) and the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility (ICCR). She is co-founder and board chair of DAWN Worldwide, an NGO addressing gender-based violence. Previously, Geeta served on the boards of

the Sierra Club Foundation and YW Boston. From 2015-2017, she was on the Board of UN PRI, becoming the first US asset manager elected to serve. Geeta earned her MBA from Harvard Business School and her MA and BA (Hons) from Delhi University, India.

Footnote: [1] https://www.weforum.org/publications/global-gender-gap-report-2023/infographics-66115127a8/ 

Featured Articles, Impact Investing, Sustainable Business

Opportunity for Women in the Clean Energy Transition

By Maria Lettini, US SIF: The Sustainable Investment Forum

Above infographic source: EFI Foundation, “EFI analysis projects Inflation Reduction Act impacts”

Maria Lettini US SIF

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, it is again a time of reflection. We delight in the pockets of progress over the years but reiterate that there is certainly no room for complacency. The World Bank estimated that there are still almost 2.4 billion women who are without equal economic opportunity and more than 178 countries that still maintain legal barriers to prevent the full economic participation of women.[1]

Closer to my home, in the United States, numbers feel more optimistic. American women contribute more than $7 trillion to US gross domestic product each year.[2] In addition, they control $10 trillion in assets, a number that is expected to grow to $30 trillion – an amount roughly equivalent to U.S. gross domestic product – over the next decade.[3] And, by 2028, estimates suggest women will be responsible for 75% of discretionary spending.[4]

When it comes to climate change, women are still disproportionately affected; however, given their growing economic importance, women have a really significant role to play in the rapid and just transition to a low carbon economy. At COP28, the nexus of gender and climate change was a clear focus. Vice President Harris reinforced the US government’s commitments to the Women in the Sustainable Economy (WISE) Initiative which, through public-private partnerships, gives women around the world access to capital and financing that supports climate resilience and women’s leadership on climate issues.[5]

To meet net zero by 2050, the U.S. must transition swiftly. It’s an incredible challenge that requires the alignment of energy demand and production, diverse infrastructure components, supply chains across sectors, capital formation, public opinion, and more. Women’s influence is increasingly converging to the center as women become empowered to contribute to and benefit from the transition. At the US Sustainable Investment Forum (SIF), our research finds that climate is a top criterion for both institutional investors and money managers, and that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) issues are among our members’ top five investment themes and engagement priorities. This important climate-DEI intersection creates a potential wealth of opportunities for investors.

Many of these opportunities may be found in projects funded through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which work in tandem to incentivize private capital to move the equitable transition forward, accelerating the development and deployment of clean energy technology. Goldman Sachs research estimates that the IRA’s impact could encourage $11 trillion of total infrastructure investment by 2050,[6] and BlueGreen Alliance research estimates that more than nine million jobs will be created over the next decade, across technologies, as the U.S. builds more resilient infrastructure, including grids, buildings and transport, with a focus on conserving and maintaining access to clean air, water, soil and more.[7]  These industries and impacts have the potential to benefit women, as well as communities that have been disproportionally affected by climate change and the transition away from fossil fuels.

Incentivization of new projects is expected to stimulate necessary capital expenditures. For example, the IRA made it possible for governments, non-profits and other entities to take advantage of clean energy tax credits. This could translate into further public financing benefits for local communities. Historically, municipal bonds have comprised about 70% of state and local infrastructure financing, and state and local municipal bond sales are expected to reach about $400 billion in 2024.[8] Grants, tax credits and other incentives and financing have the potential to transform communities and industries as our climate and energy resilience emerges.

US SIF Forum June 24-26 Chicago

Women are essential to the transformation, resilience and impact our world requires. Yet, there is still work to be done in the global job market. We know that increased representation of women in government, and a higher share of women in corporate leadership roles, lead to more stringent climate policies and lower carbon emissions.[9] In addition, workforce and leadership diversity has been found to foster innovation and creative solutions,[10] and lead to superior investment returns.[11] As a result, diversity in the workplace can help address existential climate challenges and deliver the market returns we need to finance the climate transition.

So, what’s the problem?

While women hold more C-suite positions than they have in the past, they remain under-represented in leadership and decision-making positions across sectors and industries,[12] and in government.[13] This is true globally, and it is also front-and-center in the United States. Last year, the U.S. workforce participation rate for women in their prime working years reached an all-time high.[14] However, there are notable gender gaps in various industries. For example:

The Energy Sector – While women comprise almost 50% of the U.S. workforce, just 25% of workers in the energy sector and 32% of those in the renewable energy sector are female. In addition, women are under-represented on the boards of the world’s 200 largest utilities, holding 25 seats representing 16% of board members.[15] In contrast, women hold 32% of board positions in S&P 500 companies.[16] Even in the dynamic area of start-ups, only about 11% of energy sector founders are women, compared with 20% across all sectors.[17]

The Financial Industry – In North America, women hold about one-fifth of senior finance services leadership roles, according to Deloitte, and that figure may fall as the number of women who are in position to be tapped for the next generation of leadership is expected to decline in coming years.[18] A bright spot is found in private equity and venture capital. PE and VC firms with women co-owners are more likely to engage in and allocate a greater proportion of their portfolios to impact investments.[19] It’s notable that just 34% of women in private equity firms hold investing positions.[20]

The clean energy transition is gaining momentum, and gender equity is a critical aspect of its progress. Women are both disproportionately affected by negative aspects of climate change, and key contributors to positive change through their leadership in government and business. While women are recognized changemakers, gender equality has yet to be realized. We are at an exciting juncture of history where woman can be empowered to make a difference across all levels of the transition value chain. Governments, businesses, and investors can have a significant effect on climate and gender, while supporting strong economic growth and pursuing attractive market returns.

We will explore this topic in more detail at the upcoming US SIF Forum 2024 from June 24-26 in Chicago, IL. Early bird pricing is available until Mar. 15, 2024.

 

Article by Maria Lettini is the Chief Executive Officer of US SIF: The Sustainable Investment Forum. She joined US SIF in May of 2023 and is an innovative leader within the fields of sustainability and finance.  She is recognized for building meaningful partnerships across the capital markets value chain to address some of the world’s most critical, and financially material, environmental and social challenges.

 

Footnotes:

[1] https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2022/03/01/nearly-2-4-billion-women-globally-don-t-have-same-economic-rights-as-men

[2] https://www.americanprogress.org/article/a-day-in-the-u-s-economy-without-women/

[3] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2023/05/unlocking-trillion-dollar-female-economy/

[4] https://www.nielsen.com/insights/2020/wise-up-to-women/

[5] https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2023/11/16/fact-sheet-vice-president-harris-launches-women-in-the-sustainable-economy-initiative-totaling-over-900-million-in-commitments/

[6] https://www.goldmansachs.com/intelligence/pages/the-us-is-poised-for-an-energy-revolution.html#

[7] https://www.bluegreenalliance.org/site/9-million-good-jobs-from-climate-action-the-inflation-reduction-act/

[8] https://www.smartcitiesdive.com/news/2024-municipal-bonds-outlook-crucial-financing-tool-cities/704313/

[9] https://www.oliverwymanforum.com/climate-sustainability/2023/jan/applying-a-gender-lens-to-climate-investing.html

[10] https://online.uncp.edu/degrees/business/mba/general/diversity-and-inclusion-good-for-business/#

[11] https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/diversity-wins-how-inclusion-matters

[12] https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/women-in-the-workplace

[13] https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-participation/facts-and-figures

[14] https://www.brookings.edu/articles/prime-age-women-labor-market-recovery/#:~:text

[15]  https://www.americanprogress.org/article/uplifting-women-in-the-clean-energy-economy/

[16] https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/us-corporate-boards-are-more-diverse-than-ever-but-the-pace-of-growth-is-slowing-301984556.html

[17] https://www.iea.org/commentaries/gender-diversity-in-energy-what-we-know-and-what-we-dont-know

[18] https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/industry/financial-services/women-leaders-financial-services.html

[19] https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4425799

[20] https://www.axios.com/2022/11/01/private-equity-women-investing-jobs

Featured Articles, Impact Investing, Sustainable Business

Love Your Neighbor with Your Investments

By Robin John, Eventide Asset Management

Above photo by Sean Pollock

Robin John EventideOver the past few years, a growing number of investors have started leaning into their faith to guide their investment choices. Morningstar found that more faith-based products launched between 2019 and 2022 than during any other stretch since 2010 and predicts faith-based investing will grow even more popular with the surge of customized investing.

The driver behind this growth in faith-based investing is, in my view, a response to the pain and suffering seen in the world and the desire of many investors to combat it by investing in good. Faith-driven values have long been a reliable framework to accomplish this goal.

Faith-driven investing communicates the ethical desires of shareholders to companies, seeking to shape corporate behavior and encouraging decisions that contribute to the human flourishing of stakeholders. At Eventide, our faith-driven investment model is anchored in biblical principles and is the foundation of everything we do.

In 2008, Eventide was founded with the desire to honor God and create compelling value for the global common good. We believe in investing that makes the world rejoice! The founding members and I saw a unique opportunity to connect our faith to our investments. We set out to invest in companies that we could be proud of and that align with our Christian values: companies that didn’t just create strong returns but also served their stakeholders well.

To effectively do this, it is important to have an understanding of both the love we are trying to achieve and the neighbor we are seeking to love. In what is often considered one of the greatest commandments in the Bible, Galatians 5:14 says to love our neighbors as ourselves. I take this to mean that we should consider the well-being of others in the same way we would want to be considered. Not only is this kind of love possible through investing, but it is a powerful agent of change.          

Businesses have two sets of neighbors: internal and external. At Eventide, we define these with the acronym “CES2”. Internally, a business’s neighbors are its Customers, Employees, and Supply chain. Externally, it’s the business’s Communities, Environment, and Society. These neighbors, or stakeholders, are at the forefront of our minds while investing, not only as a way to leave the world better than we found it but also as a long-term investment strategy of investing in “good” companies.

A study by McKinsey found that companies with an emphasis on their people and the company’s performance displayed more economic resiliency than companies solely focused on performance. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, companies that dedicated resources to enhancing their employees’ skills and optimizing their work environment saw their revenue grow at a rate twice as fast as those that did not make such investments.

To effectively love our neighbors through the vehicle of investing, Eventide uses the framework of avoid, embrace, and engage. This includes avoiding companies that are siphoning value instead of creating it for others, embracing companies that are contributing to the human flourishing of their stakeholders, and, even further, engaging with companies to help them better serve the world’s needs. We believe this framework helps us allocate our investments towards companies that are creating meaningful value for their stakeholders.

Investing with values has reminded me of how God invites us into His redemptive work in the world. In Revelation 21:5, God says that He will make all things new. We all can join Him in this good work regardless of personal background, occupation, or circumstance. When this faith-based perspective comes together with a performance and stakeholder-oriented approach to investing – the possibilities for doing good and bringing hope are immense.

One powerful example is Reverend Leon Sullivan’s “Sullivan Principles” in response to apartheid in South Africa. In 1977, Baptist minister and GM board member Leon Sullivan put forth a set of six principles designed to guide U.S. investments and business activities in South Africa. These principles encompassed the eradication of workplace discrimination, the promotion of pay equality, support for education, and the sponsorship of social programs and community investment.

 As a result, 160 of the 244 American companies with investments in South Africa adopted the principles, serving to shape the American corporate response to apartheid and joining in the domino effect towards the eventual end of the oppressive system.

Free Uighur - Photo by Kuzzat Altay
Photo by Kuzzat Altay

Today, Eventide is looking to drive this kind of change towards the oppression of the Uyghur people who are in forced labor camps in the Xinjiang region of China. Their forced labor is contributing to the solar panel supply chain. We are seeking to eradicate this by divesting from companies with any connection to forced labor and, instead, embracing and engaging with those that are forced-labor-free. The goal is that one day, the solar supply chain will be completely free of forced labor. As the Sullivan Principles contributed to the end of apartheid, our hope and goal is that by refusing to support any company that uses the forced labor of the Uyghur people — and bringing broad awareness to the issue — their oppression will eventually end.

As more money is allocated towards value-creating companies and less towards value-destructing companies, a message is sent to the marketplace about what investors will and will not tolerate.

Faith-driven investing is a powerful way for investors to pursue performance and drive positive change in the world. The opportunities are vast, whether supporting companies that treat their employees fairly, contributing to their communities, or even taking steps to eliminate injustice in their supply chains. Investors can engage with a values-aligned financial advisor to ensure their investments are allocated towards companies that love their stakeholders well. Together, we can send a resounding message about the types of business practices we will and will not stand for, shaping corporate behavior and contributing to human flourishing around the world.

 

Article by Robin John who serves as a Founding Member and Chief Executive Officer of Eventide.

 Disclosure

This article is provided for informational purposes only and expresses the views of Eventide Asset Management, LLC (“Eventide”), an investment adviser. This does not constitute investment advice nor is it a recommendation or offer to purchase or sell or a solicitation to deal in any security or financial product. Eventide does not provide tax, accounting, or legal advice. Eventide’s values-based approach to investing may not produce desired results and could result in underperformance compared with other investments. There is no guarantee that any investment strategy will achieve its objectives, generate profits, or avoid losses. Eventide uses the trademark (“Investing that makes the world rejoice®”) in a figurative manner to help explain its focus on serving investors by helping them improve the world.  Third-party sources have not been independently verified, nor is Eventide affiliated with any third-parties referenced.

Featured Articles, Impact Investing, Sustainable Business

Build. Give. Invest: A Framework That’s Worth the Risk

By Henry Kaestner, Faith Driven Entrepreneur & Faith Driven Investor ministries

 

Henry Kaestner Faith Driven Investor ministriesI can sum up most of the teaching I’ve encountered about Christian finances in two words: make and give. Since coming to faith in my 20s, it has mostly been taught to me that if I am going to be successful, I should make as much money as possible so I can give away as much as possible. 

The implication here is that the most holy thing to do with your money is to donate it. Send it to the nonprofits. Give your tithe. And then wait for your reward in heaven. 

As an investor, this has always felt incomplete. While God certainly calls me to give, he has also called me as an entrepreneur and investor to use a portion of my capital to invest in for-profit companies that, by design, aren’t doing philanthropic work. So, I’ve had to wrestle with how these vocations fit with God’s vision for my finances. 

Where Does Investing Fit? 

It sure does seem like it has to belong somewhere because after years of working with Faith Driven Entrepreneurs and Investors around the world, I know one thing for sure: these people are having incredible kingdom impact. They are building culture and influencing their communities through their companies. Nonprofits and charities are absolutely an essential tool God uses to advance his Kingdom. But it is not the only way. Charitable giving is one (very important!) way to honor God with our finances, but it’s not the only way. 

That’s why we at Faith Driven Investor have started thinking about a threefold framework that consists of building, giving, and investing. 

Let’s Break Down Each of These

Giving is what most of us are probably most familiar with. This is our philanthropic capital that directs money where it’s needed most, in emergency situations and places with great, immediate needs. But, giving doesn’t solve every problem. 

Recent leaders like Brian Fikkert have pointed out that, in some cases, charity can hurt more than it helps. Sometimes investment capital is needed to advance emerging regions. In their book, The Prosperity Paradox, Clayton Christensen and Efosa Ojomo show how business and innovation can help lift nations out of poverty even more rapidly than charities in some cases.

That’s why we have to think about how we build, too. Enterprises offer an incredibly diverse collection of life-changing ways to stand in the gap. They boost economies, and they create sustainable, long term solutions. This isn’t to replace our giving. It’s in addition to it. Those companies need investment capital to reach their full potential.  

Too often we think of these as three distinct and separate pursuits. As a result, they become siloed obligations rather than wholly integrated endeavors. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can pull all our capital from one pocket and see how God will use all of the capital for his glory. 

This sounds good to most of us, but the challenge comes when we really consider what it really means to surrender all we have to God. If we’re going to build, give, and invest for God’s glory, we have to be prepared to think differently about what we build and how we invest. For many of us, that will require us to redefine our relationship with risk. 

I know for me this has been less of a one-time decision and more of an ongoing journey. Over the years, I’ve had to often ask myself that if I truly believed all that God promises in the Bible, would I act the same way I do, think the same way I do, invest the same way I do? The concept of hedging in my own life has all too often looked as if it’s a hedge against God’s promises not being true — just in case He fails to clothe the lilies of the field, just in case He doesn’t actually have a plan to prosper me. 

This is a Dangerous Trap  

Rather than renewing my mind and orienting my heart on Him, I am often tempted to fall right into the trap the rest of the world trips over: the worries of the world and the deceitfulness of riches. In the Parable of the Sower, this is the last obstacle that prevented the 30-, 60-, and 100-fold return. If we want to experience the fullness of what God has to offer, then we have to be willing to give him all we have. We have to trust Him with not just our philanthropic capital but our investments, too. 

For many of us – me included – the challenge is not in saying that we fully trust God. All who call themselves Christians do in some sense. But too often, our actions reveal that what we really trust is our bank accounts. 

If we spend the majority of our time and focus on building up resources for our enjoyment and safety, what does that tell us about whether we’re serving God or Mammon?  

When we spend all our energy and efforts hedging against risk, hedging against inflation, hedging against this, hedging against that, our entire life becomes a hedge. There’s the possibility that the faith we declare might only be a ticket to the afterlife. If we doubt the promises of God so severely that we place all our trust in our own ability to manage risk, then it’s possible we may not believe in what God has actually promised us. And until we get to that full level of commitment, we will miss out on the fullness of what God offers.

So how do we arrive at this risky perspective where we’re willing to build, give, and invest?

I won’t pretend to have some secret formula. Frankly, what I’m saying here causes me just as much discomfort as you may be feeling right now. I’m in the process alongside you. We all are. 

But here are three things that have helped me on my journey: 

  1. Pray – I want to encourage all of us to spend time on our knees asking God to search our hearts and show us where and how our investments might better serve Him. To do anything else would be too risky. 
  1. Discern – Whether you’re building, giving, or investing, I don’t want to encourage you to recklessly throw money at projects and hope that something good comes of it. There’s still wisdom and discernment required in all things.  
  1. Walk with Others – The very process of endeavoring to step out to make investments with wisdom brings us into a relationship with others who are trying to accomplish the same mission. This is the community God is calling us toward.

And there is a process of seeking out counsel from advisors and peers, both home and abroad, that keeps God at the forefront. Finding other Christ-followers who are seeking to make wise investments broadens our understanding of what God is doing and allows us to participate in His work. Yes, that can be messy. Yes, it’s time-consuming. But it’s so much richer than trying to do it alone. That is why we have designed Faith Driven Investing courses that bring together like-minded investors to grow alongside each other. 

The road to building, giving, and investing is risky. We have to ask ourselves: Do we really believe that? Do we really believe that God is working in and through the faithful investments of His people? Do we really believe that He will take care of us? Do we really believe that He’s in complete control over all the money and markets in the world? Do we really believe that every investment has an impact? 

Even asking these questions can be risky. You may end up thinking differently about how you build, give, and invest. But the riskiest thing we can do is play it safe. Pray and seek the will of God. And open up your head, heart, and mind to the fact that He may have something incredible in store for you — if you’re willing to take the risk. 

 

Article by Henry Kaestner,  co-founded the Faith Driven Entrepreneur and Faith Driven Investor ministries, and has been a catalyst behind both movements. He and his team seek to serve faith-driven entrepreneurs, investors, funds, partners, and advisors through content, community, and connections.

Henry is also a Co-Founder and Partner at Sovereign’s Capital, a private equity and venture capital management company that invests in faith driven entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia and the U.S. Prior to co-founding Sovereign’s Capital, Henry was co-founder, previous CEO, and Chairman of Bandwidth (NASDAQ:BAND) and its sister company, Republic Wireless.

In addition, Henry has been involved in a number of other ministries and philanthropic activities. He co-founded DurhamCares, was a founding Board Member of Praxis, and sits on a variety of business and ministry boards.

Henry serves as an elder in the Presbyterian Church of America and lives in Los Gatos with his wife Kimberley with whom he raised three adult boys.

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