Veris Guest Blog: By David Richardson, CFA
The theme of the UN’s annual World Water Day last month was “leave no-one behind.” This sentiment is applicable to both emerging markets and the developed world, while offering opportunities for investors in water.
The sixth sustainable development goal (SDG) from the UN is clean water and sanitation for all by 2030. The UN celebrates this day each year to call attention to this global priority and to advocate for sustainable management of freshwater resources.
While the need to develop water infrastructure in the developing world is understood, access to clean water, as the ongoing 2014 Flint, Michigan water crisis illustrates, is an issue for the developed world too.
My firm, Impax Asset Management, has been researching and investing in listed water related companies since 1999, running a dedicated strategy since 2008. In recent years, we have seen the universe of investable companies increase and an acceleration in the growth of many of its constituent companies. Climate change, pollution and a growing, increasingly urban population all drive demand that innovation and technology can help fulfil.
Governments, public bodies and private industry are all investing in new and upgraded infrastructure, and the investment momentum keeps gaining pace.
Access and changing preferences
Leaving no one behind in emerging market regions, like China, India and Sub-Sahara, largely requires the development of water infrastructure where it previously did not exist.
It is a positive development driven in no small part by urbanization, growing populations and changes in consumption patterns that demand higher standards of living. This isn’t just about access to clean water and water treatment. Many items taken for granted by urban dwellers require a significant amount of water to produce. A hamburger, for instance, requires 460 gallons (2,090 liters) of water to make.1
A great deal of the infrastructure in the developed world is outdated, inefficient and/or struggling to meet modern water demands. This was exemplified by the Flint’s water crisis, where cost-cutting led to insufficient water treatment and lead leaching into the water supply. The project to replace the lead pipes, which commenced in 2016, continues with costs running into hundreds of millions of dollars.2
Climate change is impacting water security. In recent years there have been a number of severe periods of drought and water shortages that have impacted farming yields, industrial productivity and meant loss of revenue for workers, such as the 2012–16 California and the 2014-2017 Brazil droughts.
Most recently, South Africa’s second largest city Cape Town, with a population of about 4 million people, suffered its own water crisis. Rainfall well below historical levels meant the City’s main reservoir was close to empty in March 2018. Cape Town residential water use was cut from about 120 liters per person per day in 2015 to 50 liters at the start of 2018.
For officials and residents in these regions, the long-term impact of climate change on water supply requires investment in a range of measures, including conservation and leak detection. Examples of other extreme weather events, like storms, represent a different priority, where protection and clean-up can be more pressing.3
An abundance of opportunities
The investment opportunities in water are surprisingly diverse and resilient. Risk characteristics are comparable to equity markets, and water runs through the global economy, across markets, sectors and regions. Water also provides attractive opportunities through the economic cycle, encompassing both defensive and cyclical businesses.
Technology and innovation play key roles in reducing water consumption. Smart meters, for example, can help utilities manage the supporting infrastructure more efficiently, and provide an early warning sign of and location of leaks. Public entities and private industry globally are investing in upgrading their infrastructure and this investment momentum looks set to continue.
David Richardson, CFA®, is Executive Director of Impax Asset Management, which has more than $16 billion in assets under management.
By Anders Ferguson, Partner
Ellen Remmer’s journey from enlightened philanthropist to impact investor is a story that can inspire all of us.
Ellen grew up in a philanthropically engaged family that established a family foundation in 1990. Over the course of the past 30 years, Ellen’s vision has steadily evolved, and today she is a champion of impact investing and the opportunities to align her wealth and her values.
Recently, her mission has focused on helping women take control of their assets and invest with greater purpose and impact. Her vision manifested in a new nonprofit initiative, Invest for Better, which launched in January.
Last month, I sat down with Ellen to discuss her life’s journey. I wanted to share her experience because it speaks to the potential of investing capital to achieve both social benefit and financial gain. It’s also instructive in describing how investors can change their mind about the role and possibilities of wealth.
Influenced by her family’s focus on the greater good through its foundation, Ellen began her career in 1990 as an advisor to philanthropic families and organizations. She primarily served families of significant wealth who wanted to be more effective donors to create positive change.
In 2000, Ellen attended a Council on Foundations meeting in NYC, where she heard a representative from the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation talk about the idea of Mission-Related Investing. At that point, a lightbulb went off. Ellen realized that foundations can use their endowments’ capital to further their goals – a grant and invest.
This was a transformative moment for Ellen, who had always advised families to “give away” money to accomplish their mission. Ellen’s epiphany, however, was still ahead of its time. Her vision had only tepid support from advisors and co-trustees. The objections were similar to those we still hear today. “It won’t work.” “We’ll lose money.” “Not fiduciarily responsible.”
Education Is Key
Undaunted, Ellen kept pushing. In 2007, she was appointed to lead The Philanthropic Initiative(TPI), a philanthropic advisory practice for individuals, families, foundations, and businesses. In that new role, her thinking evolved further. She was responsible for identifying critical issues and trends in the field and translating them into practical advice for philanthropic clients.
The challenge was how to present the notion of impact investing to families and demonstrate fiduciary responsibility at the same time. She knew the task at hand was to educate and help investors think in new ways.
TPI worked with a number of partners to help clients assess opportunities for Mission-Related Investing. They also facilitated an initiative to help community foundations offer impact investing to their donors.
After years of advising families and watching others struggle forward, Ellen felt she had not made the big step in transforming her wealth and portfolio. As Ellen told us, “I simply was not practicing what I was preaching.”
As she became comfortable with the benefits of impact investing, she reflected on the advice she had been receiving from her advisors. It was clear most weren’t aware that wealth could be aligned with values and that a rigorous investment approach could achieve meaningful financial results andsocial benefit for clients. As Ellen noted, it’s easy to simply “follow the recommendations of your advisor.”
Ellen responded by giving her advisor an ultimatum: Could the advisor’s team meet her needs as an impact investor? It quickly became evident the advisor couldn’t, and that’s when we welcomed her to Veris.
A Different Way
As an impact investor with Veris, we have helped Ellen seek market-rate returns that proved the skeptics in her family wrong. She learned that impact investing was a sound and viable approach to creating social benefit and financial gain.
Working through her foundation, she then moved to higher-impact investments, which not only accomplished her financial objectives, but also brought Ellen personal joy. Her son joined her family’s foundation board. He was very interested in impact investing and helped bring along the rest of the family.
Always advancing, Ellen wrote the TPI Guide to Impact Investing, which furthered her thinking about women and impact investing. She understood that women, in particular, have a special interest in impact investing, but often fail to translate their intent into action.
Invest for Better
So, Ellen got determined to help women invest with impact. Her goals were to educate and empower women about impacting investing, while demystifying the process.
All of this work has culminated in her current project, Invest For Better, a nonprofit campaign whose collaborators include TPI, Mission Throttle, Mission Investors Exchange, The Case Foundation, among others.
Ellen believes more women should be engaged in impact investing than they are today, but says there are three “gaps” that prevent more women from doing so.
The first is the aspiration gap – the disconnect between interest and action among women. Second is the application gap – having the time and confidence to invest with impact. Third is the support gap – having advisors and peers to discuss impact investing.
Like all of Ellen’s work, she has put her heart, soul and keen intellect into her new project. The team at Veris believes this well-timed initiative will play a vital role in motivating women to embrace impact investing.
More than anything, Ellen is one of those courageous leaders whose passion, energy and vision will continue to inspire us all.
Thank you, Ellen.
Veris is proud to announce the release of our 3rd annual Impact Report, highlighting the collective achievements of its clients, the Veris team, and the investment managers we work with.
Among the milestones of the past year: Veris celebrated its 10th anniversary, reached $1 billion in client assets under management, and was named as a B Corporation Best for the World company for the sixth consecutive year.
The 24-page report describes the environmental and social impact resulting from our clients’ collective investments in our five thematic areas: Climate Change & the Environment, Community Wealth Building & Social Equality, Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems, Gender Lens Investing, and Mindfulness & Sustainability.
The report also focuses on how Veris measures impact, both quantitatively and qualitatively. As part of our ongoing due diligence, we look at the role public companies, shareholder advocacy, private social enterprises, and community development solutions play in creating a more inclusive and sustainable economy.
We’re pleased to note that we have seen great progress each year in terms of understanding and communicating the impact of portfolio companies.
In 2017, impact reporting took a leap forward with the development of systems-level frameworks, such as the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. To encourage more common language in impact reporting, Veris also reports metrics established by the Global Impact Investing Network’s (GIIN) Impact Reporting and Investment Standards (IRIS). IRIS facilitates comparison and best practices, transparency, and accountability in impact measurement.
What is also interesting about this year’s report is what it says about the positive direction of impact investing. We’re seeing increased momentum across the field – such as major commitments from conventional investors and growth of the Green Bond market and assets invested with a Gender Lens. If you haven’t seen our 2018 analysis of Gender Lens Investing, please feel free to download it here.
We believe these trends validate what Veris clients and our team have recognized for a decade: that investors can align their wealth with their values. The 2017 Veris Impact Report demonstrates our commitment to delivering the most impactful investment opportunities and supporting the overall growth of sustainable and impact investing.
We hope you will read our report, and we look forward to your feedback.
Click here to download the full report.
By Lori Choi, Partner
“Opportunity Zones” are a hot topic in impact investing these days, but what are they and why might they be important for investors?
Embedded in the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed into law, December 2017, are provisions around “Opportunity Zones.” They ask governors of all states and territories to designate up to a quarter of low-income census tracts as investible zones. The aim is to attract investment to these distressed communities by allowing investors to defer, reduce, or potentially eliminate capital gains taxes over time.
Why is this program important? According to Rockefeller Foundation President, Rajiv Shah, Opportunity Zones represent “the single biggest tax incentive to invest in low-income communities across America that we’ve seen in 100 years.”1 While impact investing champions are cautiously optimistic about the amount of dollars that could flow to low income communities, this new policy is also exciting in its potential to draw more mainstream investors into impact investing. According to the U.S. Impact Investing Alliance “there are currently trillions of dollars’ worth of unrealized gains in the capital markets. If even a portion of those gains are moved to invest in distressed communities, it could have a transformative impact.”2
Investors must invest in Qualified Opportunity Zone Funds within 180 days of selling an appreciated asset to receive the tax benefits, although the number of investment funds being created is still limited. Several of Veris’ impact investing partners are looking into forming Opportunity Zone Funds. We look forward to keeping you updated about how these may or may not be appropriate for your situation and goals.
Investors in Qualified Opportunity Funds will get to benefit in three ways:
• Taxes due on capital gains deferred until December 31, 2026, at the latest.
• Capital gains will be reduced by 10% for investments held 5+ years and 15% for 7+ years.
• Capital gains will be permanently eliminated for investments held 10+ years.
Impact investing champions like the Kresge Foundation3 have come forward to support the creation of Opportunity Zone Funds.