Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The New Climate Economy

A recent report from The New Climate Economy highlights (again) the need for action on climate change; and emphasizes (again) how delays will increase costs:

The New Climate Economy Report comes from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate -- a group of high-level representatives from various sectors in countries around the world.

The report includes a pretty good list of 10 things we know we need to do avoid to minimize the damage of climate change:

  1. Accelerate low-carbon transformation by integrating climate into core economic decision-making processes. 
  2. Enter into a strong, lasting and equitable international climate agreement
  3. Phase out subsidies for fossil fuels and agricultural inputs, and incentives for urban sprawl
  4. Introduce strong, predictable carbon prices
  5. Substantially reduce capital costs for low-carbon infrastructure investments
  6. Scale up innovation in key low-carbon and climate-resilient technologies, tripling public investment in clean energy R&D
  7. Make connected and compact cities the preferred form of urban development
  8. Stop deforestation of natural forests by 2030
  9. Restore at least 500 million hectares of lost or degraded forests and agricultural lands by 2030
  10. Accelerate the shift away from polluting coal-fired power generation
The core take-away is that all countries will be able to sustain lasting growth while addressing climate change, but that the next 15 years will be crucial.

This brings up the whole concept of economic growth -- what we mean by that and if unlimited growth in possible on a finite planet. If you're talking about crude, raw, physical growth of stuff -- increasing economic throughput, as measured by GDP -- the answer is clearly "no."  But if you're talking about a more nuanced "growth of value" -- ways of increasing well-being while at the same time dematerializing and reducing throughput, then I think there are no limits.

Clearly, in some areas, in some economies, physical growth is still necessary to increase well-being (Exxon's recent blog post arguing against fossil fuel divestment skews this point to make a case for continued reliance on oil). But at a certain point -- long-since crossed by many developed economies, more stuff doesn't necessarily equate with more well-being.

Coupled with the recent Risky Business report, this report is another big step in making the economic case for climate action, and more broadly for integrating sustainability principles into all we do.

Stay going.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Recent news from the Intentional Endowments Network

We have a great news feed on the Intentional Endowments Network website, which has been seeing a lot of new additions recently.  The fossil fuel divestment campaigns are generating a lot of conversation on college and university campuses, and while the number of institutions committing to divestment is still relatively low, the number that are evaluating their investment policies and practices in light of the climate change threat, and other critical sustainability issues, is growing rapidly. 

Here's a run down of some of the latest exciting news: 

RI procures Swensen letter to Yale fund managers obliging climate evaluation and company engagement | Responsible Investor

by Vibeka Mair, September 11th, 2014
(subscription required) 

BU Faculty Petition Urges Divestment from Fossil Fuel Companies | BU Today

by Rich Barlow, September 10, 2014

Faculty for Divestment Renew Call for Open Forum | Harvard Crimson

by Dev A. Patel and Steven R. Watros, September 10, 2014

Fossil Fuels Stir Debate at Endowments | Wall Street Journal

by Dan Fitzpatrick, September 9, 2014
(subscription required) 

Ranking US Fund Managers on Climate Change | About Money

by Cary Krosinsky

Green Ratings Questioned | Inside Higher Ed

by Ry Rivard, September 3, 2014

College Endowment Investment Trends and Best Practices: An Analysis of STARS Data | Sustainable Endowments Institute

by Aaron Karp, Mark Orlowski, and Jaime Silverstein, September 3, 2014

Yale approves environmentally conscious investment guidance | Pensions & Investments

by James Comtois, August 28, 2014

Check the news feed regularly - www.intentionalendowments.org/news - and enter your email address on the site to receive periodic updates. 

Stay going. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

DISRUPTION: Climate. Change.

A new film on the climate change movement will be released next week.  The trailer below gives a sneak peak of what looks like a powerful telling of the story of how the demands for action on climate change have coalesced into a social movement that recognizes this is a social justice issue, not just an environmental issue.

It's timed for release before what will be the largest climate march in history -- the People's Climate March -- taking place Sunday, September 21, in New York City (at 11:30, starting at Columbus Circle).

There will be a host of events and actions taking place in late September in NYC around the UN Climate Summit, which is an attempt to focus attention and engage as part of the run up to the pivotal climate negotiations in Paris in 2015.

It will be an interesting few months in the climate action world, and I'm curious to see how it will play out with the backdrop of mid-term elections and hurricane season here in the US.

Stay going.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

CARBON: New short film on pricing carbon

Here's a new short film, narrated and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio about the need to price carbon, and a run down on the national and regional efforts to do so.

It is the first in a 4-part series called Green World Rising.  Go to www.greenworldrising.org for more info, and to sign an open letter -- "Consensus for Action" -- to world leaders at the UN Climate Summit happening in September in New York to show your support for bold action on sustainability.

Stay going. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Intentional Endowments

Over the past year, much of my work has focused on an emerging new project aimed at supporting colleges and universities to better-align their endowment investment practices with their mission and values. 

In April we held a summit in Boston -- the Intentionally Designed Endowment conference -- that brought together 120 leaders, including senior administrators from higher ed, endowment managers, investment firms, experts on sustainable investing and fiduciary responsibility, and non-profit executives.

The event was designed to create a highly-interactive, 'safe-space' to talk through the full range of issues and potential strategies for integrating sustainability and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria into endowment investment portfolios.

The fossil fuel divestment movement has been driven in large part by student leadership on college campuses. While many colleges have resisted calls to divest, it has opened up important conversations about if and how institutional mission and values should be incorporated into endowment investing policies and practices. At the same time, as the ESG / sustainable investing space has matured, it has become more common for investors to recognize that sustainability challenges can affect the value of companies and projects, and consequently pose material risks to their portfolios.

Given these complex and rapidly changing dynamics, participants of the event expressed a clear need for more forums like it, and other ways to continue the conversation and learning on these topics.  In response, we've been developing the Intentional Endowments Network.

Our website has presentations and videos from the conference, a resource library with reports and articles on key topics, and a news feed for relevant media coverage:


We are currently in the process of developing a strategic plan for this exciting new initiative, while at the same time developing tangible actions, including webinars, another Intentionally Designed Endowments conference in the Southwest, a student-focused conference, workshops and sessions at other conferences, new resources, and strategic engagements with individual institutions.

Please visit the website and share your thoughts.

Stay going.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

2014 HBCU Green Report

The second survey of Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) -- the 2014 HBCU Green Report -- was recently released by the Building Green Initiative at Clark Atlanta University.

The report finds a "green revolution" is underway at HBCUs, despite the fact that these efforts are not sufficiently covered in mainstream higher education, sustainability, or media outlets.  Forty-three institutions participated in the survey that yielded the data for the report. These institutions are active in the five focus areas covered: administration, green building, student involvement, food and recycling, and climate change and energy.

The report found that HBCUs are also recognizing that strategic sustainability plans can benefit the bottom line.  Highlighted projects include UMD Eastern Shore's solar farm - the largest concentration of PV panels on one site in Maryland, a LEED Gold renovation at Spelman College, a new Sustainability Institute at Florida A&M, the conversion of the football field to an organic farm at Paul Quinn College, and a commitment to a 20% reduction in energy use over 5 years at Clark Atlanta.

CAU President, Dr. Carlton Brown states in the report: "Long before the world fully grasped the urgent need to address climate change, Clark Atlanta University’s (CAU) Environmental Justice Resource Center provided leadership in documenting and addressing industrial pollution practices that disproportionately impacted communities of color... This work evolved into a global movement for climate justice. Climate change is one of the most critical challenges facing the global family today and special mission institutions like CAU have a unique role to play in crafting triple bottom line solutions that transform challenged under-served communities into healthy, vibrant livable neighborhoods."

The Building Green Initiative's report is a great source for learning more about how HBCUs across the country are working to do just that.

Stay going.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Sustainability Illustrated: City of Canning sustainability video

Here's a great new video laying out the basics of strategic sustainable development.  It was created by two MSLS graduates -- Alex Magnin and Jayne Bryant -- for the City of Canning in Australia... hence the kangaroos.

Stay going.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

You're already paying for carbon pollution

Below is a great video from The Climate Reality Project about the price of carbon -- explaining why we need a price on carbon.  The consensus is finally building among the economists, politicians, and the public that putting a price on carbon is the most effective and efficient way to minimize the damage of climate disruption. 

The EPA's recently announced rules limiting carbon from existing power plants (The Clean Power Plan) is an important step, and one that will help pave the way for a price on carbon.  It's design of allowing states to determine how to meet the rules is the right way to go, and I expect it will result in more states instituting a price on carbon -- either by joining RGGI, or connecting with California or the Western Climate Initiative, or instituting their own pricing schemes, like cap & trade or cap & dividend, or a simple carbon tax like British Columbia.

These state-level precedents are what we need in order to get more comprehensive federal legislation, and from there a meaningful international climate agreement, with the US leading the way.  Given the recent results of the National Climate Assessment (and many other reports and studies) this needs to happen fast enough for an agreement in Paris in 2015 that goes into effect by 2020. 

Check out the video and share.  To get this done we need as many people as possible on board and letting their elected officials know they support a more effective and efficient way of paying for carbon pollution -- through a price on carbon.  Obama made it clear in this recent interview with Tom Friedman -- we need a price on carbon, we're not going to burn all of the carbon in the ground, and to enable a smooth ramp to clean energy, we need broad public support. Quoting Lincoln, he said: ‘With public opinion there’s nothing I cannot do, and without public opinion there’s nothing I can get done.’ As this piece in the NYT today shows, leadership on climate is finally becoming a political winner, and we need to keep it that way.

Stay going.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

F*&k It

It's hard not to feel how Stephen does sometimes... good to see all elements of the media covering the National Climate Assessment report, however.

While we are very late in taking meaningful action on climate in the US, it feels as though we might be getting to a place where it will be possible.  The NCA (despite false balance in media coverage) and the recent study about West Antarctica melting being inevitable has caught people's attention.  The EPA rules on power plant emissions coming this summer (reportedly with Obama making it a personal priority) is a real start to controlling carbon pollution.  And maybe most importantly, people are starting to experience a taste of what climate change will bring between Sandy, droughts, San Diego wildfires, the polar vortex, and so much more weird weather... it's not just normal plus a degree or two.

We have so much of the technology we need to dramatically reduce demand for fossil fuels and rapidly phase in alternatives.  Those alternatives are coming down in price and getting more competitive.  There is a groundswell among the youth (and many others!) drawing a line in the sand about the moral injustice climate inaction represents.  All in, the stage is very close to set for real change. 

It's been very tempting to say "F*&k It" for years, but we may now finally be getting close to a real tipping point.

Stay going.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Solutions Fridays: Passive House

Image source: http://www.passivhaustagung.de
Passive House design encompasses for me a lot of what sustainability is all about -- smart design, reducing demand for energy and resources, saving money, improving quality of life.

The basic premise is through smart design, and effective use of passive heating, cooling, and day-lighting techniques, buildings can be comfortable year-round in any climate without large, expensive. energy-intensive heating and cooling systems.  They can reduce heating energy demand by 90%.

Learn more about passive house design from the Passive House Institute US.

It's sometimes hard for people to imagine how we could meet global energy demand only with renewable energy -- a big part of what makes that possible is dramatically reducing the amount of energy we use (without reducing quality of life -- and indeed increasing it for a great many people).  Passive House design is an exciting way to make that happen.
Unity College Passive House (photo: Jonah Gula)

Stay going.

Solutions Fridays

Taking a strategic approach to sustainability requires a strong and compelling vision of a sustainable future -- if you don't know where you're trying to go, you can't be strategic about getting there.

The system "global society in the biosphere" is too complex to predict what exactly a sustainable future will look like, so we need to rely on principles of sustainability to guide us.  Still, specific images and ideas for solutions can be compelling in keeping us going on this enormous journey towards sustainability. 

There are a tremendous amount of really exciting solutions already in practice today that can help us start to build a more complete picture of what a sustainable future might look like.

To that end, I'm starting a "Solutions Fridays" series, where I will post some basic info or a picture of a different solution on Fridays.

Please leave your suggestions for great solutions to include in this series in the comments. 

Stay going.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Monday, May 12, 2014

Pluralism in Economics

Last week The International Student Initiative for Pluralism in Economics (ISIPE) released an open letter (below) demanding pluralism in the discipline of economics.   This holds the promise of the beginning of an important phase in the effort to better align economic theory with real world -- particularly in light of what as become clear in recent decades in terms of the cumulative impact of our global economic system on social and ecological systems.

One of the most important challenges of creating a sustainable society is updating our mental models about economic theory -- in the classroom, the academic literature, and the real world.  These students will be critical in bringing about that necessary change:


It is not only the world economy that is in crisis. The teaching of economics is in crisis too, and this crisis has consequences far beyond the university walls. What is taught shapes the minds of the next generation of policymakers, and therefore shapes the societies we live in. We, 42 associations of economics students from 19 different countries, believe it is time to reconsider the way economics is taught. We are dissatisfied with the dramatic narrowing of the curriculum that has taken place over the last couple of decades. This lack of intellectual diversity does not only restrain education and research. It limits our ability to contend with the multidimensional challenges of the 21st century - from financial stability, to food security and climate change. The real world should be brought back into the classroom, as well as debate and a pluralism of theories and methods. This will help renew the discipline and ultimately create a space in which solutions to society’s problems can be generated.

United across borders, we call for a change of course. We do not claim to have the perfect answer, but we have no doubt that economics students will profit from exposure to different perspectives and ideas. Pluralism could not only help to fertilize teaching and research and reinvigorate the discipline. Rather, pluralism carries the promise to bring economics back into the service of society. Three forms of pluralism must be at the core of curricula: theoretical, methodological and interdisciplinary.

Theoretical pluralism emphasizes the need to broaden the range of schools of thought represented in the curricula. It is not the particulars of any economic tradition we object to. Pluralism is not about choosing sides, but about encouraging intellectually rich debate and learning to critically contrast ideas. Where other disciplines embrace diversity and teach competing theories even when they are mutually incompatible, economics is often presented as a unified body of knowledge. Admittedly, the dominant tradition has internal variations. Yet, it is only one way of doing economics and of looking at the real world. This is unheard of in other fields; nobody would take seriously a degree program in psychology that focuses only on Freudianism, or a politics program that focuses only on state socialism. An inclusive and comprehensive economics education should promote balanced exposure to a variety of theoretical perspectives, from the commonly taught neoclassically-based approaches to the largely excluded classical, post-Keynesian, institutional, ecological, feminist, Marxist and Austrian traditions - among others. Most economics students graduate without ever encountering such diverse perspectives in the classroom.

Furthermore, it is essential that core curricula include courses that provide context and foster reflexive thinking about economics and its methods per se, including philosophy of economics and the theory of knowledge. Also, because theories cannot be fully understood independently of the historical context in which they were formulated, students should be systematically exposed to the history of economic thought and to the classical literature on economics as well as to economic history. Currently, such courses are either non-existent or marginalized to the fringes of economics curricula.

Methodological pluralism stresses the need to broaden the range of tools economists employ to grapple with economic questions. It is clear that maths and statistics are crucial to our discipline. But all too often students learn to master quantitative methods without ever discussing if and why they should be used, the choice of assumptions and the applicability of results. Also, there are important aspects of economics which cannot be understood using exclusively quantitative methods: sound economic inquiry requires that quantitative methods are complemented by methods used by other social sciences. For instance, the understanding of institutions and culture could be greatly enhanced if qualitative analysis was given more attention in economics curricula. Nevertheless, most economics students never take a single class in qualitative methods.

Finally, economics education should include interdisciplinary approaches and allow students to engage with other social sciences and the humanities. Economics is a social science; complex economic phenomena can seldom be understood if presented in a vacuum, removed from their sociological, political, and historical contexts. To properly discuss economic policy, students should understand the broader social impacts and moral implications of economic decisions.

While approaches to implementing such forms of pluralism will vary from place to place, general ideas for implementation might include:
  • Hiring instructors and researchers who can bring theoretical and methodological diversity to economics programs;
  • Creating texts and other pedagogical tools needed to support pluralist course offerings;
  •  Formalizing collaborations between social sciences and humanities departments or establishing special departments that could oversee interdisciplinary programs blending economics and other fields.
Change will be difficult - it always is. But it is already happening. Indeed, students across the world have already started creating change step by step. We have filled lecture theatres in weekly lectures by invited speakers on topics not in the curriculum; we have organised reading groups, workshops, conferences; we have analysed current syllabuses and drafted alternative programs; we have started teaching ourselves and others the new courses we would like to be taught. We have founded university groups and built networks both nationally and internationally. 

Change must come from many places. So now we invite you - students, economists, and non-economists - to join us and create the critical mass needed for change. See Support us to show your support and connect with our growing networks. Ultimately, pluralism in economics education is essential for healthy public debate. It is a matter of democracy.

Signed, the member organizations of the International Student Initiative for Pluralism in Economics.

Stay going. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Bill Moyers Covers the Divestment Movement

Bill Moyers sat down and talked with Ellen Dorsey, Executive Director of the Wallace Global Fund and Tom Van Dyck, Chairman of As You Sow about the fossil fuel divestment movement. 

The conversation does a great job of covering some of the key issues -- including myths and concerns around the perception that divesting necessarily means sacrificing returns and could represent a breach of fiduciary duty and the risks that unburnable fossil fuel reserves represent to investment portfolios and society as a whole. 

Stay going.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Intentionally Designed Endowment: A Primer


What is an “intentionally designed endowment”?  Earlier this month, with support from a high caliber Steering Committee, we convened a group of representatives from endowed institutions and the finance industry to explore this question. The event was a partnership by Second Nature and Hampshire College intended to open up a constructive conversation around the opportunities in sustainability investing for non-profit institutions.

We developed a primer for participants to establish a baseline understanding of key issues related to aligning investment practices with institutional values. It provides a high-level overview of sustainability investing, including a brief history, and a select list of key resources and relevant organizations.

Any non-profit administrator or trustee with fiduciary responsibility or involved with investment policies should be familiar with this rapidly evolving field: Intentionally Designed Endowment Primer

While we are all aware of the fossil fuel divestment movement – which has been instrumental in bringing increased attention to endowment investment practices – this was not a meeting about divestment.

We learned about the broad range of socially responsible investing (SRI) and environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing strategies now available, many of which now have long track records with performance equal to or better than conventional investment approaches. We heard from investment professionals about a range of implementation strategies for aligning investment practices with institutional values. A panel of legal experts clarified the issues of fiduciary responsibility as they relate to integrating ESG criteria into investment decision-making.

Risks and opportunities related to environmental challenges, social issues, and corporate governance are increasingly relevant to investment portfolios as society’s sustainability challenges become more acute. Non-profit endowments have a tremendous opportunity to avoid losses and maximize returns, while better aligning their investment practices with institutional values.

Stay going.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Institutional Investor Covers Fossil Fuel Divestment

Great to see Institutional Investor cover the divestment movement with the video below and this article: Climate Change and the Fossil Fuel Divestiture Movement.

One of my favorite lines from the article: "In the same way that there was plenty of money to be made in U.S. subprime mortgages until there wasn't, many investors see a lot of opportunities right now in the energy sector."

It was great to see a couple of participants from our recent Intentionally Designed Endowment event in the video -- keynote speaker Bob Litterman speaking on the risk management aspects of this, and Responsible Endowments Coalition Executive Director Dan Apfel, talking about the student movement.

Stay going. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Winning the Sustainability Game

The latest from Sustainability Illustrated --- running through the 4 sustainability principles, or 'system conditions' for success in terms of sustainability.

You can't take a strategic approach to sustainability without knowing where you're going.  These principles provide that ultimate goal -- not in detail, because the world is too complex to predetermine exactly what sustainability will look like -- but in principle.  We know the basic mechanisms by which we are undermining the social and ecological systems upon which we depend, so by eliminating those, we can move strategically toward sustainability:

Subscribe to Sustainability Illustrated for more great videos and share widely! 

Stay going. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Sustainability Investing Myths

Curious about what Sustainability Investing is?  Think it's a fringe concept or do-gooder altruism?  Check out this very brief video from RobecoSAM for a quick primer:

Stay going.