The Resilient Investor lays out a dynamic framework that anyone can use to enhance personal, community, and societal resilience. But the book is only a starting place; this blog will keep you current with our latest thinking, and plugged into the exciting, evolving global conversation around facing our uncertain future.

We’ll be digging deeper into several core areas—living resiliently, new opportunities across the Resilient Investing Map, and a range of viewpoints on future scenarios—and we’ll also be engaging with others, sharing the best of what we come across online and adding our two cents to their thoughts. We’re hoping to spur some conversation around these topics, so feel free to chime in, either in comments or by sending us an email. Thanks for joining us!

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Best of 2015 from Stockholm Resilience Centre

Scandinavians have grappled with social challenges more diligently than most of the rest of the world, and it’s no different in the realm of resilience.  The Stockholm Resilience Centre has long been the global leader in researching and teaching about the nuts and bolts of what resilience is and what it can offer to communities, planners, and the world.  They’ve just compiled their most-requested new papers of 2015, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better syllabus for getting up to speed with the most current municipal experiments and global thinking in resilience.  Topics range far and wide, with a special emphasis on recent practical attempts to implement resilience, along with the important question of how we can or should assess or measure resilience.  If you’re active in local or regional resilience planning or Transition Town programs, you really do need to jump on over to the SRC website and peruse this collection.

Here’s a taste of the topics covered; their site includes a full-page summary of each one, some with video and most with a sidebar of related papers and links:

  • Learning to apply resilience: First in-depth analysis of a resilience assessment put into practice
  • Don’t fence me in: Managing ecosystems for predictable outcomes may backfire, new study warns
  • Beyond measure?: Reducing resilience to a few measurements can block deeper understanding
  • Planetary Boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet
  • Five factors for successful management of natural capital: Strategies for successful governance, for both people and ecosystems

Kudos to the Centre both for funding this important work, and for offering such complete summaries of each paper to help guide visitors to the ones that are most relevant for them.  Great work!

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Book review from The Permaculture Investor

Not along ago, we were introduced to Brad Kaellner, a kindred spirit who is engaging in the world of investing from a foundation in permaculture.  He recently did a solid brief review of our book, which he called “a relatively short book with a big vision,” and noted:

My favorite chapter was “Tales of Resilient Living” where the three authors share how they use the Resilient Investing Map to guide their unique investment plans based on their personal outlooks and personalities.

Returning the favor, we’d like to say that Brad’s Permaculture Investor website is a valuable resource, especially for those new to investing or to adding a social and environmental overlay to their investment decisions.  He’s studying to become an SRI financial advisor, and shares what he’s learning, as well as accessible overviews of investing strategies; he also pokes around in the dirt a bit, shedding light on some of the lessons he’s learned as he tries to more fully align his money-making decisions with his values.  We look forward to following his journey!

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Big business stepping up its climate game as the future beckons

With the world’s attention focused on the COP21 climate talks in Paris, there are encouraging signs that the business world is ready to get fully on board and become as much a part of the solution as the problem.  Conservation International’s CEO Peter Seligman is encouraged:

If we are going to meet the challenges of a changing climate, we must accelerate nature-based solutions with deep involvement by the business sector. I am optimistic, because I see many companies recognizing that climate change is an economic issue — it affects sourcing, logistics and global markets. Sustainability is no longer an afterthought. It is an integral part of corporate operations and supply chains.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Leggett at Winning the Carbon War reports from Paris that “fully a thousand mayors announced that their cities were pledging to 100% renewable power targets” and that institutional commitments to fossil fuel divestment jumped by over 25% in just the past ten weeks.  Even more encouraging is a move by the G20 countries to form a Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) charged helping financial markets get a better handle on rapidly increasing climate change risks.  It will be chaired by Michael Bloomberg, who laid down the gauntlet:

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Fast Company highlights Natural Investments’ 1% giving program

Fast Company recently ran an article on Building the Business Case for Doing Good, a topic that’s obviously right up our alley.  So we were very pleased to be among the companies that the author reached out to as she was putting it together. The topic was workplace philanthropy, and Natural Investment Managing Partner (and Resilient Investor co-author) Michael Kramer outlined NI’s 1% giving program, whereby our collaborative team of independent advisors decides where to direct their portion of the annual gifting. Thanks to Fast Company for including us!


Mindless consumption always becomes excess consumption

A quick and simple think piece on reducing consumption caught our eye this week.  9 Intentional Ways to Challenge Consumerism in Your Life addresses a topic that lies at the heart of resilient investing’s Zone 5 (Tangible Assets/Sustainable Global Economy), yet one that we rarely take the time to really grapple with.  Joshua Becker, author of Simplify and Clutterfree with Kids offers up (you guessed it) nine themes to consider, and the comment thread that follows is also rewarding.  His core thought is the one in our headline: mindless consumption always becomes excess consumption.  If this triggers a twinge for you, then you’d probably benefit from taking a look at what Becker has to say. These two struck us as especially fruitful:

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Root Capital: “Investing in Resilience” for world’s farmers

Root Capital is a well-established nonprofit social investment fund that focuses on small farm businesses in the developing world.  They lend capital, provide training, and build the local market ecosystems that can help these small and growing businesses thrive. Like many others, Root Capital is rallying around the idea of resilience as a practical and powerful way to respond to the uncertainties of our changing climate.  Their new Issue Brief addresses this head-on; it’s called Investing in Resilience: A Shared Value Approach to Agricultural Extension.  As they note in the Executive Summary:

The science is clear: climate change is coming. What is less clear is how climate change will impact specific farmers, supply chains, or countries over different time horizons, and how stakeholders should prepare for these impacts. . .  . This issue brief focuses on scaling the use of climate-smart practices among smallholder farmers by working through local agricultural enterprises, such as farmer cooperatives or processors. Aggregating hundreds or often thousands of dispersed smallholder farmers, these enterprises represent a significant, but often overlooked, channel for delivering “last mile” agricultural extension – that is, services that provide farmers with the information and skills they need to improve their farming practices.

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We’re Rebels With a Cause, says Financial Advisor mag

We’re psyched that this month’s Financial Advisor magazine includes a feature on our company, Natural Investments, under the title Rebels With a Cause.  It provides a solid overview of what we do and why we do it.  The author spoke with Michael and Christopher, along with two of our long-time NI colleagues, Susan Taylor and Scott Secrest, about the expansion of the company over the past couple of decades.  As Michael explained, “We get approached periodically (by advisors who would like to join the company) and we’re very selective because we want to make sure it’s the right fit with our very small company. The people we bring on really have to walk their talk and not just see this as business. We want people where this is really core to who they are because clients want us to be leaders in social and environmental change. ”

And Susan expressed our core purpose very well here:

We’re in this industry where standard Wall Street thought has, in my opinion, defined capitalism in an extreme way. And we have lots of clients who are longtime activists and social critics who question whether they should even be in the stock market. We live between those two perspectives.

I think extreme capitalism, where profit is the only thing that matters, isn’t the way capitalism was intended. Our planet and social structure can’t survive with that version of capitalism. That’s not sustainable in the long run on a social or mental health model, or any way you look at it. How do we take what works with capitalism and make it better, and make sure human and environmental health have a priority that supersedes profits? Yes, profits matter, but it can’t matter exclusively.

Enjoy the whole article here.

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Feeble stock market propped up by success of its own 1%

One of the key drivers to the development of the resilient investing system is the recognition that we can no longer count on the steady long-term growth of the stock market to be the driver for growing our assets. Frequent extreme volatility, with the market struggling to keep up with inflation over the course of a decade of downs and ups, as well as uncertainty about whether ecological limits, increased costs of scarce raw materials, or social unrest will undermine the steady-growth machine of the global economy, all led us to step back a bit and look at ways to “wean from Wall Street.”

Still, even in a year of sputtering markets and big global economic disruptions, the S&P 500 is holding steady, so that’s a good thing, right?  Well, maybe, maybe not.  It turns out that five companies (yup, 1%) are responsible for keeping the ship on an even keel.  If we disregarded the big years from “mega-cap” companies Amazon, Alphabet/Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and GE, the market would be down 2.2%—and unless you hold some of the big winners, you may be down as well.  Amazon is up over 100% year-to-date and the other four are up 16-40%, while the rest of the “gang of 500” underperformed so much that the index as a whole only eked out a 0.06% gain.

Just another reminder that resilient investors will want to continue to pursue a much broader approach to diversification than simply having your eggs in a range of Wall Street baskets. Our book The Resilient Investor discusses ways of weaning off Wall Street that include community investing, a focus on personal and tangible assets, and a wide range of related strategies.

 

 

 

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Recollections from 2115

Alex Steffen recently gave a keynote talk at The Nature Conservancy’s annual trustees meeting that could serve as a statement of purpose for the Dreamers and Drivers among us who continue to believe that we can find our way through the eye of the historical needle.  It’s in the form of a talk to a conservation gathering a hundred years from now, looking back:

We’ve lost so much. We came far too close to losing nearly everything. If things went on as they were, we might have.

Instead, we live today on a healing planet. Yes, much has been lost, but much was saved or restored or reinvented, and what was saved and healed and made anew has become a powerful legacy.

Those gifts became the seedbeds from which sprouted our new world. That we have so much left from which to coax a long and bountiful tomorrow is no accident. Those seeds of hope were saved and planted and tended to by people who made the decision that they would live as if the future mattered. As if nature mattered. As if we mattered.

These were visionary people. Responsible people. Courageous people. All around the world, our best ancestors took up the challenge of leaving a different, bolder legacy, one not of error and loss, but of leadership, stewardship, innovation.

Take five minutes to soak in Steffen’s vision of how we became the ancestors who, “when they understood the planetary crisis they faced, their answer was not cynicism or surrender, but to seek out others and together meet that crisis with action.” It’ll perk you up for another day of doing what we can today to assure that our descendants have a future worth living in.  (That final link is another compelling essay, in which Steffen makes the moral case for not giving in to despair.)

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New Grist series: Industrial Evolution

We all recognize the plusses and minuses wrought by the industrial revolution.  But how many of us are tuned into the potentially even more transformative potentials of the current Industrial Evolution? The venerable eco-media site Grist is putting a new, more human spin on some of the same territory covered by the folks at Singularity (the techno-zeal of which can sometimes be more than a little discomfiting, even as it inspires).  Grist’s Industrial Evolution series starts with this statement of purpose:

What if we were on the brink of a sustainable tech revolution, and we didn’t even know it? Not the kind of revolution that would put solar panels and low-flow shower heads in every home in America, but one that would fundamentally change how our technologies interact with the natural world?

Thanks to recent advances in biotechnology, we can now engineer biological systems like machines. And thanks to advances in sensor technology, wireless networking, and materials engineering, we can build machines that act biological. Together, these trends could usher in a more sustainable future — one where our built world seamlessly integrates with the environment, rather than disrupts and destroys it.

But that will only happen if we develop these new technologies in a conscientious and responsible way. In this series, we speak with a group of individuals who are doing just that. They’re scientists, artists, and thinkers, and they see a high-tech, sustainable future on the horizon.

There are ten articles in the series so far, with more continuing to be rolled out.  Check it out!

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Two more notches in the fossil-fuel-free belt

Following up on this post from a couple weeks ago, here are two more striking indications that fossil fuel investing is becoming a losing game.  An analysis by Canadian research company Corporate Knights has found that 14 of the world’s largest institutional investors would have done much better over the past 3 years if they had divested from their major fossil fuel holdings and expanded investment in environmentally-oriented companies they already own.  The fourteen have a collective total of just over a trillion dollar in holdings, a figure that would have been 22 billion dollars (2%) higher had they divested.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was especially hard-hit; it totals about $40 billion, and left $1.9 billion (4.6%) on the table by sticking with its fossil fuel holdings.  The divestment criteria used is similar to the earlier comparison using the S&P 500 as a benchmark, targeting the Carbon Underground 200 (companies that have the largest as-yet-untapped reserves of coal, oil, and gas), plus utilities that generate more than 30% of their power using coal.

Meanwhile, MSCI, one of the world’s leading providers of financial indexes, made a simple tweak in its All Country World Index (ACWI), simply dropping 124 companies that have large reserves of oil, gas, or coal on their books.  The resultant fossil fuel free global index outperformed the ACWI by 60% in its first year (gaining 6.5%, versus 4.1%).  Tom Kuh, head of ESG indexes for MSCI, stressed that “Carbon is increasingly becoming a factor that investors are looking at in understanding risk in their portfolios.”  Responding to this concern, MSCI will be providing carbon footprints for all of its indexes beginning next year.

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Future Economy: rhetoric or reality?

There seems to be no shortage of “practical visionaries” with big ideas about how we’re reshaping our global and local economies to be more just, ecological, and responsible.  A joint initiative of EcoTrust and e3 (economists for equity and the environment) called Future Economy is producing reports that seek to answer the key question about such initiatives: are they mostly hype and hope, or are they something really new that’s emerging and can make a large-scale difference?

The first minute or so of this video gets at the purpose here:

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