2016: What’s On Our Mind

By Patricia Farrar-Rivas, CEO

2016 is already off and running fast.

Early each year, to make sure we’re focused on our investment themes, our team takes time to re-affirm our priorities so we can, in turn, help clients achieve their goals.

So what are those priorities? As a firm, Veris remains committed to developing the following impact and sustainable investing strategies:

  • Investments to counter climate change and create environmentally sound and socially just solutions
  • Gender Lens Investing, which focuses on investing in companies with women in leadership, with corporate cultures where women can advance, and in product and services supporting women and girls
  • Community Wealth Building to renew vulnerable communities
  • Sustainable agriculture and food systems
  • Mindfulness and sustainability

To provide some fresh thinking about each of these strategies, I wanted to share a number of enlightening points-of-view. They are from various media – books, newspapers, magazines, as well as a podcast. They are all terrific food for thought. So here goes.

Should We Be Scared Of Immigrants?

The Syrian refugee crisis in Europe and the inflammatory rhetoric of the Presidential campaign have completely polarized the debate about immigration. In the current environment, immigration – both legal and illegal – has become another issue that divides us.

It doesn’t need to be that way, if only common sense entered the conversation. That’s exactly what Freakonomics author Stephen J. Dubner did in his wonderful, hour-long podcast, Is Migration a Basic Human Right?

I loved this podcast because it reminds all of us about enormous benefits of immigration. One of the reasons the U.S. is so successful is that our country was built by a diverse group of cultures.

Dubner goes into the history of why immigration is a strength. He also makes another critical, if little-mentioned point:  Migration is part of the human condition. Humanity has been in a constant state of migration ever since we learned to walk on two legs. This podcast injects rationality back into the whole overheated issue.

The Radical Women We Love

Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz is one of those books you just want to tell others about. Written for children, it profiles a list of pioneering women who have changed history. It features some of the most well-known – and least well-known – women of the past few hundred years.

The women are of different races, backgrounds, and professions, but all are role models with a fascinating story. I personally like the journey of Angelina and Sarah Grimke. These two sisters from South Carolina devoted their lives to ending slavery in the 1830s. They pushed the boundaries of what was then considered acceptable roles for women in public matters and remain inspirational figures 185 years later.

The book also includes Angela Davis, Billie Jean King, Carol Burnett, Rachel Carson, and Patti Smith, among others. The book goes in alphabetical order, and I particularly liked how the letter X was handled. It was a dedication to all those women who are to come and change the world.

But perhaps the best reason I latched onto this book: My six-year-old granddaughter was enthralled by it. She especially liked the full-page illustrations of each of woman.

Combatting Climate Change

The climate change summit in November seized the world’s attention about one of the gravest threats humanity faces. As you probably saw, much was said and written about the proceedings.

In fact, it was overwhelming. That’s why I’d recommend two very informative pieces. The first is a recap of the summit’s highlights, written by the BBC. This story summarizes what was achieved and what wasn’t. It also put those achievements in context with the progress made at the Kyoto Summit in 1997. If you’re looking for an overview to help understand what happened, this is it.

A second piece that provides greater depth is The Economist’s 36-page special report on climate change published just before the global confab. With the Economist’s usual lucid prose and cleared-eyed analysis, the report laid out the key climate change issues. It’s a reference you can return to again and again.

Black Lives Matter

In too many communities in our country, people of color are disproportionately faced with limited options for education, health care, housing, jobs, and healthy food. Decades of poverty and institutionalized marginalization have cut families off from opportunities to create healthy communities.

With this as a backdrop, I was truly moved by Between The World And Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Like The Fire Next Time, the 1963 classic written by James Baldwin that inspired Coates, this book is a very moving and personal piece of work.

A No. 1 New York Times best seller, Between the World and Me is the story of an African-American father writing a letter to his teenage son explaining racism in America. To hear the intimate voice of an African-American man talking to his son in the midst of a national epidemic of violence and injustice against young black men is something everyone needs to experience.

Coates sets the stage by explaining the historical evolution of racism in this country. It includes how slaves were dehumanized when they were brought to America and then puts everything into perspective right up to Ferguson, Trayvon Martin, and South Carolina. His writing is all of the more gripping because of he grew up in a poor black neighborhood.

Coates’ story reminded me of another outstanding book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. The author is Michelle Alexander, Associate Professor at Ohio State University and a civil rights attorney. With lawyerly precision, Alexander makes a strong case about why we should all be outraged by the war on drugs. She points out that even though the vast majority of drug dealers and users are white, the percentage of incarcerated African Americans is 7 to 10 times higher than that of white Americans. This is another must-read.

Sustainable Agriculture For All

One of the starting points for public health is a sound and affordable food supply. Yet, for too many Americans, the choices are limited and fast food is all too abundant. Now, in some places across the country, cities are experimenting with new ways to grow and distribute food to improve public health.

Fixing Food is a very well done analysis by Union of Concerned Scientists. This 20-page report describes the efforts under way in five cities – Oakland, Memphis, Louisville, Baltimore and Minneapolis – to increase the number healthy food options.

Of note is the report’s discussion about how many local governments and community leaders are focused on healthy food initiatives for lower-income communities and communities of color. Research shows that these communities are more likely to suffer from diet-related illnesses, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  This is a highly informative report that deserves to be shared.

Intuition and Our Biases

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, should be required for anyone living in our times. This New York Times best seller synthesizes the seminal work of one of the most important psychologists of our time.

The book explains two types of thinking we all engage in whether we know it or not. The first is the snap judgments and involuntary conclusions we make based on intuition and experience – fast thinking. The second is slower and more careful thinking that requires us to stop what we are doing and focus.

The first kind of thinking is a product of our evolution. We made quick decisions because our life depended on it when we lived on the savannah. As good as those instincts are today, they also have built in blind-spots we don’t experience as biases, but are biases just the same. Slow thinking is essential to make sense of the world around us and offer a counter-balance to our reflexive judgments and thinking.

Kahneman implores us to examine our own social biases, and also shows us how to understand our consciousness. It’s an eye-opening book that demonstrates just how much we don’t know about our own motivation and the way we think.

* * *

I hope these recommendations provoke some critical thinking and enlightenment for you. Please feel free to share these points-of-view with others.



Stranded No More

By Luisamaria Ruiz Carlile, Senior Wealth Manager

Impact investing is a disruptive innovation. It’s upending traditional investing, crashing through old assumptions about how investors determine risk and assess value.

Take for example, the concept of “stranded assets.” These are assets which are losing economic value well ahead of their anticipated useful life due to changes in technology, regulations, legislation, societal norms, environmental shocks or other powerful forces.

By that definition, carbon intensive assets – particularly fossil fuels – are increasingly at risk of being ‘stranded.’  It turns out that we cannot possibly consume all of our buried treasure without raising the planet’s temperature to the point of our own extinction.  And as the economics of wind, solar and other alternative fuels have improved dramatically, we now wonder if we bid up fossil fuels to the point of creating a “carbon bubble.”  The climate change math has exposed more risk than opportunity in those vast reserves.

But just as impact investors are writing down the value of oil and gas in the ground, many are realizing that for too long, vast reserves of human talent have been languishing — stranded — on the economic sidelines.  Across borders and cultures, strong social biases have undervalued the economic contributions of too many people, whether grouped by gender, religion, ethnicity, economic class or some other identity.

Shining a spotlight on this very issue of undervalued human talent is the rapidly evolving field of ‘gender lens investing.’  This approach sees gender as a critical factor in the analysis of all investments – both for spotting opportunities and identifying hidden risks.  Its premise is that gender matters, and that it matters all the time.  Companies, communities and entire countries gain – or lose – depending on the gender balance they achieve in allocating capital, services, jobs and leadership opportunities.

Long a pioneer in this approach, the Criterion Institute has just released an important report titled “The State of the Field of Gender Lens Investing:  A Road Map for the Field.”  It’s a comprehensive look-back at how the field has evolved, and a push-forward of an approach that sits squarely at the “intersection” of systems of finance and investment, and movements to create gender equity in the world.

Its goal is ambitious: to transform how finance — a massive system of power — values women and girls. And in so doing, make it work for more, if not all. As it states in the executive summary: “…For gender lens investing to fulfill its promise, it needs to not only move money to investments that have gender as part of their analysis, but to demonstrate how finance can be part of a strategy addressing issues such as sex trafficking, biases in the media, the wage gap and equitable health access.”  Ultimately, gender lens investors see finance as a major lever for systems change.

Increasingly the research is making the business case for inclusion of women at all levels of economic participation:  from shop floor to board room to C-suite and from entrepreneurs in emerging markets to those in Silicon Valley. Companies with more women on boards outperform those with none. Start ups with women in leadership roles outperform those with none. And women-led hedge funds consistently outperform those led only by men.

Strong investor interest in applying a gender lens has spurred development of investment options across all asset classes, in both debt and equity products, and in public and private markets. A few individuals and foundations are now pioneering ‘gender lens portfolios’ populated with investments that in a myriad of ways support women and girls.

Gender lens investors are betting on an ‘economic dividend’ arising from a more balanced distribution of economic and social power. They see a larger – not shrunken — economic pie as investments in women and girls’ advancement spur growth and innovation. They are actively seeking diverse and inclusive enterprises that don’t just count the number of women they employ but genuinely value, develop and promote them.

When the on-ramps to opportunity grow, less and less of our immense reserves of human talent will be stranded on the economic sidelines.  As we re-calibrate how we value our resources and citizens, the future is flashing its message, and it appears to be saying:

“Go Female Positive and Carbon Neutral!”

Photo Credit: Ignite New Zealand; used under a Creative Commons License

Creative Destruction and Stranded Assets

By Anders Ferguson, Partner and Danya Liu, Associate

Over the next 30 years, whole swaths of the global economy will change dramatically. Innovation and technology, combined with global demand and shrinking resources, will fundamentally alter the way people do everything from getting electricity to sourcing their food.

It will no doubt be an exciting time for everyone, but it will be especially transformational for one group in particular: investors. With so much disruptive change coming, it will be easy to make a wrong bet. Or, just plain bad luck could translate into a loss of capital and opportunity.

The potential for significant losses to investors isn’t some far off scenario. As the market undergoes these changes, investors face an immediate threat known as “stranded assets.” The good news is that investors can benefit from helping sustainable technologies and companies thrive in the 21st century.

What Is A Stranded Asset?

Because we’re likely to hear the term “stranded asset” with increasing frequency, we think it’s important to understand what that means.

According to the University of Oxford, “Stranded assets are assets that have suffered from unanticipated or premature write-downs, devaluations, or conversion to liabilities and they can be caused by a variety of risks.”

The term has mostly described assets in the oil and gas industry that are losing value as renewable sources of energy become competitive with carbon-based fossil fuels. In fact, a stranded asset can occur in any industry, as the following definitions imply.

“We define a stranded asset as an asset which loses economic value well ahead of its anticipated useful life, whether that is a result of changes in legislation, regulation, market forces, disruptive innovation, societal norms, or environmental shocks.” – Generation Foundation.

“A stranded asset has lower market value than that recorded on the balance sheet because it has become obsolete in advance of complete depreciation.” – International Institute for Sustainable Development

Stranded Assets Grow Across Industries

“Stranded assets” are the product of creative destruction, a term coined by Joseph Schumpeter in 1942 to describe how innovation and new market forces destroy prevailing economic and business models.

Just in the past decade, we’ve seen creative destruction in industry after industry – and we’re likely to see more of it.

Kodak and Xerox, blue-chip companies of the last century, are now footnotes in history after digital technology rendered their products nearly obsolete. Amazon’s virtual retail operation is threatening even Walmart, the king of big-box retailers, and its global network of stores, trucks and other infrastructure. In October, Walmart’s stock lost $11 billion in a single day.

The same kind of creative destruction is happening in the transportation and hospitality industries. Uber, Lyft and other tech-inspired transportation providers are diminishing the value of the taxi industry and their huge fleet of vehicles. Likewise, Airbnb threatens the hotel and time-share industries as more people choose to rent out their homes.

The electric utility industry is also ripe for disruptive change. Barclay’s downgraded the corporate bonds of the entire electric utility industry in May 2014, according to Barron’s.  The Barclay’s report said that over the next few years, “declining cost trends in distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) power generation and residential-scale power storage is likely to disrupt the status quo.”

Stranded Assets and Fossil Fuels

The previous examples demonstrate the breadth of the coming change, but it is especially problematic for the fossil fuel industry. Because the burning of fossil fuels is the single largest contributor to climate change, investors owning these assets face potentially large losses, especially as we see more stringent climate policy being enacted in key markets like California and China.

With the divestment movement gaining momentum, investors could face unwelcome outcomes if they are not realizing and addressing the risks of stranded assets in their portfolios.

To that point, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law in October a bill requiring the $291 billion California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the $184 billion California State Teachers’ Retirement System to liquidate holdings in coal companies by July 1, 2017.

The combination of public policy and green technology is rapidly weakening the dominance of fossil fuels as an energy source. The resulting shift may eventually leave fossil fuel reserves partially unburnable – or stranded. If everyone is selling coal plants, for example, the real issue is whether you want to be the last investor owning one.

We hope to see more oil and gas companies, as well as investors, incorporate this kind of risk assessment into their strategic planning. For the time being, we believe exposure to stranded assets should be incorporate into any risk analysis.

In the long run, whether assets are related to fossil fuels, the electrical grid or real estate, investors need to address the growing risks in “stranded assets.” Failure to do so may have dire consequences.

Veris Guest Blog: Call To Action: Let’s Make 100% Clean Energy Our Goal

By Dave Kirkpatrick, Managing Director at SJF Ventures

Last week, I visited Dan Shugar, CEO of NEXTracker, a global leader in tracking systems for solar power plants. NEXTracker, which operates the 70MW Javiera Solar project in Chile, is one of the emerging leaders in the cleantech energy revolution now under way.

Dan and his team grew the company faster than any I’ve seen over the past 15 years. Then he consummated this success with a $330 million sale to Flex last month. Dan will be leading NEXTracker within Flex to continue to drive down the cost of solar globally. Dan and NEXTracker investors are donating to a 100% clean energy initiative at the Sierra Club to continue to support the rapid transition away from fossil fuels. This isn’t the first time Dan has been so generous and thoughtful. Earlier, he helped kickstart the Beyond Coal initiative after selling Powerlight to Sunpower.

An Aspirational Goal

In thinking about Dan, it occurred to me that just as ‘zero waste’ was an aspirational goal mobilizing many companies over the last two decades, so too, will this new goal of 100% clean energy in the next two decades.

The world will be a much better place if we achieve that goal. We’ll benefit from great jobs, community revitalization, energy independence, and carbon reduction driven by this next wave of cleantech companies. It will be nice to again prove the naysayers wrong about the promise of sustainability.

Back in the mid-1990s, several recycling advocates, including myself, began promoting the goal of zero waste. We were frustrated by the incremental efforts at 10% or 20% recycling and wanted to focus individuals, cities, and companies on a more aspirational and ultimately attainable goal. We drew attention to broad source reduction, reuse, composting and advanced recycling.

At the time, the concept was derided by many in the waste management industry as unrealistic. Yet over time, it gained acceptance and now many cities and corporations have set zero waste as their goal. Cities that now have zero waste goals include Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Dallas, Minneapolis and New York.

Many corporations have also set their sights on zero waste as a paradigm shift for their business culture. The reason is simple. A goal of zero waste drives innovation, reduces expenses, builds more efficient operations and inspires employees and customers. Several operations or factories have effectively achieved ‘landfill free’ zero waste, including Proctor & Gamble, Subaru, Ford, Sunpower, Cargill, Unilever, Miller Coors, and Eaton.

These companies and a handful of others are helping their customers profitably reuse and recycle returned or damaged retail goods, mobile phones, utility equipment, organic material, biotech equipment, vehicles, municipal discards, e-waste, scrap lumber, and plastics. We continue to look for the next wave of great entrepreneurs who can find wasteful sectors of our economy where they can capture value and transform material and product flows.

100% Clean Energy

We should apply the same spirit that led to the zero waste goal in recycling, reuse and asset recovery in creating a goal of 100% clean energy in corporate America.

We’re optimistic we can achieve this thanks to a whole new set of energy entrepreneurs. NEXTracker, groSolar and Community Energy are all driving rapid adoption of low cost solar energy. EnTouch Controls, Ayla Networks, FieldView Solutions, RealWinWin, and B.B. Hobbs are enabling greater energy and water efficiency at restaurant and retail chains, appliance manufacturers, data centers, large commercial buildings, and farms.

The costs of solar and wind power, as well as energy efficiency, are declining rapidly. New energy sources to the grid are often from 100% renewable sources. They often displace retiring coal plants.

Energy storage costs are also declining rapidly. Tesla’s new Gigafactory is making news with its Powerwall solution, and many other companies are also driving lower costs. As business and utility models innovate to capture more of the diverse values of energy storage on the grid, this sector is likely to scale and benefit from the same low-cost, wide-adoption as wind and solar.

A New Day

The advent of low-cost storage, along with electric vehicles, creates the potential for individuals, companies and eventually communities and countries to move to 100% clean energy. Indeed, the RE100 is a global coalition of companies committed to going to 100% renewable energy including IKEA, Swiss Re, Goldman Sachs, SAP, Starbucks, Johnson & Johnson, UBS and Walmart.

Advocacy groups such as the Solutions Project have developed research on how states can cost effectively achieve 100% renewable energy. And the Sierra Club is advancing its successful Beyond Coal initiative to a 100% Clean Energy Project. Most 100% plans include not only solar and wind, but also efficiency, storage and intelligent grids, along with hydro, geothermal and tidal power.

Like “zero waste”, families and companies are effectively going 100% clean energy through onsite solar, green power purchases, efficiency and energy storage. Cities are adopting the goal as well, including Vancouver, Ithaca, Aspen, and Greensburg, KS.   Costa Rica has a target to be 100% carbon neutral by 2020. Interestingly, 83% of Americans say they support an ambitious 100% clean energy goal in a national online poll recently conducted by Global Strategy Group on behalf of the Sierra Club and HereNow.

Not surprisingly, the fossil fuel industry is fighting renewables and a 100% clean energy vision, just like the waste management industry did the recycling movement. However, more and more investors and institutions are seeking to distance themselves from fossil fuels and their risks of stranded assets through strategic divestment.

The Bottom Line

We will continue to hear from skeptics that say we need an all-of-the-above solution for energy, just like we still ‘need’ landfills for waste. That’s like saying we need some toxins in our diet and we shouldn’t strive to be 100% healthy because it is just too hard, costly or troublesome. However, as the cost of renewables and storage continues to drop and efficiency increases, we no longer have to be distracted by that false dichotomy.

As I rolled out my recycling and trash carts this week, the recycling one was filled to the brim, my compost pile is full, and my garbage cart had one small bag in it. With the 6 KW solar PV array on my roof, we are generating all the power we need in our house on a net basis. I bike to work most days and my firm buys carbon offsets for all of our air travel. It is a lot more fun for us all to work on getting to 100% clean energy and 0% waste in our lives, companies and communities.

Dave Kirkpatrick is Managing Director at SJF Ventures.

Creativity: A New Pillar of Sustainability

By Anders Ferguson and Laura Callanan

Creativity. We hack it. We map it. We study it. We rate it. We take it places. We build industries around it. We invest in it. We recognize we need it, even when it hurts. We know our future depends on it.

This is the first in a series of blog posts which will explore the radical premise that creativity is a key driver of sustainability.

We will look at the role creativity plays in strengthening communities and driving change. We will appreciate entrepreneurs using the arts, design, and making to tackle topics like healthy food, climate change, the criminal justice system, and immigration. We will remind ourselves how much research science, technology, and social entrepreneurship have in common.

We will imagine creativity as an investment theme and propose how it may be integrated into impact and mission-related investment portfolios. We will review creativity standards for companies and investment funds seeking to have a positive social and financial impact. We will start the conversation about how to measure creativity’s contribution toward our sustainable future.

What Do We Mean By Creativity?

Creativity is the spark. When the spark catches, it catalyzes an expression, an experiment, a “creation.” If the spark turns into an invention, an entrepreneur can build an enterprise around it.

If the invention works and the company is profitable and grows, there can be a wide-spread change – that’s innovation. Innovation makes markets.

Business uses the word creativity, too. In fact, the Conference Board reports that creativity ranks among the top five skills that U.S. employers believe to be of increasing importance.

But the aesthetic, playful, social aspects of creativity are usually ignored by business. Business ignores creativity unless it’s easily measurable and quantifiable. Business ignores creativity unless it contributes to the financial bottom line.

Sound familiar?

If innovation drives the practical, monetizable, single bottom line, then creativity drives the social, impactful, sustainable bottom line. And just like the other drivers of social impact, since creativity is hard to measure, the value of creativity can easily be overlooked.

The Creativity Revolution

In the ongoing conversation about money and meaning, creativity is key to our next chapter. In the quest for a more sustainable capitalism, we must engage the potential for creativity to fuel change.  It’s time we talk with the techies, the research scientists, and the artists.

Not because we are seeking a painting or symphony about climate change (though the Gates Foundation has recently engaged artists to help get the word out about the importance of vaccines).  We need to talk to the “creative disruptors” because they have the power to transform systems, markets, and companies. They divine new solutions that most of us just can’t see.

Where “Design Thinking” focuses on needs, “Creative Thinking” focuses on possibilities, aspirations, meaning.  And that is one reason why “creativity scares us,” as Bruce Nussbaum puts it in his terrific book Creative Intelligence: Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect and Inspire.

Why Creativity Is Sustainable

The fundamentals of creativity read like a playbook for sustainability. Stewards taking a long-term view will find a lot to like.

Creativity is a team sport. Creativity both relies on and builds social cohesion. Looking at places and moments of great creative output – Renaissance Florence, New York’s Soho in the 1970s, Silicon Valley over and over again – we see communities intermingling, competing, and collaborating.

Creativity blends tradition and innovation. Whether creativity takes an aesthetic or scientific form, the next “new new thing” builds off what has come before.  There is a sense of history, perspective, and context – even when making radical change. This anchor in what has “gone before” wards off short-term thinking.

Creativity is a bulwark against a volatile, uncertain, and complex world. We cannot anticipate the problems and challenges to come, so we must be able to improvise and respond. During times of stability and plenty, incremental improvements are fine. But to answer daunting challenges, we need a bold reply.

Creativity.  It’s not just for art class anymore.

This blog post first appeared on PhilanTopic

Laura Callanan has worked on Wall Street and on Broadway, managed the endowment for the Rockefeller Foundation, and overseen grantmaking for the National Endowment for the Arts. You can read more of her posts for PhilanTopic here.

Anders Ferguson is a founding partner of Veris Wealth Partners.  He is passionate about drawing connections between the arts, creativity, and sustainability.


Creating Impact Through Gender Lens Investing

By Patricia Farrar-Rivas, CEO and Luisamaria Ruiz Carlile, Senior Wealth Manager

Interested in a new way to create impact in your portfolio?

Gender lens investing is emerging as one of the most exciting new ways of using capital to create positive social impact for women or girls.

Click here to download the Veris white paper, Women, Wealth & Impact: Investing with a Gender Lens 2.0.

An innovative way of allocating capital, gender lens investing is about accelerating diversity and inclusion in the workplace. It’s also about creating opportunities for women entrepreneurs and executives to obtain capital, secure leadership roles and have greater influence over decisions.

In the developing world, gender lens investing is helping to lift women and girls out of poverty and create opportunity where previously there was none. By facilitating the flow of capital to women-led enterprises and organizations that benefit women and girls, gender lens investing has the potential to meaningfully improve their quality of life.

A New Way Of Thinking
Traditional financial analysis has mostly ignored gender considerations in capital allocation decisions. By contrast, gender lens investing integrates questions and data about gender to inform and guide investment decisions. As an analytical tool, a gender lens helps investors identify investment risks and opportunities with greater effectiveness.

Specifically, a gender lens assesses opportunities to empower women by evaluating how an investment supports: 1) women’s leadership, 2) women’s access to capital, 3) products and services beneficial to women and girls, 4) workplace equity, and 5) related shareholder engagement and policy work. Investments that satisfy one or more of these criteria are presumed to deliver greater impact to women and girls.

A Growing Number Of Options
Just a few years ago, only a handful of investments were designed to achieve these objectives. Today, more than a dozen dedicated gender lens investment opportunities exist. Many other creative investment opportunities are in development. These options range from fixed-income to equity investments in private and public markets. Some investments are open to all investors, while others are proprietary or restricted to accredited or qualified investors.

Gender lens investing opportunities come in two broad categories: (1) Dedicated gender lens solutions that explicitly adopt one or more of the goals stated above; (2) Funds and managers that do not offer a specific gender lens mandated product, but who integrate significant gender criteria into their security selection and/or engage in shareholder advocacy and policy work to advance gender inclusiveness.

Each gender lens investment has its own gender criteria. Some products have women’s leadership as a singular focus and select securities based solely on the number of women on boards or in the C-suite. Still others channel capital to women – whether as coffee growers in Latin America, first-time home buyers in the U.S. or entrepreneurs seeking angel investors.

Another type of gender lens opportunity funds innovative products and services beneficial to women, such as banking services to older women in Japan, HIV prevention in South Africa, and medical devices tailored specifically to women’s needs. Lastly, a number of gender lens solutions promote diversity and gender inclusion through significant shareholder engagement and policy work. Most products apply more than one gender lens criteria.

Let’s Own Our Collective Future
As a society, we own and shape the social constructs and financial systems that govern our lives. We make the rules. We assign the value. Yet, we can feel removed from these processes and our power to bend the arc of our institutions. At its core, investing with a gender lens challenges the financial system and investors to better allocate capital with much more thought to gender imbalances.

Investing for all, and by all, has to be our ultimate goal.

Click here to download the Veris white paper, Women, Wealth & Impact: Investing with a Gender Lens 2.0.


Sustainability Is Not A Wind Farm Or Solar Array

By Anders Ferguson, Partner

Sustainability Is Something Much More:  It’s A Worldview Based On Mindfulness And Interconnectedness

Sustainability is not climate change or local organic food.

Too often, those of us who care deeply about the sustainability movement tend to talk about it as a bright, shiny object – a new technology or the latest way to make the world a better place.

This focus on concrete outcomes is certainly good, but it commoditizes and limits the conversation and analysis about this critical issue.

The dilemma is easy to understand.  We comprehend our world through sight and touch.  Hence, the outcomes of our creative minds and hardworking hands are the easiest to see and experience as sustainable.

In fact, sustainability is a transformative worldview that is much more than new Teslas rolling off the assembly line, recycling or promoting impact investing. It is a mindset for seeing and changing our world.

What is Sustainability?

Sustainability is a deep understanding that everything is seamlessly and beautifully interconnected.  It is rooted in a mindfulness recognizing that each of us, doing our own work in our own field, is connected to others and impacts others, even if we don’t see it or realize it. It understands that the process of creating new sustainable products and services is equally as important as the products themselves.  A critical Yin and Yang for innovation.

Sustainability also accepts the responsibility to act and build a thriving world for our children and many generations to come.  A big task. A lot of real wisdom is needed.

Specialization has produced unprecedented knowledge that has benefited us all. But we often lose sight of the whole. Typically, one group working diligently on one problem isn’t really concerned about the broader implications to the rest of the world – and the unintended side effects.

Fossil fuel is an illustrative example of our siloed thinking. Fossil fuels were intended to help society be more productive, but more than 200 years of their use has had unintended global consequences – climate change.

Even at Veris, in our daily work with clients, we also too easily speak of sustainable products and services and the global challenges we have to solve as sustainability itself.  The reality is that they are actually the results of thinking and acting sustainability.

A Unified Worldview

Sustainability, then, is about looking at the world as an interconnected whole.

It’s about connecting the dots – uniting different branches of knowledge to produce solutions that transcend an atomized world, while refusing to be blind to the negative impact that one group or industry may have on others.

Put another way, the external world is a reflection of our inner selves:  “How’s your Inner Climate changing?”  If we are mindful and see the interconnectedness of all things, then the animating spirit of sustainability is present.

It’s not until we are one with ourselves – that we experience life holistically – that we can conceive of new ways of organizing ourselves and society that we unleash innovation.

A New Mindset: Moving from the Tangibility of a Prius to the Open Mind of Interconnectedness

By operating with the belief that all things are interconnected, we unleash creativity and enhance the performance of individuals. In essence, we dissolve the artificial barriers that divide one branch of knowledge from another, and begin to perceive the negative and positive results of our actions and decisions.

Interconnectedness also inspires individuals and companies to build new “mindfulness-based operating systems” that nurture and cultivate both the organization’s and our well-being. The common thread in these new systems is that they fully respect and appreciate human beings, nature and their potential.

Some of the world’s most sophisticated companies are already starting to operate with this mindset.

BlackRock, the largest financial firm in the world, and the CEO of AETNA, the health insurer, are embracing mindfulness and interconnectedness as a business strategy. They are encouraging their 70,000 combined employees to think about and practice, their own work and health with mindful intent. Toyota has done the same. The Japanese carmaker imagined the Prius years before it was prototyped or the market was ready. Unilever is transforming global consumer products by putting sustainability first throughout it interconnected global brands and operating companies on the ground in nearly every culture in the world.

Impact investing is another expression of sustainability. Impact investing funnels capital to people, ideas, projects and companies whose work seeks to develop human potential and preserve the sanctity of the planet for its own sake and the sake of generations to come.

Sustainability Inspires Progress

Our world faces huge, some would say life threatening challenges.  Arguably most have been created by humans.  Now it is our responsibility to undo the damage and create a flourishing future. By creating systems empowering our “sustainable minds” we are giving intelligent people the freedom to create unique and world-changing outcomes.

“Sustainable minds” and systems create breakthrough innovation, holistic analysis and action. They reimagine supply chains, create products we really need and build companies creating real value for shareholders and stakeholders.  They give people the freedom to act and dream big for the common good.

This is why the artist is as important to creating deep sustainability as the engineer, impact investor or the organic farmer. The multi-dimensional nature of sustainability demands everyone’s contributions.

It may be hard for us to truly believe it, but at its heart, sustainability may be as simple as changing our minds.

Veris Guest Blog: Gender Lens Investing 2.0

By Jem Hudson,  CEO of Caldy Group

“As a society, we own and shape the social constructs and financial systems that govern our lives. We make the rules. We assign the value. Yet we can feel removed from these processes and our power to bend the arc of our institutions.”

– Veris Wealth Partners

In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8th, we came across a myriad of thoughtful articles, studies, and other discussions focusing on women’s issues. One of the resources that especially caught our eye is a study by Veris Wealth Partners, a boutique wealth management firm that has been leading the way in sustainable and impact investing.

Titled “Women, Wealth & Impact: Investing with a Gender Lens 2.0,” this highly informative study aims to shed light on the latest developments in gender lens investing and outlines some of the more commonly seen investment strategies used today. It also offers commentary on the importance of gender lens investing and its growing popularity.

What is gender lens investing? It is an investment approach that aims to encourage greater gender inclusion in our communities, our workplaces, and our boardrooms. It is important to note that gender lens investing is not one-sided. It does not focus solely on women’s issues, to the exclusion of other considerations. Quite the opposite! The Veris study explains:

“Gender lens investing is about making the world better for everyone through our investment choices. Investing in all of us, by all of us, has to be the ultimate goal.” (p. 1)

Gender lens investing typically looks at companies, funds, and other investment opportunities with an eye for how these investments align with the following criteria:

  1. Women’s leadership
  2. Women’s access to capital
  3. Products and services beneficial to women and girls
  4. Workplace equity
  5. Related shareholder engagement and policy work

Some investors target investments that explicitly focus on these issues, while others choose to invest in funds and portfolios that integrate these considerations into a broader set of factors or address these issues through stakeholder engagement. This is fairly consistent with what we see in the broader sustainable investing space, where some investment solutions deliver targeted impact, while others cast a wider net and deliver impact a bit more indirectly.

Gender lens investing is often categorized as a sustainable investment strategy because of its focus on non-financial considerations. Many investors still have questions about the financial viability of sustainable investing, and there is a sense that focusing on non-financial considerations will have a negative impact on financial performance. However, we agree with the Veris study in noticing that those investors who have studied the sustainable investing space in some detail increasingly “realize [that] they can generate both financial gains and positive social and environmental impact.” (p. 2)

In particular, if we look a bit more closely at some of the most recent research in the space, we will uncover mounting evidence that gender lens investing can deliver strong, if not superior, financial returns, as well as meaningful impact toward greater diversity and inclusion. This superior financial performance starts at the board level; studies find that Fortune 500 companies with three of more women on their boards of directors outperform those with no women directors by 84% on return on sales. In addition, according to a recent study by Gopal Krishnan and Linda Parsons, companies with greater gender diversity among senior executives tend to deliver stronger financial results than their less diverse peers. Lastly, women-led companies in Silicon Valley generate 12% higher revenues than similar venture-backed companies run by men. They are also run more efficiently and have lower failure rates than their male-led peers.

Despite all this evidence, women are still underrepresented on boards of directors, in executive suites, and among venture-backed entrepreneurs. It’s clear that more work needs to be done to achieve greater gender inclusion, and much has been said on this topic. But it’s important to remember that, as the Veris study so astutely notes “[a]s a society, we own and shape the social constructs and financial systems that govern our lives.” (p. 7) While it may be easier to simply discuss issues of gender inclusion, we can play a much more constructive role by leveraging our capital in a way that supports and encourages solutions that work.

To help in identifying solutions that work and funds that support them, the Veris study offers a list of investment funds that have demonstrated a strong commitment to gender lens investing, including Golden Seeds (private equity), PAX Ellevate (public equity), and Breckinridge (fixed income). There are several other funds that one can choose, and we are confident that many more funds will launch moving forward.

Regardless of which investment solution one selects, it’s important to remember that gender lens investing is not merely a niche strategy, but something we should aspire to for all of our investments. At the end of the day, we want to see a world where gender inclusion doesn’t need to be discussed in a white paper, but is simply a natural state of things.

Jem Hudson is Founder and CEO of Caldy Group, where this post was first published.

The Veris Agenda: Five Impact Investing Themes for 2015

By Patricia Farrar-Rivas, CEO

As impact investors, Veris Wealth Partners directs capital to support the varied goals of our clients, while helping create a more just and sustainable world.  The process of aligning values with wealth through impact investing continues to revolutionize the capital markets in the U.S. and abroad.

Impact investing also does something else that’s very important: It delivers both positive social change and financial performance. Very few wealth management strategies can achieve both of these goals.

With such a broad mandate and so much opportunity, the question is how do we determine where to concentrate our efforts and yours?

High Five

At Veris, we are focused on five key impact investing themes.  These focus areas aren’t new for Veris; we have been working on them for many years.  All of these themes are highly interconnected, though different in terms of suitability and risk.

Our team is excited about these investing themes for good reason: Each one seeks to mitigate specific risks and identify promising investment opportunities that can deliver significant environmental and social impact.  In our blogs and white papers in 2015, you’ll hear more from us on these topics. Also expect that our point-of-view will evolve even further as new developments unfold.

1. Gender Lens Investing

Gender lens investing is one of the newest strategies for creating impact.  Gender lens investing includes investments that make capital accessible to female entrepreneurs and businesses; promotes gender equality in the workplace by supporting companies that are gender policy leaders; and invests in products and services that benefit women and girls.

The data shows that better companies and communities are created when wealth and leadership flow to women, whether the goal is to lift women and girls out of poverty or bolster women’s leadership and entrepreneurial success.

Put simply, investing in women is good for all of us. By focusing on some of us we all win.

2. Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems

Agriculture is the most dominant human endeavor on the planet. Agriculture as it is practiced today threatens wild plant and animal species, as well as the natural ecosystem upon which humans and wildlife depend.  Today, over 70% of fresh water goes to crops, livestock grazing and forestry.

With the world population estimated to reach 9 billion by 2040, it is imperative that the management of agriculture systems be improved to increase productivity and preserve biodiversity.  Investment in sustainable agriculture seeks to demonstrate that environmentally progressive farming practices are scalable and are more economically viable than today’s chemical-dependent commodity agriculture.

Further to advance this new agriculture consumers are demanding food and agriculture systems that return closer to their communities and regions.  This too is a very positive trend, rebuilding a local food infrastructure which has been swallowed by Agribusiness and multinational food companies.  Many of our clients are already very engaged.

3. Climate Change and the Environment

Climate change continues to be one of the most critical issues of our time.  Global warming and the ongoing degradation of the environment pose growing risks to the planet and demand new solutions. As the effects of climate change accelerate, they are challenging corporate profitability and governments’ budgets on a global scale. The fallout from climate change is already beginning to create a ripple effect in equity markets.

As investors, we are constantly looking at the trade-off between risk and expected return. Incorporating climate change risk into portfolio management is vital to comprehensive risk analysis. One of the major financial risks we are following is the whole question of “Stranded Assets” being created as a world dominated by fossil fuels shifts to a renewable future.  Trillions of dollars of existing energy assets are likely to see their value greatly depreciated in the transition. The good news is that across financial sectors and industries, there are a rapidly growing number of investments driving environmentally positive solutions.

4. Community Wealth Building and Social Justice

Community Wealth Building is a fast-growing economic development movement intended to strengthen local communities. It aims to redirect the flow of assets back from Wall Street to Main Street. Community wealth building promotes democratic ownership and local control of businesses and jobs. It seeks to develop local talents, capacities, facilities, and capital. Community wealth builders are developing and strengthening locally-owned – and often community-owned – businesses, universities, hospitals and non-profits that are anchors of their local economies for the long term.

The Community Wealth Building field is comprised of a broad range of models that have been growing over the past 30 years. These include cooperatives, employee-owned companies, social enterprises, trusts, municipal enterprises, community development financial institutions, community banks, and more. The profound issues of Inequality are now clear to all.  Developing real strategies that work to rebuild communities for the “99% of Americans” are deemed essential by both the Right and the Left. The energy and ideas flowing from the community wealth movement will be exciting to watch in 2015.

5. Sustainability and Mindfulness

Sustainability is another emerging area of great opportunity and interest for both global and local companies who share a progressive sense of responsibility. At the most fundamental level, sustainability is a deep understanding that everything is seamlessly and beautifully interconnected.

Sustainability is about looking at the world holistically, and acting from this understanding. It’s also about connecting the dots – uniting different branches of knowledge to produce solutions that transcend an atomized world. Equally important, interconnectedness refuses to be blind to the negative impact that one group or industry working independently may have on the greater whole of society.

When we practice mindfulness, and are present with the choices we make every day, greater sustainability and greater innovation unfolds. Mindfulness recognizes that each of us, doing our own work in our own field, impacts others — even if we don’t see it or don’t realize it. At Veris, mindfulness is what we try to practice every day.


We hope you share our enthusiasm for these particular issues, and we welcome any ideas to help us have greater impact.




Veris Guest Blog: What Is Community Wealth Building & Why Is It So Important?

By Ted Howard, Co-founder and Executive Director of The Democracy Collaborative

More than a decade ago, my colleagues and I at The Democracy Collaborative began using a term for a new kind of economic development – Community Wealth Building. For years, the term was so uncommon that it almost invariably appeared within quotation marks when used.

Today, a Google search identifies 124,000 entries and is growing daily.

In Richmond, VA, the Mayor recently established the first City-government Office of Community Wealth Building. Community wealth initiatives have been launched in cities as different as Cleveland, OH, Washington, DC, Atlanta, GA and Amarillo, TX. Regional Federal Reserve Banks are hosting video webinars and meetings. Even the extractive fracking industry — yes, you read that right — is now working to co-opt the term to improve its image.

Why Now?

So let us pause for a moment to ask: What is community wealth building and why is it important?

My colleague Marjorie Kelly, author of Owning Our Future: The Emerging Ownership Revolution, writes that:

When families possess assets — valuable skills, social networks, a home, some savings, an ownership stake in a business — they enjoy greater resilience, and are better able to withstand occasional shocks like unemployment or illness. They can plan for their future, send a child to college, feel secure in retirement. A job may start or stop. It is assets, of various kinds, that yield greater stability and security. As this is true of families, it is also true of communities. Jobs may be drawn into a community, but then leave without warning. And if attracting jobs means degrading community assets — through pollution, low-wage jobs, or the loss of tax income through excessive tax breaks — a seeming gain can in fact represent a net loss. 

If traditional economic development tends to be about attracting industry to a community, building wealth is instead about using under-utilized local assets to make a community more vibrant. It’s about developing assets in such a way that the wealth stays local. And the aim is helping families and communities control their own economic destiny.

Strengthening Communities

This is community wealth building: a fast-growing economic development movement that strengthens our communities through broader democratic ownership and control of business and jobs. It builds on local talents, capacities and institutions, rebuilding capital to strengthen and create locally-owned family and community owned businesses that are anchored in place, that aren’t moving.

The community wealth building field includes a broad range of models and innovations that have been steadily growing power over the past 30 years or more: cooperatives, employee-owned companies, social enterprise, land trusts, family businesses, community development financial institutions and banks, and more. One powerful team of local partners are anchor institutions, like hospitals and universities. They are often the largest economic drivers in their communities. Increasingly they see the synergy between restoring local health and wealth with their success.

These strategies reverse the focus on “chasing companies to relocate to my city.” All too often this includes greater tax breaks and lower wages for companies that may well relocate again for a better offer in another community. Community wealth, on the other hand, is tied to place. The people who own and control the businesses live there.

These structures and models are part of a growing system that aims at improving the ability of communities and individuals to:

  1. increase asset ownership;
  2. create anchor jobs locally by broadening ownership over capital;
  3. help achieve key environmental goals (including decreasing carbon emissions);
  4. expand the provision of public services by strengthening the municipal tax base; and
  5. ensure local economic stability.

Investing Locally

Significantly strengthening and growing local capital is critical.

Strategies include:

  1. building new, and strengthening existing, community-based financial institutions;
  2. preventing local financial resources from “leaking out” away;
  3. leveraging the use of procurement and investment from existing local anchor institutions such as  hospitals, universities, foundations, cultural institutions, and city government; and
  4. finally, working aligned impact investors and financial institutions to grow affordable capital committed to building local wealth.

Veris and other advisors play a critical role in furthering community-based impact investing.

The overall economic impact of place-based, community wealth building strategies is evident. More than 10 million employees own all or part of 10,900 companies through employee stock ownership plans (ESOPS) — firms that employees finance and increasingly own through pension contributions. These ESOPs have generated equity benefits of $870 billion for their employee-owners. Cooperatives, according to a 2009 University of Wisconsin study, now operate 73,000 places of business throughout the United States, own $3 trillion in assets, employ 857,000 people, and generate over $500 billion in revenue for their member-owners. The new “go local/sustainable” business and food movement is exploding.

Political economist and historian Gar Alperovitz, a co-founder of The Democracy Collaborative, often asks audiences this question when he lectures: “If you don’t like state socialism and you don’t like corporate capitalism, what kind of system do you want?” Community wealth building begins to point to some of the essential elements of a more just, equitable and sustainable system.

To learn more about community wealth building innovations across the country, visit www.community-wealth.org

Ted Howard is the co-founder and Executive Director of The Democracy Collaborative.