Responsible investors have a new criteria to guide investing: evolutionary design.
By Jamie Brown
Today, we humans have so altered conditions on Earth that scientists now term our era as the Anthropocene Age. Every investment we make is “a vote for the kind of world we want to live in,” says conscious investor Stuart Valentine.
This has long been recognized by the responsible investment community that came together most recently at a TBLI conference in Zürich. Triple bottom line investing (TBLI) reflects an enlightened understanding of self-interest: we profit most by contributing to something greater than ourselves.
Survival of the Most "Fitted In"
This parallels the latest understanding in biology, which says species evolve not through survival of the fittest as once thought, but more accurately through survival of the “most fitted in” (to quote Dayna Baumeister, Co-founder of Biomimicry 3.8).
Successful evolutionary adaptations serve both the organism and the ecosystem simultaneously. Far from being a form of biological charity, it is a basic non-negotiable design parameter. Every species that ignored it went extinct.
At the most recent TBLI conference, discussions were framed around integrating sustainability into investment portfolios. Evaluation frameworks, like that of Global Infrastructure Basel presented by Daniel Wiener, were sold as being “deeply rooted in society.” These are laudable goals.
Rooting Portfolios in the Evolutionary Process
There was no mention by investors, however, of rooting portfolios even more deeply into the evolutionary process. They still put “people” before “planet” in the triple bottom line (people, planet, profits).
3.8 billion years of living research and development suggest the first bottom line is actually planet. The parameters of living systems trump both people and profit because we are organisms.
Today’s spiralling ecological crisis attests to the inadvisability of reversing these priorities. The hard truth is that nature, not society, sets the standard for sustainability.
For responsible investors, the ultimate challenge is not to integrate sustainability into our portfolios; it is to integrate finance into human evolution.
Ethical Biomimicry Finance
This is the rationale behind Ethical Biomimicry Finance™ (EBF), an investment methodology, consulting and due diligence designed by Ethical Markets and Biomimicry 3.8 allowing asset managers to filter projects for both ethical and biological design criteria.
The methodology is based on Life's Principles, or biological design strategies applied to human problem-solving through the practice and ethos of biomimicry, as well as daily satellite observations of our planet and how it processes the flow of photons from our Sun, providing energy to our living biosphere, as Ethical Markets founder Hazel Henderson describes in "Mapping the Transition to the Solar Age" (February 2014).
The strategies of natural design delivered thriving, regenerative communities for 3.8 billion years within the operating conditions of this planet. By applying the same strategies to our investments, we can achieve the same outcomes through human design. In the words of Honeybee Capital Founder Katherine Collins, this is how we “reconnect investing with the real world... not the one on the screen.”
Evolutionary Design: Next Frontier in Responsible Investing
Evolutionary design is the highest standard of sustainability and the next frontier in responsible investing. In finance, research starts with the sciences.
For most species, survival strategies do not appear to be a matter of conscious decision (though there’s no telling what scientific studies of consciousness might someday reveal about the mind of a tree). Humans may well be unique among species in having a choice.
At the very least, we have strong imaginations and can dream of a high-tech, futuristic economy that is also an extension of ecology, where human and natural system designs flow seamlessly together. This, incidentally, is the only credible definition of a sustainable economy in this age of the Anthropocene.
TBLI and founder Robert Rubinstein, also on the Ethical Markets Advisory Board, are pioneering this expanded view all asset managers and investors will need to manage our 401Ks going forward.
About the Author:
Jamie Brown, principal, Jamie Brown Consulting, is a correspondent for Ethical Markets Media based in Basel, Switzerland. Her website is consciousevolution.ch.