One of the Capital Institute’s eight over-arching goals is a transition to new metrics of social and environmental wellbeing. Much great work has already been done on the private sector component of this issue by groups like the Global Reporting Initiative, the Initiative for Responsible Investment, the International Integrated Reporting Committee, the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment, Global Initiative for Sustainable Ratings, and many others. These efforts all contribute to the public recognition that our current economic indicators are an insufficient compass for navigating the problems of critical resource scarcity and growing social disparities. But none of these projects has been able to build a coalition and model large enough to solve the problem in total.
“Mismeasuring our Lives: Why GDP Doesn’t Add Up,” a panel discussion held at Columbia University on December 7, brought four distinguished economists together for an open conversation that began with the need for policymakers to look beyond GDP as a standard economic measure to address both ecological constraints and human well-being but moved to the central challenge of our time: can economies continue to grow without degrading the ecosystem and if not, what are the alternatives?
Sponsored by the public policy research and advocacy organization Demos, the event featured panelists Alan B. Krueger, most recently the US Treasury's Chief Economist and currently Bendheim Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University; Glenn-Marie Lange, Senior Environmental Economist at the World Bank; Juliet B. Schor, Professor of Sociology, Boston College; and Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate and Co-Chair of the Committee on Global Thought at Columbia University.
Capital Institute contributed to a new Ebook, just published by Harvard University Business School. The Landscape of Integrated Reporting is a collection of articles and thought pieces by those who attended a recent Integrated Reporting Workshop organized by Professor Robert Eccles, co-author of One Report. Our contribution is a letter written by a fictional CEO to her board of directors. Read it below and access the Ebook in its entirety here.
CASSE Issues Enough is Enough: Ideas for a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources - A Report from the First Steady State Economy Conference
The Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) held its first conference, in Leeds, UK, on June 19, 2010, with a focus on finding alternatives to current models of economic growth. Featuring members of the Capital Lab-sponsored 3rd Millennium Economy steering committee Tim Jackson and Peter Victor, the conference brought economists, scientists, business leaders, government officials and the NGO community together to help mold the vision of a steady state economy.
While most global leaders and economists extol the virtues of unfettered economic growth, conference speakers made the point that the economy is a subsystem of the earth’s ecosystem and is a human construct. Despite these known facts and the recent global financial meltdown, exponential economic growth continues to be almost universally perceived as a desirable outcome.
August 2012 Update—Since we published our profile of Mark Pinsky and the Opportunity Finance Network, Pinsky has continued on at the organization's helm, deepening OFN’s commitment to supporting a stronger CDFI industry. OFN recently kicked off the “Create Jobs USA” program in partnership with Starbucks Coffee. Since its inception the Create Jobs USA fund has provided approximately $80 million to the nations’ CDFIs. The fund is managed by OFN and is comprised of donations made by Starbucks and CitiGroup. The OFN has also launched a Financing Healthy Foods project that focuses on educating CDFIs on how to finance and establish access to healthy, fresh foods in low-income communities. OFN has also started the Green Finance Program, which prioritizes financing energy efficiency renovations or retrofits projects. OFN has also begun offering CDFIs education on capacity-building including technical training, such as education on LEEDS certification standards and peer learning opportunities. A number of member CDFIs now specialize in green investment, and OFN hopes that these organizations will begin to provide insight and support to other network members who wish to develop expertise in financing in this sector.
If you open up the papers lately, you’ll find the discussion of the sovereign debt crisis tends to focus narrowly on offending nations’ profligate spending and borrowing habits. While these behaviors have no doubt contributed to fiscal deficits, what is often overlooked is that addressing another kind of deficit--an ecological one--is of equal importance if nations are to sustain healthy and resilient economies. One bank is working to advance this notion by incorporating into its sustainability rating of sovereign debt a country's resource efficiency.
Bank Sarasin, a Swiss private bank founded in 1841, launched the first investment fund based on the concept of eco-efficiency in 1994 and has been including social factors in its sustainability ratings since 1997. Sarasin’s sustainability rating of sovereign debt assesses a country’s creditworthiness based not only on resource availability but also on resource efficiency. Viewing a country’s ability to repay its debt over the long-term through this holistic prism yields some noteworthy results: resource-rich but inefficient economies such as the United States and Russia appear particularly vulnerable to future rating downgrades while resource-scarce but efficient countries like Japan, the Netherlands, and Germany appear much less at risk.
National Community Investment Fund (NCIF), a certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), was established in 1996 as a nonprofit entity “to invest capital in and enable knowledge transfer to Community Development Banking Institutions (CDBI) around the country.” CDBIs are depository financial institutions that operated in low- and moderate-income areas and have as their mission to generate economic and community development impact. NCIF currently has approximately $150 million in assets under management including $128 million of New Market Tax Credits. It has invested over $24 million in capital in 45 US CDBIs. Seventy-three percent of these institutions are either minority- or woman-owned or managed, and 19 percent are located in rural areas. NCIF has also provided seed capital to six de novo banks.
August 2012 Update— In January of 2012 the CARS™ system was spun-off the Opportunity Finance Network and re-launched as an independent organization. CARS™ continues to focus on providing intelligence on the CDFI industry to investors of all sizes. The organization, has released new products in tandem with its independent re-launch and Paige Chapel has continued on as director. The new CARS™ programs include: customized analytic services, specialized financial trend analysis, training and webinars and subscriptions to CARS™ CDFI ratings database. These services enhance the ability of CARS™ to draw capital into CDFIs by facilitating connections between CDFI’s and investors, while increasing CDFI transparency. Mark Pinsky chairs the new organization. Pinsky had spoken of possible collaborations between CARS™ and the Small Business Administration (SBA); since the original posting of this article the SBA has decided to employ the CARS™ system in their lending selection process. Currently, CARS™ rated organizations manage almost 50 percent of on balance sheet assets among CDFI fund-certified loan funds.—Evan Lozier. Evan is Capital Institute's Summer 2012 intern.
Community Development Finance Leader Clifford Rosenthal Says CDFIs No Longer in Defensive Posture But Face Longer Term Pressures
July 2012 Update—Since we originally posted our interview with Clifford Rosenthal, the long-time President and CEO of the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, the CDFI industry has continued to face considerable challenges. However, it has also moved towards resolving many of its long-standing problems in the past 2 years.
When we spoke with him last, Rosenthal named the need for greater transparency, integration, and standardization as the three primary issues that the industry needed to address. The evolution of the industry rating system CARS™ , originally an extension of the Opportunity Finance Network, reflects progress made in the areas of transparency and standardization. CARS™ has been re-released as an independent entity and relaunched with a larger offering of analytic tools. These new products afford clients a more holistic view of a specific CDFI’s organization, function and proficiency. Many CDFIs have used their first-round CARS™ ratings to re-position their organization, and receive higher ratings in second-round ratings. The CDFI industry has become more standardized as organizations try to reach better CARS™ ratings levels. Issues of efficiency and integration are still being addressed, although integration is taking place within the industry with the establishment of centralized back office services for smaller CDFIs.
A space in the capital markets where the world of investing for profit and the world of investing for desired social and environmental outcomes meet and merge is attracting a growing and diverse group of investors. They are funding sustainable specialty coffee farms in Tanzania, affordable housing projects in New York City, and post-consumer recycled paper manufacturers in San Francisco.