Category Archives: CSR

Now Showing In Prime Time: Clean Energy Momentum Builds While Asset Managers Get Serious About Carbon Bubble

Microgrid
A local microgrid in Sendai, Japan. Source: NTT Facilities, Tokyo, 2006

By Walter Borden

ON the way to closing out 2013, renewable energy sectors quietly outperform the broader market. Notably, solar power and LED systems have entered prime-time in a big way.

Wal Mart has deployed, and is profiting on, the largest portfolio of solar panels of any retailer in the nation, just ahead of Apple. Costco runs 2nd  in the retail sector. Wal Mart’s implementation alone exceeds that of 38 US States combined. Meanwhile Dutch conglomerate Philips reports 33% profitability growth in its LED sales along with a presence in Home Depot stores. And residential solar has gone mainstream while distributed generation projects continue to increase exponentially, even as regulatory support scales down. Another intriguing development is Sunpower’s un-subsidized 70 MW plant in Chile that will sell solar directly on the spot market. This may well be the model of the future.

Corporate America profits on solar. Key facts:

  • GTM Research and SEIA report solar system costs decreases of 40% since the start of 2011 and 50% from 2010.
  • Commercial installation costs dropped 14.7% to $3.71 per watt for 2013.
  • Assuming a 10% return on investment and a 20% capacity factor, projected cost of this electricity are 8.5 cents per kW-hr, below grid prices  ex-ante tax benefits. 

The outlook grows ever brighter when one factors in twinned developments in microgrid and microfinance. In the case of microgrids, or distributed generation, both Connecticut and New York are deploying microgrids in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. New firms like Mosaic lead the way with cash flow generation for retail investors via interest rate income from solar projects over its crowdsourcing platform.

For Dutch Design week 2013 Lucid created a base frame where visitors can add to, and manipulate, light formations.
For Dutch Design week 2013 Lucid created a base frame where visitors can add to, and manipulate, light formations.

So what is the signal here? Basically, its that in the US, clean and sustainable economic advancement presents with wide variability around the state by state valence, with the balance now tipping to uptake in a majority of US States. Some of the sunniest states are in the late adopter category, there is still a large pool of untapped markets. While plenty of noise was generated around the predictable yet minor growing pains in US green energy public programs, these programs has spurned free market opportunities for sustainable value creation — even as subsidies are scaled back far more sharply than they were for other sectors like fossil fuel extraction and industrial agriculture.

Investors then, should look past efforts to define complex problems from a single datapoint (Solyndra perhaps is the best known and most overstated example). Given these developments, which are strongly indicative of an upward sloping trend line, we think investors are well advised to focus on mid and long term possibilities. Additionally, investors would be wise to monitor the growing concern of asset managers about overvaluation in petroleum assets: 70 of the largest pension funds are already inquiring as to risk exposure to a Carbon-based Asset Bubble to the petro-product majors.

One thing is certain, extemporizing around the economic inefficiencies of pollution on the part of petroleum producers has long since outlived its persuasiveness for many institutional and individual market participants. More analysis on this is in the works at Fund Balance.

The Model-Detroit: Bail Ins For Main Street, Bail Outs for Wall Street

Corporate Profits as a share GDP. Grey bars indicate recessions. Source: St. Louis Fed.
Corporate Profits as a share GDP. Grey bars indicate recessions. Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve.

By Walter Borden

MANY US cities like Detroit face pension and general service funding shortfalls. Yet for over 5 years the corporate sector has recorded historic profits as a share of GDP. In none of these years however, did they choose to undertake the simple, incremental steps that would have met pension reserve requirements. Even the debt ratings, presented as legitimate third party analysis in support of more pain for retirees and the working poor, are in fact made by firms owned and beholden to Wall Street titans, and as such are dubious. For example, some downgrades appear suspiciously right after a heavyweight firm has taken a position which would gain on a downgrade. Other cities in the US may soon follow as targets for the Model-Detroit. How to help main street? Continue reading The Model-Detroit: Bail Ins For Main Street, Bail Outs for Wall Street

A Clean Slate for 2013: Rejecting the Politics of Plutocracy, Singularity, and Pollution

By Walter Borden

To address the long term unemployment crisis in 2013, the U.S. must increase investment in its clean economy and infrastructure. U.S. citizens own the world’s most robust non-profit, namely the United States Government. The U.S. can act now for a reason that trumps profit: the General Welfare.  Renewable energy, infrastructure, and pollution remediation increase labor demand and thus, long term, sustainable employment. By contrast, the dirty energy sector primarily provides temporary and short term jobs. Fossil fuels,  automation, and de-unionization have converged to aggressively drive down the middle class share of profits generated by our national economy. The outlook for labor is further complicated by rapid uptake of capital-biased technology: machine intelligence that further shifts profit away from labor by replacing its participation in the economy with robots.

The TAKRAF RB293 is a giant bucket-wheel excavator used in coal mining. (Click to Enlarge)
The TAKRAF RB293 is a giant bucket-wheel excavator used in coal mining. (Click to Enlarge)

Dirty energy outputs unsustainable amounts of seemingly cheap energy and goods. Coal extractionists value coal at low domestic prices to skip large royalty payouts when mining federal land all the while fetching much higher prices on international markets. The inevitable societal costs of damaged environments and cleaning up pollution reveals this bargain to be Faustian and, as such, provides a diminishing benefit.  Further, environmental protections and clean energy factor into job growth with wages and salaries that accrue to the economy as opposed to rentier payments that primarily fill Swiss bank accounts.

Restraining dirty energy shifts capital to labor thereby counterbalancing the decadal trend of asymmetric capital accumulation to a shrinking few. Corporate profits continue to surge to multi-year record highs. Yet, as a share of GDP, wages have declined over the past thirty years. This has become in its own way a kind of hidden inflation. Clean energy policies address this imbalance with greater quantities of quality jobs.

Currently in the U.S., our most pressing problem is one of high, long term unemployment. Deficit and debt to GDP ratios matter; yet, the primary driver of deficits is a lack of employment growth. History and empirical evidence show how these ratios, as well incomes inequalities, quickly come down as revenues grow due to greater employment at living wages. Further, industry sits on record hoards of capital, yet chooses not to invest. Now is the time to increase public sector spending to create low impact demand. Clean energy is an optimal starting point for increasing demand per capita in sectors that are sustainable and regenerative.

Resource Rents North America vs. East Asia and Pacific (Click to Enlarge)
Resource Rents North America vs. East Asia and Pacific (Click to Enlarge)

The moral dimensions are plain and demand constant consideration. Most people in most societies feel that extreme inequality is problematic and favor an equitable distribution of the benefits and burdens of their society. Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg‘s proposed a stage of moral reasoning which considers life to be more valuable than  property rights or profits, and that this is a more adequate moral position for making policies to achieve distributive  justice. Immanuel Kant held  that morality presents itself as an categorical imperative.  Aristotle observed, “It is in justice that the ordering of society is centered.”

A Clean, Compassionate Economy Is A Path to Sustainable Prosperity 

Alleviating contemporary unemployment and ensuring that its does not become a long term crisis requires rejection of  classical economic conventions, namely, that labor is only a cost to be mercilessly driven down and that search frictions are a hard, growing reality: i.e. in the real world, it’s expensive to relocate and retrain.  For the long term unemployed, it is next to impossible.Yet, social innovation and impact investing policies can restore balance.

Some argue that the subsidies required to launch a green economy are too steep. But, that assertion has little evidentiary support and fails a common sense test as well. In reality, clean energy drives labor demand via its need for large, scaled up amounts of infrastructure, operation, remediation and, of course, R&D.

Jobs fell much further and faster during the Great Recession than in the previous 2 (marked by the lines to the left of the zero point on the x-axis) yet job growth in the current recovery is similar to job growth by this point in the previous 2 recoveries. (Click To Enlarge)
Jobs fell much further and faster during the Great Recession than in the previous 2 (marked by the lines to the left of the zero point on the x-axis) yet job growth in the current recovery is similar to job growth by this point in the previous 2 recoveries. (Click To Enlarge)

Reduced labor costs are not resulting in shared prosperity. Does the private sector truly want a continued collapse of labor prices in the U.S.?  Labor is a cost in classical economic thinking. Lower costs mean cheaper goods and services; a greater general welfare in principal – as long as producers do not loose their incentive to pass on cost efficiencies to consumers. Yet, in an era of record corporate profits, employment growth has steeply decelerated. Core CPI has been low, but when stagnant wages are considered along with higher education and healthcare costs, the benefits of lower CPI seem rather ephemeral.

Here again, a green economy points a way forward. A recent MIT carbon tax study lays out scenarios where a carbon tax could either be revenue neutral or partially so when the excess revenue is used to reduce debt or build infrastructure. In addition to raising revenue, it would reduce pollution by incentivizing the transportation industry to generate more efficient products.  This is an instance where the tax code can help create more progressive outcomes, and in this era of ever rising inequality, which recent data suggests is increasingly decoupled from recoveries, can address that inequality. Restructuring the code needs to be a major, bipartisan goal.

The Private Sector Isn’t Using Its Multi- Year Trended Record Profits for Shared Prosperity

Continue reading A Clean Slate for 2013: Rejecting the Politics of Plutocracy, Singularity, and Pollution

Annie Lennox to Narrate Documentary centered around Haitian Artist Frankétienne, 2009 Nobel Prize candidate.

***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

 Annie Lennox to Narrate Documentary centered around

Haitian Artist Frankétienne, 2009 Nobel Prize candidate.

ScreenHunter_01 Jan. 11 00.25
Click image above to donate through IndieGogo

NEW YORK, N.Y.  The New York based Haitian Cultural Foundation is proud to announce that internationally celebrated recording artist and activist ANNIE LENNOX will serve as principal narrator for the powerful, moving, and inspiring documentary film In the Eye of the Spiral.

The film, now raising money on Indiegogo, features seven of Haiti’s most prominent living artists, among whom 2009 Nobel Prize candidate Frankétienne, and proposes a truly new narrative for Haiti – a long-embattled country steeped in vitality and built in no small part on the courageousness of the creative spirit.

Continue reading Annie Lennox to Narrate Documentary centered around Haitian Artist Frankétienne, 2009 Nobel Prize candidate.

Fund Balance Recommends: The Social Change Film Festival (SCFF)

The partners at Fund Balance are delighted to recommend to our friends and subscribers the Social Change Film Festival (SCFF). SCFF is led-up by economist Cynthia Phillips and her Global Change Media initiative.

The event features Robert Redford’s new movie Watershed, the new movie about climate change called Chasing Ice, the new fracking film, Dear Governor Cuomo, along with Angelina Jolie’s film In the Land of Blood and Honey, among many fine entries.

Additional highlists of the event include:

SCFF, New Orleans, La, 2012
  • 8 Feature-length world-class social change films (plus
  • Shorts) at multiple venues
  • 4 days of workshops led by our international faculty of
  • filmmakers and industry professionals
  • Town Hall: Communities of Resilience – Sharing and supporting ideas, dialogue, and action in the face of crisis
  • Activist Awards Gala – A Celebration of Local and
  • Global Activism
  • Filmmaker “Behind the Scenes” & “The Making Of” discussions
  • Crowd-sourced social action ideas related to film topics
  • Global Online Screening Room
  • Television Distribution available to over 20 million households
  • Awards ceremony honoring the world’s most poignant and
  • inspiring social change films
  • Lively networking events with industry professionals
  • broadcasters and distributors
  • Multicultural relationship building and global networking

Both the SCFF app and screening room are up on the web.

The Festival is happening now in New Orleans. The gala event is Friday November 30, 2012, and the festival wraps Sunday December 2, 2012. The content is going out on LiveStream and is being recorded for the launch of a new satellite and LiveStream channel in January. If you are in the area stop and participate. Or for $25 in the U.S. and $10 for international, you can engage and enjoy the SCFF activities and content online.

This is a great opportunity for anyone at the intersection of culture and social change, impact investing, cleantech and social enterprise.

 

Vitamin Cottage Natural Grocers IPO Shows Power of Impact Investments

Vitamin Cottage’s Natural Grocers blows out of the IPO gate this summer with spectacular performance and quality. ESG outperformer par excellence.

Quiet but powerful, the Vitamin Cottage IPO has shown the staying power of the LOHAS community’s business acumen, strength and vitality. In contrast to Facebook, the stock (NGVC) is up 10% over last week’s IPO debut and is resting on a 1.88 P/E ratio, earning over ten dollars a share.

We may be in favor of steady state economics, but we believe the growth of organic grocers will come at the expense of GMO and chemical agriculture and personal products. This type of economic replacement is healthy for the economy, society and planet.

Investing in a Balanced and Beautiful World for All

We are strategic consultants at the nexus of nature, culture, policy and finance.

We design and manifest healthy and thriving planetary civilizations.

We provide research, analysis, capital introduction, product design, and public relations solutions for investors, policy makers and social entrepreneurs in all asset classes. We holistically envision and design portfolios with a focus on quality of life, balancing recognition for different cultural values and return profiles.

Clients and collaborators include Credit Suisse | Nura Health | Hip Hop for Humanity  | Slow Money | Inflection Point Capital  | E3 Bank | Like Minds | Instiglio | Sourcemap | Startup NectarMission Markets | FarmlandLP.com | Greenmede CSA, and more.  Read our story.

 

SRI Insight Tool: The Green Transition Scoreboard

The Green Transition Scoreboard

The partners at Fund Balance make frequent use of THE GREEN TRANSITION SCOREBOARD® (GTS) from Ethical Markets Media in our work.  The GTS provides guidance to our thoughtlines leading up to the Rio +20 UN Earth Summit as well. The GTS provides fresh, incisive, and thorough analysis of the intersecting and diverging trends in sustainable policy and industry. As a function of our business practice, and in pursuit of our mission to utilize social, human, and financial capital in the service of a sustainable civilization, we are pleased to feature it here.

Tracking investments since 2007 in green companies and technologies globally, the GTS now totals more than $3.3 trillion.

Ethical Markets Media finds an abundance of progress in sustainable business activity in the 2012 GTS:

Asia, Europe and Latin America catching up with the USA in total non-government investments and commitments for all facets of green markets.  2011 ended with a GTS total of $3,306,051,439,680, starting from 2007.  Given the many studies indicating that investing $1 trillion annually until 2020 will accelerate the Green Transition worldwide and the over 100 research reports and articles referenced in this years’ update, the “Green Transition Scoreboard® 2012: From Expanding Cleantech Sectors to Emerging Trends in Biomimicry” definitively shows green investments are becoming the norm.

GTS is a time-based global tracking of the private financial system covering all all sectors involved with green markets. Transparency is key as delineates ethical progress in wealth building as defined by the triple bottom line of planet, people and profits.

Additional detail of the GTS:

The logo a visual symbol for inevitable human progress whose barometer rises, away from the symbols of the out-dated Fossil Fuel Era, as green investments increase over the next ten years and we enter the next economy – the age of light.

The GTS was created and realized by Hazel Henderson and Ethical Markets Media, LLC and as such it is updated and maintained by them. For investors, researchers, stakeholders, cultural creatives, GTS provides rigorous triple bottom analysis and guidance to financial data and organizations that have been screened using the strictest of social, environmental, and ethical auditing standards.