Alaska Ranked the Most Sustainable North American Airline

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Aviation accounts for more than 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. To put that in perspective, if global aviation were a country, it would rank in the top 10 emitters, according to the European Commission. As the global middle class expands and more people can afford to travel, these figures will increase in kind. By 2020, global international aviation emissions are projected to be around 70 percent higher than they were in 2005, and the International Civil Aviation Organization forecasts that they could grow by up to 700 percent more by 2050.

Meanwhile, the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that the planet is warming faster than scientists previously estimated. These realities require the global aviation industry to take serious steps to decrease their impact if they hope to play a role in a low-carbon future.

In North America, one airline stands out from the pack, as reflected by the 2018 Dow Jones Sustainability Index. Updated annually by S&P Dow Jones Indices and sustainability investing specialist RobecoSAM, the Index ranks the world’s top companies based on social and environmental impact and represents the gold standard in corporate sustainability. For the second year in a row, Alaska Airlines earned the No. 1 spot for the North American aviation sector—and, with its recent efforts, it’s easy to see why.

Alaska looks to cut greenhouse gas intensity for a carbon-smart future

Last year, Alaska installed split scimitar winglets on all eligible 737 aircraft, improving average fuel efficiency by over 34,000 gallons per plane each year. That adds up to around 4.5 million gallons of fuel annually—enough to power all of the airline’s Anchorage flights for an entire month. Upgrades to navigational technology saved another 1.2 million gallons of fuel in 2017, according to the airline’s most recent sustainability report.

By 2020, the airline hopes to decrease mainline emissions by 17 percent per revenue ton mile—an industry metric that calculates weight transported and miles traveled—compared to a 2009 baseline. But after its fleet expanded thanks to a merger with Virgin America, Alaska’s overall emissions intensity essentially flatlined over the past year. More broadly, the airline’s leadership appears to recognize that fuel efficiency measures will only go so far. In order to keep pace with the level of ambition needed to avert the worst impacts of climate change, the aviation sector will need to fundamentally rethink how it does business—namely by embracing renewable jet fuels.

At present, sustainable aviation biofuel is the only viable replacement for fossil jet fuel in commercial aviation. In 2016, Alaska became the world's first airline to fly two commercial flights using a biofuel made from the stumps and branches left over after timber harvests. Last month, it joined forces with one of the world’s largest producers of such fuels in an attempt to accelerate the adoption of renewable alternatives across the sector.

Based in Helsinki, Finland, Neste produces aviation biofuels that airlines can adopt without installing new jet engines or fuel distribution systems. Its new partnership with Alaska will help the companies work more closely together to deploy the proven fuel. “We are forerunners in the area of renewable fuels: Neste as a producer, and Alaska as a pioneer in the testing of renewable jet fuel on commercial flights,” Kaisa Hietala, executive vice president of renewable products for Neste, said in a statement. “By working together, we will find the best solutions.”

The global aviation industry is targeting a 50 percent reduction in net emissions by 2050, relative to 2005 levels, and partnerships like these may very well prove essential in meeting those goals. "This collaboration is another major step toward supporting the health of our communities and ecosystems," Kirk Myers, sustainability director for Alaska, said in a statement.

Everyday changes trim impact down to size

In addition to industry-leading moves toward fuel efficiency and the adoption of renewable fuels, Alaska is leveraging small, incremental changes to lighten its broader footprint even further.

The airline stopped serving non-recyclable plastic straws and citrus picks in July of this year—instead opting for wood and bamboo alternatives at its airport lounges and on flights. The move to cut out the roughly 22 million straws and picks it distributes each year is part of Alaska's overall goal to reduce inflight waste-to-landfill by 70 percent per passenger by 2020.

The company has already more than halved inflight waste-to-landfill since it began auditing its efforts in 2010—thanks to the most comprehensive inflight recycling program of any U.S airline, which collects nearly 2,000 tons of recyclables each year.

The company also eliminated more than 23 million sheets of paper by focusing on digital solutions, such as tablets for flight attendants and pilots to replace manuals and announcement books. “We care about running a great airline and making a positive impact on the places and people we serve," Myers said. "When we’re at our best, we do so in ways that strengthen our business and accelerate our growth.”

The bottom line

Even if all countries fulfilled their commitments under the Paris climate agreement, there is still a "very high likelihood" that global temperatures will rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius by mid-century, putting us on a collision course with some of the most serious impacts of climate change, according to the IPCC report. Averting the crisis is still possible, IPCC researchers noted, but we'll need all hands on deck—and that certainly includes the private sector. Rankings such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index offer a glimpse into how the world's largest companies are responding, allowing us to give credit where credit is due and—hopefully—willing others into action.

“Companies that compete for a coveted place in the [Index] challenge themselves to continuously improve their sustainability practices,” Manjit Jus, head of environmental, social and governance (ESG) ratings for RobecoSAM, said in a statement. “We are pleased to see that the number of companies that commit to achieving measurable positive impacts continues to rise.”

Image courtesy of Alaska Airlines 

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Nestlé Purina Is Working to Build a More Disability-Friendly Workplace and Community

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The two years Sarah Schwegel, a lifelong advocate for people with disabilities, spent at Nestlé Purina were hugely beneficial for both Sarah and the company. Sarah, who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type II and uses a power wheelchair, worked in Purina’s human resources department, helping us to bring the best people to our company. She put forward suggestions detailing how Purina could better support employees with disabilities, and we acted on her ideas and saw what a difference they could make.

Today, our work with Sarah to make Purina an inclusive workplace for people with disabilities continues, but in a slightly different form. Sarah is now a full-time employee with one of our partner organizations, the Starkloff Disability Institute (SDI), which is dedicated to helping people with disabilities participate fully and equally in all aspects of society. Together, we’re working to build an environment where people with disabilities have the support and resources they need to thrive in the workplace.

For us, creating an inclusive workplace is a vital business decision, as much as it is a moral one. We know our ability to innovate and grow depends on having diverse voices — including people with disabilities — in the room.

Inclusion is Everyone’s Job

With insight from Sarah and her coworkers at SDI, we’ve made our workplace more disability-welcoming. We’ve lowered elevator buttons, created signage with braille characters and improved entrances and doors.

SDI also identified a few easy steps all employees can take to develop more inclusive workplaces:

  • Offer help, respectfully.

Many people with disabilities are bombarded with questions like, “Do you need help with that?” While help can be appreciated, respect a person’s ability to do things for themselves. Your colleague is much more capable of navigating their disability than you could imagine.

With that in mind, don’t be afraid to ask those questions. Your colleague with a disability may not need help this time, but they will identify you as a source of support that they can call on later.

  • Be mindful of time.

Accommodating your colleagues with disabilities spans beyond work tasks to being understanding about the length of time it takes for personal tasks. People with disabilities are aware, and sometimes self-conscious, about how long it takes them to do tasks compared to able-bodied people.

By taking these easy steps, we can make our workplaces more comfortable for people with disabilities.

Supporting Inclusion Beyond Our Walls

Our partnership with SDI extends beyond supporting Purina employees and into the broader community. Our Purina Ability Advocates, a group of employees who work to support pets and people affected by disabilities, host the Starkloff Disability Institute’s “Dream Big Summer Career Camp.” At the camp, high school and college students with disabilities explore job opportunities in a variety of fields.

Purina also hosts regular SDI workshops that provide guidance and mentorship for professionals with disabilities preparing for job interviews — either with Nestlé or elsewhere in the workforce.

“Our goal at the end of each training day is to have participants feel confident in their abilities and be well prepared for interviewing,” says Eric Schmidt, Manager of Sourcing Strategies and Employment Branding at Nestlé Purina.

Creating Opportunities

These efforts are part of Nestlé’s larger Project Opportunity initiative to help people gain work experience and strengthen their professional development.

“I am looking forward to seeing us hire more qualified applicants with disabilities as part of our efforts for diversity and inclusion. It is our responsibility as a collective workforce to recognize and empower the potential in others,” says Purina’s Chief Human Resources Officer Steve Degnan.

The mindset at Purina and throughout Nestlé is that these partnerships, hiring initiatives and awareness programs, are simply not temporary. They’re ongoing and continuously evolving opportunities to help others and guarantee we attract — and keep — the best talent.

Read more about diversity and inclusion at Nestlé Purina.

Previously published on 3BL Media and Medium.
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This Family Foundation Wants to Inspire Philanthropists to Consider Impact Investing

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The Russell Family Foundation has focused on protecting the environment and empowering communities in the Pacific Northwest and Puget Sound regions since its inception in 1999. Maximizing positive impact has always been a top priority for the Foundation’s work—following the ethos of its co-founders, George and Jane Russell, and their experience pioneering innovative strategies and industry-wide financial benchmarks through the global asset management firm Russell Investments.

In pursuit of its mission, the Foundation supported more than 675 individuals and community groups with around $130 million in grants, but its leadership team began to wonder if there was more they could do to drive measurable impact. In 2004, they began to explore impact investing and launched a $1 million pilot effort, which was followed by a series of additional mission-aligned investments.

Fast forward 10 years, and the Foundation challenged its team with a “tug of war” exercise to analyze the best investment strategies for financial gain compared to the best strategies with a return on mission. The result was a menu of approaches that increased mission-aligned investments in the Foundation’s portfolio from 7 percent to 75 percent in only four years.

This morning, the Foundation released a 41-page report detailing its impact investment journey, in an attempt to share lessons learned and inspire other philanthropic groups to activate their capital for impact. “Impact investing is a unique journey for any foundation, and I believe it is one that is necessary as stewards seeking a socially just and environmentally conscious world,” Richard Woo, CEO of the Russell Family Foundation (TRFF), said in a statement. “This report is an evolving story, metaphorically, with more chapters to come about emerging lessons and greater impact.”

TriplePundit took a look inside the report to find out what other foundations, philanthropists and purpose-driven investors can learn from the Foundation’s impressive move toward impact investing. Read on for the details.

An impact investing journey, recounted

The Foundation’s initial pilot explored socially-responsible vehicles such as environmental mutual funds, community bank deposits and program-related investments. “Back then, as now, we were drawn to the idea that a foundation may be better able to reach its philanthropic goals if it looked beyond traditional grantmaking strategies,” the report reads. “Investing in companies that conduct business in ways consistent with the Foundation’s mission seemed like a favorable option.”

The Foundation continued to make periodic impact investments over the following nine years, but the board wasn’t looking to make systemic changes to its investing strategy. That all changed when TRFF got involved in the DivestInvest movement. Launched on college campuses across the U.S. in 2010, DivestInvest calls on financial decision-makers to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest that capital into climate solutions. TRFF jumped in board in 2013 and began to divest its coal holdings.

A few months later, it came together with the Wallace Global Fund and foundations from across the country to formulate the DivestInvest Philanthropy Pledge. Seventeen foundations with $1.8 billion in assets under management pledged to divest from fossils within five years and invest at least 5 percent of their portfolio assets into climate solutions, such as renewable energy and energy efficiency. Since then, the number of foundations taking the pledge has grown nearly tenfold, with combined assets of close to $13 billion.

“It was a pivotal moment for TRFF because it set wheels in motion for a full divestment from fossil fuels and a focus on sustainable alternatives,” the report reads. “At the same time, it forced us to reconsider our entire portfolio management strategy.” The resulting “tug of war” exercise challenged TRFF’s investment advisors to find the best of both worlds—investments that supported its social and environmental mission, while also generating solid financial returns.

The process illuminated opportunities to restructure the portfolio for greater impact over time through means such as divestment and integrating new investment managers that address environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. “We confirmed our belief that we can utilize the entire portfolio to further our mission, rather than simply maximizing performance in order to bankroll grant-making,” the Foundation concluded in its report.

Best practices for foundations

As part of the report, TRFF outlined the nine processes it found most helpful when transitioning its portfolio to mission-aligned investments—which offer poignant lessons for other foundations and philanthropists.

1. Rethink your investment policy statement (IPS): Make sure your IPS is explicit when it comes to mission-related investing. In other words, merge your investment and impact goals within one document, TRFF suggests, and review it at least once a year to determine whether your objectives are still relevant. “Revisiting your IPS will also help you consider where new investment vehicles and strategies might be implemented in an ever-evolving landscape,” the report reads.

2. Choose between total portfolio activation or create a carve-out: Decide to either pursue impact investments in all asset classes across the portfolio or only in select portions.

3. Commit to shareholder engagement: Exercise your rights as a shareholder. “Take advantage of voting proxies and co-filing corporate resolutions on topics aligned with your mission,” such as environmental reporting, corporate governance and transparency, the Foundation suggests.

4. Examine your portfolio: Look into how your existing portfolio aligns with your mission. For TRFF, this meant a carbon audit with the scientific research group Trucost to ensure the Foundation wasn’t reinvesting in sectors outside fossil-based energy that were still carbon intensive. As You Sow’s Fossil Free Funds database may also be of help here.

5. Make incremental changes: Instead of rushing into things, embrace a phased approach. “First, develop a strategic divestment plan to eliminate holdings that are counter to the mission,” then move toward making new mission-aligned investments, TRFF advises.

6. Engage in peer-to-peer collaboration: Create a space for your staff and your investment advisors to learn from one another. “Greater dialogue will most likely lead to better decision-making and stronger mission alignment across your portfolio,” the Foundation wrote in its report.

7. Explore catalytic opportunities: TRFF established a new category within its portfolio to incubate its most mission-aligned investments. Its team and advisors then conduct due diligence to highlight catalytic opportunities within the portfolio. Likewise, think of how you can create a structure to identify high-impact investment opportunities.

8. Learn from the field: Reach out to experts and peer organizations that can guide you on your journey. TRFF suggests DivestInvest Philanthropy, Confluence Philanthropy, Croatan Institute and Mission Investors Exchange. “Sharing knowledge and perspectives regarding impact investing will provide valuable insights that may help fine-tune your strategy,” the report reads.

9. Find the right partners: “Working with our investment advisor, local partners and leaders in the field was critical,” TRFF says. Expertise gaps are bound to emerge—and forming relationships with specialists you trust can help to fill them.

The bottom line

In 2016, sustainable, responsible and impact investing in the United States was worth an estimated $8.72 trillion, or one-fifth of all investment under professional management, but the market is still maturing. As more impact investing products come on offer and performance measures are standardized, even more investors will be drawn to the space—facilitating more growth and more impact. "It’s a virtuous cycle we can all look forward to," TRFF wrote in its report. “In the meantime, however, private foundations that seek to initiate or expand impact investing strategies should reflect on how far they are willing to go to invest in their impact goals."

The Foundation’s own journey shows what’s possible when philanthropists take a strategic eye to the power of their capital and channel it into avenues that match their values while generating return to support their missions. “The Russell Family Foundation’s reported achievement of reaching almost 75 percent mission-aligned investments in a relatively short period is a great example of how applying a rigorous approach to investment due diligence can result in making the most of an organization’s financial and social impact,” Brad Harrison, managing director of the independent investment and wealth advisory firm Tiedemann Advisors, said in a statement. Will your foundation be next?

Image credit: Rawpixel via Unsplash

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Trump Administration Moves to Define “Transgender” Prompts Swift, Fierce Reaction

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The Trump administration is considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth, the New York Times reported today, calling it the most drastic move yet in a government-wide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people under federal civil rights law.

The Department of Health and Human Services is leading an effort to establish a legal definition of sex under Title IX, the federal law that bans gender discrimination in education programs that receive government financial assistance, the Times said, according to an unreleased Trump administration memo it had obtained.

The agency’s proposed definition would define sex as either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals that a person is born with. Any dispute about one’s sex would have to be clarified using genetic testing.

The new definition would essentially eradicate federal recognition of the estimated 1.4 million Americans who have opted to recognize themselves — surgically or otherwise — as a gender other than the one they were born into.

“Won’t be erased”

Not surprisingly, reaction from the LGBTQ community to the news has been swift and angry. The community mobilized a fast and fierce campaign that included a protest outside of the White House on Monday to say transgender people cannot be expunged from society. The hashtag #WontBeErased has already become a rallying cry on social media.

“You saw such a massive response because this attack on the trans community is essentially trying to erase the trans community from the face of this country and we’re not going to stand for that,” Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and chief executive of GLAAD, a media advocacy group for LGBTQ people told the Times.

Out of sync with business

Business has also taken a strong stance in support of transgender rights that is out of sync with the Trump administration. The annual Corporate Equality Index shows a growing list of businesses with transgender-inclusive health insurance benefits. Businesses large and small have removed transgender exclusions from their health insurance contracts and modified clinical guidelines to provide health insurance coverage for mental health counseling, hormone therapy, medical visits, surgical procedures and other treatments related to gender transition or sex reassignment.

Some companies, like Procter & Gamble, have even featured transgender people prominently in their advertising campaigns, like an ad to focus on the importance of moms in the lives of children features a commercial based on the true story of a transgender woman who adopted a 6-year-old girl. Other companies, like Johnson & Johnson, have long embraced inclusive policies that made it clear they will recruit, embrace and welcome transgender employees.

Rollback of Obama administration policies

The Trump administration’s move continues its rollback of the Obama administration’s loosening of the legal concept of gender in federal programs, including in education and health care, recognizing gender largely as an individual’s choice and not determined by the sex assigned at birth. The policy led to intense controversy over bathrooms, dormitories, single-sex programs and other arenas where gender was once seen as a simple concept.

Conservatives were incensed. Roger Severino, now the director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services, was among them, calling the Obama administration expansion of sex to include gender identity “radical gender ideology.”

“This takes a position that what the medical community understands about their patients — what people understand about themselves — is irrelevant because the government disagrees,” Catherine E. Lhamon told the Times. She led the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights in the Obama administration and helped write transgender guidance that is being undone.

Game on

Civil rights groups have been meeting with federal officials in recent weeks to argue against the proposed definition, the Times reported. Now that battle is likely to intensify. After more than a year of discussions, health and human services is preparing to formally present the new definition to the Justice Department before the end of the year, Trump administration officials say.

But Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ previous decisions on transgender protections give little hope to civil rights advocates. The new wording proposed regarding transgender people seems aligned with the position Session took in an October 2017 memo sent to agencies clarifying that the civil rights law that prohibits job discrimination does not cover “gender identity, per se.”

Image credit: IIP Photo Archive/Flickr

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The Knitting Factor: Tying It All Together in Celebration of Pro Bono Week

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Last year we debuted a concept called The Knitting Factor, which helps explain how skills-based volunteering knits together the expertise from the corporate and nonprofit sectors to create sustainable solutions that don’t come undone when partners part ways. We also introduced three key ingredients to the success of The Knitting Factor: Panoramic Perspectives, Skill Sharing and Sticky Relationships. In celebration of Pro Bono Week, we wanted to share a quick review of how the Knitting Factor has worked in practice over the past year.

An overview of The Knitting Factor, is perhaps best summarized by:

We highlighted Panoramic Perspectives or a view that looks at people beyond their titles, organizations and sectors to allow value to transcend profit by
We focused on Skill Sharing, or the idea that skills-based volunteering is a two-way talent exchange where pro bono professionals learn as much from the nonprofits they work with as those nonprofits learn from them, by
And we are closing out the year with an inside look at Sticky Relationships, or a commitment to building long-lasting partnerships that drive missions and business forward, by Join us in celebrating Pro Bono Week (#PBW18) by tagging @CommonImpact in your #probono service tweets and posts. Follow our stories on the Common Impact blog and on our new podcast – Pro Bono Perspectives where we will be celebrating the volunteers, nonprofits and corporate partners that make skilled service possible!

Previously posted on Common Impact's Blog and 3BL Media News.

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Death of Khashoggi Tests the Limits of Corporate Social Responsibility

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The torture and murder of Saudi journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi earlier this month is a crucial tipping point for the corporate social responsibility community. Several leading companies have called out the Saudi government for its role in the crime, but many others are dissembling. If U.S. and global business leaders fail to act with more clarity and force, the whole corporate social responsibility movement could be exposed as a toothless sham.

Corporate response to the Khashoggi case is all the more important to fill a leadership vacuum here in the U.S., where President Trump has been reluctant to call the Saudi government to account for its actions.

Brand reputation and corporate social responsibility

Human rights organizations have recognized that the Khashoggi murder poses an existential threat to the corporate social responsibility movement, and they are prodding companies to respond.

From a brand reputation perspective, the stakes are high.

The Center for International Policy is one example. The organization has issued a public letter to dozens of high profile companies that have planned to attend the Saudi government's much-touted Future Investment Initiative summit in Riyadh, scheduled for October 23-25.

The letter came through the organization's Win Without War initiative. Here's the money quote:

...By supporting this conference, which is so closely associated with the crown prince and his regime, you not only lend the Saudi government-which just murdered a U.S.resident-legitimacy, but also risk hurting your brand. Consumers and investors now shop with a conscience and your association with the brutal and thuggish tactics of the Saudi government could damage your business interests.

The Huffington Post has more details about participants in the Saudi summit, including this observation:
Among the major companies and commercial figures still connected to the Future Investment Initiative conference are Peter Thiel, a close ally of President Donald Trump, and Joe Kaeser, head of the German firm Siemens, who are on the conference’s advisory board; and the consulting firms Boston Consulting Group, Deloitte, EY, McKinsey & Company, Oliver Wyman and Bain & Company, who are co-sponsors of the conference.

Meanwhile, CNN, Bloomberg and other media companies have pulled their sponsorships for the summit, though they will most likely provide some level of coverage.

A number of high level executives also previously announced that they would not represent their companies at the summit, including Ford, JPMorgan Chase, Uber, Blackstone, BlackRock, MasterCard and Google, though some if not all of these companies may still maintain a lower level of representation.

The heads of HSBC, Credit Suisse and Standard Chartered banks, and the IMF and the London Stock Exchange also pulled their high-level representation earlier this week, before the letter went out, as did -- finally -- U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

The Jamal Khashoggi murder as a message

The Jamal Khashoggi case sparked global outrage when evidence leaked out that the journalist -- a known critic of Saudi First Deputy Minister and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman -- had been reportedly tortured, beheaded and dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

More than a dozen Saudi operatives have been identified as involved in the crime. The common wisdom is that they bungled a planned coverup.

However, as more evidence emerges, it is becoming more likely that the Khashoggi murder was carried out exactly as intended. It was more than an exercise in silencing a media critic. It was a message.

In all its spectacular cruelty, in the number of its perpetrators flown in for the occasion, in its location within a Saudi government facility on foreign soil, and in its timing -- barely three weeks before the Future Investment Initiative Summit -- the Khashoggi murder amounts to a bloody, brutal dare to the corporate social responsibility community.

The Silicon Valley connection

In the latest development, CNN and other media have published the full text of a statement issued by the Saudi government outlining its official explanation of the Kashoggi murder as of Friday, October 19. Here is the key passage:
The results of the preliminary investigations also revealed that the discussions that took place with the citizen Jamal Khashoggi during his presence in the consulate of the Kingdom in Istanbul by the suspects did not go as required and developed in a negative way led to a fight and a quarrel between some of them and the citizen Jamal Khashoggi, yet the brawl aggravated to lead to his death and their attempt to conceal and cover what happened.

That explanation has been received as absurd on its face, with the notable exception of President Trump, who stated that found it "credible."

The President's conciliatory attitude is not surprising, considering the Trump family's private dealings with Saudi businesses and investors.

In this context, it's worth taking a closer look at Peter Thiel, the "close ally of Trump" named in the Huffington Post article cited above. Thiel, a top Silicon Valley investor, is not simply one among many people "connected" to the summit. He is listed as one of only nine members of the Future Investment Initiative advisory board.

That position is representative's of Thiel's placement in the financial nexus of Saudi investments in Silicon Valley tech companies and Saudi business dealing with the Trump family.

It's also representative of Thiel's somewhat underappreciated role in propelling Trump into the Oval Office. Thiel emerged as an active supporter of Donald Trump during the primary season in 2016. During the presidential campaign he popped in at key junctures in to provide op-eds, speeches, and financial assistance. That including funds for Cambridge Analytica, the data firm at the heart of the 2016 election tampering scandal.

Thiel's support for Trump provoked protests against Facebook during 2016 campaign, as Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg defended Thiel's position on the company's board of directors. Protests or not, Thiel is still on the board.

As for Thiel and Trump, it appears that the fortunes of the two men will remain entwined for the foreseeable future. Last week, CNBC reported that Thiel has already donated $250,000 to Trump's 2020 re-election campaign.

Cue the outrage -- or not, as the case may be.

Image: via Future Investment Initiative.

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Should Your Company Start Using Solar?

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Do you run a company that's in a region of the country that gets plenty of sunlight? Solar energy is a popular topic, and a compelling option to reduce your company's carbon footprint by reducing your reliance on the energy that is generated by burning fossil fuels. Let's take a closer look at the pros and cons of transitioning to solar energy for your company, and if it’s an investment that can help you become a more sustainable business.

Pro — Playing the Long Game

Depending on your system, and the amount of sun your area receives during the year, you might see returns immediately on your investment — or it might take a few years for the solar panels to pay for themselves. Installing solar panels isn't a short-term game. The goal is to eventually make your company independent of the traditional energy companies or at least reduce your reliance on them. A well-installed system can pay for itself in less than ten years and provide you power for decades to come. Play the long game here, and you will end up well-rewarded by it.

Con — An Expensive Proposition

Installing solar panels isn't a cheap option. Even if the system pays for itself over time, the initial investment can be upwards of $130,000 to $200,000, which is a hefty expense, especially for a small business. Sure, for Fortune 500 companies, 200 grand is pocket change. However, that could make solar seem out of reach for small businesses.

However, the future may be brighter than we think. Elon Musk has claimed that his plans for solar roofing will be cheaper than even a traditional roof. Musk has a history of exaggerating, but if he’s right on this, it could be a game-changer.  

Pro — Different Types of Solar Panels

Typically, the large black solar panels that you see on homes and businesses around the country are photovoltaic, or PV solar panels. They are effective, but they aren't as efficient as some of the other options, and they can be heavy and difficult to install. If your business is under an older roof, you might have to opt for a ground-based system. There are other options, though, that you might consider.

Crystalline solar panels are lightweight, as they are manufactured from silicon wafers sandwiched between two layers of glass. These panels don't require the same sort of heavyweight hardware that PV panels do, and can get attached directly to a flat or metal roof with clamps or bracing.

Pro — There Is Help Available

If you don't have $200,000 to spend on a solar system, that doesn't mean that you can't invest in solar to help power your business. There are options available depending on your state, including leasing options, installation and tax rebates provided by the federal government as an incentive to become more energy efficient, and even small business loans. If solar is the next step for your business, there are options even if you don't have the initial investment money.

Con — Not a Good Option Everywhere

While solar is a good option in many parts of the country, it isn't everywhere, simply because the site might not get enough good sunlight hours. Simply plug your address into Google Sunroof if you're unsure if your site is a good location for a solar array. This tool uses Google Maps and satellite imagery to determine how much good sunlight a building gets, how many square feet of solar panels you might need and an estimate of the initial cost to install.

Pro — Saving Money

One of the biggest reasons for installing solar panels is the fact that they help you save money on your energy bills. The average business can offset more than 75 percent of their electricity use by switching to solar, leading to an average monthly savings of more than $1,400. Depending on the size of your solar system, you could save more or less than this. But on average, you can expect to offset at least half of your monthly energy cost, even up to three-quarters of that cost, simply by switching to solar.

Save Money Long-Term

If you live in an area that gets plenty of good sunlight, and you don't mind the relatively high initial investment, switching to solar is a great option. It will save you money in the long run, reduce your company's carbon footprint and could even attract more eco-minded customers to your doors. All in all, there are more pros than cons to installing solar panels on your business, and if enough businesses do it, we may finally reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
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Sustainable Investment May Not Be Mainstream - But It’s On Its Way

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At a time when environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing seems to be making major strides, skepticism about whether sustainable or socially responsible investing will soon be —or ever be—mainstream still persists.

One of those skeptics (or realists, as he might argue) is David Blitzer, managing director and the chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. As he told Quartz recently, even though new stock indexes are being created, like the MSCI World ESG Leaders Index and the Equileap Global Gender Equality Index, which take ESG into account, ““I think it will take a long time before the official benchmark will get completely adjusted.”

It’s true that ESG investing isn’t about to replace traditional investing. Significant obstacles do remain, such as a lack of agreement about the best approach and an absence of international standards or rules governing sustainable investing.

No denying the momentum

But the momentum for ESG disclosure and investment has arguably never been higher. As TriplePundit reported last week, a major new responsible investing survey found resistance to ESG, particularly in the U.S., is falling away. One in four U.S. investors now say that an ESG integrated portfolio will outperform a non-ESG portfolio, five times the number who agreed in 2017.

Among the optimists are traditional firms such as State Street Global Advisors, BlackRock, Inc. and Putnam Investments. Chris McKnett, head ESG strategist at State Street Global Advisors, told InvestmentNews, “ESG is rooted in improving the investment outcome, rather than some other goal which may not be investment-oriented, and that's where we're seeing some convergence."

Make way for the millennial investor

While some of the old guard may be slowly changing their views on ESG investing, they may soon have to make way for the strong interest in ESG being shown by women investors, particularly millennials. Younger generations are driving the fast growth of the “green bond” market and the field of sustainable finance in general.

According to the Robb Report, estimates from the impact investing firm Swell Investing show that these women investors have the potential to add as much as $22 trillion to investments in conscious capitalism. That would greatly increase the existing pool of nearly $9 trillion.

The proof is in the numbers. Statistics show that investments that factor in ESG deliver profits and long-term liability. The MSCI KLD 400 Social Index, a capitalization-weighted index of 400 U.S. securities that provides exposure to companies with outstanding ESG, reports that its annualized returns (over a 20-year period ending January 31, 2018) were 5.46 percent, slightly better than the S&P 500’s 5.43 percent over the same period.

As Jessica Huang, director of sustainable investing at BlackRock in San Francisco, told Robb Report, “Eventually, it won’t be called sustainable investing. It will just be called investing, with ESG as a material driver of risk and returns.”

Not just for tree-huggers

Huang pointed out that the proliferation of data on how a company’s activities have an impact on ESG is making it easier for investors to continuously incorporate these factors into their overall assessments. That includes, for instance, the ability to evaluate a company’s entire carbon footprint by extending the emissions calculations to their supply chain and their products. The mounting data related to environmental and social impacts is being measured right alongside such traditional measures as cash flow and earnings on the balance sheet, exposing risks and opportunities.  

Savita Subramanian, head of U.S. equity and quantitative strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, is another proponent who sees the ESG train picking up steam. As she told Robb Report, “It’s not just for tree-huggers….An investor who only held stocks with above-average ranks on both environmental and social scores would have avoided 15 of the 17 bankruptcies we have seen since 2008.”

Trends bear out optimism

A number of trends bear out the case for optimism that sustainable investing may enter the mainstream faster than expected. Good governance remains a systemically important trend, increasingly a goal for regulators and for fixed income and equity investors through active ownership. ESG considerations have driven new regulations in a growing list of countries, which is tangibly affecting credit fundamentals. Global supply chains pose growing risks if poorly managed, and investors may be quick to penalize companies for human rights issues, environmental impact and other ESG considerations.

And not least, the urgent need for action around climate change, underscored by the recent sobering UN report on climate change, is not only a wake-up call for CEOs but is driving sustainable investment portfolios and more disclosure of climate-related financial risks.

The ESG revolution may have been quietly taking place over the past decade, but now it’s making some real noise. Those financial institutions not yet compelled into action may soon be pushed into it.

In fact, earlier this year, the United Kingdom’s pension fund association encouraged its members to vote against the chair of a company if they feel the company is not doing enough to ensure its business model is compatible with efforts to limit global temperature increases.  

That kind of activism may be as much a driver of change in how companies disclose—and how investors account for—ESG as anything else.

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How Calvert Impact Capital Strengthens Communities Through Impact Investments

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The impact investing sector has been growing at a rapid pace. Investors increasingly seek opportunities to make a social and environmental difference through their investment portfolios. With $228 billion invested towards impact activities in 2017, the industry has come a long way.

Calvert Impact Capital (CIC) said it is working to build a more equitable financial system through investments in its portfolio and by sharing its expertise with investors and borrowers. The company’s 2018 Impact Report shows how CIC is striving to strengthen communities and helping improve global sustainability through its business.

Community Development

In 2017, Calvert Impact Capital provided flexible financing to support the development of 1,488 community facilities serving more than 8.5 million community members across the country. These facilities span 3.5 million sq. ft. and are worth $1.12 billion.

Affordable Housing

The borrowers using CIC’s capital helped create or preserve 32,669 affordable homes across the U.S. in 2017. The borrowers also counseled 30,669 clients on housing, preparing them for home ownership and creating more empowered and informed homeowners.


Calvert claimed that it had a role in helping to finance 3,327 affordable, quality schools that enrolled 2,248,871 children in 2017. The schools operational in 2017 employed 78,283 teachers and financed a total of 15,227 new student seats.


In 2017, CIC took part in financing 308 medical facilities that addressed the needs of over 5 million patients across the US and other parts of the world. These healthcare facilities provide affordable care, while at the same time, create job opportunities for trained healthcare professionals.


Calvert Impact Capital is investing in microfinance networks and institutions that offer innovative insurance, credit, savings, and other financial products, apart from financial education and payment platforms. CIC’s borrowers in 2017 disbursed microloans of $1,735 on average to 12 million individuals, 76 percent of which reached low-income individuals.

Small Business

CIC lends to financial intermediaries involved in financing small business owners to help them grow their businesses. The results, according to the company, helps create new jobs in local communities and generates economic opportunity. The company’s capital in 2017 helped to finance nearly 6,000 small businesses, and supported the creation or retention of over a 100,000 jobs globally.  

Environmental Sustainability

According to the company’s report, during 2017, Calvert’s borrowers recycled over 91,000 tons of waste. This helped to reduce more than 260,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide. The company’s capital also helped reduce more than six million tons of CO2 or CO2 equivalent through the deployment of renewable energy. Renewable energy products sold by the company’s borrowers will generate clean energy that is enough to power 4,475 homes for one year.

Sustainable Agriculture

Calvert Impact Capital invested in projects in 2017 that the company said had a role in connecting farmers to better economic opportunities. The company’s borrowers supported 721,864 smallholder farmers and 45 agricultural groups worldwide.

“Our industry often focuses on the outputs of impact investments as the sole indicators of success. But they are not the full picture,” said Jenn Pryce, President and CEO. “In order to achieve those outputs, and importantly, to scale them, we need a functioning market between interested investors and mission-driven asset managers,” she said.

Image credit: Calvert Impact Capital

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A LEED Perspective on Best Window and Shade Selection for Your Home

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This article series is sponsored by Pella Windows and Doors and went through our normal editorial review process. 

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that 25%-30% of energy wasted in the home is due to inefficient windows. So clearly, when buying a new home or upgrading your current home, selecting the ideal set of windows is an important part of the decision.

But what’s the right window for your home? “It depends,” says Paul DeJesus, a LEED-accredited architect and principal at Paul Chris Design, a design-build firm working in the San Francisco area. “What works best for your needs will vary depending on several factors like the local climate, the orientation of the house, and of course your budget,” he says.

Also consider that windows must serve multiple functions – controlling heat transfer between the inside and outside of the home, blocking harmful aspects of the sun’s rays while letting in daylight, reducing exterior noise, and allowing air ventilation.

Make sure to “balance” all these factors when evaluating windows, advises DeJesus. And because windows are highly technical products these days, it’s a good idea to become familiar with some of the basics of new window construction.

Multiple panes

High performance windows will have multiple panes of glass, two or even three for especially cold climates or noisy outside environments. The panes are separated by a vacuum or gas filled space using argon or krypton gas. The multiple panes provide more insulation to reduce heat transfer, so are “leaps and bounds more energy efficient over a single pane,” says DeJesus.  

Low-e glass

When choosing windows, often it’s the things you can't see that are most important. This is the case with windows manufactured with low emissivity (low-e) window coatings, which are microscopic layers of metallic oxides.


Low-e coating reflects heat back to its source, so it helps your home stay cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. The coating also protects your home from unwanted ultraviolet rays which can fade your carpets and furniture. And because these coatings are transparent, they allow as much natural light into the house as possible.


The most common types of window frames are made from wood, vinyl, fiberglass or aluminum. These all have cost/performance trade-offs. For example, vinyl is cheaper but less durable and not as good an insulator as the others. Plus, some people don’t like the look of vinyl frames, which can affect the resale value of the home.


Wood frames are more aesthetically pleasing, are good insulators, but are expensive. And like any wood product exposed to the elements, will require regular maintenance. Aluminum frames are durable, but not a great insulator. Fiberglass is durable and an excellent insulator but can be pricey.

Regardless of the type of material, the best window designs will also offer a “thermal break” between the panes, says DeJesus. This is a resin or plastic material installed in the window frame that separates the interior part of the window from the exterior part to provide insulation against heat and cold conduction.

Proper sealing

Besides the various types of windows, it’s important that the windows are installed properly, says DeJesus. This means proper caulk or foam has been used to seal the space between the window frame and the adjacent wall framing to prevent heated air from escaping the home.


Installation won’t be an issue for a new home, but if you are replacing the windows in an existing home, “Make sure your installer is certified by the window manufacturer because this an area that sometimes gets overlooked,” says DeJesus.

Know your zone

A lot of the decision-making can be simplified by consulting the EPA’s ENERGY STAR ratings for windows. The EPA has divided the country into four climate regions – Northern, North Central, South Central, and Southern – and within each zone prescribed a set of performance measures for windows, such as U-factors and solar heat gain coefficients.


Don’t worry, you won’t need your calculator for this one, because the National Fenestration Rating Council has done all the work for you. The NFRC, an independent non-profit organization, tests, certifies and labels windows from all major manufacturers.

Their rating system scores windows on U-factor (how well a window resists heat loss from a room), Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (how well a window resists heat gain), Visible Transmittance (how well a window allows daylight into the room) and Air Leakage (how much air enters a room through the window).

A performance label with these scores is affixed to the window pane. Again, don’t get bogged down in the science. The NFRC website makes it easy by offering a Shopping Guide and Certified Product Directory.

Know the rules

Many city and state governments are setting energy efficiency requirements, like the California Title 24 code, for new and remodeled residential and non-residential buildings.


New home construction will be required to meet these standards. For home remodels, you may fail the building inspection if improvements, like window replacement, don’t meet the local codes. So, make sure you are familiar with the local green building codes.

What about films and shades?

If replacing inefficient windows is not possible, products are available to upgrade your existing windows. For example, low-e coatings can be applied as a film to windows already installed in the home. The NFRC rates the energy performance of window films and the International Window Film Association (IWFA) website offers a directory of qualified installers.


Window shades can also help, especially those with air pockets known as insulated cellular shades. These provide insulation much like double pane windows. The problem with shades is they cut down on daylight entering the room. However, choosing shades with lighter colors will minimize this effect, advises DeJesus.

Part of a bigger picture

Windows are just one part of the LEED ratings envelope but an important and challenging one, says DeJesus. So, consider carefully.


Image credit: Adobe Stock/gmcgill

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