A group of investors has released a new white paper, Impact Investing in Sustainable Food and Agriculture across Asset Classes: Financing Resilient Value Chains through Total Portfolio Activation. The paper was prepared by Croatan Institute with the guidance and close collaboration of Iroquois Valley Farms, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), Organic Agriculture Revitalization Strategy (OARS), Root Capital, RSF Social Finance, and Trillium Asset Management. [See their websites below]
A December 2016 survey conducted by the Global Impact Investing Network found that impact investment assets allocated to the food and agriculture sector had a compound annual growth rate of 32.5 percent since 2013. Using the Total Portfolio Activation approach, the paper provides a framework to help investors expand the scope of investing in sustainable food systems across common portfolio asset classes such as cash, public equities, and fixed income, as well as alternative asset classes such as private equity, venture capital, and real assets. It is the first of its kind to structure a total portfolio approach thematically around sustainable food and agriculture.
“We know that we have a responsibility to align our investments with our values and to put those investments to work to build a more sustainable food system,” said Matthew Patsky, CEO of Trillium Asset Management. “The paper serves as a guide for sustainable and responsible impact investors looking to leverage their investments and broaden their impact across agricultural value chains.”
“Whether your focus is on redeveloping the resilience of local foods systems or fostering sustainable approaches to agriculture at a more global scale, impact investors have a critical role to play in financing links across the value chain,” said Joshua Humphreys, President of Croatan Institute, Senior Strategist of OARS, and a co-author of the study.“As this research shows, impact investment opportunities in this rapidly evolving field now extend across asset classes, and Total Portfolio Activation provides a useful framework for investors to understand those opportunities and re-allocate their portfolios to seize them.”
“By providing mission-driven enterprises across food and agriculture with access to capital, we are able to improve the infrastructure of local food systems while generating greater positive social and environmental impact,” said Kate Danaher, Senior Manager of Social Enterprise Lending and Integrated Capital at RSF Social Finance.
“This paper demonstrates how organizations such as Root Capital can help to address the market failures that have left agricultural businesses around the world chronically under-resourced,” said Rachel Serotta, Director of Investor Relations at Root Capital. “When we provide these businesses with essential capital and financial management training, they become engines of impact in their communities: family incomes rise, food security improves, women get their share, ecosystems thrive, and young people have the opportunity to lead.”
The information provided in this material should not be considered a recommendation to buy or sell the securities mentioned. It should not be assumed that investments in such securities has been or will be profitable. To the extent a specific security is mentioned, it was selected by the authors on an objective basis to illustrate views expressed in the commentary and it does not represent all of the securities purchased, sold, or recommended for advisory clients. The information contained herein has been prepared from sources believed reliable but is not guaranteed as to its timeliness or accuracy,and is not a complete summary or statement of all available data. This piece is for informational purposes and should not be construed as a research report.
Caroline White, Communications Manager, Trillium Asset Management Article Note:
 Abhilash Mudaliar, Aliana Pineiro, and Rachel Bass, “Impact Investing Trends: Evidence of a Growing Industry,” Global Impact Investing Network, December 2016.
April 18, 2017 marked the publication of an ambitious new book with the audacious goal of showing how to reverse the warming of the planet through a myriad of innovations, many of them led by business for profit.
“Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming” (Penguin Books, Drawdown), was edited by the author and entrepreneur Paul Hawken along with a self-described “coalition” of research fellows, writers and advisors. (Full disclosure: I played a very small unpaid role in reviewing parts of the manuscript, and am included among the 120 or so advisors listed in the book. More details at www.drawdown.org/advisors)
The book contains 80 solutions — “techniques and practices” — that are ready today, and 20 additional “coming attractions” — innovations just over the horizon — that collectively can draw down atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases in order to solve, not just slow,climate change by avoiding emissions or sequestering carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere.
Hawken is quick to point out that the book’s seemingly brash subtitle is a bit tongue in cheek: this is the only “comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming,” he said. But the larger point is not lost. The book, along with an accompanying website (www.drawdown.org), may be the first to provide the insight and inspiration, backed by empirical research and data, that could enable companies, governments and citizens to attack the climate problem in a holistic and aggressive way. Moreover, many, if not most, of the solutions can be undertaken with little or no new laws or policy, and can be financed profitably by companies and capital markets.
At minimum, “Drawdown” is likely the most hopeful thing you’ll ever read about our ability to take on global warming.
Two and a half years ago, as the project got under way, I provided some context for Project Drawdown , the nonprofit created by Hawken to produce the book. While its roots date to the early 2000s, the project’s inspiration came in large measure from a 2012 Rolling Stone article by activist Bill McKibben, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” — “three simple numbers that add up to global catastrophe,” as McKibben put it. His article offered a sobering arithmetical analysis underscoring “our almost-but-not-quite-finally hopeless” global predicament. That article led Hawken to ask, “Why aren’t we doing the math on the solutions?” as he told me in 2014.
The new book aims to do just that: provide the metrics for the solutions needed to solve the climate crisis.
The 80 solutions that make up the bulk of the book are grouped into seven buckets: energy; food; women and girls; building and cities; land use; transport; and materials. To qualify for inclusion, a solution must have proven to reduce energy use through efficiency, material reduction or resource productivity; replace existing energy sources with renewable energy; or sequester carbon in soils, plants or kelp through regenerative farming, grazing, ocean and forest practices.
Each solution is ranked by cost-effectiveness, speed to implementation and societal benefit. Also included for each is its projected savings in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and the solution’s total financial cost — the amount of money needed to purchase, install and operate it over 30 years — and its net cost or benefit — how much money would be required to implement the solution compared to the cost of repeating business as usual.
“Drawdown’s” aggregate bottom line is shockingly affordable: When you total up the
net first costs and subtract the net operating costs for all 80 solutions, the net operating savings add up to $74 trillion over 30 years.
Consider refrigerant management, the book’s No. 1 solution. Hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs — the chemicals used in refrigerators, supermarket cold cases and air conditioning systems — have up to 9,000 times greater greenhouse gas warming potential per molecule than carbon dioxide,depending on their exact chemical composition. Ironically, these chemicals were tapped in the 1990s to replace chlorofluorocarbons, which were found to deplete the planet’s protective ozone layer.
Last fall, a global deal was forged by nearly 200 countries to phase out HFCs by the late 2020s, but the chemicals will persist in kitchens and condensing unit for decades. Ninety percent of their climate emissions happen when fridges and AC units are disposed of at the end of their useful lives.
On the other hand, creating refrigerant recovery “has immense mitigation potential,” said the “Drawdown” authors. After being carefully removed and stored, refrigerants can be purified for reuse or transformed into other chemicals that do not cause warming, they explain: “The latter process, formally called destruction, is the one way to reduce emissions definitively. It is costly and technical, but it needs to become standard practice.”
The book models the adoption of practices to avoid leaks from refrigerants and destroy them at end of life. Over 30 years, it calculates that 87 percent of refrigerants can be contained, avoiding emissions equivalent to 89.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide.
However, this is not one of the book’s more profitable activities. “Although some revenue can be generated from resale of recovered refrigerant gases, the costs to establish and operate recovery, destruction and leak avoidance outweigh the financial benefit — meaning that refrigerant management, as modeled, could incur a net cost of $903 billion by 2050.”
That’s a far cry from the No. 2 solution, onshore wind energy, not exactly a new technology, but one ripe for scaling; it already is cost-competitive with fossil-fuel energy in some areas, and continued cost reductions soon will make wind the least expensive source of installed electricity capacity.
“Drawdown” calculates that an increase in onshore wind from 2.9 percent of world electricity use to 21.6 percent could reduce emissions by 84.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide and create a net savings of $7.4 trillion from business as usual by 2050.
Adding offshore wind energy could save 14.1 more gigatons of greenhouse gases and generate $275 billion in additional net savings.
In the run-up to the book’s official launch, I recently asked Hawken how the solutions presented in “Drawdown” differ from what he and his team expected to find.
“We had our biases,” he admitted. “We all do. We had solar and wind right up there. We had ranked managed grazing very high from just reading the anecdotal literature. We didn’t have food as high as we found that to be. We had EVs much higher than they turned out tobe. We probably had pretty much the same list that most people come up with: solar; wind; don’t cut trees; don’t eat so much meat; and electric cars.”
“It may seem logical”, said Hawken, but it wasn’t to be. “The only one of those that made it to the top seven solutions was wind.” One solution never made it onto the final list at all: biofuels. “They don’t actually have any net contribution whatsoever, and that surprised us,” said Hawken. “It’s a shibboleth that fell for us.”
I asked Hawken to reflect on what had changed during the roughly three years between the project’s launch and the book’s publication.
“I think the big shift for us was on the economic side,” he said. “During that time, we might have crossed some threshold where the profit that could be made from the solutions now is greater than the profit being made from the problems.”
Regenerative agriculture is another area of significant progress. “You’re seeing some literally good-old-boy farmers from Saskatchewan right down through Texas and into White Oak farm in Georgia (www.whiteoakpastures.com) — thousands and thousands and thousands of acres. Their costs are going down. Their productivity is going up. Their vet bills are 10 percent of what they were. The yields have increased. The inputs have disappeared. These guys are buying more land from farmers who ruined their land and are going out of business. And they’re practicing regenerative agriculture in different and sundry ways.”
Still another area that yielded surprises for the “Drawdown” team were solutions involving women and girls. As the book’s authors explain:
Due to existing inequalities, women and girls are disproportionately vulnerable to its impacts, from disease to natural disaster. At the same time, women and girls are pivotal to addressing global warming successfully — and to humanity’s overall resilience. As you will see here, suppression and marginalization along gender lines actually hurt everyone, while equity is good for all. These solutions show that enhancing the rights and well-being of women and girls could improve the future of life on this planet.
With world population mushrooming to a projected 9.7 billion by mid-century, food production will need to rise, said the authors, alongside reduced food waste and dietary shifts. Growing more food on the same amount of land cannot be done without attending to smallholders, many of whom are women, whose farming needs have been much overlooked.
In late April 2017, the latest Green Transition Scoreboard® (GTS) found that, despite Trump’s anti-green policies, private green investments now total more than $8.1 trillion USD ($8,133,456,730,370).
Published annually since 2009, the GTS is a global measure of private green investment in five green sectors: 1) Renewable Energy, 2) Efficiency, 3) Life Systems (water, waste, recycling, community investing, e-learning and fintech), 4) Green Construction, and 5) Green Corporate R&D. Government investments have been omitted wherever possible and technological criteria are strictly applied.
The aggregated total is tracked by Ethical Markets Media, Certified B Corporation’s, team of experts and global advisory board, led by CEO Dr. Hazel Henderson, futurist/author and former US government science policy advisor.
Henderson said “The green economy is growing faster than anyone realizes. We knew that this good news on the progress of the global green transition couldn’t be fully covered by mainstream financial media and news programs whose advertising is still from fossilized sectors.”
GTS co-author Tim Nash, The Sustainable Economist, adds “Although the USA is expected to fall behind due to federal policies that put obsolete industries like coal ahead of thriving green sectors, large corporations are stepping up to invest billions in more efficient technologies.”
Cities and states worldwide are now leading, energized by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and many others. The UNEP Inquiry on Design of a Sustainable Financial System is successfully engaging conventional financial markets. Co-director Dr. Simon Zadek welcomed the release of the GTS report,
“With a changed political landscape, the case for green finance has to be strengthened, so your work is very important and has to be widely used.”
The GTS report traces private money shifting from incumbent fossilized sectors to emerging green opportunities. Financial firms are being forced to innovate as pressure grows from all side. Activist ethical investors and divestment campaigns are getting louder. New pressure from above is driven by the National Development Commitments (NDCs) signed by 194 governments under the UN COP 21 and 22 climate accords and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Pressure is also coming from below with the rise of Silicon Valley’s Fintech100, including crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending, and reward currencies like SolarCoin.
Founded in 2004 with a mission to reform markets and metrics while helping accelerate the global transition from fossil-fueled early industrialism to cleaner, healthier, inclusive, knowledge-richer green societies everywhere. Its “Ethical Markets” TV series is distributed globally to colleges and libraries by www.films.com or free at www.ethicalmarkets.tv. This global network of networks connects ethical investors, asset managers,green entrepreneurs, NGO leaders and academics. It sponsors the EthicMark®Awards for Advertising that Uplifts the Human Spirit and Society, with nominations for its 2017 Awards now open at www.ethicmark.org, where past winning campaigns can also be viewed. A full list of information services is at www.ethicalmarkets.com.
As most everyone interested in sustainability knows by now, the concept has been appropriated by numerous entities and used in various ways, often to achieve different objectives. In his introductory chapter to the excellent 2013 edition of the Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World report, Robert Engelman coined the term “sustainababble” to reflect this “cacophonous profusion of uses of the word sustainable to mean anything from environmentally better to cool”. Increasingly the term is used as a marketing tool, often it is used as an environmental metric, and, of course it is used extensively to describe an “improved” food and agriculture enterprise. While many of these uses may be grounded in good intentions, the result, as Engelman points out, has “a high cost”.
“Frequent and inappropriate use lulls us into dreamy belief that all of us — and everything we do, everything we buy, everything we use — are now able to go on forever, world without end, amen.” – Robert Engelman
Such a “dreamy belief” has certainly been prevalent in most of the visions of “contemporary sustainable agriculture”. Whether one belongs to the school of sustainable agriculture that is fixated on the notion that sustainability can only be achieved by intensifying the technology of our dominant industrial agriculture, or to the school of “greening” the system by inserting more environmentally friendly practices, or to the school that insists everyone must transition to organic, all are grounded in the belief that the fundamental principles of modern agriculture, which emerged in the early 20th century, can continue. According to this standard we simply need to tinker with the current system, in various ways, to make it “sustainable.” Although such “tinkering” can sometimes produce positive, short-term results, it fails to address the new challenges that will emerge in the near future. Occasionally pundits now refer to this “dreamy belief” of sustainability (appropriately, I think) as “Band-Aid sustainability.”
In his engaging book Culture and Agriculture: An Ecological Introduction to Traditional and Modern Farming Systems, anthropologist Ernest Schusky provides us with a summary of how the human species fed itself since evolving on Planet Earth some 200,000 years ago. I think such a historical context can help us to better frame the concept of sustainability. Schusky reminds us that for most of our time on the planet we fed ourselves as hunter-gatherers. Like many other species, we tended to live in small tribes, gather and hunt the food available in a particular place until the food sources became depleted, and then move on to another place. Apparently various methods were also used to limit population growth to keep population density within “carrying capacity”.
It wasn’t until the Neolithic Revolution, approximately 12,000 years ago, that we began to transition from “food collectors” to food producers by domesticating plants and animals. We began to live in settled societies and attempted to produce enough food in place to feed a local, settled population.
As Schusky points out, this new way of feeding ourselves was “land intensive”. It tended to mine the natural fertility of the soil. Consequently, much of this early agriculture was based on “swidden cultivation”, also known as slash-and-burn agriculture. In other words, a common practice was to burn off perennial plants, trees, or grasses — and then cultivate the soil and plant seeds (usually cereals). The natural soil fertility plus the fertility from the ash initially produced good yields the first year. However yields would decline quickly, as natural soil fertility diminished, so the general practice was to slash-and-burn a new plot of ground every year or two, and allow the first to lay fallow for 15 or 20 years before returning to cultivate it again, after soil fertility was restored.
In the mid-20th century we introduced a new form of agriculture, which Schusky calls the “Neocaloric Revolution”, because it is entirely dependent on “old calories”, — fossil fuels, fertilizers, fossil water, etc. The discovery of fossil fuels was the principle innovation that ushered in the Industrial Revolution, but it wasn’t until the mid-20th century that industrial methods were applied to agriculture on a large scale.
While Justus von Liebig came up with the idea of substituting synthetic fertilizers (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) for the “laborious” practice of maintaining soil health and Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch devised the means of making ammonia from atmospheric nitrogen in 1909, enabling the conversion to an intensive “input” agriculture—the adoption of that agriculture did not take root as the dominant form of agriculture until after World War II.”
There were numerous agricultural visionaries, soil scientists and ecologists
who issued strong warnings that this “N-P-K mentality” (as Sir Albert Howard called it) was the wrong direction for agriculture since it was contrary to the workings of nature and was, in fact, a “form of banditry” since it would steal the availability of healthy soil from future generations. (Howard, 1943) F.H. King, Liberty Hyde Bailey, Aldo Leopold, William Albrecht, Hans Jenny, Wes Jackson, and many others had similar concerns. They saw that maintaining the health of soil was crucial to any kind of truly sustainable agriculture and were all aware that modern industrial agriculture was still extremely “land intensive” and therefore damaging to the health of the land. We simply substituted “old calorie” inputs in place of healthy soil.
Of course, the immediate short-term benefits of industrial agriculture—the maximum, efficient production for short-term economic return—were too compelling to seriously consider the warnings of such visionaries.
However, Schusky reminds us that our “neo-caloric era” will of necessity be a very short period of time in the time-line of human history. We sometimes forget that this “modern” agriculture depends on a collection of “old”(nonrenewable) calories, which we are rapidly depleting. We also seem to forget that the first producing oil well in the US became operational in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859,(approximately 150 years ago), and it was fossil fuels (especially petroleum) that provided the cheap energy that sustained the entire neo-caloric economy. But all of these old calories are stored, concentrated energy—fossil fuels, rock phosphate, potash, fossil water, etc.—and these old calories had accumulated in the planet over many millennia. But once they are gone, the neo-caloric era, according to Schusky, must end, and we will need to redesign a new agriculture that can be “sustainable” in the post-neo-caloric era.
The point to remember in all this is that unless someone finally finds a way to invent a perpetual-motion machine, current, diffuse energy (sunlight) will never be as efficient (energy return on energy invested) as stored concentrated energy. Consequently, any alternative energy we may invent in the future will never be as “cheap” as fossil fuels have been.
In addition, we need to acknowledge the ecological damage that the excessive use of the old calories has caused — damage that will further affect the “sustainability” of agriculture — more severe weather events due to climate change, eroded and degraded soils, depleted biodiversity and depleting freshwater resources. These are the “sustainability” challenges that will confront us in the decades ahead.
Of course, as the old calories get used up they will become increasingly expensive, so the neo-caloric era will certainly end due to prohibitive costs long before all the calories are used up.
So, a good way to frame the question of sustainability with respect to our future food and agriculture system is to ask ourselves if the current, industrial system (and any “Band-Aids” we might apply) can still be “sustained” when crude oil is $350 a barrel, fertilizer costs are five times what they are today, we only have half the amount of fresh water currently available, we have twice the number of severe weather events, and our soils are even more degraded than they are today.
Anticipating the Future
Given the changes coming at us, a crucial challenge to sustaining a future food system will be to anticipate the changes and get a head start preparing for them. Perhaps we can learn a critical lesson from the research conducted by Jared Diamond. Based on his intensive studies of past civilizations, he concluded that those civilizations that anticipated the changes coming at them, recognized the value of their ecological reserves, and got a head start preparing for the changes were the civilizations that tended to survive for the long term (they were “sustainable”), while those that failed in that exercise were the ones that tended to collapse. In this regard, Schusky makes another important and sobering observation from his studies of human culture — namely, “that humans manipulate their cultures to achieve many practical, short-range goals; what they do not foresee are many more long-term undesirable consequences. Innovations that solve immediate problems often have built-in effects that eventually will cause major problems.” Perhaps these observations, from Diamond and Schusky, are among the most important to consider for anyone interested in achieving agricultural “sustainability”.
Given this scenario, it seems to me that the most urgent task before us now is to do all we can to restore the biological health of our soils, before the remaining old calories become too expensive to be a viable resource for continuing to “sustain” our food system. Of course other issues will need to be addressed at the same time — crucial among them: putting a cap on carbon, restoring our biological and genetic diversity as much as possible, restoring as many perennials as possible (forests and grasslands), eliminating food waste, and implementing the “right to food” and other recent UN proposals. However, key to future food sustainability will be biologically healthy soil!
Article by Frederick L. Kirschenmann shares an appointment as Distinguished Fellow for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University and as president of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.
“In the world of popularized diets, we can sometimes miss the broad agreements by focusing too much on the minor differences,” Mackey said. “When it comes to our health, it’s the overall dietary pattern that makes all the difference. By highlighting different proponents of whole foods, plant-based eating in this book, I hope to shed light on the broad consensus that exists among them, empower readers to make more informed food choices that promote health and vitality, and promote unity among the various health diet ‘tribes’.”
Part one of the book focuses on the nutritional science of diet, addresses popular diets, and discussed how health has evolved throughout time and across cultures. The second section provides guidance on how to navigate daily choices and how to adapt the Whole Foods Diet to meet different nutritional needs. This portion of the book also addresses the political, ethical and environmental consequences surrounding our food choices.
The last section outlines the 28-Day Eat Real Food Plan with recipes, shopping lists, helpful tips and tools to support healthy eating at home or when traveling.
Throughout the book, readers will find inspirational success stories and advice from leading voices in the plant-based-diets movement, including experts like Drs. Joel Fuhrman, Michael Greger, David Katz, John McDougall and Scott Stoll. Mackey will donate his royalties from the book sales to his three non-profit foundations, the Whole Planet Foundation, Whole Kids Foundation and Whole Cities Foundation.
Research report also profiles 10 companies well-positioned to capitalize on the opportunities
Sustainalytics, a leading global provider of ESG and corporate governance research, ratings and analytics, recently released a new thematic research report titled, 10 for 2017: Investment Themes in a Changing World. The report looks at the key drivers of 10 ESG investment themes that are expected to create new risks and opportunities for investors in 2017. In addition, the report profiles 10 companies, spanning seven countries and eight industries, that are poised to take advantage of these trends. The unifying threads of the 10 investment themes include:
Rising Concerns over Data Security
The report examines the market opportunities associated with blockchain, autonomous vehicles and cybersecurity, and highlights risks related to data security and privacy. Based on Sustainalytics’ ESG research, BMW Group is well-prepared to comply with tightening regulations around self-driving cars, and Symantec, as a pureplay cybersecurity firm, is in a strong position to capitalize on the significant increase in projected cybersecurity spending.
Growing Sustainability and Market Trends
The declining cost of solar power and the consumer shift toward plant-based proteins are also featured in the report. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) Company is favorably positioned on solar through its generating facilities in California and residential installation products. Danone’s historical focus on health and wellness also provides a strong platform for growth into plant-based proteins. Trends such as value-based drug pricing, energy storage and workforce diversity are also explored.
Improving Corporate Transparency
Sustainalytics’ report also assesses the increasing focus of European regulators on tax avoidance and calls for more transparent corporate tax reporting. The potential impact of US regulations around executive pay disclosure are also covered, with Noble Energy highlighted as an early discloser of its CEO to median pay ratio.
“Given changing consumer preferences, the relentless pace of technology, and more regulatory and investor calls for enhanced corporate transparency, the investment themes we outline are likely to present significant upside opportunities in the years ahead,” said Doug Morrow, associate director of Thematic Research at Sustainalytics. “From our perspective, companies that exploit these trends are in a favorable position to deliver long-term value for investors.”
Sustainalytics’ annual “10 for” thematic research series explores the environmental, social and governance related investment themes we expect to develop over the coming year.
This year’s report, 10 for 2017: Investment themes in a changing world, presents a diverse set of themes, which we believe will alter the competitive landscape for firms and create new risks and opportunities for investors. The themes range from data security in blockchain and autonomous vehicles to the consumer shift toward plant-based proteins to the declining cost of solar.
For each of the 10 themes, we describe the key drivers and identify companies that investors can use to build an investment thesis.
The 10 Investment themes
Blockchain; Tax Avoidance; Utility-Scale Solar; Workforce Diversity; Autonomous Vehicles; Executive Pay Ratios; Plant-Based Proteins; Cybersecurity; Equitable Drug Pricing; Energy Storage.
For the past decade, for-profit microfinance company Envest Microfinance has been striving to bridge the gap between microfinance and financial markets to make access to financial services universally available. It has tapped into support from individual and institutional investors to provide sustainable financing to the world’s economically marginalized and geographically isolated populations.
Founder and CEO Jon Bishop launched Envest Microfinance in 2006 after working in microfinance and development finance. He and Director of Operations Laura Dreese explain how the group got its start and how Envest is mobilizing money that would not otherwise be invested in microfinance.
How did Envest Microfinance get its start?
Jon Bishop: I pursued an MBA with the intent of making positive change in the world. I’m passionate about conserving the environment, and reducing poverty goes hand-in-hand with that. There is strong evidence that widespread poverty is an obstacle to creating an environmentally sustainable economy, and I wanted to be part of the effort to create a sustainable and just economy. After business school, I managed a microfinance fund that worked in Nicaragua where I witnessed first-hand the contrast between a subsidy-based approach and a market-based approach to providing global access to credit. I founded Envest with the idea of the company being a vehicle to bridge microfinance and capital markets. Ten years later, microfinance is still vastly underfunded, and the need for it is just as great, with a huge number of people left unserved. Envest operates with the vision of bringing universal access to financial services.
Laura Dreese: In college, I interned with a microfinance institution in Kenya, and, similar to Jon’s experience, the experience greatly impacted me and convinced me that microfinance could truly be a vehicle to reduce global poverty. Envest combines the social mission of microfinance with a solid business model, thus making it a sustainable business practice.
How is Envest mobilizing capital that would not otherwise be invested in microfinance?
Jon Bishop: Envest gets its lending capital primarily from individual accredited investors who want to make a difference with their money but don’t want to sacrifice financial return. There are not many microfinance investment opportunities out there that target a 5-6% return, so many of our investors who hold Envest in their portfolios would not otherwise be invested in microfinance. Additionally we recently sold the first note in our new debt offering to Pax World, and it is being held currently in the Pax Core Bond Fund. Getting mutual funds to invest in companies like Envest is tricky, because mutual funds need all of their holdings to be priced daily – something that doesn’t automatically happen to private debt. Envest and Pax worked with a third party to provide a daily price, which enabled Pax to move forward with the purchase. We hope that this example will stimulate greater mutual fund investment in high impact companies.
What are some of the highlights of what Envest Microfinance has achieved?
Jon Bishop: We lend to 13 microfinance institutions throughout the world, so there are plenty of stories to demonstrate the life-changing nature of our loans. But we’ll focus on two cases from very different parts of the world.
Envest partners with a microfinance institution called Pana Pana that lends to a group of five women in Tuapi, a fishing village north of Puerto Cabezas on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua. Together, these women received their first loans from Pana Pana. Before having access to credit, the women were entirely dependent on their husbands who fished in the coastal waters near Tuapi and sold their fish in Puerto Cabezas. When the five women received their loans in 2014, they were able to buy the fish from their husbands and sell it in Puerto Cabezas. While in town to sell fish, the women would buy nets, lines and other fishing equipment for their husbands. The new arrangement allowed the men to spend more time fishing. It also meant that the income entered the family via the woman, which has elevated all five of them to be equal partners with their husbands. All of these women have since opened small pulperias, think mom ‘n pop shops, in their homes. This diversified their families’ incomes and reduced the families’ exposure to the vagaries of the daily catch. The increased family income has made it easier for all five families to keep their children in school, leading to a brighter future for both their children and their country, Nicaragua.
Laura Dreese: Additionally, we just embarked on a brand new partnership with a microfinance institution called Arysh Invest that works in the shantytowns surrounding Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. After independence from the Soviet Union in the 1990s, rural residents flocked to the capital, Bishkek, to look for work, but the city was unable to absorb them all. They then settled in shantytowns surrounding Bishkek. Since the homes in these shantytowns are unofficial and are not registered with the government, the owners are not able to access government-sponsored social services, which is very damaging. Arysh lends to these families and helps them get their houses registered with the government so that the owners can access social services. This is a great example of how access to basic financial services can unlock significant gains in the global fight against poverty.
New condiments, functional beverages and natural foods
Recently, Whole Foods Market’s (NASDAQ: WFM) global buyers and experts announced the trends to watch in 2017. Wellness tonics, products from byproducts and purple foods are just a few top predictions according to the trend-spotters, who share more than 100 years of combined experience in sourcing products and tracking consumer preferences.
Whole Foods Market’s top 10 trends for 2017 include:
Wellness tonics. The new year will usher in a new wave of tonics, tinctures and wellness drinks that go far beyond the fresh-pressed juice craze. The year’s hottest picks will draw on beneficial botanicals and have roots in alternative medicine and global traditions. Buzzed-about ingredients include kava, Tulsi/holy basil, turmeric, apple cider vinegar, medicinal mushrooms (like reishi and chaga), and adaptogenic herbs (maca and ashwagandha). Kor Organic Raw Shots, Suja Drinking Vinegars and Temple Turmeric Elixirs are just a few products leading the trend.
Products from byproducts. Whether it’s leftover whey from strained Greek yogurt or spent grains from beer, food producers are finding innovative—and delicious—ways to give byproducts new life. Eco-Olea is using water from its olive oil production as the base for a household cleaner line, condiment brand Sir Kensington’s is repurposing leftover liquid from cooking chickpeas in a vegan mayo, and Atlanta Fresh and White Moustache are using leftover whey from yogurt production to create probiotic drinks.
Coconut everything. Move over coconut oil and coconut water—coconut flour tortillas, coconut sugar aminos and more unexpected coconut-based products are on the rise. Virtually every component of this versatile fruit-nut-seed (coconuts qualify for all three!) is being used in new applications. The sap is turned into coconut sugar as an alternative to refined sweeteners, the oil is used in a growing list of natural beauty products, and the white flesh of the coconut is now in flours, tortillas, chips, ice creams, butters and more. New picks like coconut flour paleo wraps, 365 Everyday Value Fair Trade coconut chips and Pacifica Blushious Coconut & Rose Infused Cheek Color demonstrate coconut’s growing range.
Japanese food, beyond sushi. Japanese-inspired eating is on the rise, and it doesn’t look anything like a sushi roll. Long-celebrated condiments with roots in Japanese cuisine, like ponzu, miso, mirin, sesame oil and plum vinegar, are making their way from restaurant menus to mainstream American pantries. Seaweed is a rising star as shoppers seek more varieties of the savory greens, including fresh and dried kelp, wakame, dulse and nori, while farmhouse staples like Japanese-style pickles will continue to gain popularity. The trend will also impact breakfast and dessert, as shoppers experiment with savory breakfast bowl combinations and a growing number of mochi flavors like green tea and matcha, black sesame, pickled plum, yuzu citrus and Azuki bean. This is playing out in products like 365 Everyday Value Sweet Sabi mustard, Republic of Tea’s new Super Green Tea Matcha blends and recipes like Coconut Mochi Cakes.
Creative condiments. From traditional global recipes to brand new ingredients, interesting condiments are taking center stage. Once rare and unfamiliar sauces and dips are showing up on menus and store shelves. Look for black sesame tahini, habanero jam, ghee, Pomegranate Molasses, black garlic purée, date syrup, plum jam with chia seeds, beet salsa, Mexican hot chocolate spreads, sambal oelek or piri piri sauce, Mina Harissa and Frontera Adobo Sauces (Ancho, Chipotle and Guajillo varieties).
Rethinking pasta. Today’s pastas are influenced less by Italian grandmothers and more by popular plant-based and clean-eating movements. Alternative grain noodles made from quinoa, lentils and chickpeas (which also happen to be gluten-free) are quickly becoming favorites, while grain-free options like spiralized veggies and kelp noodles are also on the rise. That said, more traditional fresh-milled and seasonal pastas are having a moment too, which means pasta is cruising into new territories with something for everyone.
Purple power. Richly colored purple foods are popping up everywhere: purple cauliflower, black rice, purple asparagus, elderberries, acai, purple sweet potatoes, purple corn and cereal. The power of purple goes beyond the vibrant color and often indicates nutrient density and antioxidants. Back to the Roots Purple Corn Cereal, Jackson’s Honest Purple Heirloom Potato Chips, Que Pasa Purple Corn Tortilla Chips, Love Beets and Stokes Purple Sweet Potatoes are all examples of this fast-growing trend.
On-the-go beauty. “Athleisure” is not just a fashion trend; the style is now being reflected in natural beauty products, too. With multitasking ingredients and simple applications, natural beauty brands are blurring the line between skincare and makeup products, and simplifying routines by eliminating the need for special brushes or tools. Trending products include Mineral Fusion 3-in-1 Color Stick, Well People Universalist Multi-Stick and Spectrum Essentials Organic Coconut Oil Packet.
Flexitarian. In 2017, consumers will embrace a new, personalized version of healthy eating that’s less rigid than typical vegan, paleo, gluten-free and other “special diets” that have gone mainstream. For instance, eating vegan before 6 p.m., or eating paleo five days a week, or gluten-free whenever possible, allows consumers more flexibility. Instead of a strict identity aligned with one diet, shoppers embrace the “flexitarian” approach to making conscious choices about what, when, and how much to eat. Growing demand for products like 365 Everyday Value Riced Cauliflower (used for clean-eating favorites like gluten-free pizza crusts), Epic Bison Apple Cider Bone Broth and Forager Cashew Yogurt point to growth in this clean-eating category.
Mindful meal prep. People aren’t just asking themselves what they’d like to eat, but also how meals can stretch their dollar, reduce food waste, save time and be healthier. Trends to watch include the “make some/buy some,” approach, like using pre-cooked ingredients from the hot bar to jumpstart dinner, or preparing a main dish from scratch and using frozen or store-bought ingredients as sides. Fresh oven-ready meal kits and vegetable medleys are also on the upswing as shoppers continue to crave healthier options that require less time. Whole Foods Market’s Freshly Made video series highlights the kinds of recipes and ingredients shoppers are seeking.
This year’s predictions came from Whole Foods Market’s experts and industry leaders, who source items and lead trends across the retailer’s cheese, grocery, meat, seafood, prepared foods, produce and personal care departments, and spot trends for the retailer’s more than 465 stores.
by Rose Marcario, President and CEO of Patagonia, Inc. and Patagonia Works.
Back in November, when we announced we’d give 100 percent of our global retail and online Black Friday sales directly to grassroots nonprofits working on the frontlines to protect our air, water and soil for future generations, we heard from many of our customers calling it a “fundraiser for the earth.”
We’re humbled to report the response was beyond expectations: With your help, Patagonia reached a record-breaking $10 million in sales. We expected to reach $2 million in sales—we beat that expectation five times over. The enormous love our customers showed to the planet on Black Friday enables us to give every penny to hundreds of grassroots environmental organizations working around the world.
Many of these environmental groups are underfunded and under the radar, and they are overwhelmed with your commitment. On behalf of these activists and every Patagonia employee, we extend a heartfelt thank you to our customers, friends and community worldwide who showed up to #loveourplanet.
You can learn more about the past recipients of Patagonia environmental grants in your community here – www.patagonia.com/grants-listings.html . This additional infusion of resources will go a long way toward addressing climate change and other serious environmental issues.
The science is telling us loud and clear: We have a problem. By getting active in communities, we can raise our voices to defend policies and regulations that will protect wild places and wildlife, reduce carbon emissions, build a modern energy economy based on investment in renewables, and, most crucially, ensure the United States remains fully committed to the vital goals set forth in the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Along with many loyal customers, the initiative attracted thousands who have never purchased anything from Patagonia before. We’re encouraged to see the great interest from so many in making buying decisions that align with strong environmental values—and taking steps to get more directly involved as well.
1% For The Planet
Patagonia is a proud member of 1% for the Planet, an alliance of businesses that understand the necessity of protecting the natural environment, and are concerned with the social and environmental impacts of industry. If you’re a business owner, please consider becoming a member. By contributing 1% of total annual sales to grassroots environmental groups, member companies affect real change. To learn more, check out www.onepercentfortheplanet.org
Twenty years ago travelers were just beginning to think about the environmental impacts of their tours. Ecotourism became a catch-all term in the 1990s for making travel environmentally beneficial, and it was frequently cited as the fastest growing phenomenon in travel. Journalists tended to run with any reasonable stats they were given on this growing market, but the fact was that truly responsible travelers were a rare breed. It has taken 20 years to take this phenomenon mainstream!
Ecotourism was defined by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) in 1990 as responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people. As the founder of TIES, I found this basic definition a vital tool to manage perceptions of what tourism’s impacts are, how we might manage it differently in the future, and how to ask the industry to put a higher value on conserving the landscapes, wildlife, parks, people, monuments, and cultures that make their businesses possible.
Once I saw travel not as just a personal experience, but a way to touch the global community and help promote positive measures for conservation and sustainability, it became impossible to look back. Ecotourism influences a broad global dialog on the sustainability of travel which even led to a United Nations ecotourism summit in 2002. But for me the growth of the tourism economy has been the most important fact to help the global community understand its potential for good and the need to arrest the bad. This huge industry now generates over 10 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. And for 83 percent of countries in the world, tourism is one of the top five sources of foreign exchange.
Travelers are branching out around the planet, and the Internet makes it possible to book in any country, at any time. Volume continues to go up worldwide, and developing countries are seeing enormous growth. Tourists now spend over $200 billion annually in emerging market nations. No other sector spreads wealth and jobs across poor countries like tourism does, but no other sector grows with so few controls.
Vulnerabilities to the economy of tourism are always there. Security risks can cause drastic downturns, armed conflicts destroy tourism markets, and rising oil prices hit fast and hard. All of these factors will affect ecotourism in the next 20 years. I just returned from Egypt, and due to the current news cycle featuring some political unrest, tourist volume is down over 50 percent. This drastic reduction in sales is painful; huge investments are lost, and local businesses lay off workers. The harsh reality of a market-based product cannot be softened. No matter how one wants to present tourism as a positive force for sustainability, it is still a global market that cannot be controlled.
The profile of the ecotourist is changing rapidly. It was once assumed that the ecotraveler was a foreign visitor to exotic locales, dressed in khaki and ready to view wildlife by day and sit by campfires at night. Now, the ecotraveler has many profiles. Throughout the world, ecotravelers often visit rural and exotic locales in their own countries. Brazilians from Sao Paulo are a major market for parks in the beautiful mountains of Minas Gerais. Travelers from Dhaka in Bangladesh are the major market for the parks and reserves on the Bay of Bengal. Indian and Chinese travelers are a growing force in their domestic destinations. Ecotravel is no longer a reflection of a colonial past, it is a highly globalized market. It is dependent on neither backpackers nor luxury safari enthusiasts, but is a full spectrum of nationalities and demographics representing all ages and incomes.
In the last 20 years, sustainability and the environmental management of tourism have become a greater focus of the largest tourism corporations on earth. Systems to manage hotel waste, water, air quality, and energy conservation are standard procedure now among most major hotel brands. Travelers may see only that they are being asked not to waste their sheets and towels, but behind hotel walls, efficient systems for lighting, heating and air conditioning, and water conservation measures are being installed across the globe.
Ecolodges, once a rare phenomenon, have become a strong market trend worldwide. Frequently designed by inspired architects; ecolodges set the standard for environmentally sustainable lodging, using renewable energy, reducing waste, composting, growing their own organic gardens, and avoiding the destruction of native vegetation. Dozens of independent lodges now operate in the globe’s beauty spots, from Caiman Ecological Refuge in the Pantanal of Brazil to the Kosrae Village Ecolodge and Dive Resort in Micronesia. Tourism and travel awards are frequently given to chains of ecologically managed hotels that take their cues from the ecolodge movement, such as Six Senses, which operates in Thailand, Vietnam, the Maldives and Jordan. This company builds lodges using local sustainable sources wherever possible and serves organic food, helping travelers to appreciate the “slow life.”
There have been many global gains for ecotourism, but when it comes to aviation, we are talking about one of the most carbon intensive industries in the world, not an ecological strong point of this industry. The global aviation industry presently accounts for three percent of carbon emissions worldwide and is rising fast. With all known measures, including improved efficiency, emissions will nevertheless be up 175 percent in the next 20 years, particularly because of ever increasing numbers of long haul flights. At present, the EU is mandating carbon trading for aviation, but the global airline industry is fighting this tooth and nail. It seems few are worrying about the environmental threats of global aviation, so initiatives to manage the carbon impacts of air travel are difficult to advance.
Making ecotourism a genuine tool for conservation of the world’s ecosystems is a battle which never flags, but also never receives the needed unconditional support. For example, travelers without question are ready to pay for entrances to parks, and foreign visitors are frequently prepared to pay more than they do. Yet parks and protected areas around the world have been extremely slow in adopting measures to be certain tourists pay what is really required. How many times do travelers enter parks around the world without knowing how to pay? Ecotourism in the next 20 years must be a primary source of revenue for parks, and ecotravelers will be ready to pay.
Historic monuments also suffer greatly from a lack of wise management. In the Valley of the Kings in Egypt I was lucky to visit when few other travelers were present, but I was told that there are no limits on the numbers of visitors entering the ancient tombs, which are among the greatest monuments of human civilization. When I questioned whether there might not be a system to implement limits in the future, I was told I was dreaming. If Egypt or Cambodia or any other nation with major monuments cannot control visitor volume, the future of ecotourism is compromised. Traveler overload will damage these sites and they may eventually have to be closed. However, managers of Macchu Picchu in Peru have come to terms with this problem and set out a permit system to control the number of trekkers on the Inca Trail. Through this type of volume management, we can hope that ecotourism will be a positive for the world’s important monuments.
Travel suppliers are increasingly diverse. Small communities across the globe have sought to join the travel economy. We now call this community-based tourism. But often local communities do not offer the quality that travelers can embrace, and as a result do not find ready buyers. Helping these businesses has become an agenda for the ecotourism world, and investments in local community-based providers can help local people to maintain cultural roots and protect their environments.
In my current work, as the head of the Planeterra Foundation (http://www.planeterra.org ) we are investing in local community providers throughout Latin America. We are presently helping Mayan women in a small village on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala to build improved home-based accommodations. As travelers visit the community’s art and handicraft workshops, medicinal herb gardens, and tree-planting ceremonies, tourism is making a positive contribution to the community and creating a living example of the benefits ecotourism can generate. Planeterra can ensure these small businesses get a real market, as we are the foundation for G Adventures, the largest adventure travel company in the world. Wherever Planeterra invests, we work with G Adventures to be sure their passengers enjoy these wonderful authentic experiences that genuinely benefit local people.
Ecotourism has built an influential market base which draws customers committed to a green economy. Its market potential is not limited, but the resources upon which it depends are. One of the biggest issues with providing ecologically sound tourism will be the management of landscapes and regions where tourism has taken off. Authorities rarely have the knowledge to implement smart growth strategies, and the landscape quickly becomes overcrowded with hotels, restaurants and services for travelers. As tourism fans across the land, local services are frequently not provided to local workers who live without basic sewage treatment, fresh water, health services or adequate education for their children. It is difficult to advocate a more ecological future for tourism if basic sanitation and human needs are not met.
The Planeterra Foundation has developed a system for governments to track the impacts of tourism and make better decisions on the investment required to manage tourism. This system, already tested on Ambergris Caye in Belize, is being implemented further by the Belize Tourism Board and plans are now being made to work with other governments to help local authorities develop destination management systems needed to arrest unplanned growth.
What the ecotourism experience will be like in 20 years depends on the commitment of governments to create well-planned destinations. Without local planning, ecotourism could easily be just another problem on the landscape. Local people are increasingly recognizing that they need to protect their resources. What local people do to preserve their destinations must be a high priority for the future of ecotourism.
In Egypt I traveled to the Western Sahara. After one night in the large oasis of Bahariya, four hours west of Cairo, we had a soak in the crystal oasis waters and afterwards ate lunch in a simple building, decorated with local handicrafts and rugs, served by local guides. This was one of those authentic meeting grounds, where locals and tourists enjoy the same laid back experience of being away, sharing each other’s cultures, eating local foods, enjoying interesting indigenous handicrafts and honoring the beautiful place they are visiting without artifice. I found myself loving the Sahara desert, its timeless beauty, and the fun-loving nature of our local guides. I relaxed, got into the groove, and thought to myself, this is the future of ecotourism!
Article by Megan Epler Wood, who founded The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) in 1990, the oldest and largest non-profit organization in the world dedicated to making ecotourism a tool for sustainable tourism development worldwide. Since 2003, Megan’s firm Epler Wood International has devoted itself to aiding some of the poorest countries in the world with sustainable tourism development. Megan is presently the Co-Executive Director of the Planeterra Foundation where she is leading a global effort to scale up the community and environmental benefits from sustainable tourism.
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