Alexandra Brown is Founder of Ethical Invest Group
My first job was as a chef, and after more than a decade of cooking, I was leading kitchens across Australia. With a career change in mind, I completed business and finance degrees. Now, I consult and educate in ESG, sustainability, and ethical investing, specialising in supporting financial advisers excel in this space.
I realise this doesn’t seem like a natural career progression, but prior to chefing I went to university and studied natural resources management. My focus then was habitat rehabilitation, and now I get to help influence industries through the mobilisation of capital, perhaps in some way even preventing the destruction of habitats in the first place. I feel I’ve come full circle.
With a natural affinity for numbers, a desire to learn about investing, and a love for all things business, I knew the finance industry was where I wanted to be. At first, I struggled to find an area in finance that aligned with my values, as sustainability is extremely important to me.
One day, I was completing a job application for a super fund. As part of my due diligence, I was researching the fund and discovered a ‘sustainable option’. This was the first time I realised that finance and sustainability could be combined. Now I know it needs to be connected for the future of our planet, and I’ve made it my business to spread the word and help others lead in this space.
In my work with financial advisers, I discovered impact investing through my analysis of investment options. Speaking with investment professionals who specialise in impact I hear first-hand how they are supporting the companies they invest in, they are helping these businesses scale their impact, improve their impact measurement, and make a difference.
These businesses are improving lives and supporting the environment, and investing in the growth of these ideas into scalable solutions is getting us one step closer to achieving systemic change. I get inspired when I see fund managers incorporating impact investing into their strategy.
At Ethical Invest Group, we help financial advisers understand sustainability and ethical investments, and provide the resources they need to align portfolios with their clients’ values. Alongside Ethos and Evergreen, we are hosting a fun and practical online event to help close the knowledge gap for advisers, so they can become confident in providing ethical and responsible investment advice.
One session of the Ethical Advice Conference will be an entertaining debate exploring the contrast in approaches of investment managers driving change, and how impact investing sits on this spectrum. The conference brings together experts and pioneers in ethical investing and takes a fresh and modern approach to education.
What was the most interesting impact deal (from any team across Asia/Pacific) in the past 12 months?
When Yvon Chouinard, the billionaire founder of outdoor apparel brand Patagonia, gave away the company to fight the climate crisis. Instead of going public, Chouinard and his family transferred their entire ownership stake into two newly created entities. An environmental not-for-profit called the Holdfast Collective now owns 98 per cent of the company and all the non-voting stock. The Patagonia Purpose Trust owns 2 per cent, as well as all the voting stock in the company.
These entities will ensure the company’s values will continue to be upheld, and Patagonia’s wealth is used to combat climate change and protect undeveloped land across the globe. I love the way the family has gone against business norms and put structures in place to make sure profits are used for purpose.
Agriculture has a significant environmental footprint. It is associated with approximately one third of global land use and is a key driver of land use change globally. Food production is associated with a significant portion of greenhouse gas emissions, and a major contributor to climate change.
Regenerative agriculture describes farming and grazing practices that rebuild soil organic matter and restore degraded soil biodiversity. In addition to a long list of incredible benefits for farmers, and improved nutrition for consumers, regenerative agriculture practices help us fight the climate crisis by pulling carbon from the atmosphere and sequestering it in the ground.
Wide Open Agriculture (ASX: WOA) is reinventing the way the world grows, thinks about, and buys food to create a better future for people and the planet. They have a growing portfolio of regenerative food and drink products, including 100% grass fed beef and lamb, oat milk and novel lupin protein. They are embracing regenerative agriculture as an opportunity to improve nutrition and address climate change.
I may no longer be a chef, but I am a foodie, and care deeply about nutrition and sustainability. I came across Wide Open Agriculture in the NorthStar Impact Fund, and am keen to follow their progress.
We already face a tremendous financing gap to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. We need trillions of dollars moving towards all areas of sustainable development, including environmental regeneration, social equity, and a just transition to a low carbon world.
I’ve spent many years researching the connection between finance and the positive impact investors can make through their investment choices, and with more listed equity options becoming available, I see impact as an accessible opportunity for investors. Big change will be driven by superannuation funds and institutional investors that recognise the need to be good stewards of capital, and understand their role in investing for positive impact.
I will continue to play my part in educating advisers and investment professionals, and scale the impact they create through connecting client wealth with impact investments.
We face so many environmental and social challenges across the globe, and I see impact investing as critical in creating a more equitable and sustainable future.