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

An Antidote to Plastic Addiction

Credit: Plastic Disclosure Project

Credit: Plastic Disclosure Project

Take a moment to think about the things you use and throw away every day that are made from plastic: an empty shampoo bottle, the container from your salad at lunch (and the little container for the dressing), that pen that won’t work. And what about those things you’re holding on to in the depths of your closet, inevitably destined for the dumpster? That overused pair of sneakers, your old broken flip phone, a keyboard that hasn’t been used in a decade?

Plastic has transformed the way we live and enabled innovation in countless sectors, but simultaneously has contributed to one of the largest waste problems facing the planet. The challenge right now is that it’s no one’s responsibility to track plastic. The material just gets passed from production, to building products, to consumers, and ultimately to waste facilities or worse, into ecosystems like the ocean.

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) has developed one initiative to tackling this enormous problem, called the Plastic Disclosure Project. The project’s goal is to encourage companies to track the amount and types of plastic used in their operations and supply chain in order to optimize and reduce the related environmental impact.

Why should companies take the responsibility of tracking their plastics? To answer this question, UNEP published a report in partnership with Trucost, which quantifies the full cost associated with plastic used in the consumer goods industry. That amount is more than $75 billion per year. Yes that’s billion with a “b,” and per year.

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