For so many years, I have held the belief that the capitalist financial system is at the source of destroying our planet. And while I can still argue that to be the case, I am also conscious of the power of business and how to harness that to achieve positive outcomes.
I have some funds to invest and have been trying to find the best way to do that. The simplest and financially most sensible thing to do might be to follow the Barefoot Investor’s suggestion and put them in low cost ETFs. To fulfill my interest in sustainability there are some focused on that and I have had our super money invested ethically for years. But I want more. (When my daughter read this, she accused me of wanting more money. And after reading the whole article she said: “Ah, now I get it.” so please bear with me.)
My research on what else I could do with our money brought me to impact investing. Quite quickly I found a few interesting options around clean energy, regenerative agriculture, positive social impact and sustainable startups. But as I was reading the boring PDS documents, I got really disillusioned and realised that this is not at all what I want. All I was able to find out was that I could give them a tick for some positive impact and how much the return may be. Mostly I was wondering whether it might be too risky or whether it wouldn’t pull value from the communities the investment flowed to instead of supporting them to thrive. It was way too impersonal.
For a while I even wondered whether sustainability was worth pursuing. It is humans who are the problem, we might as well wreck the planet to make it unlivable for humans. The outcome will be a beautiful new natural environment. Just without humans (in a few thousand years).
But I realise that this strategy only works if I think of humans as an anonymous mass. As soon as I start thinking about family, friends and all the thousands of beautiful people who are making positive contributions, I feel a very personal connection and love. And the joy my community gives me is something I want to enjoy and replicate for many generations to come.
So this morning I had the essential insight. I need to start with clarity on the impact I want to have. Then it will become much easier to decide what helps achieve that and what does not.
So here is my best understanding of the impact I want to have:
Connection to People and Planet
I want connection to people and planet. I want to touch people to be healthy, happy and hopeful while increasing biodiversity, creating natural resource loops and using clean energy.Alexander Kohl
Connection is at the heart of it. It is the very opposite of scalable, global business. Small teams that have real relationships with one another, their communities, suppliers and clients. Decentralised ownership, rather than anonymous investors pulling out value on the back of workers.
My deepest joy comes from seeing people healthy, happy and hopeful. Therefore I want more people be that.
Healthy is the starting point: deep, natural health of the body. (Looking at the UN sustainable development goals, this relates to 2 Zero Hunger, 3 Health & Wellbeing and 6 Sanitation)
Happy is being here and now. It is achieved when people have choice and decide to stay in the circumstances they are in. (1 No Poverty, 5 Gender Equality, 9 Infrastructure and 17 Partnerships).
Hopeful is pursuing dreams, looking towards an even brighter future and taking action to get there for self and others. (4 Education, 8 [Decent] Fulfilling Work, 10 Reduced Inequalities, 16 Peace)
Which brings me to the planet. I feel such a deep connection to the land I am walking on. I love jumping into the ocean, looking back at the unspoilt nature of Alexandria Bay. And I want to enhance that and make it reality for more beings.
Biodiversity is the web of life that holds us. It is so fine and intricate that it is very easy to ignore its importance. However, it is at the very heart of what gives us a place on this planet. (13 Climate Action, 14 Life Below Water, 15 Life on Land)
Natural resource loops should be possible. What I mean by that is that all the stuff we buy and consume should return to the ground to enhance it. Organic food, sustainable materials, circular economic relationships. One day our grand-children will ask full of wonder what waste was. (6 Clean Water, 11 Sustainable Cities, 12 Responsible Consumption)
Clean energy is almost like a footnote. It is the only sane solution and totally makes commercial sense today. We just need to overcome inertia and old power structures. So I want to focus on it, until it is fully implemented. (7 Clean Energy)
You might wonder how financial returns fit into this. In all my businesses I have always been more focused on the value I am creating for our clients and that served me well. I want to keep that the same here. By having this really clear focus on positive impacts, it becomes a matter of choosing the most effective ways to keep achieving that. An adequate return is just one small consequence of choosing the right pathways.
Let’s Create Connection
I would love to hear from you. What impact do you want to have? Can I help in any way to make it happen?