Happy Thursday! If you missed yesterday’s newsletter, here it is.
Today is World Mental Health Day. At the bottom, there’s a link to a video with Ed Sheeran and Prince Harry talking about the day.
“There’s no need to suffer in silence - share how you’re feeling, ask how someone is doing and listen for the answer. Be willing to ask for help when you need it and know that we are all in this together.”
Profit is still king in oil
Oil companies aren’t dumb. They’ve caught on to the fact that people don’t like them. To try to keep the public and governments off their backs, they’re trying to get clean and are taking different approaches to do so. Shell, as we discussed a few weeks ago, is “edging away from being an oil company” through investments in sustainable energy sources (e.g., offshore wind, EV charging start-ups). Chevron, on the other hand, is trying to make oil and gas more efficient and less emissions-intensive. Others have come together to form the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative to reduce methane in the environment. Sounds great, right?
Hold your applause. Despite their awesome PR teams, these companies are investing far more dollars on oil and gas than on sustainable energy (unsurprisingly). Between 2016 and 2018, “seven major oil companies, including Shell and Exxon Mobil, spent $5.8 billion on alternative-energy acquisitions, about 5 percent of their outlays on oil and gas deals and new ventures in emissions-producing fuels.”
What drives this behavior? It all boils down to shareholder value. Yes, many funds are pulling away from investments into oil companies, but many others are still invested. The companies, therefore, think that any additional investments will see their shares pummeled if they are perceived as wasting money. Alternative energy ventures are viewed as less profitable than oil and gas.
It’s not just oil. Coal companies are playing the same game. RWE, a German energy company, has pledged to phase out coal plants and make significant investments in renewables and storage. At the same time, they are expanding their new coal mine and destroying 12 villages where 7,700 people live.
Our take. These companies and investors are saying that they need time to fully make the transition. Sorry folks, we just don’t have time (see our dashboard above). Unfortunately, with profit as a primary motive, the oil and coal companies won’t have the motivation to change on their own. The opportunity to drive change, therefore, lies with two powerful groups:
Institutional Investors: These folks have a lot of money and therefore, a lot of power. By stepping away from “dirty energy” and making it clear that they won’t invest in oil and coal companies anymore, people might start singing a different tune. Unfortunately, investors are still having a hard time making companies change their tack.
Governments: By passing effective and sweeping regulations, governments can really change things around. However, today’s politics make this painful. For example, oil and gas companies are still lining the pockets of our policymakers - during the three most recent elections, major oil and gas companies gave more than $50,000 to senators and $9,000 to House members that declined to back the California emissions standards.
Let’s talk about food
Who are we kidding, we all love food. We want to highlight some interesting developments in the food space, specifically the relationship between food and the private sector.
The World Food Prize. Next week, the global nutrition community will be arriving in Des Moines, Iowa for the annual awarding of the World Food Prize. This prize has been called the “Nobel Prize for food and agriculture” and the president of the World Food Prize Foundation aims to make this summit the “Davos of global agriculture.” This year, Simon Groot will be awarded the prize for creating a smallholder farmer-centric seed industry through his company East-West Seed - it reaches more than 20 million farmers each year.
Some people don’t like this. Over the past few years, the World Food Prize has been increasingly focused on touting private sector efforts towards addressing the global food crisis. There are many who oppose this. Critics believe that it’s wrong to include the private sector in these discussions because of the role that they’ve played in creating hunger and obesity problems and the conflicts of interest that may arise.
Our take. This argument is absolutely ridiculous. You cannot exclude the private sector from this conversation. Yes, the private sector has been and is a big part of the problem, but they have to be a big part of the solution. They have control over the entire food value chain today and by ignoring / excluding the private sector, there will be no progress. Of course, incentives need to be aligned - businesses need to hurt when they don’t prioritize nutrition.
What can you do? Consumers today are already making it clear that they want sustainable, nutritious, and whole foods. As a result, businesses are already dramatically changing their tune and focusing on healthy options wherever they can.
In addition, if you want to support local agriculture and farms, invest in Steward, an “online crowdfunding platform where individual investors can put money into modest, regenerative farms - and eventually get a return on their investment.” Today, almost all the funding for agriculture comes from governments and direct programs, but through Steward, you can invest as little as $100 into the Steward Farm Trust, a portfolio of loans. So far, Steward has invested more than $2.2 million across 16 farms.
UNICEF is starting to accept bitcoin and ether. Why? Well, cryptocurrencies allows them to avoid fees when they send their cash overseas. It’s also quick and transparent.
On the other hand, the UN is broke. What? That’s what we said. Apparently, they’re running a deficit of $230 million and may run out of money by the end of October. Only 129 out of 193 states have paid their regular annual dues.
Denmark calls to ban the sales of diesel and petrol cars in the EU by 2030. We’re hoping that this will be successful. This is backed by 10 other countries, and the incoming European Commission president aims to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050.
Turkey attacks Kurds (US allies) after Trump steps aside. Why did Trump do this? He claims it’s because Kurds did not fight alongside the US in WWII.
China is cracking down on US companies. We discussed the weakness of the NBA yesterday after they retracted pro-democracy statements because of Chinese backlash. In response, China’s media has also been attacking multinationals like Apple because of their support of the Hong Kong protests. Apple similarly has ceded and removed the Quartz app, which was covering the protests, and HKmap.life, which provides information about the location of pro-democracy demonstrations, street closures, and police activity. We believe that there’s a need for an app store that is not controlled by a single company but rather, one controlled by the public.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 10
Renovating Democracy: Nicolas Berggruen, author of Renovating Democracy, on how technology and social media are impacting democracy. He’ll be joined by The World Post’s editor-in-chief and book co-author Nathan Gardels and Asia Society President and CEO Josette Sheeran.
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 16
Feeding Our Future: Perspectives Across the Value Chain in Food Sustainability
Join the NY + Acumen Impact Circle on World Food Day for a discussion on the future of food sustainability. They will explore different perspectives across the various parts of the value chain, including investment, production, distribution, and waste/renewability.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 17
War Stories from the Trenches - Fundraising for Startups Solving the World’s Greatest Challenges: Early-stage fundraising can be very challenging, and this is even further the case for social enterprises. Check out this event for a discussion on best practices for opening and closing a round to solve the world’s greatest challenges.
MONDAY OCTOBER 28
Conversations on Plant-based Entrepreneurship: Vegpreneur is a global entrepreneurs community that is made up of innovators who are building a plant-based future and they’re hosting an evening panel on the state of plant-based entrepreneurship at General Assembly. Light snacks and refreshments will be served.
Finally, as promised, here’s Ed Sheeran and Prince Harry!
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