Investing for a Better World

There is more to investment returns than money.

Imagine what we could accomplish if each one of us invested even a small amount of money towards making the world a better place to live now and in the future.

Before we get started, I want to be clear that I am not suggesting that you invest any amount of money in any particular way. It is your money so you are the person best equipped to determine if and how you want to invest it.

My goal for this post is to you encourage you to think about your own investing philosophy and to evaluate whether it aligns with your values and the world in which you want to live.

Until the last ten years or so, I would say my investment focus was on growing my money (return) and trying to avoid losing it (risk). I am not saying this is a bad thing, but it is a rather narrow way of looking at financial investments.

I cannot pinpoint any particular event or even a year when my view of what constitutes an investment began expanding but I think it co-evolved with my desire to live more lightly on Earth.

For instance, in 2013, my spouse and I invested in a rooftop solar panel system for our home. Mostly we wanted to help build renewable energy capacity in our community; however, the free electricity down the road was also an enticement.

We joined the SLO Natural Foods Co-op in 2014 because we wanted to buy and eat delicious organic food and support local and regional farmers and food businesses.

After talking about it for years, in 2015, my spouse and I finally rolled our IRAs out of traditional bond and equity mutual funds into fossil fuel-free socially responsible investments. In this case, our goal was to invest in companies and organizations that are screened for environmental, social, and governance performance as well as risk and return criteria.

Last year, we began looking for a small investment opportunity where we live in San Luis Obispo County, CA. Two weeks ago, this quest landed us in an all day Saturday workshop entitled Align Your Financial Portfolio with Your Values hosted by Slow Money San Luis Obispo.

That day I realized something that I think has been percolating in the back of mind for some time. There is an investment space between charitable giving and traditional investing.

Financial people refer to this as impact and/or regenerative investing. I like to think of it as making-the-world-a-better-place investing.

Before we talk about the workshop and regenerative investing, it will probably be helpful for you to have a bit of background about the Slow Money movement.

Slow Money Movement

The Slow Money movement is led by the nonprofit Slow Money Institute whose mission is catalyzing the flow of capital to local food systems, connecting investors to the places where they live and promoting new principles of fiduciary responsibility that “bring money back down to earth.”

They accomplish this through a variety of approaches including public meetings, on-farm events, pitch fests, peer-to-peer loans, investment clubs and, most recently, nonprofit clubs making 0% loans.

Slow Money SLO Farm to Buyer Mixer Event Sign

Slow Money groups are independent organizations that adhere to Slow Money principles and facilitate investments and loans within their community and region.

I met Slow Money San Luis Obispo founder, Jeff Wade, at a Central Coast Bioneers conference last November and signed up for the email newsletter list. When the workshop announcement landed in my email inbox, I knew I wanted to go so I talked my spouse into attending and signed us up.

Values-Based Investment Workshop

Marco Vangelisti

Our instructor for the day was Marco Vangelisti, a founding member of the Slow Money movement. For a mathematics whiz and former investment manager, he was a surprisingly down to earth and humorous speaker and kept me engaged throughout the day.

Some of the things we learned during the workshop included how in traditional investing a tree only has value once it becomes lumber, how banks create money using accounting entries, and how corporation stock prices are inflated because they benefit from free ecosystem services provided by Mother Nature.

Marco gave us a crash course in portfolio management and due diligence. He explained regenerative investing and gave us examples. We also talked about direct investing, which is where you make an investment directly with an entrepreneur or business.

Investment Compass

Just before lunch, Marco asked us to determine our personal investment compass. He handed out pieces of flip chart paper and colored markers. Using my limited artistic skills, I drew my investment lens (see featured image at top), which are things I consider now when making an investment.

The SLO Natural Foods Co-op prepared a delicious lunch for us and Jeff provided reusable coffee mugs, napkins, and tableware in the interest of making the workshop a low impact event.

Regenerative Investing

The word regenerate means reborn, renewed, restored, reformed, and reestablished. Regenerative systems keep going indefinitely.

When you make a regenerative investment, you are purposefully investing with the intention of generating a positive social and environmental impact.

The main return is not financial. It is things like bringing a grocery market to an inner city food desert, helping a young organic farmer obtain access to farmland, or enabling a school to install solar panels over their parking lot.

Regenerative investing is democratizing investing because it enables people to make small investments (as little as $25) or large ones and gives a wider range of entrepreneurs and businesses access to financial capital.

You might get your money back. You might get your money back with a small amount of interest. You might not get your money back at all. This is true for other kinds of investments, too.

As we were wrapping up the final Q&A session of the workshop, Marco asked each one of us to tell the group one thing that we learned or got out of the workshop.

Colorful Handprints Surrounding Earth
Shutterstock/Holmes Su

The idea that stuck in my mind is that when you make regenerative investments you are investing in “livable future insurance” for you, your children, and people of the future.

I hope reading this post challenged your view of what constitutes an investment return and inspires you to create your own personal investment compass.

Featured Image at Top: This is my investment lens drawing from the workshop.

Related Posts

Resources

Endangered Species Act and Biodiversity

All life is connected and worthy of protection.

Endangered Species Day on May 17 provides you and me with an ideal opportunity to appreciate Earth’s biodiversity and to do something to protect it.

A notice in my social media feed led me to finally attempt this post about endangered species and the importance of biodiversity. Until now, I had briefly mentioned the Endangered Species Act in a post entitled Green Legislation – Nixon Administration and touched on biodiversity in Deep Ecology Collaboratory – Join the Movement.

Biodiversity is a huge topic that cannot be adequately covered in a blog post so I will only endeavor to spark your interest to learn more and take action.

In short, biodiversity is the wondrous array of different plants, animals, and other organisms (species) that make life on Earth possible.

Humans are not separate from nature we are part of it. What we do to nature, ill or good, we do to ourselves. Regardless of whether we have named it or not or even know of its existence, each species has a part to play in the overall health of the ecosystems in which they and we live. These ecosystems interconnect across the sphere we all call home.

Why Are Species at Risk Infographic

Why Are Species at Risk? infographic courtesy of Endangered Species Coalition.

When I asked Ted, a deep ecologist and a friend, who he thought did a good job explaining biodiversity, he suggested Edward O. Wilson (see the resources section for books).

It is critically important that we protect endangered species and thus Earth’s biodiversity.

Let’s talk about endangered species.

Endangered Species

During the 1960s and 1970s, Americans took to the streets demanding that Congress address smog, water pollution, pesticides, noise, waste, land use, and wildlife preservation.

President Richard Nixon, not necessarily a fan of regulation, got on board. His Special Message to the Congress Outlining the 1972 Environmental Program makes for interesting reading.

Congress did act passing sweeping environmental legislation including laws like the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and Toxic Substances Control Act.

Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973

When Congress passes a law, they state their findings, purpose, and policy at the beginning and then move on to specific provisions of the law. Below are some excerpts from the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Public Law 93-205).

“The Congress finds and declares that—various species of fish, wildlife, and plants in the United States have been rendered extinct as a consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation…”

“The purposes of this Act are to provide a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved…to provide a program…and to take steps…”

“It is further declared to be the policy of Congress that all Federal departments and agencies shall seek to conserve endangered species and threatened species and shall utilize their authorities in furtherance of the purposes of this Act.

Provisions of the Law

The ESA is jointly administered by two federal agencies based on where the endangered or threatened plant or animal lives, in other words, its habitat or range. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) is responsible for land and freshwater species and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), also known as NOAA Fisheries, is responsible for marine (ocean) species and those that migrate up freshwater streams like salmon.

Through a process called listing, a species must be classified as either endangered or threatened to receive protection under the law. The USFWS or NMFS, an organization, or a person can initiate a listing request.

Endangered – means a species in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Insect pests that present a risk to people are excluded.

Threatened – means a species likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

Once a species makes it to the endangered or threatened list, the USFWS or NMFS are required to develop and implement a plan to help the species recover, which includes conserving its habit.

Repairing the Reef - West Hawaii
Click here for a 5-minute video about coral reefs in Hawaii that shows the importance of restoring habitat.

Increased population over its range is an important measure of whether a species has recovered and can be removed from the list. This process is called delisting. The USFWS and NMFS are required to monitor delisted species for five years to ensure they do not become an endangered or threatened species again.

The ESA mandates cooperation with states and allows states to enact their own laws as long as they are not less restrictive than the federal law. It also supports U.S. involvement in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) that aims to ensure international trade does not threaten the survival of wild animals and plants.

The Environmental Conservation Online System (ECOS) is a tool that enables you to create informational tables by selecting parameters and then clicking on the submit button.

I screened for endangered and threatened species in the U.S. and received a table of 1644 species. It included the western snowy plover, which is endangered where I live in San Luis Obispo County, CA (photo Michael L. Baird).


A search for delisted species in the U.S. gave me a table with 64 species. In a few cases, species were removed because of previous errors. Sadly, some species were delisted because they are extinct like the blue pike, dusky seaside sparrow, and eastern puma.

Robbins Cinquefoil (Potentilla robbinsiana)

Fortunately, most of the species were shown as delisted because they have recovered like the gray whale, Robbins’ cinquefoil (photo USFWS Service), Oregon chub (fish), Lake Erie water snake, and the bald eagle.

Let’s take a look at the gray wolf, which is a species currently undergoing the delisting process.

Gray Wolf– Proposed Endangered Species Delisting

To learn more about gray wolves and their plight, I reached out to Holly. She and I first met while pulling invasive ice plant on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve near my home. I know she is a committed wildlife advocate and she had recently asked me to a sign a petition demanding protection for gray wolves (I did sign it).

Gray wolves are magnificent intelligent and highly social animals. As top-level predators, they play an important part in keeping wild ecosystems healthy.

Gray Wolf (Canis lupus)

Wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in 1995 producing a ripple of positive impacts. For instance, the wolves keep elk herds on the move and in check allowing willow trees to grow. Beavers build dams with some of the trees creating pools in streams for fish and storing water to recharge the water table. Photo Gary Kramer USFWS.

Even before Holly asked me to sign the petition, I had seen the gray wolf delisting notice in the Federal Register. One thing that I read remains fixed in my memory. The greatest threat to wolves is predation by humans, meaning people killing them out of fear, ignorance, or for sport.

I fear that as soon as ESA protections are completely removed from gray wolves human predation will dramatically increase, which will not only harm the wolves but the ecosystems which they help to maintain.

What can you do to help protect gray wolves?

  • Make a public comment on Regulations.gov regarding the USFWS delisting effort. The USFWS just announced they have extended the deadline for public comments to July 15, 2019.
  • Contact your state’s elected officials to let them know you support state-level protection for gray wolves.
  • Join an organization advocating for gray wolves.
  • Learn about gray wolves and share what you learn with your family and friends (see resources section for links).
  • Provide financial support for organizations focused on protecting gray wolves.

Of course, the gray wolf is just one species that we need to protect.

Endangered Species Day Action

I propose an action for Endangered Species Day.

Imagine what we could accomplish if each one of us made a point of learning about one endangered animal or plant species and then did something to protect it. You could share information on social media, write a letter to the editor, call your state senator, make a public comment, or write a check to an advocacy nonprofit. You get the idea.

Here is the comment I submitted about the USFWS plan to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list.

Gray Wolf Delisting Public Comment - L Poppenheimer

Apparently, the United Nations has endangered species and biodiversity on their minds, too, because, on May 6, 2019, they issued a summary of an alarming report about how humans are accelerating the loss of biodiversity and species extinction thereby endangering our own wellbeing and survival. It is worth reading.

Featured Image at Top: Bald eagle in flight at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge – photo credit Tom Koemer, USFWS.

Related Posts

Books about Biodiversity – by Edward O. Wilson

  • Biophilia – published by Harvard University Press, January 13, 1984
  • Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life – published by Liveright, April 4, 2017
  • The Biophilia Hypothesis – published by Shearwater, April 10, 2013
  • The Future of Life – published by Knopf, January 8, 2002
  • Also, see the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation website.

Resources – Gray Wolves