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Major new alliance of religious investment funds creating a better and fairer world

Friday, 01 Dec 2017

Tags: faith investing esg investing

 

 

Major new alliance of religious investment funds creating a better and fairer world

November 2, 2017:
Launch of the Zug Guidelines to Faith-consistent Investing. Photo ARC: Mike Shackleton

ZUG, SWITZERLAND: November 2, 2017: A global movement aimed at shifting billions of dollars of faith-based investments into initiatives supporting sustainable development and the environment has been launched following a unique three-day meeting of faith leaders and financial investors in Zug, Switzerland. 

By unanimous agreement among participants at the Zug Faith in Finance meeting, an alliance will be created to spearhead this movement and develop faith-consistent investment goals. Participants included more than 30 different faith traditions from eight religions, representing over 500 faith investment groups and trillions of dollars in assets, as well as senior United Nations figures and leading impact investment funds. 

“It will enable faith groups to share information, experience, knowledge, research and resources to ensure they put their investments and assets into initiatives to help create a better world for all. This initiative is backed by the UN and by many traditions within the religions,” said Martin Palmer, Secretary General of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), which organised the meeting. 

“The new alliance – so new it hasn’t even got a name yet – will develop a faith response to the challenge of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals,” he said. 

The alliance marks a huge shift from the tradition of religion saying, for ethical reasons, what they won’t invest in (for example, tobacco, weapons, pornography, fossil fuels) to a proactive policy of ensuring faith assets and investments will have a positive “faith-consistent” impact – making money work for good, while still bringing in the returns that faiths need to fund their activities. 

 
The Faith in Finance meeting launched the Zug Guidelines to Faith-Consistent Investing with a dramatic procession through the medieval city of Zug, and in partnership with the Swiss Impact Investment Association. 

This, the first collection of guidelines by eight major faiths, gives an unprecedented overview of where religious investment is placed now. It highlights what principles each tradition calls upon when it decides its investment priorities, and in many cases makes a statement that a good proportion of the money should where possible be invested in environmental and sustainable development. 

Palmer said: “The long-term impact will be to empower faith groups – and the billions of people who make up their congregations – to decide how to use their investments, their pension funds and their assets to create a better world, one that as Cardinal Turkson says, responds to two cries, the cry of the poor and the cry of creation.” 

Cardinal Peter Turkson , who was recently asked by the Pope to head up a powerful new agency in the Vatican with the task of “promoting integral human development”, flew from Rome to attend the meeting. 

 
He said that when in 1993 he was appointed Archbishop of Cape Coast in Ghana he looked at how many of the churches were funded – by donations and grants, which were not only decreasing, as missionary organisations decreased, but which was also a very unequal model. 

He realised then there had to be a new form of access to capital for churches to support their own activities, and he set about campaigning and acting to bring this about. 

“I brought that experience in Ghana then to what I do in the Vatican now,” he said. “And I believe very much in education of people in how to invest money, and in how to make informed choices so what you invest in is something good.” 

There are many trillions of dollars of investment funds owned by the faiths around the world. In 2016 a Georgetown University study suggested that the value of religious goods and services in the US was around 1.2 trillion and that the household incomes of religiously affiliated Americans was around $4.8 trillion. The global figure will be many times greater. 

“We have known for some time what the faiths were against in their investments,” Palmer said. “But now we – and they – have a much better idea of what they are for.” 

The new alliance has been welcomed by the United Nations. Opening the Faith in Finance meeting, Elliott Harris, UN Assistant Secretary-General, UN Environment Programme, said: “The governments have made a public political commitment to the sustainable development goals and we now have to hold them accountable to that. But we realize that this agenda is far too complicated to leave up to the governments. They cannot do it alone. 

“Your Zug Guidelines to Faith-Consistent Investing set out what the faith-based organisations are for, as contrasted with what they are against, how your values translate into value-based investment decisions. I encourage you all to work with us and we with you to make this sustainable agenda a reality. That, I think will be one of the great achievements of this generation.” 

No sooner were the guidelines launched on October 31 than several key faith groups from Europe and Asia requested that they join the movement and create their own investment guidelines.

LINKS

More background, presentations and talks as well as the pdf version of the Zug Guidelines are available from the Zug event page

Link to photographs from the event

Background

Much of the good works (schools, hospitals, care centres, poverty alleviation programmes etc) of any religion is funded by the faith’s investment programme. 

There has always been a level of negative screening – many religions are clear what they will not invest in, which sometimes includes alcohol, weapons, tobacco, and more recently fossil fuels: faiths won’t invest in “bad” industries. Every year for the past 20 years this movement has been gaining momentum, and religious organisations have also used their role as shareholders to push for and publicise change. 

But now, many religious investment departments are taking a further path. Instead of just saying what they are against, dozens of faith finance groups are now saying what they WILL invest in, in order to make the world a better place and align their money with their values. 

The meeting was held in collaboration with the Swiss Impact Investment Association (SIIA) annual summit. SIIA have already asked to join the alliance and offered to host an annual faith in finance programme at their summit. 

It took place at the beautiful Lasalle Haus Jesuit Centre in the hills outside Zug, eastern Switzerland. 

Notes to editor: ARC is a secular body founded in 1995 by HRH Prince Philip that helps the major religions of the world to develop their own environmental programmes, based on their own core teachings, beliefs and practices. It is the main partner for the UN in working with the faiths on the SDGs. www.arcworld.org. 

It is sponsored by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Pilkington Foundation and WWF-UK as well as Earth Capital Partners, Hermes Investment Management, Linius Capital, Rathbone Greenbank Investments, Resilience Brokers, Sarasin & Partners, Tribe Impact Capital, Triodos Investment Management, WHEB. 

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Three ways to approach investing in sustainable agriculture

Tuesday, 05 January 2016

Tags: eur2015 impact agriculture esg

Guest Blog Post by Magnus Berg Johansen about Workshop C2 at TBLI CONFERENCE EUROPE 2015 on investing in sustainable agriculture. The panelists included Tanja Havemann: Director & Founder Clarmondial GmbH, Peter van der Werf: Engagement Specialist at Robeco Institutional Asset Management, Arnold Lau: Senior Vice President at Iroquois Valley Farms LLC, and Martin Poulsen: Partner at The Moringa Partnership.
Views and opinions are that of the writer and are not the official views of TBLI CONFERENCE.

What is the best way of investing in sustainable agriculture? Is it possible to merge profits and organic farming? Can one by adding certain components to the business model increase output? These were some of the questions that were raised during the session that tried to TBLI EUR15 Workshop C2 1showcase how one could approach sustainable agriculture.

The session started off with Tanja Havement stressing the importance of agriculture when it comes to the CO2-challenge, employment in emerging markets and for gender equality.

Arnold Lau from Iroquois, a fund focused on incentivizing mid-size farmers in the US to grow organically,  then took the floor as the first presenter. He started of stressing the fact that only 1 prosent of the farming done in the US currently is done organically.

The market is very much a nice, but the demand is growing strongly due to consumer  interest. As the cost is higher, the market share remains low and this thus hold back any economics of scale.

Lau said that many find organic farming a fad and that it is too risky. But at the same time he is excited with the fact that the management of 70 percent of US farms will shift generations during the next 10 years.

What is more, one of the main hurdles to rapid expansion in this area is because organic farming does not pay off immidiately but when done continuously for many years it is the most productive approach – mainly because the land becomes richer year after year. Eg. the moisture is better remined in the ground.

Is investing in Montsanto sustainable?
Peter van der Werf, a representative from an institutional investor, then presented another business model to approach ESG in agriculture.
He presented various companies his fund had invested in an how they addressed ESG issues with the companies to make them improve on this dimension.
The presentation created quite a lot of discussion as the fund was an investee in the heavily critizised Montsanto. The questions was whether to divest when a company does not live up to sufficient standards, or to engage and promote change.
Van der Werf argued for the latter and confirmed that they had remained as shareholders in companies that had breached several parameters, so as to rather help the companies move in a more sustainable direction.
It is better to be there and try to change them, compared to not take action and thus not contribute to any effect, he said.

One person in the audience could not understand how the fund could even pitch the ownership of stocks in Montsanto, as his clients would never even touch in the company with a stick. He moreover did not it was possible for engagement to change a company based on an unsustainable model.
Van der Werf then commented that he understood the critical viewpoints but emphasised that they have had consistent positive discussions with the company since they entered in 2011, and that Montsanto have understood the need to change and are therefore considering the cooperation with this fund as a supporter to make a transition.   

The last speaker then presented a third model of how one can approach investing in sustainable agriculture. By combining trees and crops it is possible to generate a model that is good both for the environment and the financials.
Their model, which is almost fully about plantation in bare lands, can generate returns of 10-12 percent while supporting small holders with operational and financial advisory which can lead to more diversification of revenue, how to improve core products and capacity building.
The fund itself has a 12 year frame when investing and normally leaves investments with a classic exit strategy.

Apart from Montsanto
The session, which mainly focused around the topic of investing in Montsanto and comparable companies in addition to the presentations, did however also shortly touched on the question: How can we scale?

The moderator underlined the emotional context to this topic and was maybe hoping for some clear insights.

Arnold Lau underlined from his perspective that going towards organic farming will in the long term be more beneficial because it is more resilient to shocks that can come out of conventional farming.
Organic farming wont suffer the losses that short term agriculture (aka. conventional) will, he said in his finishing remark.

Peter van der Werf on his side said his way moving forward would be to continue focusing on the engagement model and promote change within various ESG-parameters by utilizing the power as a shareholder.

Martin Poulsen expressed on his side that their team is currently micro-focused and want to focus on how they can continue growing their projects and further develop the model. By focusing inwards, one may contribute to one model that can be further scaled

 

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