Author Archive

Feds tweak rules to encourage social investing by foundations

A new set of regulations issued by the US Department of Treasury opens the door for private foundations to direct more of their investments to socially and environmentally beneficial projects.  Foundations are careful to separate their investment portfolio, used to grow their asset base, from the funds used to further their charitable mission, distributed in the form of grants or loans.  In recent years, many foundations that wanted to support social entrepreneurship or make loans to organizations within the areas of their missions had to treat these as part of their grant-making budget, rather than as part of their investment portfolio.

The new rules clarify that foundations “can factor in how the anticipated charitable outcomes from the investment might further the foundation’s mission in addition to the financial returns that are typically considered.  Thus, a foundation may prudently choose to make investments that provide both a charitable and a financial return without fear of facing a tax penalty.”

For more on this welcome new Zone 8 and 9 development, see this press release, issued by the Director of what sounds like a fantastic place to work: the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.

Also, see this recent article from the Natural Investment News, in which our own Michael Kramer discussed the implications of the new rules and related changes at the IRS.

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Exponential manufacturing 2016

The emergence of distributed manufacturing, fueled by the spread of ever more capable 3D printers, is central to our future, but at the same time, its potentials are kind of hard to understand—where we’re headed won’t look much like what we’ve come to know as “manufacturing.”  Put this promising ambiguity alongside the continued maturation of robotics, especially when networked (and so able to share new training instantly), and we’re looking at a level of autonomy that also challenges many of our familiar ways of thinking about machines, from assembly lines to rush hour traffic.

The good folks at Singularity University are, as ever, out there at the forefront of these innovations, casting a bit of light into topics that most of us can barely grasp the implications of.  This week, they’re hosting the first Exponential Manufacturing conference; sessions are being broadcast live, and with any luck will be archived for future reference.  They’ve also put together an excellent collection of recent posts, billed as a “crash course in a few of the latest developments in manufacturing,” that’s well worth a perusal.  Here’s a taste of what you’ll learn about:

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Al Gore’s climate optimism

Earlier this year, a new talk by Al Gore was posted on the TED site: The case for optimism on climate change.  The 20-minute talk and subsequent short interview with TED-meister Chris Anderson is well worth a look.  Much of his optimism centers on the rapid shift in electricity production:

The best projections 14 years ago were that we would install one gigawatt of solar per year by 2010. When 2010 came around, we beat that mark by 17 times over. Last year, we beat it by 58 times over. This year, we’re on track to beat it 68 times over. We’re going to win this. We are going to prevail. When I came to this stage 10 years ago, this is where (the growth curve for solar) was (see arrow on image at top of post). We have seen a revolutionary breakthrough in the emergence of these exponential curves.

Gore quotes economist Rudi Dornbusch, who said, “Things take longer to happen then you think they will, and then they happen much faster than you thought they could.”  Importantly, the business community has been quick to jump onto the bandwagon, and in fact has been crucial to the rate at which its been gathering steam.  “This is the biggest new business opportunity in the history of the world, and two-thirds of it is in the private sector,” notes Gore. “We are seeing an explosion of new investment. Starting in 2010, investments globally in renewable electricity generation surpassed fossils. The gap has been growing ever since.”

Beyond these trends, Gore stresses the underlying nature of humanity, and of fundamental social changes:

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Is impact investing about market-rate returns—or redistribution and reparations?

In the wake of a recent conference on Finance & Democracy, Leslie Christian highlighted a fundamental tension within the philanthropic and impact investing community: at what point, if ever, do those with extreme wealth begin easing up on the “do well” side of the equation, and start putting more of their resources into the “doing good” mission?  In a brief post titled Confluence…or Collision?, Christian is pleased to see that “the rarefied world of Wall Street investing and its ‘good investors’ is now being infiltrated and questioned by a small, vocal, and growing number of people with wealth who are eager to question and redefine investing.”  She shares a striking moment, when one of the conference participants rose to challenge the underlying mindset of the managers of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, which has been praised for its decision to divest from fossil fuels:

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US is a nation of regions, not states

Readers of The Resilient Investor will remember that our picture of more vibrant local economies is rooted in a shift from national and international trade networks toward increasingly vibrant regional economic systems.  A recent article in the NYTimes speaks to the emerging regional character of the US economy and society, suggesting that national policy should be redirected from state-specific funding, and instead nourish the already-emerging regional networks, which can then breathe new life into their surrounding rural areas and depressed smaller cities:

America is increasingly divided not between red states and blue states, but between connected hubs and disconnected backwaters. Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution has pointed out that of America’s 350 major metro areas, the cities with more than three million people have rebounded far better from the financial crisis. Meanwhile, smaller cities like Dayton, Ohio, already floundering, have been falling further behind, as have countless disconnected small towns across the country.

Here’s the map of the US that the authors suggest we begin to plan around (click for larger version):

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Kramer on permaculture in life and finances

Here’s an author interview that takes some fresh new angles: Michael Kramer recently spoke to the folks at Urban Farm about the ways that permaculture has informed both his life and our resilient investing approach.  The interview can’t be embedded here, but you can hear it on the Urban Farm page: Michael Kramer on Permaculture and Economics.  Poke around their site a bit; you’re likely to find other articles and interviews that’ll be of interest.

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Great collection of green burial info

Ah, good old Grist.  Too often lost in the modern online cacophony, I’m always grateful for the bits of their work that float to the surface of my info-stream.  This one tackles an asset that totally blurs the tangible/personal line, your own body.  Resilient investing tend to lump most of the body-related stuff into the “personal assets” row: health, career, learning.  But once we die, well, our body gets pretty darn tangible for our loved ones, and this Grist piece, Find out how you can reduce your footprint even after you’ve kicked the bucket, is a great primer on what to do—and what not to do—with your tangible remains.  As they set the stage:

As the sole species responsible for filling the oceans with plastic, pumping the atmosphere full of pollution, clear cutting the world’s forests, and bringing about what could be the sixth great mass extinction, it’s perhaps fitting that when we die, we turn our own corpses into toxic flesh bags that ensure ecological damage for years and years to come. It’s as if someone dared us to come up with the most environmentally harmful burial practices imaginable, and we dutifully complied, stopping just short of strapping vials of radioactive waste to our chests on our way to the grave.

Okay, you got my attention!  So what are my options?  Well, for starters,

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The latest in coming to grips with the Anthropecene

This is a one-two punch I couldn’t resist: one of my top-5 journalists recommending a powerful new essay by my favorite “recent discovery” in earth-connected literature.  Even better, Andrew Revkin and Robert Macfarlane are both riffing on one of the juicier umbrella topics for thinking about our rapidly-changing world: the Anthropocene, or the idea that the human mark on the planet is likely to take its place as the latest geological epoch.

Both Revkin and Macfarlane set out to point our attention to the best of the recent writing on this key topic. Revkin, in large part, welcomes Macfarlane’s recent piece as a chance to take a break from his regular dips into the recent literature, but he adds a few of his own recent faves at the end of his column.  By contrast, Macfarlane’s extended essay in The Guardian presents a rich and complex introduction to the topic.  You couldn’t find a better starting point (just as you couldn’t find a better deep-dive for learning about the field than those regular dips collected on Revkin’s site).  Here’s a first taste, then click through for more excerpts:

There are good reasons to be sceptical of the epitaphic impulse to declare “the end of nature”. There are also good reasons to be sceptical of the Anthropocene’s absolutism, the political presumptions it encodes, and the specific histories of power and violence that it masks. But the Anthropocene is a massively forceful concept, and as such it bears detailed thinking through. Though it has its origin in the Earth sciences and advanced computational technologies, its consequences have rippled across global culture during the last 15 years. Conservationists, environmentalists, policymakers, artists, activists, writers, historians, political and cultural theorists, as well as scientists and social scientists in many specialisms, are all responding to its implications.

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World Bank ups climate change funding

The World Bank plans to continue its aggressive funding of climate-related projects over the next four years, gradually increasing its combined total funding and leveraged co-financing from private investors to $29 billion per year, 28% of its total outlays (up from today’s 21%)  and enough to meet nearly a third of the global target of $100 billion per year that was set at the Paris climate talks.  In addition to these funding plans, all World Bank programs will consider climate impacts in future investments.

Projects in the pipeline include quadrupling funding for climate-resilient transport, a project in Mexico to reduce deforestation and forest degredation in an areas the size of Connecticut, and seven solar PV projects in Jordan, and development of an early-warning system for extreme weather events in areas that would help protect one hundred million people.

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Kramer media juggernaut rolls on: video interview on Natural Investments and fossil-fuel divestment

Michael Kramer continues to put the rest of our author team to shame in the media-appearance department; this time, we find him on ThinkTechHawaii, a daily online show based in his home state.  The first half of this interview is a great overview of what Natural Investments’ approach to SRI is all about, including our new resilient investing framework; the second half digs into an initiative in the Hawaii state legislature to have the Employees Retirement System divest from fossil fuels.

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Planetary futurecraft: the time is now

We’ve long highlighted the dearth of novels and films about how humanity might marshall our ingenuity and societal focus to get from here to a better/wiser/saner future.  Most of the stories about the future seem to be set in post-breakdown dystopias or seriously degraded, “muddle-down” worlds.  And the few “breakthrough” tales, like Star Trek, offer no sense of how the transition occurred.

One of our favorite next-gen futurists, Alex Steffen, is aiming to do something about that.  He’s not shifting gears and becoming a novelist—that could be great!—but he is gearing up to weave together a story that points the way forward.  At a time when every year of delay ups the ante on our game of chance with the climate, and during a season in which the US political world is being shaken from all sides, he reminds us:

When we can imagine no future we want, something far more dangerous takes its place in our minds: the future we fear. Without visions of progress worth coming together to fight for, crisis tears people apart. That’s no accident, either. Divide and rule. Where there is no vision, people are easy prey. … You’d think that this would be when the Very Serious People who’ve been running our countries, corporations and culture would step up and counter that fear-mongering with leadership and vision. You’d be wrong.

They can’t lead us because every good future is now a heroic one, and they’re not heroes. They’re managers and accountants and gatekeepers, (telling) us that all we can do is take small steps, support slow transitions, gradual improvements, incremental policy gains.

If you know Steffen at all, you know he won’t settle for that!  Alex cut his teeth running Worldchanging, the crowd-sourced, solutions-oriented compendium that was a new-millenium grandchild of the venerable Whole Earth Catalog.  He then moved on to write Carbon Zero, a look at what it will take to decarbonize our cities, along with a series of powerful clarion calls for change, including a profoundly thoughtful 50-year vision, Putting the Future Back in the Room, and a recent “here’s how we did it” talk framed as recollections from 2115.

Now he’s putting that same energy, and all he learned along the way, into a project he’s calling

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