Innovations in Sustainable Finance: The View From SOCAP15

This post is part of an EDF+Business ongoing series on sustainable finance, highlighting market mechanisms and strategies that drive environmental performance by engaging private capital. EDF is actively engaging leaders with the capital and expertise needed to catalyze sector-wide changes—from accelerating investment in energy efficiency and clean energy, to protecting tropical forests, restoring depleted fisheries and saving habitats of endangered species.


SOCAP logoI recently returned from SOCAP15, an annual conference “at the intersection of money + meaning”… in other words, a good place to be if you’re interested in how to harness markets to deliver financial, as well as social and environmental, returns. A record 2,600 attendees turned up this year, evidence of the growing interest in sustainable finance.

The increased focus on this space has triggered a wave of innovations aimed at addressing some of the sector’s key challenges, such as building and supporting a pipeline of investible entrepreneurs, securing sufficient demand from investors, and linking those players so that capital can flow efficiently to provide the greatest impact. It’s a challenging road ahead, but the conference offered important proof points that help show the way forward.

Growing support for entrepreneurs

Now is a very good time to be a social or environmental entrepreneur. We are witnessing a growing array of resources, services, and incubator and accelerator programs aimed at kick-starting ventures and preparing them for investment. One exciting example: Agora Partnerships hosted 20+ “deal rooms” at this year’s conference, offering Latin American-based entrepreneurs who had completed Agora’s intensive six-month accelerator program the chance to pitch to interested investors. Last year, these deal rooms resulted in eight investments, ranging from $50,000 to $500,000. EDF is in the early stages of engaging with Agora as we look to scale our sustainable fisheries finance work in Latin America.

Increasing demand from investors

Investor demand is rising to meet the growing supply of social and environmental ventures. A recent survey by US SIF – The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment shows that U.S.-based sustainable, responsible and impact investing assets grew 76% from 2012 to 2014. Another driver of demand is the growing trend of big banks, such as Citi, Goldman Sachs, and Bank of America, committing to increased investment in environmental innovation.

The demand extends beyond banks and institutional investors – to individuals, foundations, and companies, all of which have roles to play. During a panel discussion, Sasha Dichter, Chief Innovation Officer of Acumen Fund, an international nonprofit venture fund, noted a recent shift in how companies invest in their supply chains to build more sustainable businesses: moving from funding initiatives to becoming more deeply engaged, strategic partners. He cited the example of Acumen’s partnership with Unilever and Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership, which will improve the livelihoods of up to 300,000 smallholder farmers globally by investing in enterprises to support farmers and incorporate them into Unilever’s global supply chains. Read more