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‘We need investment that prioritises long-term wellbeing for people and planet’

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Samuel Johnson once said, “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” So how would the threat of death affect your outlook on life? For Joel Solomon, president of Renewal Partners, it spurred him on to use his business and investment nous to help create a better future for generations to come.

A number of family members, including his father, had died of polycystic kidney disease – where cysts form in the kidneys, causing them to become enlarged. And when he himself was diagnosed with the condition in his early 20s, doctors said he could die very soon – or he could live a long life.

He effectively stared death in the face, and began using his experience to drive change.

Solomon describes ethical investment as “investing that recognises and improves upon the consequences of how money is made”, and we were lucky enough to pose a few questions to him.

Describe how you were first made aware of ethical investment.

As a member since the mid ‘80s of the philanthropically-oriented Threshold Foundation based in San Francisco, I began to learn that there was an emerging field focused on aligning values and money.

I use my access to business and power, to contribute to the health and wellbeing of future generations.

In 1987, I was a founding member of the Social Venture Network (SVN), which grew out of Threshold Foundation. SVN’s goal was to create a network for the pioneer entrepreneurs, who believed making money while doing good was how all business should be done.

At SVN I was exposed to leading entrepreneurs in both for-profit and not-for-profit worlds, as well as their professional advisors and investors. The unifying theme was around doing business while learning to internalise externalities. That could happen through thoughtful company practices, as well as public policy influence that business has, being directed towards the common good as well as the private interest.

How is Renewal unique?

Beginning in the mid ‘90s, Renewal set out to prove that there is huge opportunity in making money while aligning with values and life purpose.  “How much is enough?” and “What is our legacy contribution to the betterment of the whole?” became the central goals.

We have stayed true to that commitment, while effectively demonstrating financial success.

Renewal came out of a concept of ‘integrated use of capital for social goods’. My business partner, Carol Newell, committed the majority of her fortune to this endeavour. Beyond our financial successes were many other positive contributions, ranging from bringing entrepreneurial influence to the Foundation and charitable sectors in our region and Canada, exploring mission related investing, into hybrid models and early versions of what is now known as social enterprise, whole portfolio activation to values and mission, social purpose real estate and significant investment in the psychological, emotional, and spiritual, aspects of leadership, as a foundational practice for the challenges of tomorrow.

Our financial investment ambition centres around building the field of ‘money aligning with values’, through taking first risk on strategies we believe will become the norm in the future. We offer proof of concept that helps normalise bottom lines beyond financial alone.

The era of transparency is changing the face of business practices and customer engagement. Soon enough, companies will need to lead the way on community positive leadership, in order to maintain social license to make money

What sectors would you ideally invest in?

Organic food, green products and environmental innovations. We would like to find opportunities in the future to invest in ever more innovative sectors and models, which broaden the tools for investing for change, in more sectors and issue areas.

We need a dramatically different way to think about investment, which prioritises long-term wellbeing for people and planet.

There is more than enough money in the world to solve global issues like poverty and climate change. We are seeing the growth period of invention that will make today’s business practice assumptions, look very out-dated and short-sighted.

Wisdom meets wealth creation.

What sectors would you not invest in?

Because I am an entrepreneurial investor, I am able to move virtually 100% of my investments out of public markets and very large companies.

For practical reasons of size and scale, we look for industries that balance long-term wellbeing for people and planet, while reducing waste, health risks, climate change, species extinction, wealth disparity, and negative impacts.

I came to understand that for most of human existence, ancestors and descendants were the core purpose of life

We only invest with people whose values and integrity represent the best intentions for why they want to build big companies. We only invest where we believe we are seeing an incremental solution innovation, even if it is under recognised.

When thinking about the work you’ve done at Renewal, what is your proudest achievement?

Earning a good financial return while making a positive difference and building a great reputation for authenticity and integrity. We are the real thing.

Launching Renewal2 Fund through the depths of a major recession, locating over 80 individuals, families and foundations, in Canada, the US and Europe, to invest $35m to become our limited partners, and then systematically placing those funds into a growing portfolio of great companies that will make good money for our partners.

You speak openly in your TEDxVancouver talk about suffering from polycystic kidney disease. What impact do you think the condition has had, if any, on your investment outlook?

I was blessed with the awareness that life ends, and that it can happen at any time. The in my face message helped me to consider deeply my values and life purpose. I came from money and business. I was born at the early part of the era of transparency and global information. We were learning a lot about the impact of unbridled economic expansion, population growth, and the limits of the biosphere, along with the travesty and injustice of dramatic income disparity. 

I use my access to business and power, to contribute to the health and wellbeing of future generations.

Eventually, I came to understand that for most of human existence, ancestors and descendants were the core purpose of life. In the modern industrial age, we have forgotten that perennial wisdom.

The death sentence opened the doorway for me to discover a longer view of why I am alive.

What are the main changes in ethical investment – in attitude, legislation and activity – that you have noticed during your career?

I use the analogy of organic foods. Something like ‘organic money’ is taking hold. Organic money is now about where organic food was in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and maybe the ‘80s. As the next decade unfolds, the growth rate of the industry aligning money with values is going to grow dramatically.

The rise of the B Corporation and string of successes with legislative support for these externality focused responsibility commitments of companies, the democratisation of giving and investing via new digital tools, and the proliferation of networks, conferences, MBA programs in sustainability, and rising demands on university campuses for divestiture from carbon creating in the endowment portfolios, are just a few of the change signals.

When we raised our Renewal2 Fund three years ago, it was harder to familiarise people with the impact investing type rationale.

Today, there is a clamouring and wealth managers are scrambling to find product to move their clients into, whether they are individuals or pension funds made up of millions of people.

How do we make ethical, sustainable and responsible investment mainstream?

Steady patient effective hard work. We need a diverse universe of experimentation, risk taking, learning through doing, and the development of dozens of products and services which offer astute, authentic, and accessible options.

The full spectrum of risk and return categories must be filled out with capable professionals and offerings. Business education must step up to meet the challenge. Success stories must be built and told. Policymakers must think ahead and be bold in shifting taxation, regulatory, and subsidy strategies from the old economy to the new.

And the prognosis for his disease…?

At the time of his diagnosis, Joel had little influence over the outcome of his illness. But we’re delighted he was fortunate to have a successful kidney transplant later on in life and is such a powerful advocate of ethical investment.

Renewal Funds is now in the design phase for Renewal3 Investment Fund, which will continue the social venture capital model of Renewal2, and Instinct Fund, a smaller seed pool. Both are coming in 2013.

Further reading:

Ethical investment has blossomed into a viable and lucrative strategy

The long-term matters, and sustainable investment holds the key to prosperity

Are we investing in the future we want for our children and grandchildren?

The Guide to Sustainable Investment 2012 (NEIW edition)

Economy

How Going Green Can Save A Company Money

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going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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