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Interviewing Athena Kiriacopoulou, Principal at Pebble Legacy Partners

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Interviewing Athena Kiriacopoulou, Principal at Pebble Legacy Partners

By Justin Chow, Purposeful Finance

 

Q: I saw that all the previous companies you have worked for all have a very strong ESG and sustainability focus, so my question is how do you make your career decisions and choose the companies that you’re working for? 

In the 2014 G8 Social Impact Investment Taskforce, Asset Allocation Working Group report, it illustrates the landscape based on both investor financial objectives and impact. Because it shows the spectrum of impact investing, the range of purely financial motives helps companies deliver impactful solutions addressing UN SDGs and this does not have to apply strictly to finance. 

At Pebble Legacy Partners LLC, our search fund falls right in the middle of financial and impact. We’re an impact search fund but we are focused more on finances than just impact. If you have an impact investment fund or a nonprofit fund, these are probably going to be on the ‘far right’. When looking at career opportunities, you should spend a lot of time to decide what is important to me. The question was where I draw the line on the spectrum. 

I personally believe that impact is critical, and I am never motivated to get up every morning and do a job that does not make the world a better place. I simply have no interest in working ‘the left side’ of the line just out of personal choice. 

There are a lot of people, especially your colleagues, going into investment banking that lies more around the left side of the spectrum and that’s not a bad choice. Conversely, someone who is going into nonprofits might be on this same side and say, ‘I never want to go there’. Again, that is totally fine. 

Understand what drives you personally and knowing that there is no judgment but instead it’s just a fact. The sooner that you accept wherever you are on the spectrum, the sooner you are going to be able to find opportunities that really motivate you. 

Personal Sacrifices: Now, that’s from an impact perspective. But there is also a career perspective, and what sacrifices you’re willing to make. If you want to work around the world, and you want to move every two years, and I can tell you from experience, it’s an incredible career. But that means that you’re sacrificing other things, such as stability, routine, and the ability to really put roots down. Again, it’s neither good nor bad, just different. For some people having that stability, being able to get a mortgage on a house, build a family, place their kids through great education is a very admirable thing. And if that’s something that drives you personally, then that’s an understanding that helps you to find the boundaries. 

So this is not just with impact, but much broader, and as soon as you know the things that you want out of life, then when an opportunity crosses you, it will become glaringly obvious if it fits those criteria or not. The reason that we often struggle with what jobs to take is because we’re not clear what we want. 

Now, that struggle is good. But what happens when you’re 20 to 24, and you’re about to graduate college, and you know nothing about life. Looking back when I was 22, I thought I knew everything, I didn’t know anything. My advice is, if you know your money motivated at that age, great, go to investment banking, work on Wall Street, and make your top dollar. If you don’t know what you want to do. Prioritize learning over money. As a young millennial,  I know this is being debated and I don’t know how applicable it is to Gen Z. But this is advice I followed. 

In your 20s, go and do all the different things, explore all the different stuff. Money will come, opportunities and experience will not. It’s very easy to get stuck  once you have that big salary, the opportunity costs of going and learning something or taking two years to work in Kenya is a lot bigger than if you didn’t have that job on Wall Street. There’s the prestige of working on Wall Street and private equity. And for some people, that’s what they want. And that’s great. I love that for them. But if you’re not certain, all I can say is go do the crazy things. You can always come home. And the money. It’s easy to make money. It sounds crazy. It sounds privileged. But I promise you, especially when you’re talking to your classmates at UCLA, we come from a place where it is easy to make money. Yeah. You’ll make enough to be happy. 

I’ll tell you, the only things I’ve regretted in life is when I passed up on great adventures, because I thought I had a deadline due. And I was like, oh, I need to do this so that I can advance and get a promotion. Five years from now, it doesn’t matter. Nobody cares. A lot of my interns are ambitious and when I talk to them, they’re like oh gosh, I don’t have a, you know, this GPA and I only got an A minus, and I’m never going to be able to get a job. It’s like, honestly, if you’re going to Morgan Stanley, they do look at grades. And that’s one thing, but no one cares, it won’t matter. Learn. I’m not saying don’t do your homework, do your homework and learn, you won’t have an opportunity like this again. But don’t stress the grades, don’t stress the jobs.

 

 

Q: What does learn from discovering opportunities in investment firms during your early 20s?

Personal Sacrifice: Get out of your comfort zone when seeking jobs that you might not be fully qualified for. Saying yes to projects that terrify you. At the same time, be completely open and ask for help. Take those hard projects and jobs, but also ask the dumb questions, seek support, and build a network of mentorship. You are not going to grow unless you try and do something you think you can’t. 

Comfort zones: View your comfort zone as a circle. It is never a static size. Your comfort zone grows every time you step out of your comfort zone and return. When you push the boundaries of your comfort, you are saying, ‘okay, I didn’t die, your comfort zone grows’. However, your comfort zone starts to shrink if you never push outside of it. This is a malleable zone that represents your entire life. 

You would be filled with happiness when you get a job, do not leave the two square mile radius of your house, and go to the same restaurant every week. However, your comfort zone gets much smaller. Whereas you are constantly expanding your comfort zone if you do something that scares you every day.

 

 

Q: That is great advice, now let’s move on to talk about the circular economy and the search fund that you started: Pebble Legacy Partners?

A circular economy is one that keeps materials, products, and services in circulation for as long as possible. It is a change to the more traditional model in resource mining, production, and waste. Instead, it tries to recapture waste to create new products and minimizes materials making production more resource efficient. Under the Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) umbrella, a circular economy demonstrates continuity by reducing the negative lifecycle impacts of materials, including climate impacts, reducing the use of harmful materials, and decoupling material use from economic growth and meeting society’s needs.The circular economy has the potential to protect the environment, improve economics, and elevate social justice. Sustainability from its foundation requires social equity as the extracting, using, and disposing of resources often affect vulnerable communities disproportionately. 

Source: https://www.epa.gov/recyclingstrategy/what-circular-economy

 

 

Q: What do you believe are the biggest misunderstanding of the waste infrastructures? 

I believe there are two main misunderstandings that professionals have about the circular economy. 

First, with a circular economy, people often think that finding a purpose for waste, asking ‘how do we divert this waste from the landfill?’ But we need a paradigm shift in our thought-process.

What I always advise my clients at Phenix Recycling is that we should stop calling it ‘waste’ and should start calling it ‘leakage’. Throughout a business’s normal operations and supply chain, you have leakages in energy, resources, and materials. Waste is a leakage and when you start to see it that way, you create a business case for going back to the design board and redesigning the waste out of the system. This mindset shift will help business processes stop leaking “waste”. 

Of course, some things are inevitably going to come at the end of your supply chain. For example, if you look at a safari resort in the middle of the Serengeti National Park (a geographical region in Tanzania, Africa) that has high-end clients, they’re going to be serving a lot of wine which comes in a wine bottle. You cannot design out a wine bottle because it must be packaged, but you can design in a reusable and returnable form of the same bottle. 

Source: Zero Waste Hierarchy of Highest and Best Use 8.0 | Zero Waste International Alliance

 

 

Q: What might be an example of a waste infrastructure that falls under the circular ecosystem?

In a Philadelphia bar, you can build waste infrastructure where you return the wine bottles, but the wine you are getting is probably a global product bought from Chile or France. If you already bought this bottle, you are not going to ship bottles back to its original location.

There are technical ways of designing the wine bottle, but practically, you are going to have this wine bottle on hand. In the case where this wine bottle is already given to you, there’s not much you can do other than recycle it. Recycling is not necessarily so much within a circular economy, but it should be your last ditch. That is an example where the circular economy does have a product at the end where you must recycle it. 

Source: The Lifecycle of a Wine Bottle, From Sand to the Economy of Recycling | Wine Enthusiast Magazine

 

Within the circular economy, it’s about reframing, taking a step back, and understanding what the problem is. It’s not about tackling the result, but the whole supply chain process and how it all works together. 

In biases with impact investing, a lot of people confuse Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG), Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR), and impact with each other. I am constantly explaining the difference that an ESG company is not necessarily an impact company. 

ESG is a framework for measuring your risk, it is not an attempt to improve that. ESG is a snapshot of what we’re doing on these different things at a certain point in time. You can use that to create a strategy, but it is not inherently a strategy. It’s about understanding what value is in ESG investments.

 

 

Q: What issues are you looking at right now? What are you reading up on, and what is the newest news in this space?

My challenge now is identifying industries that fit in that part of the impact spectrum (refer to fig 1 above) and fits the search fund criteria. I have been [researching the] mapping industries to open myself up to other opportunities and industries that can create significant impact. I am trying to read about every industry to understand if it fits my criteria.

In terms of finance, you should read The Outsiders by Will Thorndike. He’s a popular search fund investor. This book is the antidote to all of Steve Jobs autobiographies that talks about unicorns, massive valuations, and the fear-of-missing-out that comes with it. 

The Outsiders talks about CEOs who have been vastly successful but are not unicorn founders. Because what we’ll find is that there’s a pattern in what these other CEOs do to create huge value above and beyond their market [price]. So far, I have been enjoying this book because most of the CEOs have never ever heard of it, and they’re all humble, frugal and incredibly smart CEOs. 

Two more books about impact in business. Firstly, Ice cream social: the struggle for the soul of Ben and Jerry’s, by Brad Edmondson. This book is all about impact in business. It shares about Ben and Jerry’s struggle to reconcile their social desires with business needs. Secondly, Let my people go surfing by the founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard. This book is the Bible of responsible business leadership. This book talks about him struggling because he hates calling himself a businessman, but he’s the founder of the widely successful Patagonia. He believe this is not who he is, [talking more] about his values and how he runs that company. 

January 23, 2023 – Newsletter – What is a Green Bond?

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January 23, 2023: What is a Green Bond?

In this edition of Purposeful Finance:

  • Internships in Impact
  • Topic Breakdown: Inflation Reduction Act, AKA The Climate Bill
  • World: Tour De Headlines
  • Market Updates: Deal Flow

Internships in Impact

Investment Banking

Interested in Sustainability and Renewable Energy? Have you ever heard of Clean Energy and Renewables Investment Banking? 

The Purposeful Finance team has collated different industry groups within Investment Banking where you can make a positive impact in your work. Click here to get the full list of resources! (We will be adding more soon and will release an article on this soon, do share it with friends that are recruiting!)

 

Join Our Network!

Here’s the quick spiel: We are currently reaching out to smaller impact funds that offer internship opportunities for freshmen/sophomores. While many firms are interested, we also need to show firms that there is interest from genuinely purpose-driven students that will apply. 

If you are a freshman/sophomore and you like the positions you see below, fill out this form to get direct access to passionate impact investors and companies: https://forms.gle/TEexYGphRYNeLXcz8

 

Open Positions 

 

Topic Breakdown: Sustainable Finance  

What is Sustainable Finance to begin with?

  • Sustainable finance is defined by the EU Directorate-General for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union and Rebecca Bakken at the Harvard Extension School as investment decisions that take into account the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors of an economic activity or project, not just financial return. 
  • A common misconception is that sustainable finance is only targeted at climate related projects.  In fact, it’s a much broader term that focuses on building sustainable businesses and a sustainable economy, which covers social and governance factors as well.
  • This week, we will be focusing on different financial instruments tied to ESG goals, such as green bonds, social bonds, sustainable debt and ESG investing. 

 

Wow, that sounds like what finance should be! When did this actually become a thing? 

 

So what exactly are the applications of sustainable finance? Are there ESG Assets or ESG Investments? 

  • Yes, as Sustainable Finance is very broad in scope, it covers everything from Sustainable Debt, ESG ETFs, green bonds, sustainability-linked bonds, social bonds, blue bonds etc. 
  • ESG financial tools are broadly split into two categories, activity-based products and behavior-based products. Green bonds, sustainability bonds and social bonds are all activity-based instruments while Sustainability-Linked Bonds (SLBs) are behavior-based.

 

First up: activity-based or “Use of Proceed” products 

  •  These are products where the money raised is ring-fenced for a certain purpose or project, such as a renewable energy plant or affordable housing project. (Peep this: JP Morgan’s $1 billion social bond to support U.S. housing)

 

Next, behavior-based products:

  • Behavior-based products are different in that the money raised can be used by the company in any way, like setting up a factory. But the bond sets certain targets for the company that the company has to abide by, for instance, to lower emissions by 20% by 2025, hence it is behavior-based.
  • Sustainability-linked Bonds – such as key performance indicator (KPI)-linked or SDG-linked Bonds – are structurally linked to the issuer’s achievement of climate or broader SDG goals, such as through a covenant linking the coupon of a bond. 
  • Progress, or lack thereof, toward the SDGs or selected KPIs will cause a decrease or increase in the instrument’s coupon. 

 

OK, so what’s the difference between sustainable finance, socially responsible investing, and impact investing? 

  • In truth, there is a lot of gray area between these definitions and many different institutions or people can define them differently.
  • S&P Global and Investopedia explain socially responsible investing as a style of investing that excludes certain companies based on a specific ethical criteria, such as avoiding arms manufacturing companies or companies selling tobacco. Socially responsible ETFs like iShares ESG Aware MSCI USA ETF ESGU reflect this as well.
  • From articles by Investopedia and GIIN, which produces one of the most commonly used Impact Investing frameworks, impact investing has a stronger emphasis on positive impact results than with impact investing and socially responsible investing. Impact investing is a much broader term to cover not just sustainability-focused investment, but those in social impact as well.

 

What is the state of sustainable finance now?

  • ESG assets are projected to reach $53 trillion by 2025, a third of global AUM.
  • Europe accounts for half of global ESG assets and dominated the market until 2018. The U.S., however, is taking the lead with more than 40% growth in the past two years and is expected to exceed $20 trillion in 2022, even if its pace of growth halves this year.

 

 

World: Tour De Headlines

  • The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. announced the expansion of its environmental finance commitment to $30 billion. The bank initially announced in August 2021 a commitment of $20 billion over five years in support of environmental finance. Since then, PNC has completed $9 billion in environmental financing for its customers. (ESGNews)
  • ADNOC Allocates $15 Billion to Low-Carbon Solutions. The announcement follows the guidance by ADNOC’s Board of Directors in November 2022 to accelerate the delivery of its low-carbon growth strategy and the approval of its Net Zero by 2050 ambition. This builds on ADNOC’s strong track record as a leading lower-carbon intensity energy producer, which includes its use of zero-carbon grid power, a commitment to zero flaring as part of routine operations, and deployment of the region’s first carbon capture project at scale. (ESGNews)
  • SK Hynix Issues Industry’s First Sustainability-Linked Bond at $1 Billion. SK Hynix Inc. announced that it successfully issued a Sustainability-Linked Bond (SLB) with a total amount of USD 1 billion. (ESGNews)
  • World Bank Prices the First Canadian Dollar Sustainable Development Bond of 2023 and Highlights the Importance of Biodiversity and Nature for Development. (ESGNews)


United States of America

  • The Department of Labor (DOL) announced the adoption of a final rule clarifying that 401(k) plan sponsors can consider climate and other ESG factors in investment decisions. This rule removes restrictions imposed during the previous administration that made it difficult for 401(k) and other retirement plan sponsors to include climate-aligned and other ESG funds in the list of options available to participants.
  • Oregon followed the lead of California & Washington, setting to phase out new gas car sales by 2035. This means the entire West Coast aims to ban gas car sales in a little over a decade. (Autoweek)
  • In a positive reversal of prior policy, the US Postal Service commits ~$10b to deploy over 66,000 electric vehicles by 2028. (CM)


Europe

  • Norway’s Blastr Green Steel is planning to build a low-carbon steel factory in Finland worth $4.3 billion, one of the country’s largest industrial projects yet. The factory is set to produce 2.5m tons of green steel annually starting 2026, and will include integrated hydrogen production. (Bloomberg)
  • Norway’s $1.3 trillion Government Pension Fund Global established a new climate board. The board will advise on managing climate-related financial risks and opportunities. (P&I)
  • Despite the ongoing energy crisis and countries’ turn back to coal, E.U. emissions fell again last year, dropping to a 30 year low. (Forbes)

 

Asia

  • Reserve Bank of India Launches First-Ever Sovereign Green Bonds Auction Worth $1.93 Billion. As announced in the Union Budget 2022-23, the Government of India, as part of its overall market borrowings, will be issuing Sovereign Green Bonds (SGrBs), for mobilizing resources for green infrastructure. The proceeds will be deployed in public sector projects which help in reducing the carbon intensity of the economy. (ESGNews)
  • Islamic Development Bank Group (IsDB) President and Group Chairman, H.E. Dr. Muhammad Al Jasser, announced a US $4.2 billion IsDB Group commitment to support Pakistan’s climate resilience efforts and development agenda and the country’s vision for 2025 over the next three years. He made the announcement at the International Conference on Climate Resilient Pakistan in Geneva, addressing the devastating effects of Pakistan’s recent floods. (ESGNews)

 

Market Updates: Deal Flow

 

M&A/Investments

  • Stellantis will invest $150M in Archer Aviation (based out of San Jose, CA) and partner with them on an electric air taxi design. (here)
  • Finance in Motion, a German asset manager focused on ESG investing, is exploring a sale. (BBG)

 

Funds Raised

  • General Atlantic closed $3.5B for its inaugural climate solutions fund, BeyondZetZero. (GA)
  • Linse Capital raised $700m to back industrial technology companies across transportation, energy, logistics, and real estate. (BW)
  • Goldman Sachs Asset Management raised $1.6B for its Horizon Environment & Climate Solutions I fund registered under EU’s strictest ESG rules. (BBG)
  • Andros Capital Partners, an energy-focused investment firm, raised a $750M second fund. (BW)
  • Silicon Ranch, based out of Nashville, TN, raised $375M in equity funding to develop and operate renewable energy and battery storage systems. Existing investors Manulife Investment Management, TD Asset Management, and Mountain Group Partners led. (BW
  • Cirba Solutions, a Wixom, MI-based battery recycling management company, raised $245m in Growth funding from EQT. (GNW)
  •  Vision Blue Resources, based out of the U.K., raised a $61M fund to invest in battery and other material innovation and supply chain companies. 
  • Virunga Power, based out of Nairobi, Kenya, raised $50M from Gridworks to develop run-of-river hydropower projects in Burundi, Malawi, Zambia, and Kenya. (here

 

Sustainability 

  • Mercedes Benz plans to build a branded EV charging network in the U.S. (NYTimes)
  • Hedonova, a U.S.-based alternative asset investment manager, invested $16M in a Chilean liquid-air energy storage plant. (PRNewswire)

 

Healthcare VC

  • HighTide, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on metabolic and digestive diseases, raised a $107M Series C/C+ led by the TCM Healthcare Fund of Guangdong. (PRN)
  • Ensoma, a genomic medicines company developing one-time treatments for complex diseases, raised $85M in funding led by Arix Bioscience and 5AM Ventures. (BW)
  • Cardiac Dimensions, a developer of minimally invasive treatments for heart failure and related cardiovascular conditions, raised a $35M Series D led by Horizon 3 Healthcare and an undisclosed strategic investor. (BW)

 

Affordable Housing

  • Ares Management Corp raised ~$5B for an infrastructure debt fund. (RT)
  • UK-based investment manager M&G raised $622M for its new M&G European Living Property fund to invest in student, private rented sector and retirement housing. (IW)
  • Brick&Bolt, a Bengaluru, India-based home construction company, raised $10 million in funding co-led by Accel and Celesta Capital.

 

Catalytic Capital

  • Biden-Harris Announce $40 Million for Tribes and Intertribal Consortia To Improve Recycling Infrastructure (ESGNews)

Interviewing Daniel Blake, Managing Director at University Impact

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Interviewing Daniel Blake, Managing Director at University Impact

 

Introduction

Daniel is a managing director and entrepreneur with over 12 years of work experience across two US states and multiple industries. Daniel co-founded EcoScraps Inc, a food waste management and garden manufacturing company, while in college.

In 2017, he served as a Senior Advisor for John Curtis, Congressman of the 3rd District of Utah. In the same year, he co-founded University Impact to fund ventures and businesses that are solving complex social problems, hosting a donor-advised fund that offers traditional grants and impact investments. Daniel has also worked for the BYU Ballard Social Impact Center as a Board of Advisor member, running philanthropic funds from donors dedicated to students.

 

Briefly walk us through your career, what professional experience did you have leading up to your current position at UI? Highlight some of the most impactful experiences that led you to impact investing.

I started my undergrad at Brigham Young University studying English and started EcoScraps Inc, a food recycling startup that turned food waste into lawn and garden products. I started it in my college dorm room with a couple of friends. We successfully grew the company, building a strong national presence and bringing our products into over 15,000 different locations. I eventually left BYU to be the full-time CEO of the company. We were eventually acquired by Scotts Miracle-Gro at the end of 2014. Over four and a half years, I grew EcoScraps Inc into one of the largest food waste recycling and garden products brands in the US as we raised money from both impact-oriented foundations and traditional investors. 

The experience introduced me to social entrepreneurship, the idea that you use business to solve complicated social and environmental problems. Being an entrepreneur and receiving different types of investments and working for Scotts Miracle-Gro also introduced me to the world of impact investing. 

I decided to leave and help lead a project with the United Nations World Food Program to work towards no food insecurity (SDG 2, UN) with national and global actors achieving this goal (SDG 17, UN). 

Source: Corporate strategy | World Food Program

After two and a half years of developing sustainable agriculture in refugee camps, this international experience led me to get involved in politics in Iran and work as the campaign manager for Congressman John Curtis, the US representative for Utah’s 3rd congressional district. 

I then decided to take these experiences in international markets to co-found University Impact. Instead of being pigeonholed by a specific type of financing, UI is unique in that we use a wide array of financial instruments to fund social enterprises in the way that benefits them most. This allows us to keep impact the number one priority. 

We are special in that we combine impact investing and philanthropic capital. On top of what traditional venture funds use, we also use grants, recoverable grants, credit guarantees, direct loans, direct equity investments, and other fund investments.

I would say my experiences as a 22-year-old helped shape my perspective on the role that business should play in society. That is the reason why I continue to work with university students is to give them hands-on experiences and expose them to incredible organizations that are solving complicated social and environmental problems. My goal is for students to add their perspective on what role business and finance should play in society. 

 

What do you think is the most valuable contribution University Impact has had to social entrepreneurship? Could you share more about the social versus financial return expectations for University Impact?

One of the reasons that University Impact often teams with students is to encourage them to be involved in social entrepreneurship and impact investing at the beginning of their careers. Impact Investing as an industry is odd in that people join at the end of their careers, so the learning lifecycle of people in the industry is short. If University Impact wants to solve complex problems, we need people working on these problems at the beginning of their careers. 

University Impact is different from a traditional venture or private equity fund where we are not limited by specific returns. Operating in a private equity fund means achieving certain financial benchmarks that a team has promised to its investors. 

Since the source of capital for University Impact is philanthropic organizations, there is less pressure on our team to deliver a specific financial return. There is a tremendous amount of flexibility in adjusting what those returns are going to be based on, be it impact or financial metrics. University Impact teams often challenge how traditional venture capital companies should think about financial returns. 

University Impact aims to find the most appropriate financing method for each company. It might be a grant with greater risk if you get a negative return or a recoverable grant which has a 0% interest loan. We also follow the principle that a grant could be anywhere from 2-3% interest to 15-16% interest depending on the company’s overall risk profile. Our teams also make equity investments targeting up to 30% return. 

Impact investments are not always the most appropriate solution. Sometimes a company does need a traditional grant so offering a recoverable grant would be irresponsible. The company should be self-sustaining and be able to pay back a loan at whatever amount it may be.

This approach is backward for most investors who start with the business, look at their returns, and figure out if the investment will help them generate a high percentage return on capital. University Impact is more focused on solving meaningful social or environmental problems and finding the most appropriate way of funding them. 

 

There are a lot of criteria that businesses have to hit to guarantee whether they receive financing. What are some of the challenges in deciding which companies you invest in?

Deciding which company you invest in depends on the problem that these organizations are trying to solve. For example, conservation efforts often result in great solutions, however, the company’s business model is not one where investors have confidence in purchasing their products or services.

Investors have to be careful when they see a business model where the company is heavily reliant on donations. There are often nonprofits that exist because people are willing to give them grant funding because they are great at marketing their products and services, even though they have ineffective solutions.  

In this scenario, the first thing to look at is whether someone is willing to pay for the product or service. When you’re dealing with the poorest of the poor, you’re dealing with very disadvantaged communities that often can’t afford the product or service. A recoverable grant might be the most appropriate form of financing if investors are willing to pay for a portion of the product or the service. 

In the case where consumers are willing to pay for the product or the service, you should at least consider a loan. When taking a look at an equity investment, what you need to look at is whether you can take the company public, or if a strategic buyer would acquire the company. Without either of these happening, you will never get a positive return from an equity investment. 

For instance, in addressing sub-Saharan African companies that request a long-term loan, we will study their business model and ask who is the beneficiary of the product or service, and if they can afford it, to decide the type of financing. Ted Talk: Andrew Mwenda: Aid for Africa?

 

How do you see the impact of investing in space growing in the next 10 years? 

I have no idea where the industry is going to be in 10 years. To answer this question differently, figuring out the definition is probably the single biggest challenge that the industry needs to solve.

I do not view the current impact investing process as perfect and work has to be done before we bring impact investing to scale. If you look at impact investing from the company’s perspective, many are still trying to find product market fit. There is no agreed-upon definition of what impact investing is, so there are impact investing firms that say they are impact investors, but their actions say otherwise. 

Could investing in a gym where people can live a healthy lifestyle be an impact investment? I would say it might be a good investment, but it is not an impact investment. It is a normal investment that has some fancy wrapping paper so that it fits this very ambiguous definition of what an impact is.

I have no idea if the industry as a whole is going to coalesce on problems that impact investing should address because of the tension around this form of investment. Another problem seems to be the conflict between two priorities of focusing on impact or financial returns.

I believe the industry needs to be specific about what the priority is. Many firms like University Impact are optimizing for impact and still making a substantial amount of money. However, we need to be careful about optimizing for impact and losing money as the industry grows. 

There is a tremendous amount of money going into impact investing going into ESG. ESG has now become very politicized, with an example being Florida state banning their state funds from investing in ESG strategies. Unfortunately, ESG also suffers from a lack of definition with people criticizing that the definition is always changing and anyone gets to create their own definition. 

 

Do you think that the United Nations SDGs provide some level of foundational definition?

The United Nations SDGs do a great job of putting some guidelines on how people interpret the name of the SDG goals. The UN’s SDG subgoals are very specific on what it means to target SDGs, such as how much money residents make if they are or are not poor (SDG 1, UN). Companies often do not dive into the specific metrics underneath any of the individual SDG goals and use SDGs broadly to claim that they are impact-focused. 

The magic of investing in SDG goals is having a single metric that you are going after in the complex world of impact investing. If you have so many different metrics, you need to determine which one you care about like economic development, poverty, or climate change.

 

While we’re on this topic of defining what impact is for industry, I like to hear more about defining the impact for organizations focused on economic mobility. What are strategies or business models you have used or seen that are likely to solve economic mobility?

When attempting to solve economic mobility issues, it is important to understand that it is heavily affected by the location. For instance, in South Africa, [the unemployment rate hovers around 28 percent among workers aged 35 to 44 years, which is considered the largest share of labor force participation in the country.]  

(South Africa: unemployment rate by age group 2022 | Statista)

(South Africa: labor force rate by age group 2022 | Statista)

If you are looking at an unemployment rate above 25 % for a country, you would make the assumption there are no jobs and a lack of economic activity. However, the real issue is often that these job openings do exist, but only highly skilled technical positions and people simply do not have the skills to fill these job openings. 

I would ask companies about what type of jobs are needed for their business model. Most entrepreneurs and investors always answer with highly skilled positions, and in cases like South Africa, this is not the right answer. Then, look at the people’s current skill set and the natural progression they could take to acquire new skills. Finally, look at the quality of meaningful work where the needed skills match the skill sets that that population has. 

A second problem behind advancing economic mobility in developing markets is the ownership of assets. Middle-class families need to be able to buy a house, own equity, or have a revenue share of the company they work at. For example, when you look at the middle class in the United States, it’s being squeezed despite the tremendous amount of economic growth because people only have their income and no assets. For instance, Amazon is generating an immense amount of wealth but very little is shared throughout the company. 

I would advocate for employee-centric companies that support and invest in their employees and allow them to own a portion of the company. For example, Clif Bar recently reorganized and gave ownership to all employees (Inside Clif Bar’s Rocky Road to its Sale and a Possible $580 Million Employee Payout). Reorganizations like this should be talked about as much as the news from the impact investing world. Looking at different ways to support an individual’s access to assets is an incredible way of helping them accumulate wealth and generate economic mobility.

 

When making investments, I gauge the risk of the investment by breaking it into two parts: what the likelihood of the event happening is and the consequence if it does happen. This approach is brought up in the University Impact due diligence process as our associates talk about the likelihood of an event happening. We can start to quantify that likelihood and calculate a range of metrics that supports investment, and this makes it easier for our teams to specify what the consequences are if the outcome does happen.

 Being able to quantify the likelihood and understanding the consequence of investment also makes it easier to specify mitigating factors. The University Impact team focuses on the most important sections of the impact assessment. This determines whether we succeed or fail. Almost every problem is going to have a couple of frameworks associated with it. However, this framework is always one of the places that I would start with before I try to solve a problem.

December 22, 2022 – Newsletter – ESG Alphabet Soup

By Green Investing, Purpose of Finance, Recruiting Help, Uncategorized No Comments

December 22, 2022: The ESG Alphabet Soup &  Impact Investing

In this edition of Purposeful Finance:

  • Summer Internships: Impact Investing, ESG, and Sustainable Finance 
  • Topic Breakdown: Impact Investing
  • World: Tour De Headlines
  • Market Updates: Deal Flow

Internships

GenZero is looking for an Intern – Strategy and Development

Ares Management Corp. is hiring an ESG associate and an ESG analyst in New York

PepsiCo is looking for a 2023 Summer Intern: Global Sustainability Intern

Con Edison Clean Energy Businesses is looking for a Corporate Finance Intern

Guidehouse is looking for an Intern – Energy, Sustainability, & Infrastructure Solutions – Mobility Solutions and an Intern – Commercial Sustainability – Guidehouse Resilience, ESG and Disaster Recovery

AIG is looking for a 2023 – Early Career – Strategy & ESG – Summer Intern 

ORIX Growth Capital is looking for an Investment Analyst Intern

FLIT Invest is looking for a Undergraduate Campus Ambassador

BlueMark is looking for a Business Development Analyst, Impact Investing and Verification

Atento Capital is looking for a 2023 Summer Intern

Kiva is looking for a Climate Smart Finance Intern and an Impact Intern

Opportunity Finance Network is looking for an Impacting Investing Intern

CIBC (Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce) is looking for a 2023 Summer Intern – ESG Investment

UNICEF is looking for a Finance Intern for their Education Cannot Wait (ECW) Fund

 

Topic Breakdown: The ESG Alphabet Soup

You might have heard the term ESG getting thrown around lately and controversial things about it. Today, we will be explaining what ESG stands for, how to measure it, measurement standards, and some recent news about it. 

What is ESG to begin with? 

    1. ESG, an acronym for Environmental, Social, and Governance, is a framework that offers a holistic measurement of the impact a corporation generates beyond its materialistic goals to maximize profit.
    2. Environment measures a company’s interaction with the natural world through resource and energy consumption and waste discharge. Social measures a company’s relationships with people and institutions, particularly with employees. Governance measures a company’s internal system of practices, policies, and leadership.

When did ESG get “popular”?

    1. ESG has been in the know for the past decade and entered the mainstream around 2019, largely due to the push from retail and major institutional investors for companies to commit to ESG criteria. 
    2. It also got ‘popular’ as governments have been mandating companies incorporate ESG reporting through policy. The EU will be passing the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive in 2023, with the US, Canada and China following suit. Many countries like the UK, Singapore, Indonesia have already passed similar legislation to require large or publicly listed companies to report their climate-related financial disclosure. This global legislative push to normalize ESG will be the next step to transition us towards a more sustainable economy.

What is the difference between ESG Reporting and ESG Ratings? 

    1. ESG Reporting refers to individual companies that use standards from regulating bodies (GRI) to assess their compliance, often to report to investors or for disclosure mandated by government authorities.
    2. ESG Rating, on the other hand, is a metric given to companies based on the evaluation of their performance by independent third-parties. These rating platforms include the Institutional Shareholder Service (ISS), Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI).

What regulating bodies are there? 

    1. United Nations Global Compact, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Standards and Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) Standards are the most common frameworks used to measure ESG within a company. 
    2. However, it is crucial to note that there is no one standard with ESG as it is difficult to have a single standardized framework to measure all 3 components across multiple different sectors and geographies. 

What is the whole controversy about ESG? 

    1. ESG has been faced with a multitude of challenges. Key amongst them is the issue of “greenwashing”, where companies present false or misleading information to market themselves under the name of ESG to boost business performance. 
    2.  The other main issue, particularly in the US, is that ESG has been facing political backlash from states like Florida and Texas, which have banned ESG Investing practices and want state funds to focus solely on pecuniary factors that maximize returns on investment. 
    3. Beyond that, there are the longstanding issues of data inconsistency, where inconsistency in ESG scores from ratings firms is ‘a stumbling block’ when incorporating research data into the investment decisions.

Where can I learn more? 

    1. This page breaks down ESG really well and this Forbes article talks about the history of ESG and where different organizations fit into the larger scope of history. 

Professional Spotlight

In this week’s spotlight, we have Joellen Nicholson, Vice President and Global Director of University Impact (UI). 

Why  Impact Investing?

Before entering impact investing, Joellen joined Nest, an NGO, as the program director where she supported over 100 global MSMEs (micro, small, and medium entrepreneurs) with business growth strategies and local compliance matters. 

“Most of the artisans that we helped were women who hired women employees nearby.  These entrepreneurs typically wouldn’t be qualified for loans from local financial institutions since their revenues were small and owners usually lacked credit histories. Although these small businesses could not grow like tech businesses, they were creating great livelihoods for themselves and their women employees. Such financing inequality made me think about the importance of working with underserved, small, non-traditional business owners and what that means in the context of management, and the impact that I could contribute to the social financing area. At that moment, I knew that the impact investing space was the space for me.”

Learn more about Joellen’s journey into Impact and how she sees nonprofits and the impact investing world intersect.

World: Tour De Headlines

  • Barclays updates Sustainable Financing Target to $1 Trillion by 2030. Following the announcement in February to capture opportunities from the transition to a low-carbon economy, Barclays has been investing its own capital and facilitating sustainable finance at pace, continuing to deliver against its climate strategy as endorsed by shareholders this year. (ESGNews)
  • The European Investment Bank (EIB), the bank of the European Union, will lend €790 million to the Czech energy utility company ČEZ. The loan will fund the expansion of the national electricity distribution network, including the installation of automation technology and remotely controlled energy supply systems. (ESGNews)
  • ExxonMobil announced its corporate plan for the next five years, with a sizable increase in investments aimed at emission reductions and accretive lower-emission initiatives, including its Low Carbon Solutions business. Their corporate plan includes growing lower-emissions investments to approximately $17 billion by 2027. (ESGNews)
  • Deloitte Report: 99% of Public Companies Expect to Invest in ESG Reporting and Tech by Next Year. (ESGNews)
  • UN Report: ‘Just Transition’ Policies Needed to Create 20 Million Green Jobs. New jobs and skills will be needed as we begin to see the shift we will see towards a net-zero economy. (ESGNews)


United States of America

  • The Biden administration wants to make more than $2B available to Puerto Rico to expand rooftop solar and distributed energy assets. (CM)
  • The Biden administration announced 5 winners for the California offshore wind auction, amounting to $757m in winning bids that will potentially power over 1.5m homes. Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners plans to build its first floating offshore wind farm with one of these permits. (DOI) (GNW)


Europe

  • France will ban short haul domestic flights less than 2.5 hours long, a measure which will be reassessed by the EU Commission in three years. The ban comes off the back of a pause started in 2020 when the French government granted Air France COVID relief in exchange for canceling some domestic flight routes to encourage train 2usage. (Forbes, FT)
  • Switzerland-based mining giant Glencore will close 12 of its 36 coal mines over the next 12 years to meet its emissions targets by 2035. The move comes as major miners including Rio Tinto and BHP pull away from carbon-emitting fossil fuels in favor of minerals necessary in the low-carbon energy transition, such as nickel, copper, lithium and cobalt. (FT)

 

Market Updates: Deal Flow

Launches

  • Another week, another major battery factory announcement. American Battery Factory announces a $1.2B investment to make lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries in what will be America’s first gigafactory in Tucson, Arizona. LFP batteries are gaining market share to reduce EVs’ need for cobalt (TR)

 

Funds Raised

  • PE firm Thoma Bravo raised $32.4B for three new tech-focused funds: $24.3B for Thoma Bravo Fund XV, $6.2B for Thoma Bravo Discover Fund IV, and $1.8B for Thoma Bravo Explore Fund II; their Fund XV is the largest tech-focused buyout fund ever raised (PRN)
  • Swedish autonomous and electric truck startup Einride raised a $500M Series C which consisted of $200M in equity led by Northzone, EQT Ventures, Temasek, and others, plus $300M in debt led by Barclays Europe (TwC)
  • HSBC-Backed Natural Capital Funds Raise $650 Million (ESGNews)
  • Chicago-based credit fintech startup Avant raised $250M in preferred equity & debt from Ares (BW)
  • Union Square Ventures, based out of New York, raised $200M for its second climate tech fund (The Information
  • Jenson Funding Partners, based out of London, raised €69.7M for its Aurora I Fund to invest in companies in the energy transition and sustainability (EUS)

 

Sustainability 

  • Microsoft, Nike, Common Energy Partner To Energize Community Solar in Oregon (ESGNews)
  • European climate tech VC World Fund received a $52.5M investment from EU’s European Investment Fund to invest in climate-related ventures (EUS)

 

Healthcare VC

  • Apogee Therapeutics, a biotech company developing therapies for immunological and inflammatory disorders, raised a $169M Series B led by Deep Track Capital and RTW Investments (PRN)
  • CardioSense, a digital health startup focused on cardiovascular disease, raised a $15.1M Series A led by Broadview Ventures and Hatteras Venture Partners (PRN)

 

Affordable Housing

  • Greystone Affiliate Provides $153.6 Million for Large California Development (AHF)
  • JPMorgan Chase Community Development Banking has hired Rochelle Dotzenrod as division manager. Read more about her role here

 

Development Finance

  • IMF has approved a $319 million loan for Rwanda to finance projects tackling climate change (Bloomberg)
  • UNFPA is appealing for $1.2 billion to support 66 million women, girls, and young people in 65 crisis-affected countries (UN News)

 

Catalytic Capital

  • U.K.’s British International Investment and Nairobi-based African Guarantee Fund established a $75 million partnership to guarantee loans from lenders to small businesses in Africa, especially women-led firms addressing climate impacts (ImpactAlpha)

Interviewing Joellen Nicholson, Impact Investor & Opportunity Creator

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An Interview by Purposeful Finance


About Joellen Nicholson

Ms. Joellen Nicholson is the Vice President and Global Director of University Impact (UI), where she partners with universities in providing capital to social ventures that solve social and environmental problems.

Joellen started her career at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, a US omnimedia and merchandising company. In 2010, she moved to Cambodia where she co-founded and managed the scale-up of a manufacturing startup called Basik 855. In 2016, she launched the Gap for Good branded sustainability program for Gap, Inc. in five of its global markets. 

Later Joellen joined Nest, an NGO, as the Program Director where she supported over 100 global MSMEs (micro, small, and medium entrepreneurs) with business growth strategies and local compliance matters. 

Joellen has a Master’s in Social Innovation from the University of Cambridge and a Bachelor’s in Supply Chain Management and Marketing from Michigan State University. 

Joellen’s Early Career Path & Background


How has your career evolved? Could you share your early career path? 

I started my undergrad at Michigan State University studying international relations and switched to studying supply chain management and marketing. I wished there had been a University Impact around that time! 

My business career first took me to New York City, where I began my career in retail home and apparel at Martha Stewart and was a buyer there until I was moved into marketing. I had the fortune of being young during the first tech wave and helped to launch Martha Stewart’s website and E-commerce platform and formed partnerships with AOL and Yahoo right when the digital advertising wave began. 

Then, there was a tech boom, also known as the dot-com bubble. Even though workers were being laid off, I landed a full-time position in the National Hockey League (NHL), which transitioned my career into the sports world. My career took off from there as I became an expert in consumer and data marketing. 

Could you talk about how you started Basik 855 and what you learned from that?

During my career, I felt that my actions were not making an impact in people’s lives or having any international exposure. In addition, I am also very passionate about women’s livelihood creation. I strived to create better opportunities for women, whether that be here in the US or internationally. 

It was then that I started thinking about opening businesses overseas in developing and emerging economies. I researched the women’s livelihood in those areas, talking to emerging leaders about how they carry out their lives. I was working at an agency at that time and decided to take a sabbatical to use my skills to volunteer overseas. 

The sabbatical landed me in Cambodia for a three-month (or so I thought) volunteer trip to work with a small NGO producing artisan products. In the process, we realized that many of the NGO workers did not understand the retail business, how to price products and how to enter new markets during expansion.

How did you respond when you realized the business challenges with the NGO?

Our team decided to transition our NGO into a for-profit venture under Fair Trade principles, so I co-founded the company Basik 855. We launched our weaving center and transited our team of artisans out of their homes into a central workshop making hand-woven textiles, fashion, and home products and helped them to promote products to the marketplace. In addition, we hired a team of approximately 54% women to work alongside men as supervisors where they could thrive and be seen as women leaders.

After 2 years, I eventually came back to the United States where I was hired as a consultant at a global customer data science consultancy company while I still managed Basik 855. Eventually, it became difficult running a small business, setting up centers in different countries, and managing sourcing for Basik 855.

What happened to Basik 855 and what did you learn from the experience?

There was an inflection point when the artisan product sales were not growing as we expected because our products were too ahead of the market at the time, but expenses continued to increase.  Ultimately, we ran out of funding and were forced to close down Basik 855.  Stepping away from that chapter in my life after everything I did was tough. I would say that was my first foray into understanding the importance of the accessibility of capital

Transitioning to a Career in Impact Investing


How did that lead you to GAP and Nest, and what drove you to choose a career in impact investing?

The opportunity to return to the United States led me to find a position as a global director for Gap where I was able to combine my corporate background and previous experiences working with artisans to develop specific artisan business-focused programs. We made a significant impact by implementing innovative technologies to save water in the denim-making process and improve the sourcing process for materials.

This opportunity got me back on my feet and led me to work for an organization called Nest – a nonprofit that focused on Fair Trade Practices, sustainability and diversity – such as hiring a diverse workforce of artisans and craftspeople in the global market. I was able to combine my corporate background and previous experiences working with artisans to develop the first worker assessment program for artisans to create the workshop out of their homes.

What specifically did you do at Nest?

In Nest, I launched two major programs. One was an accelerator program, which was a year-long program for 10 artists in businesses around the world who would receive curated personalized programs to establish the workshops in their residences.  Our team would work side by side with them to assess their business progress and create business plans to help their business needs including funding.

Simultaneously, we partnered with Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth to launch Nest’s Makers United program in Birmingham, Alabama, in order to establish an inclusive and greater gender equal environment to support small artisan business owners to grow their businesses.

For both of these programs, our work focused on strengthening artisan businesses and supporting their access to local and global value chains to sell products. At the end of the day, selling products was the path to a sustainable business that could provide jobs to artisan women. Being able to grow also requires capital, and a challenge for these artisan businesses was having the money to grow.

How did working with these women and small businesses shape your perspective on impact investing?

While these small businesses could not grow like tech businesses, they were creating great livelihood for themselves and their women employees. This financing inequality made me think about the importance of working with underserved small non-traditional business owners and what that means in the context of management and the impact that I could contribute to the financing area. At that moment, I knew that impact investing for me. This is what landed me here at University Impact – helping individuals gain access to capital, expanding these businesses, and creating jobs.

University Impact: Donor-Advised Fund


Could you touch upon how the donor-advised fund works at University Impact?  How do you think the non-profit world and the impact investing world intersect? 

University Impact is a donor-advised fund and a 501(c)3 nonprofit, which means that people are donating contributions to us to get a tax deduction when they give to organizations.I believe similar contributions are being made when you’re looking in the world of nonprofits, inclusive finance, and innovative finance. We are adept at bringing in a plethora of capital from a donor-advised fund.

In the 2021 Donor-Advised Funds Report, there was an estimated $160 billion in DAF charitable assets generated and a $35 billion total money in DAF grant dollars in 2020, which is a 10% larger increase than independent foundations.

So the question is, how could we direct some of this money across the financing spectrum beyond traditional grant making? 

Traditionally, it just came in the form of grant money from the US, so how does our team look at other areas we could be distributing this money to create a greater impact? That is what University Impact has tried to do to differentiate itself from traditional funds. 

We could have done a grant program that you can give to any kind of organization. There are plenty of 501(c)3 nonprofits that have good standing with the Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, and even your local church. 

However, our team is focused on answering what else there could be. How can we find organizations around the world that may need a grant, but also look at how they are impactful as business ventures? Our team focuses on doing recoverable grants, and credit guarantees for all different types of funding vehicles. That is how University Impact has built its financing structure.

Why go with a Pay for Success model?

When you look into the broader world, the Pay for Success model introduces a new way for governments to finance social services and target limited dollars to achieve a positive, measurable outcome. This likelihood opens up opportunities for impact investing to thrive, meeting SDG goals even beyond just ESG

In the public markets, organizations have a framework for understanding how to use our philanthropic dollars in more innovative ways. That is what’s truly exciting about the future of impact investing.

What advice do you have for students entering the impact investing space? 

I think the key thing is that it’s such a nascent space, most firms have the philosophy that even if you don’t have a finance background, it’s an area that can be learned. The terminology is hard, but a growth mindset is important to push through the uncomfortable to learn about finance and impact. 

So, I would say don’t shy away if you are interested in the space but not a finance person. But if you are a finance person, I want you to think about the space and consider the importance of impact in your work. In terms of skills, I believe that critical thinking and independent thinking are important – whether or not you question your own thinking.

 

DISCLAIMER: the opinions expressed in interview responses do not necessarily reflect the views of the interviewer, Scholars of Finance, or Purposeful Finance by Scholars of Finance. 

December 8, 2022 – Newsletter – What is COP27?

By Future of Finance, Green Investing No Comments

In this edition of the Purposeful Finance Newsletter:

  • Summer Internships: Impact Investing, ESG, and Sustainable Finance 
  • Topic Breakdown: COP27
  • World: Tour De Headlines
  • Market Updates: Deal Flow

Internships

Atento Capital is looking for a 2023 Summer Intern

Kiva is looking for a Climate Smart Finance Intern and an Impact Intern

Opportunity Finance Network is looking for an Impacting Investing Intern

CIBC (Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce) is looking for a 2023 Summer Intern – ESG Investment

Thomson Reuters is looking for an ESG/Sustainability Intern for their global Social Impact Institute Team

Greystar Real Estate Partners is looking for a Sustainability Intern

UNICEF is looking for a Finance Intern for their Education Cannot Wait (ECW) Fund

 

Topic Breakdown: COP27

 

What is COP27? Is it the same as the UN Climate Change Convention or Conference?

  • Yes, they are all the same. COP27 stands for the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Conference is an annual meeting where countries negotiate global goals for tackling climate change and present their individual countries’ plans and progress for contributing to those goals.
  • COP essentially refers to the supreme decision-making body of the Convention (think the Board of a company). COP is represented by all States that are Parties to the Convention, and the COP can adopt legal instruments to implement the climate goals set.

I’ve heard of the Paris Climate Agreement and Kyoto Protocol, are they related? 

  • The landmark Paris Climate Agreement was actually adopted in COP21. It was the first legally binding global treaty on climate change, committing 196 parties to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
  • The other famous Kyoto Protocol was adopted in COP3; it operationalized the UNFCCC by committing industrialized countries to limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in accordance with agreed individual targets.

So what is this year’s theme? 

  • Follow through! Last year’s meeting (named COP26, in case you couldn’t guess) produced the Glasgow Pact and some ambitious new goals. Now countries will plan out how to accomplish the goals. The major questions are who will pay and how will they pay for climate actions, which is is where finance comes in.

So who will pay? And what is ‘Loss and Damage’ or ‘Climate Reparations’?

  • Climate-driven disasters are disproportionately harming low- and middle-income countries that have contributed far fewer of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. 
  • The UN has proposed that wealthier countries should pay “loss and damage” funds to compensate developing countries. Developed countries promised at COP21 to provide developing countries with $100 billion (€90 billion) a year for climate mitigation and adaptation by 2020 – a target they are unlikely to reach until 2023 at the earliest.
  • Before COP27, only Denmark had formally committed any funds. United States President Joe Biden has pledged 11 billion dollars in international climate aid, which may inspire other countries to join in, making for one of the largest investments in aid flowing from developed to developing markets.

 What were the key wins this year other than the US rejoining COP after a 4 year hiatus? 

  •  A breakthrough agreement known as Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan has highlighted that a global transformation to a low-carbon economy will require investments of at least USD 4-6 trillion a year. Delivering such funding will require a swift and comprehensive transformation of the financial system. 
  • COP27 saw the launch of a new five-year work program at COP27 to promote climate technology solutions in developing countries.
  • Countries launched a package of 25 new collaborative actions in five key areas: power, road transport, steel, hydrogen and agriculture.

 

World: Tour De Headlines

  • The Green Climate Fund (GCF) Board concluded its 34th meeting. 
    • This year, they approved nine new climate projects worth USD 544.1 million in GCF funding and USD 1.7 billion with co-financing. 
    •  GCF’s portfolio now comprises 209 projects worth USD 42.4 billion with co-financing.  (GCF)
  • World Bank Group Announces International Low-Carbon Hydrogen Partnership,  a new global initiative to boost the deployment of low-carbon hydrogen in developing countries. (World Bank)
  • The World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) will consider a $2 billion support fund for Ukraine that will focus on rebuilding the country’s private sector. (Reuters)

United States of America

  • California Boosts Electric Car Charging Investment by $1 Billion.(ESGNews)

Europe

  • EIB (European Investment Bank) Approves EUR 11 Billion for Climate Action, Clean Energy and Sustainable Transport Investment (ESGNews)
  • EIB and Development Bank of Southern Africa Launch €400 Million South Africa Renewable Energy Investment Initiative (ESGNews)
  • France, Spain Latest to Pledge Halt to Gasoline-Driven Vehicle Sales (ESGNews)
  • Vitol to Acquire Vortex and Deploy $1 Billion to the Development of Renewables in Poland (ESGNews)

Asia

  • U.S. Unveils Investments in Indonesia Led by $698 Million Climate-Conscious Compact (ESGNews)
  • Australia Proposes to Require Cleaner Gasoline by 2025 (ESGNews)
  • Indonesia to Set Up $2 Billion EV Fund with China’s CATL, CMB International (ESGNews)
  • India Publishes Long Term Emissions Strategy to Reach Net Zero in 2070 (ESGNews)

 

Market Updates: Deal Flow

Launches

  • Closed Loop launches a new recycling company, Circular Services, with $700M investment, which it says will be the largest privately owned recycling company in North America. Circular Services will be a consolidation of 12 facilities from portfolio companies across seven states. The U.S. recycling industry hasn’t seen a large company focused on residential and commercial recycling, without also owning landfill assets, and Circular Services will be the first to do that.  (Wastedive)
  • RBC Expands Sustainable Finance Product Suite for Businesses (ESGNews)
  • World Bank Group Announces International Low-Carbon Hydrogen Partnership (ESGNews)
  • Hunter Point Capital and ADQ agreed to buy a minority stake in social change-focused investment firm Vistria Group (BBG)

Funds Raised

  • Carlyle Launches Renewable Energy Development Platform Telis Energy in Europe. with a focus on solar, in the UK, France, Spain, and Germany, with a view to expand to other markets in Europe. (PV-Tech)
  • Stripe, the payments giant, announced a $925M fund for advanced market commitments for carbon removals from DAC & other high tech carbon removal and storage companies. That’s way more money than has been spent on carbon removals previously. The entire carbon offset market, of which removals are a small subset, crossed the $1B mark just late last year. (KEEP COOL)

Sustainability VC

  • Anode Labs , raised a $4.2M round led by Lerer Hippeau and Lattice. They aim to build The React Network: The First Community-Owned, Web3 Green Energy Grid that offers tokenized incentives for individuals and SMBs to connect their energy storage assets. (BW)
  • RoadRunner, a startup providing sustainable waste management solutions, raised a $20M Series D extension led by Fifth Wall. Nearly 40% of global carbon dioxide emissions come from the real estate sector, RoadRunner has been able to seamlessly increase a property’s recycling rates by 10x, and in turn, reduce the associated carbon footprint. (PRN)

Govtech

  • Beam, a startup helping citizens access government financial aid, raised a $6.4M Series A led by Potencia Ventures. Beam simplifies program administration and helps deliver funds more efficiently across a wide array of programs, like emergency cash assistance, rental relief and public utility benefits. (TC)

Healthcare VC

  • Maven, a pioneering the next generation of care for women and families, raised a $90M Series E at a $1.35B valuation led by General Catalyst. (TC)
  • Carlyle is in talks to offer to buy US urgent care group Heritage Care Network at an $8-$10B valuation. (RT
    • “Consolidation in the primary and urgent care sector…is on the rise, as healthcare operators race to provide alternatives of scale to hospital systems and capitalize on the backlog in treatments caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

Affordable Housing

  • CVS Health Invests $14.3 Million in Affordable Housing in Seattle. An interesting investment that shows us how preventive health and social equity intersect. 
    • “When people have access to high-quality affordable housing, it allows them to focus on taking care of their mental and physical health,” said Dr. Rafael Gonzalez-Amezcua, chief medical officer of Aetna Better Health of California at Aetna, a CVS Health Company. (ESGNews)
  • The California Housing Accelerator program and Community Development Banking at JPMorgan Chase are working together to fund 57 projects to accelerate the construction of affordable housing in California to combat the housing crisis. 

What is ESG? Explaining the Basics of Environmental, Social, and Governance

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What is ESG? Explaining the Basics of Environmental, Social, and Governance

ESG, an acronym for Environmental, Social, and Governance, is a framework for a holistic measurement of the impact a corporation generates beyond its materialistic goals to maximize profits. Each of the three categories covers various issues related to impact.

Environmental

A company’s interaction with the natural world through resource and energy consumption and waste discharge.
Examples: climate change, greenhouse gas emission, deforestation

Social

A company’s relationships with people and institutions, particularly with employees.
Examples: DEI, labor standards, health & safety

Governance

A company’s internal system of practices, policies, leadership, and other governing systems.
Examples: bribery, corruption, board practices, accounting practices

History of ESG

Where did ESG come from? In 1992, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change convened in Rio De Janeiro, where 154 countries signed an international environmental treaty, which was operationalized as the Kyoto Protocol. 

Then in 1997, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) was founded in response to the protocol to provide organizations with a common language to understand their impact. 

And in 2000, the UN Global Compact was launched to call companies to align to principles of Universal human rights, labor and environmental conservation. These international milestones helped to lay the groundwork for ESG. 

ESG issues were first mentioned in the 2006 United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) report, with a focus on developing sustainable investments. Since then, ESG has been used with the intention to understand the external, non-business risks of a company that can affect future profitability. 

ESG Performance Measurement

At a first glance, the measurement of ESG may be difficult to conceptualize. It involves the conversion of subjective ESG concepts into objective metrics. Many standards and frameworks are available, with each providing distinct guidelines for companies.

Companies choose standards based on their industry, company strategy and requirements, and intended audience. Many companies use multiple standards and frameworks to portray their ESG statements in suitable ways. A few of popular standards include:

United Nations Global Compact
A framework consisting of 10 principles for companies to uphold sustainability and social responsibility

Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Standards
An independent, international organization that aims to help companies understand and report their impacts on the economy, environment, and people. GRI Standard is a
modular system comprising universal, sector, and topic-specific standards that allows companies to report relevant and most significant information. It is the world’s most used standard, especially among large corporations including over 70% of G250 companies.

Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) Standards 
Managed under the global non-profit organization, Value Reporting Foundation (VRF), SASB focuses on industry-specific and financially-material sustainability information that is cost-effective for companies and decisions useful for investors. It is widely used with over half of S&P Global 1200 companies using SASB standards.

OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises
Recommendations for multinational enterprises of OECD member countries on their business conducts to ensure they act in accordance with the policies and expectations of these countries.

Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) 
Framework aimed to provide efficient climate-related financial disclosures. TCFD recommendations, themed around governance, strategy, risk management, and metrics, guide companies to provide decision-useful, forward-looking information.

Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB) framework
Aimed to help companies report environmental and social information in mainstream reports. With an effort to standardize different standards and frameworks, CDSB framework aligns with TCFD and builds on popular standards, such as GRI.

 

Because many organizations have developed standards and frameworks to disclose financially material information on relevant ESG topics, ESG reporting is not standardized.

Despite the CDSB framework coalescing many standards and frameworks, many companies still mix and match different ESG frameworks. This tends to reflect their individual industry needs. Inconsistencies could hinder long-term progress and confuse or alienate investors. The lack of standardization in ESG reporting continues to be a major criticism of the movement. 

ESG Ratings

Unlike ESG frameworks that offer guidance on what and how financial information should be disclosed, ESG Rating is a metric given to companies based on the evaluation of their performance by independent third-parties.

These rating platforms include the Institutional Shareholder Service (ISS), Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI). Similar to a credit rating, it is a measure of a company’s exposure to long-term environmental, social, and governance risks. Higher ratings indicate efficiency in managing these risks. 

However, ESG ratings may not always be reliable and consistent. Scores differ based on the third-party provider. Due to different methodologies, metrics, and weightings, the comparison of ratings might not tell the full story about the real performance of the company.

 

5 Perspectives on ESG from Leaders in Finance, Business, and Government


1.    Allison Herron Lee, SEC Commissioner

“Increasingly, boards of directors are called upon to navigate the challenges presented by climate change, racial injustice, economic inequality, and numerous other issues that are fundamental to the success and sustainability of companies, financial markets, and our economy. This call, welcomed by some and eschewed by others, is attributable in part to the large and growing influence that corporations hold over the social and economic well-being of people and communities everywhere. A study from 2018, for example, showed that 71 of the top 100 revenue generators globally were corporations while only 29 were countries. In other words, corporations – in many cases U.S. corporations – often operate on a level or higher economic footing than some of the largest governments in the world. That is a dynamic worthy of reflection – and one that drives home the weighty consequences and obligations associated with some corporate decisions.”

– Allison Herron Lee, SEC Commissioner, in her 2021 Keynote Address to the Society for Corporate Governance 


2.   Sandra Horbach, Managing Director at The Carlyle Group

“ESG [environmental, social, and governance] is climate change, worker conditions, diversity; it’s everything. There’s so much that sponsors can do to help these companies do better. We don’t have a dedicated impact or ESG platform; we’re bringing ESG in and trying to embed it across all our portfolio companies.”

– Sandra Horbach, Managing Director at The Carlyle Group, on how ESG is transforming the investment industry in a new interview, as quoted by McKinsey


3.    Martin Whittaker, CEO of JUST Capital

“The ultimate goal is to build a more just marketplace that works for all Americans, one that deals with people’s economic insecurities and heals fear and division. The fault lines of capitalism cause widening inequality and social conflict, and undermine our ability to mount sustained, collective efforts to tackle our most pressing challenges: education, health, local and global environmental well-being, community vitality, upward mobility, and more.”

– Martin Whittaker, CEO of JUST Capital, on his organization’s approach to ESG investing and advocacy, as quoted by Motley Fool


4.    Kenneth P. Pucker and Andrew King, Harvard Business Review

“Despite a historic surge in popularity, ESG (environmental, social, and governance) investing will not tackle our generation’s urgent environmental and social challenges. Consider the battle against climate change: Estimates are that humanity will need to invest an average of $3.5 trillion annually over the next 30 years. Unfortunately, these trillions are not the same trillions that are presently invested in assets managed according to many forms of ESG investing — those are dedicated to assuring returns for shareholders, not delivering positive planetary impact. The separation of profit and planet is by design. ESG ratings which underlie ESG fund selection are based on “single materiality” — the impact of the changing world on a company’s profits and losses, not the reverse.”

– Kenneth P. Pucker and Andrew King, ESG Investing Isn’t Designed to Save the Planet in Harvard Business Review on the difference between ESG and Impact Investing.


5.   Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock

“Stakeholder capitalism is all about delivering long-term, durable returns for shareholders. And transparency around your company’s planning for a net zero world is an important element of that. But it’s just one of many disclosures we and other investors ask companies to make. As stewards of our clients’ capital, we ask businesses to demonstrate how they’re going to deliver on their responsibility to shareholders, including through sound environmental, social, and governance practices and policies…our conviction at BlackRock is that companies perform better when they are deliberate about their role in society and act in the interests of their employees, customers, communities, and their shareholders.”

– Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, in his Annual 2022 Letter to CEOs entitled The Power of Capitalism

Summary

ESG has been around for more than two decades. It has entered the mainstream of finance, thanks to support from retail investors and attention from luminaries like Larry Fink.

Looking forward, ESG investing is a fast growing sector of finance. According to Bloomberg Intelligence, global ESG assets are likely to surpass $41 trillion in 2022 and $50 trillion by 2025.

Still, there are many challenges ahead for ESG. Controversies around greenwashing, the lack of data, and the lack of comprehensive standards across industries pose barriers. The SEC is now proposing two rules to combat greenwashing, offering signs that challenges may be closer to resolution.

RELATED: Read Sophia Radionova’s (SOF NYU) commentary on the intersection of Ethics & ESG in her career exploration.

A Brief History of Impact Investing in The United States

By Finance, Green Investing, Purpose of Finance, Stewardship One Comment

Impact investing has a much longer history than what many of us expect.

The concept of impact investing is not new; the term was coined in the early 2000s, but the practice has been around for centuries. The central idea of impact investing is to use capital to create positive social or environmental change, while also generating attractive financial returns. 

This article explores Impact investing in the United States and how it has evolved, especially over the course of the last few decades.

What’s The Origin of Impact Investing? 

The 1800s: Religious Beginnings

In the United States, socially-conscious investing emerged in the 19th century. A group of historically-connected Protestant Christian denominations, known as Methodists, abhorred the slave trade, illegal immigration, and excessive consumerism. They decided to divest from companies involved in industries in these sectors. Methodists also opposed investing in businesses that produced alcohol, grew tobacco, or promoted gambling.

Another Protestant movement, the Quakers, played a part in shaping impact investing. Quakers forbade investments in the slave trade and slavery-related industries. They also avoided industries related to war, such as weapons manufacturing. They established the Pioneer Fund in 1928 in Boston, which invested only in sectors they deemed moral. 

These diverse groups’ early investment strategies aimed to get rid of the so-called “sin” industries. Today, sin stock industries typically include those involved in alcohol, tobacco, gambling, sex-related businesses, and weapons production.

These early tenets of socially-conscious investing evolved to stand for an investment philosophy aligned with investors’ social concerns and goals for social change. 

 

Modern Impact Investing

How Did Government Policy Shape Impact Investing? The 1950s – 2000

By the second half of the 20th century, policymakers and firms had implemented impact investing principles into the financial services industry. 

One landmark piece of legislation was The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), passed by Congress in 1977, which outlawed discriminatory lending practices in low-income areas.

Additionally, the U.S. Sustainable Investment Forum (US SIF) was established in 1984 in response to climate and environmental concerns driven by tragedies like the Chernobyl disaster in the 1980s.

In addition to the government, firms and their executives took strides to incorporate impact investing principles into their business practices. The 1990s, for instance, brought the first screens for mutual funds aimed at avoiding investments in companies with poor records on social and environmental issues. Key among them was the Domini Social Index, which launched in 1990 and consisted of 400 large-capitalization US companies that were selected based on social and environmental criteria. 

In 1996, a group of business leaders, academics, and philanthropists launched the Social Investment Forum Foundation (SIFF) to promote best practices in sustainable and responsible investing (SRI). The decade also saw the launch of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), which provided guidelines for companies to voluntarily disclose their environmental and social performance; GRI is now a major governing body in the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) space.

How Did Impact Investing Go Global? The Early 2000s

The 2000s were a time of significant growth for sustainable and socially responsible investing (SRI). The Rockefeller Foundation laid much of the groundwork, coining “Impact Investing” as an umbrella term in an attempt to unite the fragmented industry into a collective network. 

The Rockefeller Foundation also launched the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), assembling impact investors to build a coalition focused on exchanging and organizing ideas. The GIIN has since grown into one of the largest international governing bodies for impact investors. 

Then in 2007, the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UN PRI) were published with the aim of inspiring more investors to incorporate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) considerations into their asset allocation strategies. The UN PRI now includes over 2,000 signatories representing more than $70 trillion in assets under management (AUM).

The financial crisis of 2008-2009 led to a renewed focus on the role of finance in society and the need for sustainable investing. IRIS, a system for measuring, managing, and optimizing impact, was created in 2008 by the Rockefeller Foundation.  Since its inception, IRIS has given social entrepreneurs tools to measure and monitor process improvements and to better track business results. 

Other impact-related organizations arose such as Acumen Fund, and B-Lab, who drew on lessons learned in microfinance and other social and environmental sectors.


What is Impact Investing? Looking at The Present

2010s – Present

The Global Impact Investing Ratings System is the second system created to evaluate social and environmental impact (GIIRS). It was designed to offer guidelines and a rating system for businesses, investors, and intermediaries to make more data-driven decisions. 

In 2009, President Barack Obama created the Interagency Working Group on Social Impact Investing to explore how the government could use impact investing to achieve social objectives. The following year, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which included provisions for impact investing by banks and other financial institutions.

In 2014, the White House convened the first-ever Social Impact Investing Task Force, composed of over 30 leaders from the public and private sectors, to develop recommendations on how the federal government could best support the growth of impact investing. The task force called for a number of actions to support the industry, including better data and measurement, greater coordination among governmental agencies, and the establishment of an Impact Investment Working Group within the National Economic Council.

Looking Forward

Impact investing has come a long way in a relatively short period of time. What started as a niche movement focused on avoiding “sinful” investments has grown into a global industry with trillions of dollars in AUM.

As of 2022, the GIIN estimates the size of the worldwide impact investing market to be USD 1.1 trillion, the first time it has crossed the trillion dollar mark. Growth has been strong with total investments tripling from 2017 to 2019 and growing at double-digit rates since. However, challenges remain, as the UN in 2018 estimated a funding gap of USD 2.5 trillion to achieve 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. 

But there is cause for optimism. Collaborative international efforts to accelerate impact investments have proliferated, and with strong governmental support, we can expect impact investments to further enter the mainstream of finance going forward.

Ethics and ESG Investing

By Green Investing, Integrity, Principles No Comments

The first time I learned about ESG investing was during a social impact course my freshman year of college, one required by our university for all of us future business leaders to learn about the way corporations influence the communities around them. It was a concept that brought together environmental, social, and governance factors under one investment thesis. I remember thinking: “This is the future of finance that I want to be a part of.”

 

Accelerated by the many socially impactful events that have occurred since the start of 2020, it seems that the trend towards ESG has only been moving forward. Demand from both consumers and investors for more transparent and responsible business practices is louder than ever, and financial institutions are offering an expanding line of ESG products that just a decade ago hardly even existed. It’s a promising turn towards a more sustainable future for business and capital markets. However, with that seems to be coming a slow dilution of the true values that underlie ESG. 

 

ESG stands for environmental, social, and governance. It encompasses the way that businesses interact with society, measuring their impact and the ways that they give or take away from the good of the whole. In practice, ESG can be a tool for investors to screen for companies that don’t align with their values. Is this business negatively influencing changes in our climate? Does this one have unethical labor practices? Do they take advantage of any marginalized communities, or are underrepresented backgrounds not welcome at this firm? These are some questions that may come up when deciding how “ESG friendly” a company really is. Part of the reason that ESG has been growing in popularity as an investment thesis is that it isn’t just a feel good tactic. Studies have shown that ESG factors have a direct impact on a company’s long term sustainability and profitability. For example, an article written by Credit Suisse’s Global Head of ESG Strategy references a study done on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on ESG and non ESG indices in European markets. Those that were ESG focused fared better than those that were not. If a company doesn’t take into account the implications of real world events on their business operations it adds a layer of risk for an investor. 

 

The problem is, there is no standardized way of measuring a company’s level of ESG integration. Every financial institution does their analysis differently, and so the criteria of the research can vary. Not only this, but currently the information that firms themselves report isn’t standardized in the United States. ESG disclosures are optional, making it hard for investors to perform their due diligence, and hard for people to really understand what they’re buying into. It also makes it easy for companies to greenwash – as in, build up an image of being socially conscious or environmentally sustainable through clever marketing and branding, when in reality, their operations say otherwise. ESG seems to have become a buzzword, along with “sustainable”, “green”, and the like.  Ultimately, there needs to be a way to strip away the fluff down to common measurements and metrics of a company’s ESG integration. Although it’s a challenge to figure out how to translate something as complex as the societal impact of a firm into comparable data, it’s necessary to help consumers and investors like myself navigate their way through the weeds and decipher who is really taking action to back up their words. 

 

On one hand, it pains me to see some businesses use ESG as a profitable tactic. Although there are many profitable companies driven by values of corporate responsibility, there are some that use ESG in a way that seems artificial, motivated by money rather than morals. On the other hand, I ask myself, does it matter why a company is doing it as long as they are? The argument can be made that even greenwashing brings awareness to the importance of a business’s impact on the environment, and ESG factors, even if only lightly taken into consideration, are better to be seen as a business tactic than not seen at all. 

 

I chose to pursue a career in finance because I see that money has the power to create change. In my short time as a student in the industry, I’ve met people, some with a lifetime of experience and some who have only just begun their careers, who give me a lot of hope for the future. They motivate me to hold on to my values in such a competitive space, whether it be understanding the impact of my actions or doing my best to work with integrity. My time at Scholars of Finance has also influenced the way I approach my career. I’ve become more sensitive to the motivations behind my decisions and the way I interact with others; this month’s value of humility has really reminded me of how much more I have to grow. However, I’m worried that there may be a balance that needs to be made between staying true to what I believe in and working alongside the motives of others in order to make progress towards a future I hope to see. 

 

As much as I’d like it to be so,  I don’t believe ESG measures will be implemented in every company simply because it’s good for society. Often, they will be implemented because they help a business appeal to consumers, or standardized requirements have been passed, or future costs of climate change, government policy, or dissatisfied workers make it too expensive not to in the long run. 

 

I can’t say if I think the implementation of ESG measures are a good or bad thing. All I can say is what I do believe: In the end, this earth, along with the people in it, are what support a business. With the ESG movement comes more visibility for this relationship, more pressure for companies to put their money where their mouth is, and more movement towards standardized regulation and reporting in the ESG space. We’re entering an age where companies can’t ignore their dependence on all of their stakeholders, and today, these stakeholders have more power than ever to hold companies accountable. It may be a necessary evil to accept that some won’t be motivated by the common good. Some may not even care to make changes past the surface level. But ultimately, that’s okay, because eventually, those will be the ones left behind.

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