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'Our Responsibility for the Long Game': An Excerpt from ‘The Clean Money Revolution’

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We need a financial plan for achieving a safe world in the next thirty years. This period will be crucial as social and ecological externalities come home to roost. We need a rapid reinvention of capitalism, finance, and wealth management. We need to rethink power and purpose. Otherwise, this revolutionary moment where “the 20 percent could consciously shift trillions of dollars” will be replaced with “global meltdown, all bets are off, retreat to your bunkers, hope the military can protect you.”

Let’s remember our responsibility for the long game. To a “seventh-generation” vision, quarterly and annual results are only minor blips on a chart. We need MBAs and academics and investors and citizens to consider the world in five hundred years. Then we can map out the first fifty-year stage. Part of that is identifying a viable human population total that Earth can sustain, and planning for that. That’s evidence of a wise society.

I hope smarter people than me will help us clarify this roadmap to the future. Those of us with resources and influence can complement the visioning process by pushing intelligent conversations and policy change, and shifting our own investment decisions.

Find your purpose. Connect your actions to it. Step up and run for office. Lobby for fair taxes. If you own a business, shift toward a regenerative rather than a zero-sum extractive model.

We all have a role. We are ancestors. We are responsible for future generations.

We should listen, and admit that how we make money cannot be separated from our morals and ethics. We need new ways of closing the gaps and creating wealth for the global poor that “leapfrog” old power structures and distribute capital and jobs more fairly.

There are charitable foundation boardrooms managing billions in financial assets, with directors who are focused on growing those assets but ignoring what they do to the world. Meanwhile, their grants put bandages on the damaging side effects their investments create. Major universities have invested endowments so large that they are often referred to as “hedge funds with universities attached.” They concentrate more and more wealth while doing more and more damage. It’s the same with pension funds, insurance companies, sovereign wealth funds, banks, charities, and family offices. Each have enormous power to change how money is used. It’s time for these entities to include the well-being of the commons in their definition of “fiduciary responsibility.”

Pension funds can’t continue investing in ways such that retirement becomes more dangerous. Foundations need to direct assets to restoration and fairness, not degradation. Universities should invest in their local communities and a safer future world for their graduates, along with the economic stability of their workers’ families.

As Peter and Jennifer Buffett of Novo Foundation say: “The most radical way to advance meaningful change is to shift economic, social, and cultural power to those who don’t have it.” This is a crucial part of the needed equation.

With a stroke or two of a pen, those of us in the 20 percent can shift our money away from terrible mischief. Examine whether “highest return rate” is the true test for your wealth. If you need high return rates, narrow the field to drivers of the clean money transition. Decide how much is enough, and do that first. We can no longer morally justify “as much as I can get” as a reasonable or ethical answer.

Do you have a well-developed intention for how you intend to use the “more than enough” part of your money for the good of others? Will you risk passing excessive wealth to your family assuming it will make them better, happier, more realized people? Might the ownership gift you are giving instead cause suffering to them, and to those affected by how they use the money? Be sure they understand how money is created, down to the source of who and where is impacted.

I invite you to make your own journey of discovery. If you have wealth, use what you need for your own evolution, personal and financial. Look at the origins and supply chains you profit from. You are smart and have smart people who can help. Do a study of your financial transactions, your investments, your stock portfolio. Look into who worked for what wages, under which conditions, for the low-cost materials needed to earn your profits.

As Gandhi pointed out, history will judge us for how justly we act toward those who are most vulnerable. It’s the unborn who are most vulnerable of all. “Intergenerational justice,” like “rights of nature” or reparations for colonialism and slavery, remains obscure. These concepts are moving toward the center, as other once-ignored and now obvious truths have done.

The change is happening. We are now past the vision, invention and seeding of these ideas. We are in the early growth stage. Social entrepreneurship, enlightened investors, the questioning of conventional wealth management assumptions, and the emergence of a new generation of values-aligned leaders are combining into a powerful formula.

The clean money revolution is gaining credibility, proof of concept, and momentum toward mainstream acceptance. Wealth managers feel the trend via pressure from clients. They’re struggling to provide comprehensive, satisfactory solutions. Firms now highlight their efforts in these directions. New products are being launched. Wealth management firms that understand this demand, its value to the world, and how to relate to clients that want it, will grow robustly.

I return to the incredible example of organic food. Decades of early adopters persevered with businesses that grew, processed, manufactured, distributed, and retailed organic foods. They worked in virtual obscurity. Only a small, committed consumer helped this early stage. Organics then began to show up on mainstream grocery store shelves in the 21st century. Growth has seen double digits, outpacing conventional food. In the United States, what was a $3.6-billion market in 1997 was valued at over $39 billion in 2014.

Organic food remains well under 10 percent of North American food sales, but it will grow ever larger. The common sense of healthy food, people and ecosystems is too compelling. An entire agricultural and manufacturing system that jeopardizes health, worker safety, rivers, topsoil, and other areas is now facing the threat to reform or die.

The same cycle is steadily evident in renewable energy, efficient transportation, green buildings, carbon pricing, regulations to protect the commons, workers’ rights, taxation reform, and many other areas.

People are making exciting moves in every arena. Forward-thinking entrepreneurial mayors are recalibrating cities like Vancouver, Paris, Stockholm and Portland. They are thinking longer term, taking sober looks at coming challenges, and acting boldly now to prepare for soft landings.

Spiritual leaders like Pope Francis, the Reverend Lennox Yearwood, and Joan Halifax are speaking truth about the pickle we have created, making a call to action to put our intellect and resources into a global movement for a safer future.

Every sector of the economy needs overhaul. Yes, clean energy will be massive. But so will clean transportation, clean buildings, clean water, clean air, clean food, clean mining, clean logging, clean clothes.

Do any of us deserve to make gigantic profits because we own distribution systems? Because we are clever at selling things people don’t need? Because we can take advantage of regulations, corporate welfare, tax loopholes, or the exploitation of impoverished people who have no choices about their own labor?

For this transformation to root permanently, we need awakened spirits, healed emotional bodies, examined lives. We need clarity of meaning and purpose. We need all of us. Those with wealth and power are lucky we still get the choice to step into this movement.

We’ve been fitting into norms we have been taught are correct. We need to step up as visionaries, leaders, honorable citizens, and world-changers.

Let’s do it while we still have the chance. We need to look at every company and every fund, and ask ourselves if it reflects our values and the change we are looking for. There is no easy way, but the world of investment is luckily maturing to meet this challenge. It will be easier with time.

It is imperative that all of us, at our own scale, with or without money, use our power and passion to bust open the truth about what money is doing right now, and to change that story. The time is now. We can now move money further and faster, toward a safe, resilient, soft landing for the future of civilization.

The return on that investment will be a great blessing. Dying with the most money is pointless. It’s about what we do to help those who will follow us.


Prior to the founding of Renewal Funds, Joel spent 14 years with founder + funder Carol Newell implementing a “whole portfolio activation to mission” strategy, as leader of her activist Family Office. As Executive Director of the Endswell Foundation, he… [Read more about Joel Solomon]