Agriculture sits at the nexus of some of the world’s most pressing challenges: climate change, food security and nutrition, water and soil quality, biodiversity and sustainable livelihoods. It is clear that business as usual is no longer an option.
Recently we hosted a discussion with Dr. Sally Uren, OBE, Chief Executive Officer of Forum for the Future. (We are pleased to note that Sally is also a member of Cornerstone’s Global Advisory Council.) Forum for the Future is a leading international non-profit working with business, government and civil society to solve complex sustainability challenges. The organization recently released a compelling report, Growing Our Future: Scaling Regenerative Agriculture in the United States of America. The report’s central premise is, “While progress towards regenerative agriculture in the U.S. has accelerated over the last five years, there are significant barriers holding us back. What are they? And how can we overcome them?”
Sally was joined by Cornerstone’s Chief Impact Strategist, Katherine Pease, who addressed ways in which investors can fuel growth in regenerative ag practices, and Cornerstone Founder & CEO, Erika Karp, who moderated the session.

Cornerstone Capital Group Founder and CEO Erika Karp addresses the state of impact investing, offering a clear distinction between impact investing, ESG analysis, and sustainability. No matter what labels are used, someday this will all simply be called “investing.” Note: This video originally appeared on cornerstonecapitalfunds.com

Approximately 815 million people are undernourished worldwide, a figure that is expected to increase as the population grows and as climate change disrupts agricultural production.1 The impacts of hunger are both immediate and long lasting — it is responsible for mortality and stunting in children, and can lead to lifelong health conditions.2 If efforts to meet this growing challenge and achieve zero hunger are to succeed, changes are needed to make food and agriculture systems more sustainable, efficient, and accessible. SDG 2 is further refined by targets that can be more readily translated into actions. These targets highlight the interconnected nature of the goals: For example, strategies to achieve Zero Hunger also promote progress toward SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) and SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities). Below are a series of synergies that can come from providing access to products, services and systems that target Zero Hunger.

Access to Safe, Affordable & Sustainable Transportation

The majority of rural economies in developing countries around the world are agrarian. However, approximately 45% of the land area in low income countries and 51% in lower-middle-income countries is located more than five hours away from the main market, severely constraining the potential of agriculture to help meet local food needs.3 Access to affordable transportation options means farmers pay less for inputs to produce food, and less to move that food to market,4 as a result, consumers have better food options at affordable prices.5 Given the
distance between producers and major markets, farmers sometimes experience “stranded harvests” when the cost to move the crops to market outweighs the potential profits. Small scale farmers are affected far more than larger farmers by a lack of access to mobility because they rely on infrastructure much more than large farmers.

Learn More About Investing in Zero Hunger Solutions

Access to Sustainable Sources of Food and Nutrition

Currently, one in nine people, or 821 million people globally, struggle to meet their daily nutritional needs. One in three people suffer from malnutrition. A poor diet can lead to poor health and as a result, have considerable impacts on local and national education and employment levels.6 Poverty is the main cause of hunger globally, stemming from a lack of resources and unequal income distribution. Hunger-related illnesses abound in food-insecure communities.7,8 A focus on the quantity of food that is produced globally must be balanced with a focus on its nutritional quality to achieve global food security. Small and large farms are equally important in addressing access to adequate nutrition as large farms produce in quantity and small farms produce a greater diversity of foods and generate wider nutritional benefits.9 The UN describes malnutrition as the “Global Triple Threat”; emphasizing hunger, micronutrient deficiencies as well as the dangers of growing overweight and obese populations. There is a loss in 10% of global GDP attributed to this “Global Triple Threat”.10

Access to Financial Services

The establishment of financial services and systems is important to the longterm sustainability of a farms and food-related small businesses.11 The ability to make agricultural investments and infrastructure requires long-term planning and investment in technology for both large and small scale operations. Many smallholder farmers need a greater emphasis on access to insurance and other risk management mechanism in order to thrive in an increasingly competitive economy and to adapt to the risks of climate change.12

Learn More About Investing in Zero Hunger Solutions

SDG 2: References

1 https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg2
2 Martins, V. et al. 2011. Long Lasting Effects of Undernutrition. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
3 http://www.slocat.net/news/1901
4 https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/RTIReportExecSum.pdf
5 https://reliefweb.int/report/world/sustainable-agriculture-end-world-hunger
6 https://www1.wfp.org/zero-hunger
7 https://www.worldhunger.org/world-hunger-and-poverty-facts-and-statistics/
8 https://www.un.org/development/desa/dpad/wp-content/uploads/sites/45/Chapter4.pdf
9 http://www.environmentreports.com/small-farms-stewards-global-nutrition/
10 Ibid
11 https://www.ifc.org/wps/wcm/connect/industry_ext_content/ifc_external_corporate_site/financial+institutions/resources/access+to+finance+for+smallholder+farmers
12 http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/financialsector/brief/agriculture-finance

On May 20, we hosted a video webinar with Cornerstone’s Katherine Pease and Craig Metrick, who provided an overview of our new impact measurement framework, the Access Impact Framework.  Katherine and Craig provided background on why Cornerstone created the framework, our rationale for basing our framework on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and described our methodology.

In our recent report Sustainable Protein: Investing for Impact at the Nexus of Environment, Human Health and Animal Welfare, we pointed out that in developed countries, diet-related health concerns and less- or no-meat lifestyles have sharply reduced consumption of red meat.  Flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan preferences have been driven, in part, by animal welfare and climate change concerns.

Today, a flexitarian diet – one that doesn’t adhere to a specific eating style and may combine plant-based and meat-based dishes – is now practiced by 31% of Americans, with another 13% subscribing to a specific eating lifestyle such as veganism or vegetarianism. In the U.K., almost 13% of the population is now vegetarian or vegan, with a further 21% identifying as flexitarian, according to a 2018 survey of British consumers.  Our report also highlighted a preference by consumers for fresh and organic products.

On February 21, Kraft Heinz announced that it was writing down the value of some of its best-known brands by $15.4 billion which, according to a Bloomberg article[1] was “an acknowledgment that changing consumer tastes have destroyed the value of some of the company’s most iconic products.”  Subsequently, the stock price of Kraft Heinz plunged 21%.

Another Bloomberg article[2] observed that “all the old guards of the supermarket aisles are struggling as consumers opt for fresher, less-processed and more on-the-go food items from upstart businesses.”  In our report, we pointed to rapid growth in the organic yogurt, almond milk and protein bar categories in recent years, with many of the leading companies being relatively young start-ups.  While Kraft Heinz attempted to respond to these trends, its efforts haven’t been enough.  As Bloomberg observed, the company “has tried to spruce up a tired suite of brands — from organic Capri Sun to natural Oscar Mayer hot dogs.”

Our report concluded that, reflecting the shift to sustainable protein, opportunities exist in alternative proteins, organic foods, new agricultural technologies, sustainably managed farmland, and sustainable fisheries and aquaculture.

[1] Kraft Heinz Falls Near Record Low on $15.4 Billion Writedown, 2019-02-22

[2] Kraft Heinz’s Financial Recipe Turns Sour, 2019-02-22

Advances in agricultural technology, changes in human diet, and rising awareness of the environmental destruction caused by factory farming are accelerating the rise of sustainable protein.

Investors can target a number of outcomes — access to a sustainable food supply, lower greenhouse gas emissions, more plentiful and cleaner water, and a reduction in animal cruelty — through sustainable protein related investments. Opportunities exist in alternative proteins, organic foods, new agricultural technologies, sustainably managed farmland, and sustainable fisheries and aquaculture.

In this report we outline how a confluence of behavioral, technological, and regulatory changes have fueled the trend toward sustainable protein; identify emerging developments in the “alternative protein” space; and highlight ways to consider sustainable protein investment across asset classes.

Download Sustainable Protein: Investing for Impact at the Nexus of Environment, Human Health and Animal Welfare

This article originally appeared in Investment News on December 13, 2018. 

Sustainable and impact investors are set to intensify their decades-long support for action on climate change on the heels of a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Fourth National Climate Assessment, issued by the U.S. government.

The U.S. government notes that unless urgent action is taken, climate change could shrink the U.S. economy by hundreds of billions of dollars every year in direct costs. Consistent with these findings, the IPCC’s alarming (and unsurprising) conclusions are that urgent global economic transformation is needed to head off catastrophic damage to ecosystems, communities and economies beginning within a quarter century.

Many investors now understand that climate change is not merely an environmental issue but a material economic risk for long-term portfolios. However, investors should avoid a single-minded focus on climate change that ignores the relationship between ecosystems and human development.

The IPCC report stresses that an effective fight against climate change must include efforts to achieve sustainable development goals such as gender equality, the eradication of poverty, and food security.

In other words, how we fight climate change matters. Even the most optimistic scenarios will require substantial human adaptation to changed ecosystems, which will be especially challenging for poor or marginalized communities. Achieving sustainable development goals will strengthen the ability of poor communities to adapt to inevitable change and complement more direct efforts to mitigate climate change. However, these climate mitigation efforts by themselves may either help or hinder progress towards the sustainable development goals.

For example, mitigation strategies such as reforestation or biofuel development may reduce the land available for agriculture at a time when crop yields are already declining because of rising temperatures and water stress. The resulting increases in food prices have the effect of reducing buying power and possibly destabilizing civic and political cultures in developing countries.

Conversely, sustainable agricultural strategies, conducted with attention to social equity, can increase food security and counteract some of the negative effects of climate change on drinking water, biodiversity and income inequality, while reducing greenhouse gases associated with intensive farming practices.

The empowerment of women can also support and reinforce both climate change mitigation and adaptation. Improving the quality of cookstoves available to poor women has the direct effect of reducing fuel use and deforestation. It also reduces asthma rates, which improves educational outcomes, and empowers women by freeing them from the labor-intensive “drudgery” of traditional cooking methods.

Numerous studies have also shown that as women gain education and empowerment, they earn more income and often choose to have fewer children, which is associated with reduced poverty and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The introduction of modern technologies such as cookstoves into poor households would have an undeniably positive effect on quality of life for the poor and the resilience of their communities. However, the resulting increase in the demand for energy could undermine the intended climate benefits unless these strategies are accompanied by investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency — both of which come with additional benefits for income and energy access.

These and many other examples demonstrate the need for a holistic understanding of the connection between issues of climate and human development. Yet much of the financial capital flowing into climate mitigation today is motivated solely by opportunities for financial return arising from new public policies and the dramatic improvement in renewable energy technology.

These flows are important for achieving global scale for environmental solutions. However, a lack of attention to the social dimension of investment decisions may create a blind spot for unintended consequences that counteract environmental benefits.

The insights of sustainable and impact investment offer an essential complement to mainstream financial analysis. Integrating environmental, social and economic concerns into investment analyses can yield a more nuanced understanding of the complex interactions between climate and society. As part of this analysis, a commitment to stakeholder engagement will help investors incorporate the perspectives of local communities who will be impacted by investment decisions — because, as the IPCC report notes, climate change will impact people differently depending on geography, income and culture.

So what can investors who are concerned about climate change do? First, their investment policy statements should explicitly incorporate both climate change and key related social issues, such as gender equity, poverty, food security, and health. Second, the evaluation of investments or investment strategies intended to address climate change should integrate an analysis of their impact on broader sustainable development goals. Third, investors should use their voice to ask companies, governments and financial markets how climate change and sustainable development is incorporated into policy, planning and performance measurement.

An effective response to climate change will require the mobilization of every resource available to society, including governments, business, and civil society. Given the unique power of financial markets, investors can contribute to a long-term solution or exacerbate existing problems. Sustainable and impact investors have an opportunity to influence the outcome, if they choose to take it.

“Creativity & The Arts” is a relatively new theme for impact investors to consider, despite being embedded in every cultural and technological advancement that has occurred since the dawn of civilization. As illustrated in this report, many impact-focused development initiatives integrate arts and creative endeavors, even when not defined as such. This highlights the importance of establishing common frameworks of understanding when considering impact investing.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), though not originally designed for investment or philanthropic applications, have become an important frame of reference for sustainable and impact investors. We at Cornerstone Capital Group have been developing our own framework for supporting investors to incorporate SDGs into their investment process. Our efforts have focused on:

One challenge we face in considering the SDGs in an investment context is their interrelated nature. Performance or improvement in any one SDG will likely be highly correlated with performance across a range of SDGs. Similarly, one can make a case that “arts and creativity” are intertwined with almost every SDG.

Of particular relevance to this report are SDG 5: Gender Equality and SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities. Several of our contributors specifically reference the ways in which artists and creatives who are women and/or people of color and/or LGBTQ can be nourished and supported through affordable live/work art spaces. These are tangible examples of how art and creativity can be considered in the context of the SDGs – and specific investment opportunities.

As an example of the interrelated nature of the SDGs, affordable housing in a broader sense is responsive to SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. One can target SDG 11 as a matter of personal interest, while simultaneously considering SDG 5 and SDG 10, using art and creativity to connect the three.

In addition to creative culture serving to connect various impact investment goals—and more important—it is a bridge-builder between and among cultures. The arts can help communicate shared human experience in ways that transcend language and other societal structures and social norms. The arts offer amazing ingenuity, fresh and unique perspectives, and uses of media and tools from across every corner of the globe and every culture.

With this report, we hope to convey the numerous ways in which a focus on the arts and creativity can reveal meaningful and impactful investment opportunities. We can readily identify opportunities not only to support artists and creatives themselves, but also the spaces in which they live and work, the positive effects that they can bring to the communities in which their work is made and shown, shared experiences and bridging of cultures and communities, and improvements in the overall human condition.

At Cornerstone, we think of impact investment in a total portfolio context. This report shares perspectives from asset owners who are interested to find a fiduciary-level investment perspective on this issue. We hear from entrepreneurs using art and creativity as a driver of value in their business models. We also feature several managers currently offering diversified managed investment strategies in the private equity and fixed income asset classes, as examples of the creative thinking occurring in the finance arena. As the landscape of such opportunities continues to develop, Cornerstone will thoughtfully review the investment and impact goals of all such strategies.

Creativity and the arts are critical elements to finding the solutions to the systemic challenges that we face today. For those ready to participate in creating a better world through impact investing, we welcome the inclusion of arts and creativity as guideposts to our investment process, and an important new tool to creating the more sustainable world we want to build.

From the Gain Health Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition. Erika Karp presented on the economic importance of nutrition on December 9, 2013.