Spurring investment in environmental solutions starts here

As the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) blog series “Mission Possible: How Foundations Are Shaping the Future of Impact Investing” rightly states, there are increasingly innovative ways for philanthropic money to play a more strategic role in capital markets to advance social and environmental progress.

Like the thoughtful foundation leaders contributing their perspectives to this series, we at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) continue to evaluate, evolve and articulate our own sustainable finance strategies. And, over the past several years, we have become ever more convinced that leveraging the power of financial markets is core to delivering on the ambitious goals we laid out in our Blueprint 2020 strategic plan. This is because we know that the amount of philanthropic and public sector resources deployed to addressing our key issues is a small fraction of the total capital needed. We, therefore, must tap into the influence, expertise and capital of the private sector and the financial markets that direct those capital flows to be successful in our efforts.

EDF is a proven leader within the environmental community in working with the financial sector to drive progress on key issues. Over the past several years, EDF initiatives have raised the bar for environmental management across the private equity (PE) industry through pioneering partnerships with KKR, Carlyle, and Oak Hill Capital, delivered healthier air to millions of New York City residents by empowering building owners and operators to invest in nearly 6,000 heating oil conversions through NYC Clean Heat, and accelerated the transition to sustainable fisheries management by providing loans totaling over $4.2 million to support California Fisheries Fund borrowers.

Building on this successful track record, we are now introducing a robust three-part sustainable finance strategy that complements the amazing work of foundations profiled in the series:

EDF’s Sustainable Finance Strategy:

  1. Getting the rules right We are working to advance policies and practices that improve transparency, reduce risks, and create clear incentives and price signals in order to design more efficient and effective markets for environmental investment opportunities.
  2. Making engagement and investment easier To spur new investment in environmental solutions, we must lower barriers and transaction costs. We are creating and promoting tools and resources that improve information flows, standardize complex projects, and build capacity in the marketplace.
  3. Demonstrating returns Environmental investments remain below the radar for many investors. We aim to connect private capital with priority environmental opportunities by working with partners on “lighthouse” or pilot transactions that demonstrate a strong investment case, mitigate risks, and deliver returns. In the process, we are creating new investment models for others to follow and take to scale.

Keep an eye out for subsequent blogs from a range of EDF experts that will profile a few specific examples to showcase how this strategy is being put into action across EDF’s programmatic work. We look forward to collaborating with those who are working in this growing space!

With Green Bonds, Legitimacy Comes to Those Who Verify

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.


Namrita KapurGreen bonds have been hailed as a key vehicle for driving clean energy investments both before and after the signing of the Paris climate agreement. And the range of organizations utilizing them continues to diversify – Apple issued its own $1.5 billion bond last month to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy projects for its operations. But as the pool of bonds issued each year grows, investors are increasingly concerned that clear standards are needed.

Through 2013, the World Bank was the primary issuer of green bonds. The simplicity of the market made it easier to verify the environmental benefits. As the market has grown, so has the need for institutionalizing transparency to validate the promised benefits.

While roughly two-thirds of global green bonds issued in 2015 received either third-party verification or second-party opinion, only two U.S. municipal offerings received any external review, casting doubts on the U.S. market’s credibility. Investors like insurance firm Allianz are concerned that many of the funds earmarked for sustainable development projects are not achieving the desired impact, and are calling for strong standards to help provide the market with increased certainty.

Bankers and investors are driving progress on transparency Read more

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

Impact Investing: What is the Path to Scale?

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.


An issue many nonprofit and for-profit groups face is how to get beyond the pilot stage and scale up efforts. This is the crux of the issue in impact investing and was the focus of the “Bringing in Big Money” panel at this year’s Skoll World Forum.

Skoll World ForumIn many areas of EDF’s work, we’ve found that the capital needed for the issues we care about – turning the corner on climate emissions, bringing fisheries under sustainable management practices, and protecting natural resources – outstrips the availability of philanthropic and public sector budgets.

On the panel, Elizabeth Littlefield, president and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), commented about how amused she is by how widely quotes from academia range on the amount of capital that can be accessed – from the relatively small numbers of the “derisive minimizers” to the large estimates of the “breathless maximizers.”

Rather than focusing on the absolute amounts, she looks at the leverage entities like OPIC can create through guarantees, insurance and, in some cases, direct financing itself. These efforts by OPIC and multilateral institutions have led to a dramatic shift in the ratio of public sector to private sector finance. In contrast with 20 years ago when public sector grants exceeded the amount of private investment capital, today, it is the reverse $7 of direct private investment for every $1 from the public sector.

What, then, are the keys to amplifying this trend and repeating it in other sectors? Read more