Future Value Wealth Symposium – DePaul University Conference on ESG Impact Investing

On November 1st, DePaul University hosted a wealth management conference on building portfolio values through investments that address the pressing issues of our time, such as energy and water.

The stage was set by Dr. Don Wuebbles’ presentation on the science and impact of climate change caused principally by CO2 release into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels.  With sea levels and global temperatures rising, the cost of inaction exceeds the cost of action; U.S. taxpayers have spent $1.5 trillion dollars over the last 38 years on extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change (NOAA).  Societies will continue to mitigate the causes of climate change, adapt to its effects, and suffer its consequences.  It’s our choice through our collective efforts to determine just how much of all three we will experience. Don’s recent report on climate change can be found here.

Brian Richter of Sustainable Waters then presented on the state of the world’s water resources.  One third of the planet’s regions are bumping up against the limits of available water systems, and half of the world’s population presently suffers shortages.  The 21st Century challenge is to figure out how to gain efficiencies – to use less while still meeting our needs.  Brian argued for the establishment of caps on water resource availability to induce the necessary behavioral changes and to support them with market-based mechanisms such as water trading and improved pricing approaches.  He provided advice on how investments in agricultural lands located in the water stressed western United States can achieve attractive returns by deploying water efficient practices and selling unutilized water rights to water hungry urban markets as well as to conservation buyers for the protection of aquatic ecosystems.

Capital markets, not surprisingly, are finding efficient investment solutions to address resource needs.  Matthew Weatherley-White, founder of Caprock Group, spoke to an array of opportunities generated, ranging from global urbanization and its increasing demand for water to mobility and distributed energy.  His firm invests in green building, affordable housing, climate mitigation, sustainable agriculture and infrastructure, while also seeking to alleviate the stress of rising inequality and diminished social mobility.  Peter Kelly-Detwiler (Northbridge Energy Partners and Contributor at Forbes.com) brought the investor panel to a rocking debate on issues. Lee O’Dwyer of Bloomberg summarized his insights with the memorable comment, “There is plenty of research showing you don’t have to give up anything when you invest to achieve positive ESG impact alongside attractive financial returns.”  The co-founder of Tortoise’s Clean Energy and Infrastructure businesses, Jerry Polacek, spoke to the merits of investing in renewable energy (wind and solar) and water infrastructure, and Bill Page (Essex Investment) espoused on the merits of ESG related investment returns. While the approaches varied slightly, all panelists stated that they are achieving attractive returns and attracting more clientele who are motivated to realize social impact in addition to financial wealth.  Wealth managers should anticipate the transfers of decisions taking place to a new generation of family members more aware of and vested in ESG principles; the future is theirs and they are acting on it now.

One final takeaway from the gathering I picked up afterwards off the library shelf, Climate of Hope recommendation by Lee O’Dwyer.  In it, Michael Bloomberg (founder of Bloomberg Securities and three-time Mayor of New York City) and Carl Pope (past President of Sierra Club) share stories from their business, governance, and environmental backgrounds to illustrate just how much progress is and can be made in addressing environmental challenges by scaling known business practices and policies. Using the power of markets to advance the sustainable use of our world’s natural resources gives me hope as well, which is why Greenleaf brings together leaders in science, policy, business, and capital for a healthy and sustainable world.  We were delighted to support this conference with four of our board members – keynote speakers Don Wuebbles and Brian Richter, as well as the conference co-leads, Bill Obenshain (DePaul University, Chairman of the Advisory Board, Center for Financial Services) and Dr. Ali Fatemi (DePaul University, Chairman Emeritus, Finance Department and Editor-in-Chief, Global Finance Journal).

Thank you to Kathy Hillegonds for photographing the event.

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