Sustainable investing 101

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Volunteer Image Author Nattanan23

As a young independent adult, one of the things I’m learning about is investing. I want to be able to invest and at the same time bring about a social change. This blog post contains basic terminologies, who this is for, how to start with sustainable investing and some resources if you are still interested. This kind of investing goes by several names and approaches such as:

  • Socially responsible investing (SRI)
  • Sustainable investing
  • Responsible investing
  • Impact investing
  • Ethical investing
  • Green investing
  • Socially conscious investing
  • Community investing
  • Positive investing
  • Green bonds
  • Climate bonds
  • Eco-investing
  • Development impact bonds
  • Ethical banking
  • Purpose-driven finance
  • Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Investment

Who is this for?

Sustainable investing is for everyone and according to experts it doesn’t mean low returns. It is not just for those who care about bringing about social change.

How do I start?

Whenever starting something new, research is inevitable. I’m not an expert but this might help:

  • Find out if a local bank has portfolios such as socially responsible mutual funds and sectoral investments. Back in India, it was difficult for me to explain this to a bank or a portfolio manager because there this concept is not widespread. However, it is catching up. In 2014, India was the first country to mandate a minimum spend on corporate social responsibility initiatives.
  • Divest from investments that do not align with this strategy.
  • Hire an investment advisory firm that specialize in integrating environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors into the selection and management of investments.
  • Fund projects that want to bring about social change.

Resources:

 

Extent and limitations of a business going green

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Green economy is the economy that takes into measure the environmental consequences current technologies have created. The three pillars of sustainability as they are called are: economy, society and environment. While companies do embrace this, they fail to make their mark. So, how does a green business, that believes in sustainable development, limits its growth and how can it overcome it?

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(Image credit: 48hourslogo)

Here are some parameters that can measure a company’s extent and limitations:

#1 Going ‘green’: Green is called nature’s color. But it is not wise to color your websites and offices in all possible shades of green: green wall, green chair, green pens. It can come across as a green wash. It affects your brand and credibility. Jeremy Heimans, co-founder of GetUp and of Avaaz.org, calls it the ‘green vomit‘. Instead let your greenness reflect in your inner and outer workings of the company. Embrace energy efficiency and less polluting strategies. Save water. Become an eco-friendly business at all levels possible. Help others do the same. It does make business sense to do that. Lead your way.

#2 Keeping intentions clear: Environmental responsibility is possible with profitability but not at the expense of it.The third pillar of sustainability is economy which cannot be forgotten. A business is capable of solving environmental and social problems, although it is not what it is primarily based on. Take, IKEA for instance. IKEA is a Swedish company that designs and sells ready-to-assemble furniture, appliances and home accessories and does green business with solar-panels. IKEA doesn’t accept child-labour and supports sustainable forestry. Companies like this are doing well since green business is now popular among consumers.

#3 Incentives: Just because one cares about having a healthy and clean environment doesn’t mean he/she has to work for a green company at low wages. It is a deterrent because everyone works for a living. Pump up some creativity in everything you do and it is bound to grab some attention. Honesty is the best policy. Millennials will dig it. Instead of making people guilty of not recycling, how about creating incentives for the process? What do you think about Coca-cola’s new idea about making recycling fun? Have a look at this video:

#4 Transparency: A business is affected by how transparent it is in its actions. Sustainability reporting is one way to convey transparency. Whoever expresses it the best is at an advantage.

What else do you think that businesses can do to go green without limiting themselves?

 

This article was first published on LinkedIn.

Innovation Capitalism

India is one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Its propensity for innovation is apparent from a term widely used – jugaad. ‘Jugaad’ means an innovative idea for a resourceful improvisation. It is a land that hosts creative thinkers that have made place like Ralegan Siddhi a model for environmental conservation. By announcing newer reforms to combat economic decline, it has attracted foreign participation in investment. This serves as a helping hand for those waiting for such an opportunity.

To idealize India by saying it can become a stable country, is to ignore the fact that the problems it faces will never disappear in totality. It applies to other countries as well. Stagnancy of people’s wills to adapt will be the very obstacle in India’s path towards growth. Innovation capitalism will stimulate perturbation of attitude, reveal challenges for people to passionately work through. It will consequently provide the necessary employment. It changes the way we do things and change when embraced and worked upon can change our course to some place better. India’s high populace count not only translates into high consumerism but also into much needed power to fuel innovation.

Unwillingness of public is rooted in the lack of awareness of existing problems. It is therefore ignorance on the part of the people of the country when they fail to recognize the ramifications of extant issues. Power lies in the sheer number of people that reside in India. To use the willingness of such elephantine population is to help bring about the necessary change. A sense of thoughtfulness over the current scenario coupled with resource availability can help. Jonathan Rowson of the Royal Society of Arts says that our perception of waste is relative to our experience of scarcity. Along similar lines, without the screaming perception of exhaustibility of resources, the ground of innovation thus cannot be laid.

Unrealistic ideologies often weaken the grasp of reality. Some start-ups often take up a very good idea but fail to produce the desired results. This may be due to lack of transparency and effective communication, two among various other possible reasons. Out of desperation, some even start with a false purpose. When an organization turns a business idea into a fake social cause, it is sure to attract its own doom than true innovators. Starting with a false ideology will not help the idea to become a reality. Start-ups can do what huge organizations can’t and this is where their potential lies. They are flexible, adapt to changes apace and are unaffected by bureaucracy as much as bigger organizations are. They take in the middle-class that provides stability to the economy. Start-ups enjoy the freedom that many big organizations don’t. While venture capitalists and angel investors are in the limelight when it comes to start-up funding, personal loans and investments from friends and family make a huge share of contribution. Crowdfunding too works many a times. It is clear that ideas when given a chance and economic support can help strengthen the nation’s economy. Incentives and privileges are natural propellers. Albeit some individual inventors make their way to success, it is not easy ride for everyone. By easing and simplifying the infrastructure of the whole start-up process can go a long way for such individuals. This can be done by providing special assistance. It is the development of such entrepreneurial culture that will boost start-ups. Since India is a developing country, the scope for innovations and their gains thereby is visibly large.

Industrial pressure is a deterrent that is powerful. Yet it is not powerful enough if the model of innovation capitalism is to be achieved. Owing to pressure from the Endosulfan manufacturing companies, India was a laggard in banning the toxic chemical. If it had been done soon enough, it would have paved way for innovation of better and safe chemicals much earlier in time. Green chemistry is quickly catching up in India and is to stay. Some politicians fail to acknowledge the requisites and are reluctant to embrace new technologies. It is evident from their inaction in the case of pollution of river Ganga. To add to that is the ignorance of public, which when eradicated can drive these politicians to do what is needed to be done.

Sometimes regulations laid by the government are the only way out. Strict measures such as these have been effectively implemented in the past. Without the pollution act, companies would have continued with their business as usual. Regulations have played a huge role in encouraging creation of new technologies.

The growth of renewable energy sector and moreover the quick dive into it has made India the fifth largest country with installed windpower capacity. India’s dense population and its apt location on our planet have made it a fitting candidate for solar energy installations. National Solar Mission aims India to become a global leader in solar energy. The partisans involved in this mission will benefit from policy conditions needed for creating a conducive atmosphere for innovation capitalism. Hence, active participation of government is essential, in a direct or in-direct manner.

The millennial generation of India and elsewhere has different taste than the previous ones. They are inspired by cool things. Moral obligations often dampen their spirit. Instead, a real dialogue with them can help us tap their passion and help them become the inventors of our times. Today’s generation understands and respects gender equality and reciprocate well in such conditions. Understanding the mindset of the younger generation that constitutes a huge portion of India can aid the sustainability of innovation capitalism. Universities are a crucial part in the development of these budding youngsters.

Together, aiming at quality over quantity, India can become the most productive nations in this world. With most of the national workforce in agriculture, industries allied to this sector will benefit the most from the ingenuities pertaining to this sector.

Innovation makes business sense. If we realize this, India shall survive the economic downfall and continue to be world’s leading economies.

I wrote this essay as a response to question: How can “innovation capitalism” drive India’s technological and economic development? This was for the McKinsey Reimagining India Essay Project. Please feel free to comment on this down below in the comments section. To see the winning entries of this project, click here.

Harmon(e)y with environment

Environmental Economics on Wikipedia is a pretty good start for those who want to learn about you know – Environmental Economics. But what is it? It tells you about how we choose to use resources and how it affects our environment. If it weren’t for this, companies wouldn’t have been levied with taxes for polluting our water systems. This is just one example.

4 (15)What particularly interests me is ‘natural capital’ aka the commons or ‘open-access’ properties. World Forum on Natural Capital defines it this way:

Natural Capital can be defined as the world’s stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things.

Everything really. Now, there’s something called as ecosystem services too, that we obtain from these natural capital. Whatever we use by altering the natural capital for our survival or luxury are ecosystem services, for example, the fuel we use. Crude oil is a natural capital and fuel is an ecosystem service.

You may be aware what will happen if we run out of natural capital. Say, fuel, what will out world look like without oil? Watch this creepy video:

As we run out of natural capital, so will we run out of ecosystem services. This is why we are turning to green chemistry, green technology, renewable energy etc. So, what can we do? There are people who do the natural capital math. It’s called Green accounting.

Oh this economics lexicon is driving me crazy. Ecological economics, green economy, green accounting, environmental economics. Argh. Nevertheless it is an important topic and there are ways to understand it. This infographic, pretty even, has a few things defined in it.

Amidst the sustainability business, what can a common man do? Plant trees? Yyyyyuuup. A good friend asked me if anything like this exists and I assured him he will have the answer to it in one of my blog articles. An act that will enable exactly this will be formulated soon in Maharashtra, India.  The Hindu states, “The Maharashtra Government is in the final stages of formulating an Act that will enable “tree credits” to be traded in the State.” Does this have some economic term too? Yup. It’s called ‘tree credits‘. Farmers will be given appropriate certification and money. Interested people can read this article that states:

The social forestry is currently inviting feedback on the project from the public. Citizens can reach the authorities at treecredit@hotmail.com.

This was going on in 2011, you might want to check if this email still exists. For tree farming outside India, Fox Business has a report.

This is not as rosy as it looks. Nature.com asks: If growing forests in India can generate lucrative carbon credits, then why isn’t everyone planting trees? Paroma Basu reports. Here’s the article that tells you why.

Chemical process industry and pollution

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Volunteer Image Author Olafpictures

A flow chart below shows what a typical chemical process industry looks like, in a broad sense. As you can see, every stage or every plant in the industry emits waste (effluent – whatever that flows outward, other than the product) in any of the forms viz. gaseous, liquid and solid. Effluent handling is a vast topic. Due to stringent norms on effluents emissions, a huge amount of study has been dedicated to waste treatment.

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How does one manage effluents?

  • Make appropriate changes, innovations in the process. This is one of the 12 principles of Green Chemistry, to create such a process so that no waste is produced. Zero waste.
  • So much for Zero waste, it is not always possible. So what can one do? End of pipeline i.e. when changes and innovations are not possible in a process, treat the effluents.  Separation and purification is one of most economically costing processes in the industry.
  • 3R: Reduce, recycle and recover. (Recover: “Liability at one end becomes asset at the other.”, Wealth from waste)

It figures, not all are concern driven. Some can envision the long term (or short term, or local) effects of pollution, while others simply care about money, or both? Money is the incentive and is not about proving that chemistry and physics are working together. Innovation is making money. Money is the incentive, so we find ways to earn money while we try to protect the environment, such as carbon emission trading. Another example is how India gained most from destroying HFC-23.

How do green technologies help us?

  • green technology operates in harmoney harmony with nature, but may not always makes business sense,
  • helps keep a limit on the pollutants produced,
  • most importantly is site specific because what is green at one place won’t necessarily be green at another.

Food for thought – What could Ranbir Kapoor be possibly trying to say in the song ‘Sada Haq’ of the movie ‘Rockstar’ when he says these words: “O Eco friendly, Nature ke rakshak, Main bhi hoon nature”

Further Reading:

Last Edited: January 9 2018