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Activism and Now Impact Investing: How Rain Forest Action Network is Making a Difference

I had the privilege of being in Sun Valley Idaho with the Rain Forest Action Network (RAN) last week, and I walked away as inspired as ever about the potential of impact investing to address climate change.

The RAN event in the Wood River Valley was a terrific opportunity to highlight the benefits of divesting from fossil fuel holdings and to urge investors to refocus their portfolios on solutions-focused companies—those developing innovative clean technology for the planet. Our panel consisted of Patrick McCully, Climate and Energy Director of RAN and Lisa Cooper of Figure 8 and was moderated by Aimee Christensen of the Sun Valley Institute. It was a lively, wide-ranging conversation. We discussed the causes and contributors to climate change, how to address both the large oil extracting companies, as well as the big banks who are actively funding fossil fuel projects, such as the Keystone XL pipeline. We shared both our urgency to act and our strategies to reduce global warming, transform and re-build our economy to being sustainable, inclusive and resilient.

I am particularly pleased with RAN’s appreciation for the power of impact investing. While RAN events are largely intended to engage donors, and share their powerful corporate engagement strategies, they increasingly embrace the alignment of investment capital with philanthropic missions. Yes, it is still absolutely crucial to support the much-needed efforts of our environmental activist organizations. Their work to take on the big polluters such as J.P. Morgan Chase and other large banks who are currently funding large, often multi-national fossil fuel projects is an essential piece of the puzzle. Yet, to actually achieve the temperature and emission goals to reverse global warming, we need to expand our approach and bring pressure to bear through engagement within as well as divestment from the capital markets.

To accelerate the transition to a just and sustainable next economy, we need to act in several ways simultaneously. First, we need to contribute to those organizations calling out the bad acting corporations (Thank you RAN, Greenpeace, Amazon Watch for your expert campaigns and devotion to preserving our planet.) Second, we must also align our investments with our values of sustainability. From the banks where we store cash, write checks and make deposits, to companies held in our 401k plans and everything in between, its time to connect the dots and re-think where we allocate our capital.

Making Progress

In the spirit of collective progress, I also share some of the messages that resonated with the audience on my visit to the Wood River Valley.

Investing with impact is going mainstream. Investors are becoming more savvy and more vocal about their desire to leverage their assets to create the world they want to see. Instead of passive indexes holding large polluting companies, investors are looking for strategic portfolios of innovative, solutions-focused businesses. Many individuals are looking to place capital in their local communities into solar projects with a double bottom line – profitability and support for the environment.

2. A cultural reset is happening in terms of women in corporate America. If you caught the Golden Globes, you would have experienced the same level of solidarity for women here in Idaho, far from the red carpet. The importance of gender diversity is being called out at important decision-making tables in government, in finance, in the venture capital world and among entrepreneurs. From the environmental movement to the impact investing movement, 2018 is the year for women to lead.

3. The Trump administration remains a wildcard. Like many people across the country, Idaho investors and philanthropists are increasingly concerned about the current Administration’s positions on climate change and environmental regulation. The Administration’s decisions to remove environmental protections, as well the proposals to place tariffs on the solar industry are a threat to all of us. There is growing sentiment that the civil sector has a significant role to play in aligning our investment dollars with our environmental goals. We as a nation must deploy our investment portfolios to advance solutions that address climate change.

The good news is that individuals, communities and municipalities who support sustainability have never been more united in their purpose. May 2018 be the year we each support the powerful work of RAN and other organizations making a true difference for our climate, and may we each move our assets to institutions and investments promoting an environmentally sustainable world for all of us.

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