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GUEST ARTICLE: Building Bridges In Thinking About Impact Investing - Part 2

Benjamin Bingham, November 9, 2017

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In a series of articles, a prominent US figure in the impact investing space explores how to pull together disparate ways of thinking about the world to show how this model of managing money should be addressed. Here is the second essay.

This is the second instalment from author, Benjamin Bingham, CFP, founder and CEO, 3Sisters Sustainable Management. He is the author of Making Money Matter/Impact Investing to Change the World (www.makingmoneymatterbook.com). (See the previous article here. An article introducing Ben can be found here. 

To hear Katie Meyler, Time Person of the Year 2014, speak about her successful effort to contain Ebola in the center of the epidemic in Liberia (http://morethanme.org/meet-the-team/ ), is to realize that innovative community organization and caring action is the answer to our global health crisis…not just killing disease.

"Healthcare,” as an investable industry, will not serve the Sustainable Development Goals without remembering the overarching aspiration of #3: Good Health and Well Being.

Unfortunately, even in summary descriptions of this goal the focus seems to play into the hands of greedy attacks on illness with “blockbuster drugs” that promise lots of repeat business, rather than “good health and well-being.” If investors and corporations follow this path, the net impact on the environment and society will be negative.

If IBM’s Watson gets all its information from the pharmaceutical perspective and none from the ancient wisdom of Chinese medicine, nor from the indigenous people’s understanding of healing plants, naturopathy, nor homeopathy, then we can project the continuation of ecosystems clogged with medical waste and profits earned on the backs of addiction and chronic unwell-being. It does not have to be this way, and in fact, it cannot, if we are to reach this goal of good health and well-being. When medical researchers in Sweden decades ago recognized that most, if not all, cancers are brought on by environmental mismanagement, they spent years drilling down from complex and massive whitepapers on the subject to four basic principles that, if taken up by governments, corporations and individuals, would end this crisis and lead to improved general health and wellness. 

The simple guidelines they suggested for any decision process with this goal in mind would be the following, in summary:

1. As much as possible avoid extraction.

2. As much as possible avoid using chemical compounds that don’t occur naturally.

3. As much as possible avoid the degradation of nature.

4. As much as possible meet human needs.

This was touted as the Natural Step and with the support of the King of Sweden and much fanfare was adapted as the guide for that country and many corporations trained in it all over the globe. But it seems to have been mostly forgotten. As an investor, I find it simple and edifying to begin with the 4th step

. Why should we invest valuable research time on products or services that are not needed, much less essential? This series will continue to turn on this simple framework, focusing on the positive solutions in each industry that are renewable, regenerative, natural, and enlivening both to the environment and all creatures great and small. As humans, this is our task: Stewardship. So, in looking at the real needs that Healthcare can and will address for the long term, as investors, we can find much to invest in that supports life through prevention, natural wellness, critical care and intervention when needed; as well as medical devices that enable fuller lives, and testing and research that will never cease to uncover the wonders of our potential. 

The LOHAS movement is growing, and lifestyles of health and sustainability are pushing forward a new consciousness of personal responsibility for wellness.  Instead of an enemy to attack with chemicals foreign to our bodies, illness can be seen as a friend that indicates imbalance and a need for change. Therapies that respect our natural ability to heal and transform deserve support. On the other hand, physically handicapping conditions require direct physical support and critical care and serious chronic illness may require intervention balanced with whole systems of support for healing. The more we spend on drugs and expensive equipment, the less healthy we seem to become in the US. Making sure everyone is covered with insurance will not improve matters. It is time for all doctors to be paid based on the health of their patients and for alternative practices like acupuncture, healing nutrition, preventative exercise and meditation regimes as well as natural and homeopathic remedies to be recognized and supported.

The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB’s) Materiality Map™ (see https://materiality.sasb.org/?hsCtaTracking=28ae6e2d-2004-4a52-887f-819b72e9f70a%7C160e7227-a2ed-4f28-af33-dff50a769cf4  ) breaks down Health Care into six siloes: Biotech, Pharma, Equipment and Supplies, Delivery, Distribution, and Managed Care.  One can immediately see that they are looking at the current state of Health Care…what is, rather than a holistic approach that would lead us to Good Health and Well Being in the future.

Then, in analyzing the material impact, or “materiality,” in each of these siloes they have left blank key areas for good health such as “air quality” presumably because they are only considering the hospital environment.  The areas SASB considers Material in some or all verticals are highlighted in yellow below, and areas investors might want to consider in green because they may be critical for UN SDG #3:
 

The input of experts to this mapping process is not in question.  The problem with any analytical metrics is that they are limited by the scope of the research. The tendency is to look at what is and what has been, and to neglect future possibilities that may already be in development. 

This represents a huge opportunity risk, and as investors focused on the SDG’s who also prefer good performance, the challenge is to find the best innovations that will last. Notice the number of pedestrians in cities carrying yoga mats, the surge of vegan restaurants and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA’s) and you will be able to imagine a growing number of new approaches to Health Care that will emphasize lifestyle changes. This is the future.

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