Businesses’ Role in Envisioning a Better Future

Regenerative Business in the Time of COVID-19

Written by By Tripp Baird

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to hold the world’s human population in its grip, the ecosystems around the world are experiencing their own new reality. Stay-at-home orders mean less urban traffic and fewer people on the sidewalks, less noise and lower seismic activity, less air pollution and quieter landscapes around the globe. These changes have led to some of the world’s notoriously polluted and traffic-jammed cities to receive what one journalist calls “a kiss of life”— with nearby mountain ranges visible and the chattering of birds audible for the first time in recent memory. Animals are stepping out in these newly quiet spaces, while spring’s blooms and sprouts appear more vivid under clearer skies.

That short-term regeneration, created by just a few weeks of humanity easing back the continued pressure of carbon and other pollution, puts in high relief the ongoing damage we are doing to the larger system of the planet upon which we depend; and of the incredibly risky experiment we are conducting as we pump ever increasing amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. The amount of atmospheric carbon is at its highest in recorded history. With the world’s population projected to soon hit 10 billion, demands on the Earth’s natural resources continue to climb. These demands have consequences: The ecosystems that we rely on to survive continue to deteriorate, threatening our food systems, economies, and quality of life. Humanity’s increasing disregard for natural systems—through extractive and destructive industrial behaviors and overconsumption—also has accelerated a horrific tide of wildlife extinction, as populations of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians shrank by the billions in recent decades.

The pandemic has also highlighted our connectivity, our interdependency, and the fundamental importance of early action to avert a crisis. The climate crisis is unfolding in real time, albeit more slowly than the coronavirus crisis, yet similarly denying the facts around human-caused climate change and our impact on the planet has even more dire consequences if we don’t act to “flatten the curve” before it’s too late.

As an investment firm seeking to use our capital to help fix the large social and environmental challenges we face, we believe capital and the businesses it supports must shift to create long-term value, generating returns for and considering all stakeholders in decision-making, versus short-term and extractive models serving shareholders in a vacuum. In this context, we want to take a moment amidst this pandemic to remember that April 22, 2020, is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Since the first Earth Day event in 1970, millions have joined the movement to protect and restore our planet and ensure its future for the generations who follow us. While this year’s Earth Day celebrations will be different, the message and goal of recognizing and protecting the planet on which we depend for everything remains the same.

Investing in an Equitable, Regenerative Future for the Planet and Humanity

We know that, to many, the idea of growing healthy investment returns while also reshaping capitalism to be equitable and regenerative, while also leaving the planet better than we found it may sound like a fringe idea. But the reality of the times and of our own experience in building systems-aware businesses suggests it is not only necessary—it’s imminently possible if we simply shift our economic models toward alignment with the reality of the nesting and complex systems of which we are all a part. We know aligning capital with nature isn’t just an idealistic wish because we have seen it happening in the forward-looking companies we partner with and their peers. 

One clear example of that approach can be found with the innovative team at MPOWERD. Makers of the popular Luci solar lantern, MPOWERD set out to create a solar-enabled lantern that could at once serve the U.S. consumer for camping and outdoor lifestyles while also using the profits to provide solar lanterns and chargers to the billions of people living without consistent access to electricity around the globe. The impact of their products are multi-layered: The more than 3 billion people living in communities without reliable or affordable electricity often are unable to keep shops open, do homework after dark, provide medical services, or perform other necessary activities when the sun goes down unless they rely on burning kerosene or other toxic fuels, which have terrible health and environmental consequences.

MPOWERD solar lights are distributed to people without access to the electric grid.

To date, MPOWERD has worked with more than 700 NGOs and nonprofits around the world like the United Nations, Save the Children and Team Rubicon. These partners and MPOWERD’s 14-person team have impacted 4 million lives and averted 1.8 million-plus tons of CO2. 

MPOWERD also has experience in crisis relief and disaster response efforts. A devastating 6.4-magnitude earthquake on January 7, 2020, left Puerto Rico in a state of blackout and many homes in rubble. As nonprofits and NGOs stepped in to help residents rebuild, aftershocks caused blackouts and left many residents living in tents. Since the earthquake, MPOWERD distributed over 9,000 Luci lights to Puerto Ricans through its Give Luci program in partnership with those NGOs and nonprofits on the ground. 

Five years earlier, MPOWERD stepped up similarly after Nepal was struck by a 7.3-magnitude earthquake and a series of aftershocks that led to a loss of 9,000 people and 5,000 schools. The B Corp partnered with Kids of Kathmandu and Asian Friendship Network to donate 500 Luci lights to those impacted by the 2015 earthquake. 

“We believe that in the face of global challenges, companies have a responsibility to step up and face them head-on, participating in the recovery process and using our platform to connect one another,” says MPOWERD co-founder John Salzinger.

Awareness of the impact a business can have on communities around the globe is also very present at Traditional Medicinals, a fellow B Corp and the largest organic tea company in the US, that has been producing ethically and sustainably sourced herbal products for over 45 years. Traditional Medicinals has developed relationships to fairly compensate and support the grower communities it sources from, and lives its sustainability values in how it operates the business. For example, Traditional Medicinals shared in its last annual Sustainability Report that the company:

  • Produced all of its products using 100% renewable energy (over 1.4m kWh)
  • Diverted >82% of its waste from landfills.
  • Purchased >99% of its herbs organic or fair trade.

Traditional Medicinals and its source communities are continually looking ahead and planning how to continue to grow sustainably and to prepare for the impacts of climate change.

Traditional Medicinals and its foundation, along with WomenServe, connects with its plant-sourcing communities to improve the livelihoods of women and men and have improved water and food security, children’s access to education and community organization development through the Revive! Project.

“Our response has been to double-down on our investments in our growing communities to secure our required needs for high-quality, ethically sourced herbs. We’ve initiated more long-term planning with our growers and hired a medicinal plant agronomist to assist them in best agricultural practices to increase yields and acreage sustainably. Climate change is real and is adversely affecting our sourcing communities. More than ever before, we are investing resources in our grower communities so they can be more resilient in these challenging times of extreme weather, especially droughts. The value of sustainable practices like organic certification, fair labor standards, and the work done by TM’s Foundation will have critical impact into the distant future, from harvest to harvest, year to year, and generation to generation,” writes CEO Blair Kellison.

These commitments to sustainable production and fair treatment and ethical pay for herbal gatherers and growers are increasingly important in the coronavirus pandemic. Demand for herbal products and health products are on the rise as people do all they can to stay healthy and boost their immune systems. Improper harvesting and quality will not only do nothing for the user’s health, but will potentially result in long-term, irreversible damage to the communities and locations we rely on to provide us with these life-giving herbs. 

Now, as this pandemic unfolds, we at Builders are continuing to work to reimagine capitalism to better serve humanity while also protecting the families connected to each of our businesses. As we stay safe at home, or on the job, we can all recognize how lucky we are to be able to continue our work, and remember our interconnected roles as part of a global system. In challenging times, and at all times, we should consider the impact of our actions on the environment and the social fabric it sustains—and, like MPOWERD and Traditional Medicinals, work to light the way for a more sustainable future.  On Earth Day, we are annually reminded of the preciousness of the planet and believe this crisis, in the words of Carl Sagan, only “underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

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