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Wisdom, ingenuity, morals and investing



Joel Solomon, chair of Renewal Funds, on the morality and responsibility within investment and finance.

The first investment I ever made was $25,000 in Stonyfield Farm, an organic dairy in New Hampshire. It was 1983 and I thought I was making a loan to a non-profit.

Gary Hirshberg and his partner Samuel Kaymen had a few cows, and they wanted to make some yoghurt and help prove that family farms could and should still survive.

Gary called me after my loan came in to the non-profit and said, “We’re going to start a business. Instead of a loan, would you invest that money?

Thirty years later, Stonyfield is North America’s most successful organic yoghurt producer. Its popularity as an alternative to conventional dairy products means that many tons of hormones, antibiotics and pesticides have been prevented from entering the environment, and people’s bodies.

Click here to read The Guide to Sustainable Investment 2013

My experience with Stonyfield began a journey of supporting businesses run by entrepreneurs who truly care about preserving the environment and human rights, who break the stereotypes about how business is supposed to be done, instead working to pursue values and purpose while making money.

Human ingenuity has created extraordinary wonders in the world.  It has generated a great lifestyle for part of the planet. But while ingenuity has been successful at creating jobs and prosperity, the current economic construct that has grown up alongside ingenuity ignores externalities like pollution or injustice.

We need wisdom to catch up with ingenuity. And we need consequences to be owned by those who create them. Producing and discharging toxins into the air and water or exploiting workers isn’t justified by making a lot of money or by job creation alone.

Every investment or purchase we make has implications that affect the world at large. We have a moral obligation to think long into the future. But today’s dominant financial thinking is based on short-term maximisation of profit above all else. That thinking is not sustainable, nor can it be our societal ethic. We must have a mindset that includes at least seven generations into the future.

The choice to invest responsibly is of course a challenging prospect. In my early experience as an investor, I faced dismissiveness and even ridicule from those for whom the concept of money and morality as an essential whole was far-fetched. I have been told that this approach could not earn a competitive return rate. My 30 years of investing while aligning values and money have led to healthy financial return as well as positive contributions to people, communities, and cleaner products.

In the early 1990s, I was fortunate to meet Carol Newell (see Thanks to her extraordinary vision and commitment, we built a strong team that worked together to demonstrate through our ‘activist family office’ that an integrated approach to the use of capital for social impact was viable, generative, and replicable. We invested in the money-making, social profit, leadership skills, and electoral sectors. With a whole portfolio activation to mission approach, we aimed to model a different way of using money.

More recently, with Paul Richardson as the lead partner, we raised Renewal2, our first fund for outside investors. That was during the 2008 recession. We couldn’t have picked a worse time. Fortunately, investors believed in us. They put their money with people who had a proven record of generating returns with a mission first commitment. Five years later, the result is a strong internal rate of return from a portfolio that includes Alter Eco, fair trade organic chocolate and quinoa, Seventh Generation, toxin-free household and personal products, and Sensible Organics, certified organic skin care.

The success of these companies suggests an emerging shift in financial priorities. Conventional investments in fossil fuels and other forms of resource extraction, manufactured food, and toxic loads face increasing instability, and investors are beginning to understand this reality. They are looking for true financial resilience that grows sectors that provide a cleaner legacy for the future.

We are now putting together Renewal3 Fund. It repeats our social venture capital strategy for an expanded group of partners who will back a next portfolio of great companies. We believe that the relationship between values and money is going to grow steadily, like organic food has done. Soon enough, investments that combine making money while also adding to the strength of the commons, will be plentiful.

The call to action is right now. Most of us, no matter how much or little we have, are making choices with our money. Where we shop, what we’re buying, who made it, where it came from, what the impacts are. We are often deciding where to place our retirement funds, what kind of banking and financial institutions we are using, and what they are doing with our money, and what kinds of stocks we buy, or don’t buy.

Maybe it is like ‘organic money’. As with organic food, we are awakening to the impacts of where our money came from, how it affects us as we hold it, and how we use it. More of us are beginning to wonder just what that money is doing, while we are asleep at night.

There is more than enough money on the planet to solve the major global challenges. Our important choice is to take responsibility for where we place that money, and what it’s doing on our behalf.

Joel Solomon is chair of Renewal Funds. He was interviewed by Blue & Green Tomorrow in February 2013. For more information on the firm’s latest fund, Renewal3, see its website

Further reading:

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

‘There are no moral or ethical considerations when investing’

There is a disconnect between investment and the real world

We need investment to move back to its ‘patient evolutionary path’

The Guide to Sustainable Investment 2013


New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.


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How Going Green Can Save A Company Money



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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