Socially Responsible Investing

3 Ways to Make Investment Decisions Without Compromising Values

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By Aaron Fairchild

I recently spent a couple of days at SOCAP18. After the conference, I had the opportunity to screen a soon-to-be-released Australian documentary called, 2040. 2040 is a beautiful “future-fit”, utopian depiction of a potential future made possible by incorporating carbon drawdown methods and technologies. 
 
The week before the screening a new environmental philosopher friend shared a concept she has written about extensively — the Precautionary PrincipleShe explained this by saying, “One can’t use uncertainty as a justification for inaction. One must use precaution to mitigate harmful outcomes even in the face of uncertainty.
 
Appling this to positive impact investors could translate to: “Investors and their financial fiduciaries can’t use financial uncertainty as a justification for inaction. Given the urgency of our social and environmental challenges, investors must use precaution to mitigate harmful financial outcomes — And still identify ways to invest in positive social and environmental opportunities even in the face of financial uncertainty.”
 
Unfortunately, in the face of our pressing social and environmental problems, the Precautionary Principle is often used as a reason not to invest in opportunities that generate positive impact outcomes. Even given our good intentions, the traditional structures of finance don’t legally allow moral social and environmental convictions to negatively influence financial outcomes. If the financial outcome is uncertain, but the social and environmental outcomes are clear and measurable — the existing legal frameworks and institutional structures justify inaction in the face of uncertainty.
 
As my mental turntable plays the paradoxical precautionary blues, I see images of the amazing people in the theater moving to a rhythm of positive change, but are we a little off the beat? 
 
How many times have you heard, “In order to attract more capital, the social and environmental enterprise must prove its ability to create market-rate returns. We need proven strategies.”? This thinking may lead to a slip-and-slide of marginalized outcomes in the pursuit of “market-rate” returns. Furthermore, the Precautionary Principle can create a disincentive to invest in positive social and environmental outcomes in uncertain market cycles or in investments labeled “concessionary.” In uncertain markets or uncertain categories, investors may justify putting the pursuit of positive outcomes on the shelf in favor of “proven” and more certain downside protection investment strategies.
 
According to Paul Hawken in the film 2040, 80% of the world’s agriculture is grown by small farm holders. However, in 2018 small farm holder investments are flat to down. Unfortunately, this is not an anomaly. Small to medium enterprise investments are flat to down, and renewable energy investments globally are flat to down as well. I recently learned of these alarming statistics on the Impact Alpha podcast, Getting to Yes. The decline observed in this podcast may be a result of investor’s growing uncertainty in the financial markets. Are we employing the Precautionary Principle? This may forecast a potential disturbing trend for urgently-needed investments in social and environmental solutions as the US economy advances into a market cycle already long in the tooth.
 
Understanding how we may be employing the Precautionary Principle helps clarify that even as we face urgent need to invest in social and environmental solutions, our desire for positive social and environmental outcomes often are left waiting on the side in the face of financial uncertainty. It is a difficult paradoxical dance to pull off. If true, I have three recommendations:

  1. Engage and collaborate with the impact entrepreneurs.When the social and environmental outcomes are clear, measurable and convincing, but the financial outcomes are uncertain — engage! Offer to work directly with the social entrepreneur or fund manager to help craft precautionary strategies within the investment opportunity that mitigate potentially harmful financial outcomes. Assess the investment opportunity thoroughly, do your due diligence and collaborate to mitigate harmful financial performance while maintaining the positive social and environmental outcomes. 

  2. Change the legal framework of professional financial organizations to align to the Benefit Corporation structure. Benefit Corporations structurally embed expanded fiduciary obligations to include social and environmental considerations.

  3. Work with a separate advisory committee or due diligence team. As an individual investor that is not constrained by the fiduciary obligations of professional wealth management, consider working with a separate advisory committee or due diligence team or conduct personal due diligence on impact investments.

 
After the 2040 film screening, I left the theater in a crowd full of optimism and inspiration. Even with the Precautionary Principle burrowed deep within the financial structures and investment psyche of America, I am optimistic that by becoming more aware of how and why we make decisions— and the structures within which we make them— we will continue to learn how to better align capital to the future we envision. 

Ends or Means?

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Contributed by Andy Wolverton, CFO

Green Canopy gladly spends significant time and resources to nurture our corporate culture; a culture centered on our Values. These shared values reveal themselves in the norms, mantras, behaviors, and language of the company; they are the bedrock of culture. Rather than let our values develop organically by default or be established top-down, every member of the Green Canopy Team participates in the process of establishing our shared Values from the ground up.

At the beginning of every year the Company holds what is called our Mission, Vision, Values Retreat. The Team at Green Canopy has created an innovative approach to building and managing Culture that creates alignment throughout the Company. At this Retreat the Team re-calibrates to our purpose, Mission, and the direction that the Team is driving the Company, Vision. The remaining and majority of the Retreat is spent focusing on our foundation; qualifying our shared set of Values. The sum total of the Values equates to a culture of integrity and constant improvement.

Once the Team has reviewed, revised and renewed our Values for another year, we roll into the first of two annual Cultural Reviews. These Cultural Reviews allow the Team to review each other and reflect on how each member has upheld - or better yet, how they can improve - their practice of and commitment to the shared Values collectively defined at the Retreat. The Company’s approach to managing and measuring culture ensures Team buy-in.

After all, it has been said many times before, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

But do the Values really matter in the day-to-day minutia of completing tasks and improving the bottom line? 

Productivity is more valuable than fit and the ends justify the means, right? In fact, Green Canopy may have agreed with these statements years ago. We, for many years, proudly labeled ourselves as a Results Oriented Work Environment, or ROWE, a methodology popularized by Daniel Pink, among others.  

While the benefits of being a ROWE are many and well-documented (and we agree!), we have come to understand being a ROWE is only half the equation. How those results are achieved is more important than the outcome. Why? We believe it is because of our focus on the prioritization of long-term goalsover short-term gains.

Since our Values define Green Canopy’s collective how, we prioritize Values Alignment during our hiring process and developed the basic quadrant diagram (below) for grouping our Team and new applicants.

The diagram includes two axes, Values Alignment and Abilities, each with positive and negative option, making four unique quadrants. The green-shaded row at the top shows the two quadrants Green Canopy prioritizes in our Team and new hires; with both including positive Values Alignment. We would rather work to improve the skills of a well-intentioned coworker with a shared set of values than a highly productive employee who is ambivalent to Green Canopy’s shared Values. More time, energy and resources are spent working with a highly skilled yet misaligned employee than developing an under-performing Teammate who strives toward self-improvement along the Values.

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When looking at the Values vs. Abilities diagram, the obvious priority would be to only hire those who fit within the top right box. They are the ideal and perfect Teammates, right?

However, in practice we recognize that the top right box is the area to strive toward and is generally an impossible space to permanently occupy. All of our Teammates have areas of their work in which they are masters of their craft 

Our aim is to live within the top row, and the goal is to continuously move toward mastery in all aspects of our jobs. That has us all in practice (1)  bouncing back and forth between Lacking Ability and Mastery within the row of Values Aligned as we learn new lessons in our life and in our work. Personal and professional growth and development require the understanding that we are all imperfect. However, the Green Canopy Team understands there is great potential for those who enjoy shared values.
 
(1) As a quick side note on work as Practice rather than a Performance, we highly recommend this HBR Ideacast (Ideacast #523) released May 5, 2016, with Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey.

The Transformative Power of Frameworks

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What impact could we have if we were all just a bunch of tree huggers united under a green canopy? Our logo is definitely symbolic of the work that we are doing to change the course of climate change - and certainly everyone knows that we have sang our share of kumbaya - but it's the fast, hard data that delivers our projects and helps us work toward improvement at Green Canopy.

Decision making and benchmarking frameworks are integral to Green Canopy’s operations. Our acquisitions team uses a data driven framework and metrics to identify and purchase attractive development properties. Our project managers use a framework for guiding construction related decisions from start to finish. The reporting outputs are used to inform and manage future acquisitions and projects.

These carefully crafted systems support us in driving toward consistent execution and continuous improvements. We learn from the successes and failures of our decisions by establishing baseline metrics and measuring and reporting against them. This ultimately makes Green Canopy a better homebuilder. And importantly, creates a stronger and more resilient company, reduces risk for our debt fund members and builds a more valuable brand for shareholders.

Investors face similar challenges, especially those pursuing positive social and environmental impacts alongside financial performance. Without a guiding framework, impact investors are left to untangle a confusing mix of information and options. An impact framework can be a transformative tool enabling investors to move beyond intuitive guesswork toward more systematic and objective decision making.  

We hope you will join us in attending an event, Impact Investing with Purpose, being hosted by The CAPROCK Group and SNW Asset Management on Tuesday, October 20th, 6 to 8 PM at Seattle Impact HUB. Green Canopy board member Kyle Mylius will moderate a panel exploring the evolution and use of impact investing frameworks and metrics. Panelist Luni Libes, a familiar face to many of you from Fledge and Pinchot University, will offer insights into The Pinchot Impact Index, the subject of Luni’s recently published book. The event will close with a preview of CAPROCK’s iPAR impact investment framework and evaluation platform.

Impact Alignment: Where Impact Product Meets Impact Buyers

Contributed by: Aaron Fairchild, CEO of Green Canopy, Inc.

I have often cited Daniel Goleman to explain a consumer’s desire to make an impact with his or her invested dollar. In Ecological Intelligence, Goleman explains that consumers will always buy what they perceive to be a less toxic or more environmentally friendly product given price parity with a competing product. While the consumer may not be buying the perceived “better” product to make a positive impact in the world, they are likely buying it because they view the product healthier or better for their family. 

This consumer behavior pattern offers a direct analogy for financial investors. It goes without saying that investors invest capital to generate a return. If an investor can invest in an opportunity that generates a similar risk-adjusted rate of return to competing investment opportunities yet the investment will also deliver outcomes that better align with their values, then the investor will likely choose to invest their capital in such a value-aligned opportunity. 

Enter Green Canopy. Our mission is transformational; our company was deliberately created with the mission to inspire resource efficiency in residential markets. We have two impact product offerings for consumers to buy.

Our primary impact product is our homes. We build homes that are more environmentally sustainable than what is required by city code and  have third party  audits  verifying our homes meet or exceed a local or national green building standard. In other words, a Green Canopy home is healthier for the planet, consumes less energy to operate (we guarantee that), and is simply a better home than the comparable code-built home. The kicker: we price our homes for sale on par with other homes on the market. We have to price our homes competitively with other homes because if we don’t, buyers would choose to acquire the less expensive yet comparably located and sized home. So buyers of our homes acquire a Green Canopy home at a competitive price that delivers outcomes that align with their needs and values. 

Our second impact product is our real estate fund offerings. We currently manage two debt funds that generate competitive returns for investors. If it were not for these funds, we would not have enough debt financing to build more environmentally sustainable homes at our current scale. Investors in these funds buy membership units that are designed to generate competitive rates of return and deliver outcomes that align with their values. 

I believe the United States has entered a relatively new era where the general market is looking for values-aligned solutions. I witness this daily in both of our product offerings. However, most consumers and investors remain price sensitive and will continue to be so. This is where many people believe the government and foundations can play a role. However, I don’t believe it is incumbent on the government or others to subsidize product offerings, or for that matter the market to simply accept the market-price mismatch. 

Entrepreneurs innovate. The role of being an entrepreneur is to figure out how to bring new product to market in such a way that the market is willing to pay for it. Government incentives and infrastructure are helpful catalysts and support structures for market change. But the role of efficiently bringing new product to market is ultimately the role of entre- and intra-preneurs. 

Additionally, foundations, the government and other mission-driven sources of capital can aid in providing lower cost of capital to kick-start product offerings and help stimulate demand (think of the Bullitt Center or the ZHome development). However, values alignment should not be seen as an impediment to bringing socially and environmentally impactful product offerings to market—it should be used as a competitive advantage. Sound business people focused on values-based product offerings will continue to innovate within the cost/price constraints of the market and ultimately bring more and more highly sought after product to meet consumer demand. Impact alignment and the balance between supply and demand are really just a matter of time and innovation.

Mission, Vision, Values: Part 2

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Contributed by Sam Lai

"It was great sitting next to you in English.  Stay cool over the summer and don't ever change!  xoxoxo"  

Every year, there is a common concern that is voiced by our team members when begin our Mission, Vision, Values review process. If we love our company culture...why would we ever consider changing our values. They are, after all, at the core of how we treat each other.  

"I love working at Green Canopy and I hope we never change!"  

However, when I consider what it means to grow-up, I'm reminded of how thankful my wife is that I've changed since she met me. Angie and I were barely past puberty when we met at the University of Washington. At that time, one of my greatest talents was a smile and my signature wink.  Seriously. The wink was the single greatest strength in my arsenal of babe-wooing skills.  For some reason, the wink doesn't do much for Angie now when I come home to our family of 5. Fortunately, I've grown up just a little bit I've added dish washing to my tool belt. We haven't lost that loving feeling, but we've certainly grown up.  

As for Green Canopy, we've grown up as a company too. We will remain focused on our mission to inspire resource efficiency. And many core values remain the same such as "authentic communication" and being "solutions focused." But how have we grown and changed? Below are some of the ways that are values are evolving at Green Canopy. In our MVV: Part 3 we will look at our final list of Values as well as how we have incorporated our shared values into our employee review process.

What's Changing?

1. "If it ain't broken, break it!"  
We started our company with a commitment to Innovation - While most builders exist only to make profit. Green Canopy exists to fulfill our mission...our profit allows us to continue our mission work.  
We started using the EPS score developed in Portland to baseline our projects' annual modeled energy consumption before most people ever heard of an energy audit. Oops.  I forgot, most people still don't know what it is!  Innovation is already at the core of who we are and we won't forget it. Today we have shifted our focus away from innovation toward "Professional Mastery."  The focus on systems and processes we've developed and continue to improve will allow us to build many more inspirational homes efficiently in multiple market areas...sounds innovative right?  

2. "Live-Work-Balance" 
In the past, this mantra was used to describe how we value each other beyond work.  However, the words seemed to set our personal life at odds against our work. Most of us see our personal purpose lived out in the work that we get to do here at Green Canopy. The new verbiage will sound more like "Fostering Community at Work."  

3. "Autonomy" 
This value came from Daniel Pink and his exploration of Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose being a prime motivation for individuals to excel in their work. You can watch the TED talk here.

Autonomy is at the core of the most driven teams, and since this cultural orientation is pretty well set at Green Canopy – we are shifting our attention to the next level, Accountability! This takes into account how our individual work connects to the greater team.

In the grand scheme, an outsider will not notice too much of a change in the way we treat each other here at Green Canopy. Many of the atypical values you'd never expect to see at a construction company will remain intact. We will continue to stay lighthearted and have fun. We will continue to talk about our feelings. And good god yes, we value vulnerability!  At the core of it, these values help us to communicate well, excel and to learn and grow quickly.  We know we have a mission to accomplish and we have to grow past our comfort zone to do it.  

Some days, I still wish that a simple wink is enough to be the hero. But my family is certainly better off with the fact that I've learned how to wash the dishes really, really, really well.

"Density" Empowers Bold Conversations in Seattle

Contributed by Krystal Meiners

Good conversations are typically born in the company of good people. 

That was the driving thought when we created the Empower Happy Hour at the beginning of 2014. We wanted to have good, meaningful conversations with people outside of our own organization (because frankly we were all preaching to the choir internally and were probably consuming too much booze just to keep things interesting). What we didn’t want, however, was to host a formal event, or a networking opportunity. We wanted to have real conversations with interesting people, so the Empower Happy Hour was born.

The format of these events have always been the same… low key, in a bar, no nametags, no soapboxes, no formally led discussions – just a topic to unite us, an amazing sponsor and an impactful non-profit. Each event has been unique – but the most recent one in Ballard was especially inspiring and a great indicator for successful future events. We are truly thankful for the opportunity to have hosted with Sustainable Ballard and we were especially grateful to our sponsor Redfin Builder Services.

While this event was a bit different from our other Happy Hours - there were a couple of key ingredients that helped mold it into something very special and eye-opening.

1. An AMAZING question. 
Our non-profit cohost has always provided a topic of discussion for our happy hours – and Sustainable Ballard really hit it home with their topic.

a. Does Density = Sustainability?
b. Does Sustainability = Density? 

This two-parter really has a huge impact in Seattle right now and is on the tips of everyone’s tongues. Despite the "breathing room only" crowd – the quality of conversation was fascinating. Not everyone chooses to talk about the topic during our happy hours but this really captured the attention of many including Councilman Mike O’Brien who was discussing Ballard’s new apodments – considered both a scourge and blue-sky solution to housing in Seattle.

The rest of the conversations spanned walkability (a fun topic in light of Redfin’s recent acquisition of Walkscore) – as well as Ballard’s most recent developments and the addition of quality locations to eat, shop and sip. The idea of a “carless lifestyle” as the new definition of luxury was a spirited thought when considering the changing mindset toward livability in times of climate change and a return to urban living.

Not all of the conversations were light-hearted. Serious attention to community wants and needs and the impact of more density on transportation was a common topic; as was the builder-bad-guy issue with neighbors. Not everyone loves the way development looks, feels and changes a neighborhood – so thoughts on working with community were abundant. In particular - discussions around Green Canopy's new Neighborhood Design Survey and community meeting approach were inspiring to neighbors that had visited the event.

2.  Another key ingredient to the success of this specific happy hour was the LOCATION. 
We went against our own rules and decided to host the event in a small event space – but to keep it lively, we started off with drinks at the nearby Skillet – and then moved indoors. While it may have been difficult to corral folks - no one was lost and the “bar-hopping” effect made the event feel less stiff. 

Aside from just the venue – the fact that the event was held in Ballard – a community common to our hosts, co-hosts, sponsors and mired in the topic at hand – made it easier to talk about density relative to where we were all feeling excitement and pain. The Greenfire Campus was a perfectly inspirational space with only enough room to kiss or kill whoever you were speaking to. Skillet made for the perfect pre-funk, and Parfait made for the perfect after-hour snack.

We were very excited to host this event with Sustainable Ballard and Redfin. The event lasted well past our 6:30 cutoff and folks lingered having friendly discussions. While there was no Bocce, like our previous event at Von Trapps, and there was no policy big-wigs like our event with Climate Solutions – it was intimate, refreshing and exactly what we could have hoped for.

We definitely look forward to hosting many more Empower Happy Hour’s, and aim to keep them simple, sexy, and substantial. We hope you will join us the next one to help ADVANCE THE DISCUSSION.

The Empower Happy Hour is a quarterly event hosted by Green Canopy Homes. If you are interested in sponsoring the event or if you belong to a non-profit that is interested in co-hosting, please contact krystal@greencanopy.com . If you are interested in joining the event – please sign up for our Newsletter to receive updates on event dates and venues.

A New Identity and Predictions for 2011

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Contributed by Aaron Fairchild:

While we have been certain of our business model for two years, apparently we haven’t been certain about who we are. J

From our retail brand name, to our websites, to our legal entity, to the shareholder base, to our corporate location, so much of our company has changed!  The result is that we are rolling into 2011 refreshed, recharged and ready.  We are now located in Fremont, as a C-Corporation holding a homebuilding company named Green Canopy Homes with roughly 20 shareholders.  The changes have established a highly resilient, well funded and determined group, with a healthy following of fans and supporters.

2011 brings with high hopes and expectations combined with plenty of unknowns.  We anticipate our local real estate market to remain relatively flat and for interest rates to be higher.  We believe that the NWMLS will have new check boxes to list energy performance scores among other make-sense sustainability features.  We hope that the City of Seattle will announce the coming of an ordinance requiring all homes to have energy performance scores assessed at the time of sale.  We are certain that 2011 will see increased awareness of the benefits of energy efficient homes, which will translate into shorter sales cycles for Green Canopy Homes.  Lastly, keep an eye out for Green Canopy to expand its business offerings and impact in the residential market.

All the best to you in 2011!

It's All About the Bag

Post contributed by Aaron Fairchild:

Social Capital Markets 2009 (SOCAP09) - “It’s All About the Bag”

Last week I was at a conference in San Francisco called SOCAP09. The focus was social capital markets and the eco-system of related investors and entrepreneurs. The first two lines of the SOCAP Conference Guide read, “There’s so much happening at this conference, it’s hard to know where to begin. But when you get right down to it, SOCAP09 is about the bag.” The organizers decided to highlight a bag created out of Indonesian garbage heaps as an example and symbol of what SOCAP09 is about. The bag and the business model aren’t scalable and nowhere near having the kind of volume or sales and distribution that allows for a sustainable business. In his opening address, conference organizer Kevin Jones talked at length about the bag that the XSProject created through the guidance and vision of Ann Wizer.

After Kevin finished his opening he handed the microphone to Sonal Shah, Director of the White House Office of Social Innovation. Sonal went on to discuss how the government is looking for great ideas that have the ability for scale, and spoke about the Serve America Act and the need for participation across sectors to address our social issues. Nowhere in her discussion or in the panel she was a part of after did they mention the role of for-profit businesses. They spoke to non-profits, foundations, and government programs. Finally, during the Q and A time of the panel someone asked about the role of for-profits and investment capital in search of returns as well as impacts. I thought to myself, “I flew down to San Francisco because here we are on the cusp of a massive, national and global social transformation, and it is all about the bag?” Capital and financial markets have begun investing in companies, organizations, and strategies that take into consideration social and environmental impacts, traditional economists consider these externalities that should be ignored, and it is all about the bag? Investments that account for these externalities are predicted to grow to 5% to 15% of total invested capital by the year 2015, this represents trillions of dollars, and the organizers of Social Capital Markets 2009 highlight a humble bag and non-scalable business model? I left the first day feeling skeptical if not a bit cynical.

I got to the conference early the next morning for some coffee and I ended up running into Kevin Jones. Kevin is a big, red faced man with stony-tint glasses and a very unassuming style. After the pleasantries and congratulations I learned that last year they had just over 600 participants (good for the first year), and that this year they had around 1,000 participants. I asked him where SOCAP was going, and he said they would like to have more entrepreneur grants next year and that he would like to eventually see somewhere around 1,500 entrepreneurs along with the cadre of fund managers and investors large and small. So then I asked where are social capital markets in general headed? He told me the first panel of the morning would be addressing that question. When I pushed him on my observations from the first day and the slant toward non-profits that I felt, he disagreed wholeheartedly and said that his intention for the conference was to highlight and encourage profitable solutions that considered and accounted for environmental and social impacts in their business models. He insisted that capital was flowing in larger and larger amounts in that direction as investors understood that the externalities of yesterday are not the externalities of today. Okay, okay… I decided to approach the morning’s sessions with an open mind.

I could not have been better rewarded for the renewed outlook and came to understand the symbolism of the bag. I found it astounding that the conversations I had throughout the remainder of the conference with investors, fund managers, and entrepreneurs alike often became philosophical and reflective while at the same time there was a transcendent feeling that those of us in this sector are sitting on a geyser.

Charly Kleissner talked about holistic investing and “going away from black and white." He sees investment capital moving away from “or” and to “and." Dan Crisafulli talked about enhanced transparency and larger partnerships between private and government capital as the need to “move the needle” on our social and environmental issues continued to become more intense. Amit Bouri talked about greater standards that are widely accepted by the social capital and financial community alike, such as Impact Reporting and Investing Standards (IRIS). I talked to a Canadian investment adviser about meekness and power appropriately placed.

I also had conversations with 3 other fund managers that in many ways were like listening to recorded conversations we have had within G2B Ventures and our sincere belief that we are pointing the market toward profitable investment in existing residential energy efficiency, and doing our small part to help transform the market and the world. Yet we remain humble and open to advice and dedicated to transparency, we remain optimistic, and we remain convinced that the investments made in triple bottom line ventures like ours will help change a world where economies dictate the way we all live.

On the last day of the conference they convened an open discussion designed to give participants the opportunity to suggest ways that the XSProject could be turned into a viable and sustainable business. Businesses start with a seed idea, the idea takes root and begins to sprout through the thoughtful fertilization of outside ideas and inputs, the germinated seed then grows into a business through careful cultivation, hard work and applied capital. We all understand the cycle; the difference is our determination to make a difference in a world in need of change and that we know we don’t have all the answers and are willing to ask for help. The key to SOCAP was the humility interwoven throughout the conference and the determination to learn from the mistakes of the past while focusing on profitable solutions for our environmental and social problems. I returned to Seattle with my unbridled optimism intact – the bag had done its work.

It is Okay to be a Capitalist, Right?

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Post contributed by Aaron Fairchild:

Not too long ago I gave a talk at Bloom!, a local Seattle function where sustainable business entrepreneurs have 18 minutes on the clock to tell their story, answer questions and then move on.

It is a jazzy and frenetic format, and I had a lot of fun being part of the party-like speaking event. A week or so afterwards I asked the event organizers if they received any feedback on my talk, good or bad. The response was for the most part positive, except one person who commented that I was, well, “too capitalistic.” Pause… Deep breath… Contemplative grin…

I cut my green teeth nearly 20-years ago, at what was then, the hippy liberal University of Western Washington, taking classes on environmental justice and ethics. At the time I lived with Johnny D, an Earth First activist who used our kitchen as the hub that the local Earth First crew used to plan out their next monkey-wrenching action against the man. We thought that a career in environmentalism meant that you were either going to be an activist, an advocate in a non-profit somewhere, or an academic. No one at that time was considering capitalism’s role in the environmental movement. We considered capitalism to be the cause of our environmental problems, and not one of many remedies that can be used to cure them.

I understand where the comment after the speaking event comes from, and it continues to cause me to smile when I reflect on it. I don’t begrudge that perspective; I welcome the discussion as long as we don’t get bogged down in it. I continue to think it is amazing that there is even a discussion to be had, which is a sign of how far we have come. The fact is, markets that are allowed to run free within the regulatory framework imposed by society have efficiency, scope and scale far beyond academia, advocacy, and activism. However, we shouldn’t embrace free markets and capitalism at the expense of the others. They all need to co-exist and be cross-functional and supportive, but we must recognize that economy rules our world, and a fringe issue that is not embraced by the economy will always remain on the fringe. Until capitalism goes green, or the green movement goes capitalistic, society will continue creating brown fields, brown skies and toxic resources at the expense of future generations. Let’s take a peek into where capitalism is heading…

Daniel Goleman, the nationally known social psychologist and author of the #1 bestseller, Emotional Intelligence, recently completed a new book, Ecological Intelligence. In his book he explores how to remedy the lack of insight and understanding into the ecological impacts of the products we buy. He argues that by boosting our “ecological intelligence” we will collectively increase our understanding of the hidden ecological impacts and in so doing, bolster our resolve to improve them. He discusses how brain researchers examining purchase decisions have demonstrated that consumers’ emotional reactions to products’ ecological impacts matter for sales. Goleman examines how companies in several industries such Wal-Mart and industrial chemical production companies are already changing the way they manage their supply chains to address the need to limit their impacts and position the business to thrive in a radically transparent marketplace. He states that his mission is to, “alert businesses to a coming wave, one that will wash over any company that markets a man-made product.” He calls for “radical transparency” in the marketplace that allows consumers to be ecologically intelligent about the products they purchase.

Another new arrival on the marketplace scene is the L3C. The L3C is a “Low-Profit, Limited Liability Corporation.” This is a new type of LLC that is designed to attract private investors and philanthropists in ventures designed to provide a social benefit. An argument can be made that a new legally designated entity doesn’t need to be created in order for organizations to provide a social benefit. If a profit maximizing organization tackled the same business sector as a low-profit organization I would submit that it could provide a far greater social benefit. There are several issues that would need to be addressed to flesh out the argument, but the fact that there is an argument to be had is encouraging. The L3C is yet another sign of our progress and the nature of our progressive times.

There are more examples of capitalism gone green, from Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) to sustainable supply chain management. In fact, there are so many examples that I simply can’t mention them all, however, one example that is close to home remains. At G2B Ventures we are actively engaged in helping to support efforts in profitable environmental enterprise. We are working hard to demonstrate the value of smart energy efficient refurbishments in the residential housing market using a market-based approach that is acutely aware of public policy overlap into the sector. By being focused on profit maximization, and working with several local stakeholders to develop a market-driven premium for energy efficient homes, we will capitalize on the enhanced returns of energy efficiency to the benefit of our investors. If we can do this, we will be one more example that when green goes capitalistic, society and the environment are beneficiaries as well as the investor.