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.

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Minimalism – Procrastination

Action begets action.

Once you reach the almost inevitable procrastination phase of becoming a minimalist, accept it and then try taking a small action to overcome your inertia. It worked for me.

Footprint on Earth Globe - Carbon Footprint

People decide to become minimalists living happily with less stuff for a variety of reasons. Mine is the desire to live more lightly on Earth. Take a moment to remind yourself of why you are on your own minimalist quest.

If you are like many if not most aspiring minimalists, you will likely begin by divesting yourself of things you own that you no longer need, want, or use.

Simultaneously, you will probably have to change your shopping and buying habits and perhaps revamp your gift exchanging philosophy. If you don’t, you may find yourself in an infinite loop of acquisition and divestment.

The divestment stage could take you a few weeks or several years. My spouse and I are taking the multi-year approach for a variety of reasons some of which I explained in a previous post entitled Minimalism for Couples – Getting Rid of Stuff. We made a lot of progress in years one and two and then procrastination set in.

Some stuff that we had decided to part ways with somehow began settling into our garage refusing to leave. Worse, I was allowing it to reside there.

Why Do People Procrastinate?

Procrastinators Meeting Postponed Sign

Of course, I am no expert on why people procrastinate, but my impression from reading about the topic over the years is that like many things involving humans, it is complicated.

There are many reasons you might put off doing things that you could or should be doing now. Ramifications for procrastinating vary in severity from significant to none.

For instance, say you are facing a looming deadline for a project at work. You need help but you are embarrassed to ask for it. Stressed out you decide to scroll through your social media feed looking for cat videos and other distracting content. If you miss the deadline, the repercussions could be minor or major. It probably depends on things like the importance of the project, your track record, and your boss’ management style.

Sometimes, dilly-dallying might be considered a good thing.

In this scenario, it is Sunday. Your laundry has piled up to the extent that no one in the family has enough clean socks to make it through next week. Instead of doing the laundry you choose to spend the day with your kids at a nearby park eating a picnic lunch and tossing a Frisbee around. Everyone has a great time. The repercussions are minor. You either do the laundry that night or everyone selects their least dirty pair of socks to wear the next day. (Minimalists do not go out to buy new socks).

For me, having stuff hanging out in my garage was low on the scale of the bad consequences, but once I overcame my inertia, I was able to enjoy the benefits of taking action.

Minimalists Procrastinate, Too

Our garage houses my spouse’s prototype shop, my car, gardening equipment, kayaking gear, and stuff from when our kids were children (another future divestment project). Our garage does not have room to spare.

At least six months ago, we had placed several items for donation in our garage intending to move them out quickly. These consisted of two teak steamer chairs with cushions in excellent condition, a somewhat faded market umbrella with a heavy metal stand, and parts for three multi-tiered wire storage baskets on wheels.

The only space to temporarily stage these items was a 4’ x 4’ space at the front of the garage near the cupboard where I store my gardening tools. With little clearance between the pile and the cupboard, it was not easy to get things out or put them away. (I forgot to photograph the pile.)

Somehow I had gotten it into my head that I wanted these items to go to the nonprofit Habit for Humanity ReStore in the “big” city located about 35 miles from our small town. It was my understanding that a ReStore takes in donated home improvement items and then resells them to the public but I had no idea whether they would accept our items or not.

I said I would find out. I even put it on my “to do” list.

Months later the stuff was still sitting in the garage annoying me every time I wanted to get out a shovel, hoe, or loppers. I kept saying to myself and sometimes to my spouse, “I need to call the ReStore to find out if they will take this stuff.” But, I did not do it.

More time passed until not long ago on a warm day in April, I wrestled my shovel out of the gardening cupboard so I could go dig up some invasive thistles. When I turned around, I looked at the donation pile and sighed for the umpteenth time.

Then it struck me. Someone could be relaxing in one of the steamer chairs right now sipping a cold glass of iced tea under the umbrella—if we had actually donated them.

That was not motivation enough for me to pick up the phone and call the ReStore, however, I did make a note on my calendar for the next Thursday when we would be going into the city to run errands and participate in an SLO Climate Coalition meeting. I thought we could easily swing by the ReStore to ask them if they would take our items.

Habitat Restore in San Luis Obispo, CA

We did stop by the San Luis Obispo South ReStore on the way to the meeting. The friendly gal manning the checkout counter said they would take our things and asked if we could drop them off.

The next Thursday we were scheduled to attend a monthly meeting of the San Luis Obispo chapter of the California Native Plant Society, so I wrote ReStore on my calendar. The afternoon of the meeting we wiped the dust and cobwebs off the items, loaded everything in the back of our 1999 Chevy Tahoe, and headed for the ReStore.

The guy running the store that day was not too happy that we arrived after the volunteers had gone home, but he did seem pleased with our donation items. When he saw the steamer chairs he said, “We can sell these in a heartbeat.”

He asked if we had photos of what the baskets looked like put together. Thanks to my spouse we did. I said I would email the photos the next day (I did).

As we were driving away, I felt relieved and happy. We had cleared out space in our garage but more importantly, it seemed likely that our chairs would soon find a new home with people who would appreciate and use them.

That accomplishment reinvigorated me. Now, I am ready to tackle more divestment tasks.

Overcoming Procrastination

Red Reset Button

Committing to one small action and not trying to tackle the whole project at once made it possible for me to clear up my inaction logjam.

Stopping by the ReStore on the way to somewhere else was easy and it did not necessarily mean I had to do anything further. Fortunately, that step encouraged me to take the next one.

If your minimalism divestment process is stalled, perhaps one or more of the ideas below will help you get moving again.

  • Accept that you have procrastinated.
  • Give yourself a break and do not beat yourself up for not taking action sooner.
  • Imagine your items being used and enjoyed by someone else.
  • Break down the project into smaller parts.
  • Pick an easy thing to do first.

Okay, now it is your turn.

Decide on one small and easy action you can take that would put a dent in your divestment roadblock even just a tiny bit. Then do it. Repeat this process as necessary until your minimalist journey is back on track.

Featured Image at Top: Coffee cup, pen, and a piece of paper with the words “The best way to get something done is to begin” on a wood table top – photo credit iStock/marekuliasz.

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