An Earth Day Guide to Action Through Impact Investing

Since 1970, April 22nd has marked the celebration of Earth Day, an opportunity for many individuals and organizations to renew their commitment to consume less, learn more and explore new ways to protect and preserve our planet. Historically, focusing on the role that investments can play in support of Earth Day isn’t something we’ve heard a lot about. Yet, the growth of the impact investing sector means that more and more socially conscious investors are thinking about the role that capital can play to blend profit and purpose.

In honor of Earth Day 2017, here are a few of ways you can start on your own journey.

Renew your personal commitment

The Earth Day Network, and many organizations like it, promote opportunities, events and resources for each of us to celebrate and recommit to conservation and preservation.

Earth Day Network suggests a few actions we can take this year, such as:

  • Reducing your environmental footprint by exploring how you can reduce your impact on the planet
  • Stop using disposable plastic by taking a pledge to reduce consumption
  • Planting or donating trees to combat deforestation and reduce global greenhouse gas emissions

Explore the opportunity for investment

At the Case Foundation, we’ve been committed to scaling impact investing over the last several years. This work has focused on inspiring and educating a range of investors on the opportunity to align their dollars with personal values. With recent growth across impact investing, many investors are poised to activate their impact strategies. We’re emboldened by the sectors experiencing the most growth and showcasing real investment opportunities.

Climate change is one such sector. The Global Sustainable Investment Alliance, a network of sustainable investment organizations recently released its 2016 Investment Review. The Investment Review tracks and reports out on sustainable investment activity worldwide, with specific trends across multiple geographies. Though the GSIA includes investment activity across many approaches to impact—beyond impact investing alone—the increase in activity is inspiring.

According to the 2016 report, $22.89Tr of assets were professionally managed under responsible investment strategies, up 25% from 2014. Responsible investment—as a broad range of strategies and asset classes—represents over 1/4th of professionally managed assets globally.

In the U.S., the report suggests that climate change remains the most significant environmental factor assessed across sustainable assets. Even in smaller asset classes and funds – like private equity and venture capital – the most popular ESG issue last year was clean technology. Climate change and carbon emissions were specific areas where funds incorporated interventions into their investment process.

Growth across sustainable investing—and the role that climate plays—is an exciting opportunity for environmental themes to continue to be front and center as investable opportunities.

Learn from others to kickstart your investment journey

Earth Day is also an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of trailblazing organizations that are similarly interested in protecting our planet.

  • Last month, we wrote about the compelling case study of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund aligning their endowment more closely with their programmatic mission. In a webinar led by Jean Case, Justin Rockefeller of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Jameela Pedicini of Perella Weinberg Partners outlined the concrete steps to blending profit with purpose. In the case of the RBF, they undertook tactical steps, like defining their impact, knowing what you own, and committing to measurement.
  • In March of this year, our partners at The ImPact, continued their broader mission to on-board families into impact investing with a primer on Water. With the growing role that HNW individuals and families will play in scaling impact investing, the primer helpfully outlines considerations for families who want to invest in water to help preserve our natural resources.
  • ImpactAssets has also developed material to explore the more nascent sectors within which impact investing can grow. Sustainable agriculture is one such opportunity. In adding 2 billion people to the planet over the next 30 years, our practices around sustainable farming and food production are in need of reformation. Investment capital can play an important role in revitalizing and innovating current practices.
  • You don’t have to be a big investor or a large organization to make an impact with your dollars – you can also start to look at your own investments. The Divest/Invest movement is one such example. This effort looks to engage a diverse range of investors and individuals in a global effort to reduce investment into fossil fuels. Through this and other efforts, you can make a pledge or take action towards refining your own investment footprint.

Whether your Earth Day commitment involves your time, your community’s energy, or your organization’s assets, there is a role for impact investing to be incorporated into your thinking about conservation, sustainability and preservation of the planet.

We Can’t Wait – World Toilet Day 2014

These days, it seems like there’s a dedicated “day” for pretty much everything – to raise awareness for important issues, to give to local charities, or to celebrate important people in our lives. I don’t ultimately think it’s a bad thing, as it causes us to pause and reflect on important moments and issues. One of these “days” that has gained momentum and attention in recent years that I’m particularly passionate about – is today, World Toilet Day.

A day dedicated to toilets may seem a little silly at first glance – it’s a big slab of porcelain in a room in our house that we generally take for granted. It’s easy to forget that they were an important innovation that dramatically improved our quality of life. In fact, readers of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) chose the introduction of clean water and sewage disposal—“the sanitary revolution”—as the most important medical milestone since 1840, when the BMJ was first published.

But it’s an innovation that is not taken for granted by the more than 2.5 billion people worldwide that are still living without access to improved sanitation. It is not taken for granted by the young women who face the choice of defecating out in the open or risking rape and assault to walk to the nearest public toilet. Nor is it taken for granted by those who are subject to cholera, diarrhea and a whole host of other health issues that are caused by overrun sewers and as the result of so-called “flying toilets.” Makes you think a little more carefully about that slab of porcelain in your house – or even public rest stops that we have to duck into during road trips, doesn’t it?

Addressing the sanitation crisis has the potential to not only improve quality of life for nearly 40% of the world’s population, but to have a tremendous positive impact on a whole host of other issues – from global health, to safety for women and girls. Over the years, the world water crisis has deservedly gained great global attention – but only recently has the issue of sanitation has really come to the forefront, with the UN officially recognizing World Toilet Day in 2013 (after several years of “unofficial” World Toilet Days in years prior).

Some of the most interesting and exciting innovations in global development are happening in the sanitation space – from organizations like Water for People focused on transparency in bringing access to clean water and improved sanitation to everyone, forever; to major international organizations like the IRC International Water & Sanitation Centre and Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor; or initiatives like the Gates Foundation’s “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge.” Not to mention the growing number of companies and nonprofits like re.source, SOIL, Humanure Power, Clean Team, Toilet Hackers and others that are delivering major innovations in both design and approach for deploying toilets in both urban and rural settings.

I’m particularly proud to serve on the board of one of these innovative organizations – Sanergy – which is focused on providing access to affordable, hygenic sanitation in urban informal settlements. To date, Sanergy has launched more than 575 of its Fresh Life Toilets in Nairobi, Kenya, where more than eight million people lack access to clean water. The organization doesn’t just stop at building and franchising toilets that offer a clean, dignified place for residents to use the bathroom (and a steady income for the Fresh Life Operators who purchase and manage the toilets) – Sanergy also safely collects and transports the waste from Fresh Life toilets, and is converting it into useful byproducts like organic fertilizer. The importance of waste removal and conversion can’t be understated in communities where a sewer system typically doesn’t exist – or is rarely working properly if it does.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Sanergy and see first-hand the impact of their work in Nairobi twice over the last two years, most recently just two weeks ago. It has been beyond inspiring to hear directly from the Fresh Life Operators on how their lives, and the areas around them, have been transformed by the use of the Fresh Life Toilet, is an understatement. It is also powerful to witness Sanergy’s efforts to truly ensure that everyone in the community has access to a clean, dignified sanitation facility by working not just in commercial areas, but with schools and in residential areas to install the Fresh Life Toilets (you can read more about their impact in schools here and here).

I’d be selling Sanergy short, however, if I only talked about their groundbreaking work in addressing the sanitation crisis in urban settings. It’s impossible not to notice the culture of the organization they’re building – as one of Kenya’s fastest growing social enterprises, Sanergy has a team of more than 190 young, energetic, talented individuals on a mission to change the world and global health as we know it. The impact of the more than 600 jobs they’ve collectively created – including those within the community they’re serving – is a critical part of their work.

So today, on this World Toilet Day, I’m pausing to reflect on one of our most unsung, and often taken-for-granted innovations – and celebrating the work of amazing organizations who are working towards a healthier future, where everyone can take their toilet for granted, forever.

To learn more about World Toilet Day efforts led by UN Water, click here.

Fearless Focus: Ned Breslin

In our journey to Be Fearless and champion a fearless approach to tackling social challenges, the Case Foundation team will spotlight leading changemakers across sectors that have embraced fearlessness. Our spotlights will provide personal accounts of why these changemakers adopted a fearless approach, how they overcame hurdles, and how taking risks, being bold, and failing forward led to quicker results and deeper impact.

We recently spoke with Ned Breslin, Chief Executive Officer of (Case Foundation grantee) Water for People. Ned strongly believes that conventional approaches to water supply and sanitation are not scalable or sustainable – helping some but not others and often failing shortly after implementation. Finding this unacceptable, he has led innovative programmatic efforts that demand greater accountability of water and sanitation programs so that the lives of “Everyone” are truly transformed, not temporarily but forever, and without continued dependence on charitable organizations.

Learn more about Ned Breslin here. Read more about Be Fearless campaign. Know someone that we should spotlight for Fearless Focus? Let us know here in the comments or tell us on twitter @casefoundation using #befearless.