Small Changes are Good, but Today’s Issues Require Big Shifts

The following post is part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. The rest of the posts are presented here.

As good eco-citizens, many of us feel the responsibility of `investing in what we believe in´ each time we reach for our pocketbooks. While each transaction may be small, the impact of millions of people doing the same is very powerful – if for no other reason than to feel good about saving the world. The question is ever-present: How do we match our dollars with our values?

If we have done our homework, we buy organic, buy from the local farmers market or a share from the local CSA, and buy locally-made products, excellent ways to demonstrate our concern for our precious bioregion and the health of community members.  The Slow Food movement, 10,000 members strong and growing, continues to encourage us to make these choices over food monopolies.

But is that enough? Will the small purchases, many of them unresearched (is “natural” the same as organic? Doesn´t a food giant own that organic brand? How are they selling fruit that’s out of season right now?), create significant change in the ecological health of my bioregion?  Big change calls for bigger answers. So we move to a currently popular discussion of socially-responsible investments. What if everyone were to pool their funds to support the growth of these “green” companies, creating a supportive financial network for local, sustainable food systems?

Woody Tasch, founder of Slow Money, sees the need for creating venture capital, philanthropy & other forms of funding to enhance small-scale sustainable agriculture.  A greater challenge for a bigger change: invest 1 percent of our money in local food systems, along with a million others. Now we’re talking! Somehow my small ‘green’ purchases have felt rather insignificant in my greater mission to change the world. We need more big changes – an effort with some bigger dollar signs behind it.

In concept, Slow Money’s mission seems doable. The question is, is it easily accessible to the everyday citizen?  Or will the responsibility rest in the hands of a few socially-conscious investors, while the rest of us just buy organic greens and wait for them to change the system?

If we are to truly shift the investment to the local economy, everyone – not just venture capitalists – needs to participate. Easy access to these investment structures is paramount.  Few of us are likely to spend the time and energy to research the various investment opportunities presented on the Slow Money website.  We are Americans, after all; convenience is a requirement, even for eco-citizens.

The best strategy for attracting investors to Slow Money´s goals is to go where the money is: to the bank.  Socially-conscious banks are an eco-dream ripe to become mainstream. Proudly, one of California´s banks has landed at the crossroads between convenience-oriented eco-citizens and socially-responsible, soil-oriented investment opportunities.

New Resource Bank has taken a great leap to becoming the everyday eco-citizen´s investment dream. As one of “America´s greenest banks” according to Bank Technology News, they offer “planet-smart banking” to individuals, businesses looking to implement more sustainability initiatives, and nonprofits. Thank you, New Resource Bank. We need you, and more like you.

If New Resource Bank can create an infrastructure for more capital to go to sustainable agriculture, there is hope.  Gone are the days where we can invest in high returns, at the expense of sustainable practices.  The traditional 20th century logic – making as much as we can in non-sustainable ventures and then using the excess to try to clean up the messes it created – must go.

By pairing convenience with capital, we are considerably more likely to achieve Slow Money´s goals. With easy access to banks that match our values, we create a clear route to a greater sustainable market system. Clearly, to truly live up to our reputation as eco-citizens, we must embrace our values, shift to 21st century thinking, and not sacrifice the means for the end.

These articles were created as part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. Read more about the project here.