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:

 

Following traditions for sustainability, not superstition

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Many years back, I was made to question my beliefs of whether or not God exists. After a troubling inquiry into the subject, I held an agnostic view for some time, slowly transitioning into atheism. At the same time, I started questioning my morals. I felt bad for eating eggs, fish and chicken. I don’t know how the vegetarians do it, but I started falling sick after I went vegetarian for some years. I started eating eggs again and then slowly chicken and fish. I’m better now.

Traditions for me used to be synonymous to religion, and religion had become synonymous to superstition. I’m not sure when exactly I found the gray area between these extreme points of view. I remember multiples instances of connecting traditions to logic. There were some who would point out the importance of traditions but mostly masking them under ‘something we ought to do’. Sometimes I would find this message in unexpected places – such as movies and some common places on the Internet, some without the mask.

Alain de Botton suggests a “religion for atheists” — call it Atheism 2.0 — that incorporates religious forms and traditions to satisfy our human need for connection, ritual and transcendence. Whereas, in a movie Life of Pi, little Pi (short for Piscine) is an explorer of faiths. His way of exploration is, let’s say filmy. Here goes two different conversations between him, his father Santosh Patel and his mother Gita Patel:

Conversation 1:
Santosh Patel: Piscine, you cannot follow three different religions at the same time.
Pi Patel : Why not?
Santosh Patel: Because, believing in everything at once is the same thing as believing in nothing.
Gita Patel: He is young, Santosh. He is still trying to find his own way.
Santosh Patel: And how can he find his own way if he does not learn to choose a path? Instead of leaping from one religion to the next, why not start with reason? In ten years science has taught us more about the universe than religion has in ten-thousand.
Gita Patel: Yes, that is true. Science is very good at teaching us what is out there…
Gita Patel: [puts her hand over her heart] But not what is in here.
Santosh Patel: Some eat meat, some vegetarian. I do not expect us to agree about everything, but I would much rather have you believe in something I don’t agree with, than to accept everything blindly.
Conversation 2:
[we see young Pi under the blanket in his bed reading a Hindu comic book telling the story of Krishna]
Adult Pi Patel: The Gods were my superheroes, growing up. Hanuman, the monkey God, lifting an entire mountain to save his friend, Lakshmana. Ganesh, the elephant headed, risking his life to defend the honor of his mother, Parvati. Vishnu, the supreme soul, the source of all things. Vishnu sleeps, floating on the shoreless cosmic ocean, and we are the stuff of his dreaming.
[we see young Pi and his family sitting among a crowd for a religious tank ceremony]
Santosh Patel: Spectacle. Don’t let the stories and pretty lies fool you, boys. Religion is darkness.
Adult Pi Patel: My dear Appa believed himself part of the new India. As a child, he’d had polio. He used to lie in bed wracked with pain, wondering where God was. In the end, God didn’t save him, Western medicine did.

Today’s blog post stems from a study that shows us that there are bright spots among the world’s coral reefs. It goes onto say that the challenge is to learn from them. In India, we eat vegetarian on some days and non-vegetarian on the other days. We mark Wednesday,  Friday, and Sunday for non-vegetarian meals. How is this related to sustainability? It keeps the species in good numbers. I for one would follow it for this reason, not because of superstition which many still believe.

Going back to the study, strong local sea traditions, which include ownership rights and/or customary practices such as periodically closing a reef to fishing are helping the coral reefs remain in better shape considering the existing climatic conditions.

What other traditions have we left behind and what have we embraced blindly? From time to time, I go back to the traditions I neglected as I explored my faiths. I’m sure they are many more to come. I hope that when I find them I will understand sustainability in a different light.

Who is an environmentalist? Are you? Am I?

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Do we really have to call anyone an environmentalist? How is it different from being an environmental professional that I say I am? Mr A is an environmental professional and therefore is an environmentalist. Mr B is an environmentalist but not necessarily an environmental professional. Is that how it works?

If you imagine these as a venn diagram with three circles, there’s an overlap but are there Mr Cs who are neither like Mr A nor Mr B? Can You Call Yourself An Environmentalist And Still Eat Meat? As mentioned in this article, Amis Cameron, Director of a vegan school, has eventually come to believe that, “You can’t really call yourself an environmentalist if you’re still consuming animals. You just can’t.” Some attribute various environmental issues to the rising population. Can you call yourself an environmentalist if you have kids?‘ Sounds like a pro-environment but an anti-human question.

Identities are funny things because they define who we are, but our definitions of ourselves are often flawed. If you don’t go to church every Sunday, can you call yourself a Christian? If you sometimes sing along to songs with degrading lyrics, can you call yourself a feminist? If you sometimes drink out of plastic water bottles, can you call yourself an environmentalist? Of course you can. We are flawed, but our identities are still our identities. – Emily Barber in her article ‘What Does “Environmentalism” Really Mean?

Why is there a need to put labels on people? How do you define an environmentalist? Here are some definitions from the web. Collins Dictionary shows synonyms for environmentalist as ‘ecologist’, ‘conservationist’ and even ‘tree-hugger’ which is embarrassing for some. Would then someone who identifies as one have to define it every time?

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Am I a tree-hugger? I don’t remember hugging a tree although I’ve tried to climb one. Am I a conservationist? My ethics don’t allow to do that which does not cherish the human spirit. Am I an environmentalist? Not only do I care about the environment; but I also care about humans and animals. For me it is the three pillars of sustainability that make sense – people, planet, profit – not just planet alone. Am I an environmental services professional? This is what I do, I provide services for these three pillars to stand together.
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Trying to climb a tree

How you choose to label yourself becomes an intimate part of who you are.Once you identify yourself with a particular group of people – whether it’s social, political, or religious – then you often begin to define the rest of your existence based on this label. You think, “I’m an X person, so that means I do things like A, B, C – because that’s what X people do.” Labeling yourself as part of a group feels good – as it gives you an immediate sense of belonging and identity. But it also limits you in many ways. – The Emotion Machine

The other day someone asked me if I was an environmentalist and I said that I am not. If labeling myself limits me, if it doesn’t free me, if it doesn’t entirely align with my beliefs, I don’t want to be labelled. Do you label yourself? If yes, why? If no, why not?

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony. ― Gandhi

Rethinking urban transportation systems

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I invite you to a week long discussion on safety in urban transportation systems on Twitter as a part of a month long discussion on Sustainable Development Goal no. 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities. Follow @pinthecreep on Twitter for the discussion. I’ll be curating this week again. I welcome you all.

This is a part of Safecity‘s discussion on safe and sustainable cities. For the entire month of April, Safecity is making a case for women’s safety in our cities and communities – one of the targets of UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. As a part of this worldwide effort, we are focusing on Goal 11 – ‘Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’. I curate Safecity’s Twitter account this week again with a focus on urban transportation systems. I’ll also be conducting a Twitter chat on safe cycling in Indian cities on 21st April 2016, Thursday, 9PM IST/ 11:30 AM EST. Save the date!

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On anti-humanism in the environmentalist movement

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What is anti-humanism? Anti-humanism is as we protect nature, we fail to protect ourselves. I fail to understand, aren’t humans a part of nature? Isn’t that the reason one of the pillars of sustainability is ‘people’? Are we teaching our children to destroy themselves or other humans as they learn to protect nature around them? When blaming each other for not having a consensus on climate change, what side do you think you are picking? Is this boiling down to the Marshmallow experiment? One side cares about the short-term goals whereas other care about the long-term goals.

Students reading books with environmental themes need to understand that showing respect for human worth and dignity goes hand-in-hand with showing respect for the environment, Smith said. The same technology said to impose negative effects on the earth also gives hope to people trying to survive. – Evolution News

Using clean technologies and educating people are two simple steps that can effectively lead to reduced emissions and the amount of wood used. Agree with this – but at what cost? Aren’t you taking away their culture, their way of life – just like that? Michael Pollan’s documentary ‘Cooked’ shows Australian Aboriginal Martu, who talk about the central role fire has always played in their culture. “We had bush sweets, not sugar,” one Martu woman says of their past diet. “Sugar has made us weak.”

We are mastering footprinting, but the risk is that applying water footprints could leave poor people poorer and more vulnerable. Are we making decisions for them now? Or for us? For who? I don’t know anymore. In Kenya, environmental activists threatened a boycott of the roses that Kenya exports to Europe for Valentine’s Day believing that flower production was using too much water from Lake Naivasha and damaging its ecosystem.

These systems reduce environmental evaluation to the bureaucratic application of abstract methodologies and, far from being neutral, they impose a particular humanist ideology on decision making processes which marginalises those who speak in a different voice. – From Michael Frederick Smith’s thesis

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“She always knew nature was all around her, that nature was in her roots, she herself is a creation of nature.” Picture and quote via @DanteArcana on Twitter. However, anti-humanism prevails the environmentalist movement. Why?

Puppies have more legal protection in the U.S. than new mothers. Why? As we protect nature, why are we failing to protect ourselves? Are we the enemies of this planet? A plague? A destructive species? Cancers? Would you really call yourself that? I won’t. I am a part of nature just like every other bird, plant, bush, bacteria, parasite, maggot, tiger, fish, sand, rock. So what if we are different from them? Well, they too are different from us and we just want to live in harmony don’t we? That’s how I envision the environmentalist movement to be – without having to burden the responsibility of ‘Planet Earth’, because we are a part of Planet Earth. It would still be Planet Earth without us – without the dinosaurs it is still Planet Earth. We are only humans. A part of the connection and the disconnection throughout the journey of evolution. Can we strike a balance?

We should oppose Green anti-humanism wherever it is advocated precisely because we support good earth stewardship policies that promote liberty and allow us to reach the level of prosperity required to properly protect the environment. – Anti-Humanism Infects Environmental Movement by Wesley J. Smith in Legatus Magazine The reason I oppose the growing anti-humanism in environmental advocacy isn’t because I oppose good environmental policy, but because good practices require human thriving and prosperity. Calling us a cancer doesn’t cut it. – World Notices Environmentalist Anti-Humanism

You can read Michael Frederick Smith’s thesis here, submitted by him for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the University of Stirling. This thesis identifies a family of humanist presuppositions which, the author argues, pervade modern Western society and are partly responsible for our inability to escape from a spiral of environmental destruction.

“You wanna know how the planet’s doing? Ask those people at Pompeii, who are frozen into position from volcanic ash, how the planet’s doing. You wanna know if the planet’s all right, ask those people in Mexico City or Armenia or a hundred other places buried under thousands of tons of earthquake rubble, if they feel like a threat to the planet this week. Or how about those people in Kilauea, Hawaii, who built their homes right next to an active volcano, and then wonder why they have lava in the living room. – George Carlin on the arrogance of mankind

 

Interview with Leda Marritz, Creative Director at DeepRoot, on Sustainable Urban Infrastructure Solutions

DSC_9234.jpgToday’s blog post is an interview with Leda Marritz, Creative Director at DeepRoot, on how their urban tree infrastructure solutions are helping cities be healthier and happier, what is it about planting trees that we miss and what we should be doing instead. Leda joined in 2006 and is responsible for all of DeepRoot’s online and print materials, advertising, writing, design, events, and other creative projects. Some of Leda’s major initiatives have included significant updates to DeepRoot’s online presence, including website enhancements and a strong social media presence. In 2009 she started a company blog called “Green Infrastructure for Your Community,” where she posts three times a week on topics related to trees, soil, stormwater, and company news. In 2011 she became a certified arborist and, in addition to the writing she does for DeepRoot, contributes articles for Next City and Earth In Transition. Leda holds a B.A. from Brown University in Comparative Literature.

1 . Leda, how did you get involved with DeepRoot?

Answer: I started my career in publishing (I studied comparative literature in college), which was a lot of fun but ultimately not for me. I wanted to try something new. When I moved to San Francisco in 2006, I had to decide what that was! I started by searching my alumni network for anyone in the Bay Area doing work I was interested in, which led me to Graham Ray, the CEO of DeepRoot. The timing was really fortuitous, because my background was in marketing and the company had a need for someone to tackle that. I started a week or two later and have been here ever since.

2. How can one become a certified arborist like you?

Answer: You have to pass an exam administered by the International Society of Arboriculture and then maintain the accreditation by getting 10 continuing education units every year. While my day job doesn’t get me out in the field among trees much, I really enjoyed studying for the accreditation and recommend it.

3. How do you define sustainability?

Answer: I’d define sustainability, and sustainable thinking, as being driven by a vision for how something will function, look, and feel 20, 50, 100 years from today.

4. What are the many environmental and social benefits of urban landscaping? What are some of the most overlooked benefits?

Answer: There are so many benefits to urban trees! They help reduce urban heat-island effect and crime rates, and help slow, cool, and clean the rain that falls on paving and then runs into our sewer system. Trees reduce vacancy rates and air pollution, creating a cleaner and more pleasant environment. They’re calming and psychologically restorative; people instinctively want to be where trees are.

Having so many benefits can, in certain ways, be a liability. In a recent interview with Russell Horsey (Development Director of Institute of Chartered Foresters in England) that we published on the DeepRoot blog, he said “If you imagined us as a business trying to market “trees,” we have a product that in some ways does too many good things! As a sector we try to explain all of the things that trees do rather than honing our message and keeping our messages simple. We still use too much technical wording which does not work with the public, politicians and some higher managers, who may manage more than just trees and may not have an arboricultural background.” I tend to agree.

5. What problems is DeepRoot trying to solve through its solutions? What are the major drivers?

Answer:  The U.S. is losing millions of urban canopy cover every year. We’re trying to help stem that loss while also incorporating the incredible ability of trees and soil to clean and absorb water and return it to the atmosphere. In cities, so much rainfall hits the ground and rushes right into the sewer rather than being used to irrigate plants or being saved for other uses. And so many trees are planted in tiny areas, with little or no thought given to what it needs to survive and mature. Green infrastructure (trees, soil, and water) is the backbone of a city’s ecological health.

6. What do you mean when you say ‘Rethink trees’?

Answer: When we say “rethink trees,” we’re trying to draw attention to trees as underutilized, and undervalued, elements of our urban fabric. Most people don’t think about trees much at all – and if they do, they tend to think of them as ornamental. We don’t think trees are ornamental at all – we think they’re fundamental to health and resilient urban design. We want to prompt people to think about trees as essential to smart, economically viable, and successful development. That’s what we mean.

7. The planting of the one millionth tree of the MillionTreesNYC initiative was celebrated. Speaking of quantity over quality, how would you describe the quality of this process? Were they planted the right way? Does simply planting trees, any kind, help? Is there a right or a wrong way?

Answer: I have no firsthand knowledge of how the MillionTreesNYC planting program was run; I’m quite sure they have great folks working for them who truly believe in the cause. And a million trees is a very, very large number! We congratulate them on their efforts and we’re so glad there are people who care so much about trees.

Having said that, it’s true that we can’t just plant our way into a bigger urban tree canopy. To really move the needle on the health of the urban forest, we also need to address how trees are planted. A tree’s size and health are in direct proportion to the amount of soil it has access to. Until we start considering the needs of the tree roots in our development planning – and incorporating room for soil underneath sidewalks, parking lots, plazas, etc. – the trees in those areas will struggle to thrive and survive.

8. How does pollution affect soil health? We’ve heard of phytoremediation. Can it be achieved in urban areas? Have you tried it?

Answer: Pollution can accumulate in soil to levels that are unsafe for humans; I’m not aware of any direct impact to the health of the soil itself. I’ve not heard of any phytoremediation projects being done in urban areas, but there are some great people studying stuff like this – it’s possible I’m just not aware of the work being done in this area.

9. How do you weigh preventive measures against adaptive measures such as seed banks and their gene study?

Answer: First I should say that I’m not an expert in either of these issues, but based on what I’ve seen from my time in the industry, both are important. To protect the future of our communities, we absolutely need to employ preventive measures. But there’s room for all kinds of creative solutions and ideas, and things like seed banks may be one of those.

10. Is mulching the panacea for urban soil health? If not, what is?

Answer: Mulching does a lot of wonderful things for soil health and function; we’re big fans. But it’s not a panacea – nothing is. Instead, we need to take more care of trees and soils at every stage of the planning and planting process. Soil that is healthy should be reused, and soil that is marginal should be salvaged wherever possible. And, above all, we need to give trees enough of it.

11. What do you think Matthew McConaughey meant when he said ‘”It’s not about huggin’ trees…,” he argues. “It’s not about being wasteful, either…,” in an ad for the Lincoln MKZ hybrid sedan? What’s the philosophy here? What’s Deep Root’s philosophy?

Answer: I would never purport to speak for Matthew McConaughey (you’re aware of his naked conga-drum playing episode, right?) on Lincoln Motors! DeepRoot’s philosophy is that trees and soils are elemental to truly sustainable design. We think that trees are essential for the physical, mental, and emotional health of humans (and other living things) and that they should be considered as important as other traditional forms of infrastructure. We’re excited to be a part of making cities more livable.

12. What question do people fail to ask and what would that be?

Answer: People fail to ask, or consider, what they want the site they’re working on to look like in 20, 40, 80 years. Do you envision a beautiful mature tree canopy? If so, you have to play the long game and plan for that tree today.

13. What’s your favorite tree pun? Mine is this – ‘Tree puns are getting old.. We should branch out! *leaves*’

Answer: I don’t know any tree puns, but here’s a non-tree joke: What did the zero say to the eight? “Nice belt.”

I thank Leda for her time and insights. Loved her candidness! I’ve been a fan of DeepRoot since I stumbled upon it on the internet. DeepRoot Green Infrastructure develops solutions to enhance urban forests and surrounding watersheds in city streets, parking lots, campuses, and other heavily-paved areas. I subscribed to its blogs and it started growing on me. And if you’ve read my blog posts in the past, you’d know how I love gardening. Every time I talked about DeepRoot, my colleagues would think I’m selling their products to them. Well, how awesome it is to finally have an interview with them! I’m having a superb weekend! You can read more about DeepRoot on their website, and get in touch with them on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

Following are some of my takeaways from the interview.

  • Sustainability when defined with numbers excludes vagueness. It made an impact on my mind, made me think. Tweet: Sustainability when defined with numbers excludes vagueness. It made an impact on my mind, made me think.
  • Everything works in unison, the trees, soil, water and air, to make this planet livable. Urban infrastructure should be based on this. Tweet: Everything works in unison, the trees, soil, water and air, to make this planet livable. Urban infrastructure should be based on this.
  • It’s not just about planting trees, it is about what you plant and how you plant it. Tweet: It's not just about planting trees, it is about what you plant and how you plant it.

My question to you all is, what has made you ‘Rethink Trees’? Please comment below.