Ecological Stewardship

RSF Makes a Loan to PACT

October 30, 2014

PACT black logo-01RSF is pleased to announce a new loan to PACT, a sustainable fashion brand which makes organic cotton underwear, socks, and t-shirts. RSF provided a line of credit that allows PACT to purchase inventory to meet the growing demand for its products.

PACT was founded by Jeff Denby and Jason Kibbey in 2009. The pair, who met in business school at UC Berkeley, shared a strong desire to create a socially responsible basic apparel business by focusing on building a sustainable supply-chain. Jeff had a background in supply chain management (Gap) and witnessed first-hand the negative impacts of the fast fashion model that so many apparel companies employ today. Jeff and Jason set out to change this dynamic by creating PACT, a business that exercises full supply chain transparency and a commitment to the highest standards in ethical trade and environmental sustainability.

facebook“PACT is more than just a sustainable brand,” says Mike Gabriel, RSF Lending Manager. “They are really fostering a community—suppliers, producers, intermediaries, and consumers—to accelerate change in the fashion industry. We are excited to support them in this time of growth.”

PACT’s mission is to sell clothes that make the world a better place. Consumers are more aware of the negative impacts of the “fast fashion” model that brands like H&M and Nike have popularized—very low-cost fashion forward clothing produced (mainly in the developing world) at the expense of poor laborers and the environment. PACT is changing the conventional fast fashion model through a concept it developed called Seed-to-Shelf, essentially a fair and sustainable trade model for sourcing, producing and marketing fashionable basic apparel.

“Our commitment to transparency often requires PACT to invest more deeply and at different stages with our supply-chain partners,” says Jeff. “PACT and our consumers see tremendous value in these investments and we are thrilled to partner with a lender that is aligned with our efforts to bring everyday apparel to market through more sustainable means.”

PACT currently sells its line of basic apparel for men, women, and children online and in retailers, such as Whole Foods, Nordstrom, and Sprouts. Use the code “RSF25” by 12/31/14 to get a 25% off discount on your next PACT purchase.

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About PACT

PACT is a company obsessed with a big idea: super soft organic cotton essentials that are ethically made and go easy on the environment. We’re out to change the apparel industry and that change starts with your underwear. At PACT we care about our clothes so much that from seed to shelf, we pretty much follow them everywhere they go. From Non-GMO organic cotton grown at farmer cooperatives, to sustainable manufacturing in Fair Trade factories, our fully transparent supply chain allows customers to not only feel good in PACT, but also feel good about where PACT came from. PACT is based in Boulder, designed in San Francisco, and manufactured in India and Turkey but you can come by and visit us anytime www.wearpact.com.

Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Malama Kaua’i’s Roots of Kauai Green Careers Training Program

October 16, 2014

by Ellie Lanphier

In May, the first Roots of Kauai Green Careers Training program was launched at Malama Kaua’i, a community-based organization that focuses on advocating, educating, and driving action towards a sustainable Kaua’i. Funded in part by an RSF Seed Fund grant, the program provides free job literacy training for Kauai’s young adults interested in green careers. Malama Kaua’i hopes to serve their community by creating economic opportunity for graduates, promoting environmental stewardship within the community, and enhancing the growth and success of Kauai’s green organizations and businesses.

Malama Kaua'i

The 10-week Green Careers Training program includes 60 classroom hours focusing on environmental and career development education, combined with a 100-hour internship with one of Kauai’s green or sustainability-focused organizations and businesses. Students gain environmental literacy, academic skills, leadership abilities, career development knowledge, and practical hands-on training. The course covers environmental topics such as water, waste, transportation, energy, green building, health, and food and agriculture, as well as community organizing and social entrepreneurship. Career development topics include self-assessment and career planning, resume writing, interview preparation, networking, and portfolio development. The 2014 class enjoyed guest speakers such as Dr. Carl Berg from the Surfrider Foundation and M?lama Hul?‘ia, and Ben Sullivan, Energy Coordinator for the County of Kauai Office of Economic Development.

Malama Kauai’s Director of Operations, Megan Fox, reported gladly that in their launch year they actually had more internship site invitations than students to fill the internships! Fox sees this as a promising sign for the demand for entry level talent in green industries. This year, students completed 100 hour internships at Anuenue Farms, Eddie Jo Organics, National Tropical Botanical Garden, Waipa Foundation, Kauai Community Recycling, Nani Moon Meadery, Kauai Nature School, ReStore Kauai, Kauai Juice Co., Malama Hule‘ia, and D.A. Solar.

An additional requirement of the program is completion of a business or community project which students are required to pitch to a panel of community leaders. Fox reports that some students took it a step further and actually launched their businesses:

H2O PonoH20 Pono

Nadia Kaley, 28, of Kapaa launched H20 Pono, a water conservation and water catchment business that provides both education and installation services. During the program, Nadia and fellow classmate Stormy Soza received WET Teachers Certificates from the Department of Water for water conservation education. They also gained hands-on conservation experience interning at National Tropical Botanical Garden. They will be launching their first community workshop soon.

Ho'okahe WailanaHo’okahe Wailana

Kaui Fu, 28, of Kilauea, and Shawna Blackford, 20, of Lihue, won the Green Pitch Night competition with their river stewardship community project, a partnership with Hawaiian Civic Club and Hanalei Canoe Club. Their project focuses on trimming and clearing the Hanalei River of excessive hau overgrowth, planting native gardens, and educating young canoe club members about native plants and ecology. They are currently fundraising for this nonprofit.

Kauai GardensKauai Gardens

Carey Tinsley, 24, of Kilauea began Kauai Gardens, a permaculture and pono landscaping company, with the ambitious goal of expanding into a full nonprofit venture focused on sustainable agriculture and healthy living. You can see Carey’s promotional video on You Tube.

RootlessYardcare & Small Engine Repair

Kanoa Nabeshima-Costa, 25, of Waimea, has launched his business that provides sustainable landscaping services focused on native plants, integrated pest management strategies, and small engine repair services.

Kauai Music ServicesKauai Music Services

Ryo Shintani, 26, of Lihue, won the “Judge’s Choice” award for his sustainable music therapy service aimed at providing services to developmentally disabled youth and seniors with cognitive disorders. This has been a long-time dream of Ryo’s since returning from Berklee College of Music after studying music therapy for two years and working as a behavioral paraprofessional on Kaua’i. Ryo performed at the groups’ graduation celebration.

Graduates will receive ongoing career services support as they create their future and shape the future of Kaua`i. The Roots of Kauai Green Careers Training program is offered free of charge to participating students by organizations and individuals who have invested in the future of Kaua`i’s economic and environmental sustainability. If you are interested in participating, you may contact Megan@MalamaKauai.org for more information.

2014 Roots of Kauai Green Careers Training Program participants

2014 Roots of Kauai Green Careers Training Program participants

 

Ellie Lanphier is Program Associate, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance

This Land is Whose Land? A Call for Agrarian Reform in the United States

October 9, 2014

This essay was originally published by Food First.

Eric-Holt-Gimenez_headshot_credit Leonor Hurtado_cropby Eric Holt-Giménez

Introduction: Land, Race, and the Agrarian Crisis

The effects of widespread land grabbing and land concentration sweeping the globe do not affect all farmers equally. The degree of vulnerability to these threats is highest for smallholders, women, and people of color—the ones who grow, harvest, process, and prepare most of the world’s food.

International market forces have invaded every aspect of economic and social life, and have introduced new layers of inequality into our food systems. The destruction of smallholder agriculture in the Global South has sent millions of rural people on perilous migrations in search of work where they often enter low-paying jobs in the food system. They are pushed to underserved neighborhoods of color where labor abuse, diet-related disease, and food insecurity are the norm.

At the same time, despite record agricultural profits, farming communities in the US heartland are steadily emptying out, reeling from unemployment and the environmental consequences of 70 years of industrial agriculture. Though surrounded by former peasant farmers (now turned farmworkers), many older farmers wonder who will farm the land when they are gone, and young, beginning and immigrant farmers find it too costly to access land.

Big farms in the US are getting bigger. Small farms are getting smaller. The same structural adjustment polices and free trade agreements that devastate the livelihoods of farmers in the Global South are steadily reshaping the agrarian landscape of the United States.

The New Agrarian Transition

The land grabs occurring in the Third World are the tip of the iceberg of a long process of capitalist reconfiguration of land and resources known as the agrarian transition. At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, this meant mobilizing resources from the countryside to the city to subsidize industry with cheap food and cheap labor—largely accomplished by destroying the commons and dispossessing peasant farmers. The agrarian transition has gone through many permutations since then, but has generally kept its anti-commons and anti-smallholder thrust.

Today’s agrarian transition is about the countryside’s role in the rise of agri-food monopolies, the intensification of extractive industries, and the emerging dominance of international finance capital. A commodities boom within the industrial grain-livestock/agro-food complex coupled with a global crisis of capital accumulation (too many goods and too few buyers) have made land a hot investment offering global investors an opportunity to treat it “like gold with yield.” One result is that land is concentrating in fewer and fewer hands, dispossessing millions as it swells corporate portfolios. At the very time that the equitable and sustainable use of land is imperative, we find that it has also become more scarce.

Land Dispossession in Historical Perspective

Historically, by the time land is lost, a process of political and economic restructuring has already destroyed much of the public sphere. Farmers’ room to maneuver is greatly reduced, thus giving free reign to those with market power to bring land under their control. Land is lost after civic and human rights have already been systematically trampled upon. Dispossession then takes place through a combination of coercion, power of capital, and the market.

The Green Revolution is a classic case of market-based dispossession affecting Third World and US farmers alike. This publicly-funded campaign to “feed the world” took the genetic material from traditional varieties developed over thousands of years to produce commercial hybrids. Farmers in the Global South took out credit to buy back their repackaged genetic material, as well as the fertilizers and pesticides needed to grow these crops as monocultures. The Green Revolution gained momentum in the 1970s just as US farmers were encouraged to plant “fencerow to fencerow” to save the world from hunger. The result was global overproduction, the fall of commodity prices and staggering debt in the Third World as well as in the US farm sector. As a result, millions of farmers were forced out of farming.

Land Justice Approaches: From Access to Reform

Today, family farmers are fighting to hang on to their farms and aspiring farmers are struggling to access land. Their prospects could not be worse. Unregulated market forces—in commodities and land—are both a means for dispossession and a barrier to entry. Because of the structural and historical racism in our food system, immigrants and people of color are at a particular disadvantage.

New rural and urban initiatives for farmland access, farm protection and sustainable, equitable food systems are springing up across the US. They provide hope that another food system is possible. But do they have the potential to confront the modern agrarian transition?

The movement for sustainable agricultural land trusts is gaining ground. Over 1,700 state, local, and national organizations manage 47 million acres in trusts and easements. Over 60 percent conserve agricultural land. “Farm incubators” provide training and services to help new farmers enter farming. Promising state legislative proposals seek to protect farmland from urban sprawl. Farm cooperative federations and legal services foundations in the southern US are working to protect African American farmers. Stock sharing options and ownership transfer programs are putting farmworkers in control of the land they work. Community land trusts are beginning to address urban agriculture. Many food policy councils work to make idle urban and peri-urban land available for farming. Following the Occupy movement, small land occupations are spreading. Indigenous and rural resistance to fracking and land-grabbing projects like the Keystone pipeline is growing.

Set against the powerful array of international markets, monopolies, and institutions of the agrarian transition, land trusts attempt to carve out “niches” in the global land market. However, very few work with underserved communities. While they serve as important sociopolitical and environmental leaders, ensuring equitable land access and viable rural livelihoods in the United States is beyond the scope and the pocket book of niche markets. Rather, structural changes are needed in order for these important efforts to become the norm rather than the alternative. Their future depends on agrarian reform.

The call for agrarian reform is not new in the United States. In 1973 the National Coalition for Land Reform held the First National Conference on Land Reform. Participants from Appalachia, the South, the Northern Plains, Midwest, New England and indigenous lands, as well as from the organic farming sector, the coops, the land trusts and farmworker organizations, called for land reform. These diverse actors discussed the creation of a National Land Reform Act to address poverty, privilege, and the racial and class inequities determining land distribution. They proposed a progressive land tax structure, public land banks, trusts and funding mechanisms, as well as supporting institutions for new farmers. In short, the Act demanded a set of accountable public policies and mechanisms to support all of the things that today’s land niche initiatives struggle to do privately. It is time to reignite this conversation.

Overcoming the injustices of the agrarian transition will hinge on whether or not today’s disparate efforts can move the land struggle from the global market to the public sphere and redirect capital investment to support this end. It will also depend on whether or not they can collectively address the inequities that hold the present system in place. It requires building a broad-based, national social movement for land justice—a movement that unites actors across racial and economic divides. Successful social movements are formed by integrating activism with livelihoods. This integration creates the sustained social pressure that produces political will—the key to changing the financial, governmental and market structures that presently work against the change that is so critically needed.

Eric Holt-Giménez, Ph.D. is the executive director of Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy. Eric is the author of the recent Food First book, Campesino a Campesino: Voices from Latin America’s Farmer to Farmer Movement for Sustainable Agriculture (2006). Previously, Eric served as the Latin America Program Manager for the Bank Information Center in Washington D.C. He earned a Ph.D. in Environmental Studies from the University of California –Santa Cruz. At Food First, Eric’s research and writing has concentrated on the global food crisis, the U.S. Farm Bill, the expansion of agrofuels, Fair trade, and neighborhood food systems.

RSF Makes a Loan to Madécasse

October 2, 2014

RSF is pleased to announce a new loan to Madécasse, a social enterprise that makes chocolate and vanilla products in Africa. RSF provided a line of credit that will allow Madécasse to finance their inventory purchases and assist with cash flow gaps throughout the year.

Sea-SaltMadécasse was founded in 2008 by Tim McCollum and Brett Beach. As Peace Corps volunteers in Madagascar, the pair fell in love with the country and wanted to do more to help its economy after their PCV service. Troubled by the fact that Africa supplies 70% of the world’s cocoa but less than 1% of its chocolate, they crafted a mission to create real change in Madagascar by keeping the entire chocolate production process local. Madécasse buys cocoa from local farmers and provides them with skills training and above-market wages. The company takes advantage of the full production capacities of Madagascar: From grinding and processing the cocoa, to making the chocolate, to wrapping and packaging. This creates additional jobs and helps build industries to drive sustainable economic development in one of the poorest countries in the world. By keeping all manufacturing in Madagascar, local farmers benefit four times more than they would have from the fair trade system.

Cocafa1

“Companies like Madécasse take the concept of fair trade to another level,” says Kate Danaher, Senior Lending Associate at RSF. “By turning raw materials into finished products in-country, they provide skilled jobs and economic opportunities to people that have few options.”

man picks cacao_AmbanjaMost of the world’s cocoa comes from Africa, where it is mainly grown on small plantations by farmers living in poverty. By contrast, most of the world’s chocolate is consumed in the wealthy regions of Europe and North America. Despite the high price tags on chocolate at the grocery store, most cocoa farmers only earn a small fraction of the profit. But by producing their products in Africa and sourcing all ingredients locally, Madécasse has created meaningful income for more than 200 people in Madagascar.

In addition to providing workforce training and fostering poverty alleviation and sustainable economic development, part of Madécasse’s mission is to help preserve the natural environment. Due to its unique geographic location, 85% of the plants and animals in Madagascar exist nowhere else in the world. But the pressures of extreme poverty force many Malagasy people to cut down trees for firewood and charcoal in order to survive, contributing to the loss of the country’s storied rainforests and indigenous species. Madécasse works with cocoa farmers to regenerate the shade-giving forests that shelter their cocoa trees, restoring biodiversity to the soil, flora and fauna. To date, the company has planted over 5,000 trees to help create the needed shade for cocoa to flourish.

SONY DSC

And RSF is helping Madécasse to further its mission. “Working with RSF means we can pursue our two bottom lines with ease and comfort,” says Madécasse co-founder and CEO Tim McCollum. “RSF ‘gets’ what we’re doing, and they embrace it. This loan means we can grow our business, which means we can have a bigger social impact in Madagascar.”

It couldn’t be a better fit.

About Madécasse

Founded in 2008 by former Peace Corps volunteers, Madécasse is the only company producing high quality bean-to-bar, hand-wrapped chocolate and vanilla products on the continent of Africa. Unlike traditional chocolate manufacturing which creates only minimal income for cocoa farmers, every process in the Madécasse chocolate value chain happens within the borders of Madagascar. By providing equipment and training – and producing the entire product locally – Madécasse is able to return 100% of production costs to the people of Madagascar. As a social enterprise, they measure success by the quality of their product and their social impact in Africa. www.madecasse.com

Clients in Conversation: Protecting our Planet, One “A-ha” Moment at a Time – Part II

September 23, 2014

This article was originally published in the Summer 2014 RSF Quarterly.

Interview with Mike Gabriel, Lending Manager

Tim Brownell is the co-founder of Eureka Recycling, an RSF borrower and one of the largest non-profit recyclers in the US. Ben Gordon, an RSF investor, works with Global Student Embassy to empower youth to become environmental stewards and community leaders. In both cases, social transformation is at the core of the environmental change they seek.

Click here for Part I

Mike: Tim, Eureka is a successful non-profit in a field that’s dominated by one or two large players. Can you give us some idea of how difficult it is to fight the good fight in this situation?

Tim: It’s important to understand that we are not competing against any of the large waste businesses. We’re actually competing against a paradigm of wasting. I think that’s the challenge for us, that we are bringing forward the idea and the reality that waste is a choice.

We run our non-profit as a mission-driven financial organization. We are driving strategies that have to work and compete against a different economic structure, one in which waste is subsidized, one in which health and environmental costs are externalized.

We are within a paradigm that requires making money in order to run a business. We’re a non-profit but we’re also a social venture, and we participate in this business with no subsidies. That’s very intentional. We don’t take grants that anybody else could take. We borrow money at market rates, so that we can demonstrate that zero waste is an economically viable alternative, not just an environmental and social imperative.

Ben: I used to work in community development banking. One of the most important lessons I learned during that time was that budgeting is about more than financials, and that is especially true for mission-driven organizations. The decisions being made in a mission-driven organization are to allow for greater positive outcomes for people and planet.

This economic structure, Tim mentions, requires a change in financial perspective—a new focus on lowering costs of all types, rather than increasing revenue. In our current economic paradigm, a lot of revenue that we look at requires consumption. We really need to constantly question how to do things differently with less financial revenue, but with greater environmental and social outcomes.

Mike: If there’s one thing that speaks most directly to the impact that you’re having, what would it be?

Tim: I grew up in a time when no one spoke about “zero waste,” and recycling was a small idea. Today, recycling is common, and people have an understanding of its benefit. We exist to expand awareness and consciousness so that the next generation feels the same way about zero waste.

Eureka is a zero waste lab—we are learning how to get to zero. We’re determined and committed because we know how urgent it is to get there, and it requires transforming our relationship with our planet. Our work as a social enterprise is focused on demonstrating the steps, actions, economics, and policies necessary to get there, and our vision is to see this movement as a global transformation.

Ben: We call all of our projects “demonstrations” because the most critical part of what we do is getting people involved.

Our small staff, board, and friends can lead a demonstration to set up a school garden in a semi-rural or urban area pretty quickly. But when we think about broad impact that doesn’t really achieve the larger change we’re going for. Sure, we have this small garden, but alone it’s not going to put a dent in our food system. The real value is in having a demonstration that is created by a large number of hands. So that those hands will be inspired and find another site to do it on—to continue the transformation one person at a time.

Tim Brownell is CEO of Eureka Recycling, the only organization in Minnesota that specializes in zero-waste. He was one of the original founders of Eureka, coming to Minnesota in 2000 to assist in its development. Prior to his joining, Mr. Brownell worked for more than ten years in the recycling field in designing, developing and operating the residential recycling programs in San Francisco, CA and Ann Arbor, MI.

Ben Gordon serves a Board Member and volunteer with Global Student Embassy, an environmental and youth empowerment non-profit. Prior to GSE, he worked in community development banking at Charles Schwab Bank and Merrill Lynch. He currently works in Oakland, CA, Chacraseca, Nicaragua, and Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador. Ben graduated with a Bachelors of Arts from Brown University in 2006.

Clients in Conversation: Protecting our Planet, One “A-ha” Moment at a Time – Part I

September 17, 2014

This article was originally published in the Summer 2014 RSF Quarterly.

Interview with Mike Gabriel, Lending Manager

Tim Brownell is the co-founder of Eureka Recycling, an RSF borrower and one of the largest non-profit recyclers in the US. Ben Gordon, an RSF investor, works with Global Student Embassy to empower youth to become environmental stewards and community leaders. In both cases, social transformation is at the core of the environmental change they seek.

Mike: What role does community engagement play in achieving your organization’s mission?

Tim: Eureka’s mission is to demonstrate that waste is completely preventable. We do that through engaging the community and involving people in the planning and the design of our initiatives and our programs. Community engagement is at the core of what we do to create a movement towards zero waste.

For example, we have a commercial composting program working with restaurants, businesses, and farmers’ markets. We work with everyone within the business, from the point of purchase all the way through the discard, to engage with them to gain a full understanding of what it takes to achieve zero waste.

Ben: I like how you’re talking about community engagement being so core to your organization. That’s much the same as what we do at Global Student Embassy. With any organization focused on environmental outcomes, social change is critical to the environmental change that we want to see. We’re all a part of building larger movements and empowering people to see that the actions and the things that they do make a difference. In our case, those people are the students. They are very much a part of their community and they are great to engage with because they are naturally in a learning mode and they have a lot of time and energy for ecology work.

Mike: How have the individuals and communities you’re engaging with been affected by your work?

Ben: We’ve had three to four years of working with high schools. And, over the last two years we’ve developed relationships with twelve universities. Most of those relationships were initiated by students who wanted to continue the work that they had done in the Ecology Action Club in high school in their new university setting. And beyond that, now these university students are starting to plan for student-run environmental programs in local middle schools and high schools. Each student helps the movement grow.

Tim: One of the things we do is zero waste events that hundreds to several thousand people attend. In many cases people walking into that space have never really thought about their discards beyond trash and recycling. At the events we make sure vendors are committed to offering products that are either reusable, recyclable, or compostable. When attendees are getting ready to dispose of an item, in many cases they are holding a product in their hand that historically has been something that they have thrown away. We have people working at the disposal station who try to create a conversation around this, to transform their relationship to that product.

At every single event we do, we see people have a very distinct “a-ha” moment, when they see that there’s something else that can actually happen. Waste is not inevitable, it’s a choice, it’s a design issue, and it’s something they can impact within their lives and spheres of influence.

Ben: These “a-ha” moments help people realize that there’s a lot of small actions we can all take to make a real difference. Our job is to provide opportunities for people to have these transformative experiences, whether it happens on an afternoon in Minneapolis or anywhere in the world.

Click here for Part II

Tim Brownell is CEO of Eureka Recycling, the only organization in Minnesota that specializes in zero-waste. He was one of the original founders of Eureka, coming to Minnesota in 2000 to assist in its development. Prior to his joining, Mr. Brownell worked for more than ten years in the recycling field in designing, developing and operating the residential recycling programs in San Francisco, CA and Ann Arbor, MI.

Ben Gordon serves a Board Member and volunteer with Global Student Embassy, an environmental and youth empowerment non-profit. Prior to GSE, he worked in community development banking at Charles Schwab Bank and Merrill Lynch. He currently works in Oakland, CA, Chacraseca, Nicaragua, and Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador. Ben graduated with a Bachelors of Arts from Brown University in 2006.

Sacred Land, Powerful Stewards

September 9, 2014

This article was originally published in the Summer 2014 RSF Quarterly.

By Alex Haber

In our grants, loans, and investments, RSF partners with organizations and entrepreneurs focused on protecting the environment as central to both our economic and spiritual life. One of our Donor Advised Fund clients, Tamalpais Trust, has a strong and innovative agenda: supporting the capacity of indigenous-led organizations to promote culturally sensitive approaches to environmental stewardship through indigenous knowledge systems. Last year, Tamalpais Trust granted over $2.7 million through RSF to organizations working on these issues. Two in particular – Kivulini Heritage Trust in Northern Kenya and the Forever Sabah project of Land Empowerment Animals People in Malaysia – are helping build strong indigenous communities to lead environmental stewardship and sustainable development.

Kivulini Heritage Trust works with pastoralists, fisherfolk, and other minorities in Northern Kenya to preserve sacred sites, support local livelihoods, and promote environmental management centered on indigenous knowledge and institutions. Last year, Tamalpais Trust funded a project to link peace-building among different communities with development in the border region of Northern Kenya and Ethiopia. New development is poised to raise the standard of living for many, but it will also privatize land and limit access to traditional management techniques and sacred sites. Communities in this region are migratory along both sides of the border, so mapping migration routes and sacred sites is important for protecting their way of life. However, previous attempts at mapping by outside groups have raised fears of privatization and conflict among indigenous communities. To overcome this, Kivulini is working closely with locals on participatory mapping of routes and sacred sites while also encouraging inter-community peace-building to strengthen indigenous groups’ understanding of the challenges of land development and their capacity to act together to control their own destiny.

LEAP: An innovative community-based ecotourism project aiming to provide ecologically sustainable lodging within the Tungog Lake rainforest.  Photo courtesy of LEAP.

LEAP: An innovative community-based ecotourism project aiming to provide ecologically sustainable lodging within the Tungog Lake rainforest. Photo courtesy of LEAP.

Across the Indian Ocean, in Malaysia, the Forever Sabah project of Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP) is working closely with indigenous people to protect the Sabah region. Forever Sabah is a 25 year ($100M US) program designed to move away from an economy based on the exploitation of natural resources and toward a diversified, equitable, green economy. Over the past year, LEAP has facilitated community-led roundtables to develop a first wave of projects for the program. These include forest connectivity across the state, watersheds, and communities; renewable energy initiatives; sustainable food and agriculture projects; and a community-based ecotourism school. Native land rights are incorporated into all aspects of Forever Sabah. As just one example, LEAP is working to establish the first Watershed Conservation Area in Malaysia, which would be co-managed by local communities in the Telupid Forest Complex. The key distinction between current “protection areas” and this new “conservation area” is that the latter preserves native land rights and use.

These are just two examples of a place-based approach to ecological stewardship, which we value at RSF. By supporting indigenous capacity building, Tamalpais Trust is helping to transform ecosystems by empowering communities to take control of the future and that of the land they care for.

Alex Haber is Program Manager, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance

What Would Nature Do? – Part II

August 26, 2014

This article was originally published in the Summer 2014 RSF Quarterly.

Click here for Part I

KatherineCollins#1CREDITMiranda Loudby Katherine Collins

As an investor, I have similar questions. What if some of my investments have non-dollar-based paybacks? What if I had as much information about real environmental outcomes and the value they represent, as I do about security prices? How could I create an investment portfolio where growth is a result of strong development and real value created in the world, not an aim in and of itself? Like many investors, I’m moving through the spectrum of these “what if” scenarios, though the answers are not simple, and are ever-evolving.

Another principle of biomimicry is to adapt to changing conditions: natural systems thrive in context, demonstrating flexibility over different spans of time and across different operating conditions. Here again, there is helpful wisdom for a small ranch owner. Which expenses (whether time, money, or other resources) are seasonal in nature? Which might grow or shrink over time as the work progresses, with healthier land and changing herds? Choosing a static, one-size-fits-all financial tool (like a lump-sum conventional loan) would leave big gaps in different seasons and different circumstances; clearly something more adaptable (like a line of credit, or a series of smaller financial supports) might be a better match.

Again, as an investor, this concept of adaptability raises parallel questions. How can I embrace an adaptable investment approach, without feeling a constant sense of churning? How can I consider my own changing context, as my life, family, and community continue to evolve?

Alignment with the principles of natural systems is a serious and vital challenge for investors and investees alike. But, underneath all of the discussions of structure and mechanics there is a deeper layer of alignment that is essential. When we look to nature as model, mentor, measure, and muse, we first need to reconnect our own lives to the natural world around us. This reconnection is a simple idea, but not easy to implement, even for those of us who are deeply devoted to our natural environment. I believe that this deeper reconnection involves three central imperatives: reframe, refrain, and reclaim.

First, we need to reframe our own position with respect to the natural world. Humans are a delightful, unique, and relatively small part of the natural world, though our impact upon it might be outsized. Reorienting as citizens of the natural world, a small subset, rather than rulers of our environment, is essential.

Second, we need to refrain from our never-ending doing. To really learn from nature, we need to quiet our own cleverness. We need to sit in stillness and to observe without desperately seeking immediate answers or insights, just as is practiced in many contemplative practices. For those of us who have been trained since birth to be as quick and clever as humanly possible, this can be an uphill battle – but it is a worthy and necessary endeavor.

Once those first two conditions are met, we have the chance to reclaim. To realign investing with the real world, the world it was originally intended to serve. To develop new approaches that match multi-dimensional, relational, long-term goals. To seek true profit, fair profit, rather than a fleeting positive number on today’s trading reports. To practice investing as vocation, as profession – not just a business.

Nature is not just a place to escape our professional lives; it is the source of deep wisdom that can improve our designs and decision-making. With biomimicry-based approaches, we need not choose between environmental and financial stewardship. Both are part of a healthy investing ecosystem, and both can be supported through life’s principles.   This is investing in its most fundamental form: resilient, regenerative, and reconnected. This is the true nature of investing.

Katherine Collins is author of The Nature of Investing: Resilient Investment Strategies Through Biomimicry. She is also Founder and CEO of Honeybee Capital, a research firm dedicated to the pursuit of optimal investment decision-making. Katherine has previously served in numerous capacities at Fidelity Management and Research Company. After a career in traditional equity management, she set out to re-integrate her investment philosophy with the broader world, traveling as a pilgrim and volunteer, earning her MTS degree at Harvard Divinity School, and studying the natural world as guide for investing in a valuable and integrated way, beneficial to our communities and world.

What Would Nature Do? – Part I

August 22, 2014

This article was originally published in the Summer 2014 RSF Quarterly.

KatherineCollins#1CREDITMiranda Loudby Katherine Collins

Last year I had the pleasure of meeting an investment-seeking rancher, who enlightened me about the glories of ranch life. Turns out, like any valuable endeavor, ranching is full of joy and challenge, reward and risk, hard work and…more hard work. What this endeavor was not full of, at least not in the beginning, was cash flow. This is not a criticism: we discussed his long-term plans for sustainable – maybe even regenerative – ranching practices, and the tangible, trackable benefits to the soil, the broader ecosystem, and the surrounding community. In the early years, the returns from this work would be seen in the growth of microorganisms, the health of cattle, and the strengthening of community. Later on, as some of those benefits took hold, the path towards solid cash flow became visible and compelling.

Unfortunately, traditional bank financing for this ranch project (if available at all) would only recognize return of dollars – not return of nematodes, or grasslands, or community. And the bankers needed to see those dollars starting on day one — not because they were greedy or thoughtless, but because that is what their financial tools required. A plain old loan requires plain old repayments, simple as that. It’s as if we are trying to sculpt a glorious 3-D universe out of granite, using nothing but a surgeon’s scalpel. The scalpel might be a fine tool in other contexts, but it is no match for the task at hand.

Here we were faced with a central dilemma of sustainable finance: often the multidimensional, sustainable enterprises that we want to support are still constructed with the assumptions of linear, short term tools and mechanisms of finance. Due to this mismatch, it sometimes seems impossible to be a responsible environmental steward and a responsible financial steward simultaneously.

In situations like this ranching enterprise, we spend a lot of time thinking about ways to invest differently IN nature. What if we also considered ways to invest AS nature, matching form to function? What if our investment tools and processes included more elements that we see in healthy natural systems — options that are relational, adaptive, and long-term in orientation, instead of being transactional, rigid, and short-term?

Biomimicry can help to create the tools of regenerative finance. Nature has adapted and thrived for 3.8 billion years – the most compelling track record around. We can learn from the principles that guide these systems, and orient towards approaches that are robust and resilient. The six major principles of biomimicry established by Janine Benyus and Dayna Baumeister, Life’s Principles, aren’t just clever buzzwords. These concepts describe how the world around us actually functions.

Biomimicry asks us to pause before we create a product, reorganize a team, or allocate investments to ask, WWND? (What Would Nature Do?). This deceptively simple question leads to decisions that are effective instead of merely efficient, simple instead of synthetic, mindful instead of mechanical. Biomimicry aims to embrace nature’s wisdom, rather than harvesting nature’s stuff.

For example, one of life’s principles is to integrate development with growth, much as a tree develops root structure in sync with its expanding canopy. For my rancher friend, this idea leads to some interesting questions about forms of investment and types of investors. What if in the early years the rancher could start with a small pool of funding from friends and family, who would be just as happy to be paid in grass-fed beef as in dollars? Later on, when cash flow improved, they could take on more traditional loans if needed, with the confidence that dollar-based resources would be available for repayments.

Click here for Part II

Katherine Collins is author of The Nature of Investing: Resilient Investment Strategies Through Biomimicry. She is also Founder and CEO of Honeybee Capital, a research firm dedicated to the pursuit of optimal investment decision-making. Katherine has previously served in numerous capacities at Fidelity Management and Research Company. After a career in traditional equity management, she set out to re-integrate her investment philosophy with the broader world, traveling as a pilgrim and volunteer, earning her MTS degree at Harvard Divinity School, and studying the natural world as guide for investing in a valuable and integrated way, beneficial to our communities and world.

Uncle Matt’s Organic Revolutionizes Florida’s Citrus Groves

July 31, 2014

With its subtropical climate and rich pest population, Florida has been slow to embrace the organic movement: fewer than 8,000 of its 541,328 acres of citrus groves are organic. Matt McLean has made it his mission to change that. As the founder and CEO of Uncle Matt’s Organic—the largest and oldest organic orange juice company in the U.S.—McLean not only sells delicious juices, he’s making it easy for other small Florida citrus growers to transition to organic.

noelle mclean

Photo courtesy of McLean Photography

Uncle Matt’s sells a huge quantity of organic orange and apple juices, lemonade and whole fruits to retailers such as Whole Foods and Publix each year. But its most innovative initiative is its agricultural management company. Uncle Matt’s Ag provides “one-stop shopping” for grove owners who want to go organic. The company actively recruits conventional farmers, handles all the paperwork for them throughout the transition and certification process, creates a full farm plan and oversees every aspect of caretaking, from riding the tractor to tamping down the weeds. Uncle Matt’s then markets all the grower’s fruit at top dollar, ensuring that organic farming is economically viable.

It’s a model that—with the help of a credit line from RSF—has fueled both consistent sales growth and positive changes in Florida agriculture.

Inspiration

McLean didn’t set out to be an organic grower. A fourth-generation Florida citrus grower, he grew up working in the groves, and escaped to college as soon as he could to get away from “manual labor in Florida’s summer heat.” After earning a business degree from the University of Florida, he started an import-export company, selling juice to companies in Europe. When one of his clients asked for biologic white grapefruit juice, he consulted his father and grandfather.

His grandfather, who had used organic methods in the past, insisted that “not only could we grow that way, we should be growing that way,” McLean says. “We are too focused on single-factor analysis—if you have a pest, then you’re told to find a pesticide. Instead, we should think holistically: why is that pest attracted and how can we help the trees’ immune systems defend against it through better soil and plant health? This is an organic farmer’s way of thinking.”

UMO

Photo courtesy of McLean Photography

Innovation

McLean started Uncle Matt’s Organic in 1999 with just five acres. As the company grew, it needed more fruit, which meant it also needed more organic farms. But farmers were hesitant, even afraid, to go organic—despite the fact that prices for organic fruit are consistently higher—and McLean knew he had to make the process as easy as possible. Thus Uncle Matt’s Ag was born in 2002.

One of the biggest challenges in persuading grove owners to grow organically was—and is—the threat of citrus greening disease, or Huanglongbing (HLB), a bacterial infection spread by gnat-size psyllids that can wipe out groves. It hit Florida in 2005 and has killed millions of citrus plants in the southeastern U.S. While Uncle Matt’s groves have not fully escaped the disease, several groves have proved 100 percent resistant—an anomaly the University of Florida is studying. Uncle Matt’s Ag is experimenting with nourishing root and soil health to keep disease at bay, and unleashing parasitic wasps into groves to keep the psyllids’ population under control.

With its innovative approaches to grove management and increasing consumer demand for organics, Uncle Matt’s has grown continually. But like many food and beverage companies, Uncle Matt’s faces a cash flow gap between the time when it pays farmers for the harvest and when the juice hits grocery stores and starts generating a profit. By 2011, McLean needed more financing.

The company had a line of credit with a local community bank, “but it was post real-estate bubble in Florida, and the banks were very risk-averse,” he says. So Uncle Matt’s hired McLean’s friend Aubrey Hornsby, a manager of the Conscious Capital Fund, to help it find additional funding. “Aubrey introduced us to RSF in September 2011,” says McLean, “and at that point a lot of things came together.”

Several members of the RSF lending team visited Florida, where they toured the groves, packinghouse and storage facility and closely examined Uncle Matt’s business model. “They understood our business right away,” says McLean, “and they really had a passion for our space and our mission.”

Based on this, RSF provided a $1.2 million line of credit that Uncle Matt’s uses to finance the juice inventory from season to season—and keep growing.

Impact

For the past three years, Uncle Matt’s sales have grown 20 to 30 percent annually. The company has also introduced two new juice blends, orange-mango and orange-tangerine, and has expanded to new retailers including Safeway, Kroger, Fred Meyer and Walmart Neighborhood Markets.

But the greatest proof of success is in the groves: In the last 12 years, Uncle Matt’s has converted more than 1,500 acres in Florida’s Lake, Highlands and Polk counties to organic cultivation.

“I started Uncle Matt’s as a business challenge,” says McLean. “But my grandfather’s passion just kept me thinking, ‘Hey, this is a better way to farm and we need to be a leader.’”

6D9B2631

Photo courtesy of McLean Photography

Ecological Stewardship

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