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Sustainable Investing: Fighting Climate Change One Investment At A Time With Zach Stein, Carbon Collective

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Now, more than ever, we feel the impacts of climate change. Just as we caused it, we hold the keys to solving it. And every day, we have the power to make simple decisions that could contribute to helping save the world. Investing is one area we can do that. In this episode, Corinna Bellizzi interviews sustainability entrepreneur and the Co-founder of Carbon Collective, Zach Stein. Carbon Collective is a company that is making it simple to invest in portfolios built around helping solve climate change. Zach introduces us to sustainable investing, encouraging us to be smart investors that help save the world. Join this conversation to learn more about how to consciously put your money to good use, divesting from fossil fuels and reinvesting in climate solutions. 

 

About Zach Stein

Zach Stein is the Co-Founder and CEO of Carbon Collective, a company that’s making it simple to invest in portfolios that are built around what some are calling the great climate transition. Prior to that, he was the CEO and Co-Founder of Osmo Systems, an agro-tech startup offering all-in-one monitoring and control systems to hydroponic and aquaculture farmers at a price they can actually afford.

Zach has always plunged into the burgeoning intersection of technology, investments, agriculture, and the climate. His work has been in the line of helping fight food insecurity and reducing both technological and financial barriers. At Carbon Collective, Zach takes his life’s work a step further by putting people’s savings to work, investing in over 100 companies building climate solutions while still helping them be broadly diversified. 

 

Website Links

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/zach-stein-100/ 

Website: https://www.carboncollective.co

 

Additional Resources Mentioned:

Carbon Collective

Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation

Chase Bank

Atmos

Ando

Beyond Petroleum

Exxon

Coca-Cola

Betterment

Wealthfront

Acorns

AllTrust

 

Show Notes: FINAL AUDIO

01:55 Introduction

05:03 The Banking Industry And Fossil Fuels

10:56 Equity And Justice Within Climate Transition 

15:49 Carbon Collective

19:33 Divesting In Fossil Fuel 

25:07 Divest, Reinvest, Engage

30:39 Shifting How Your Money Is Saved 

37:49 Is Cryptocurrency Sustainable? 

40:36 Conclusion

 

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Sustainable Investing: Fighting Climate Change One Investment At A Time With Zach Stein, Carbon Collective

Have you ever wondered how the money in your bank is used while it sits in your account? Is it doing good or is it invested in projects that you wouldn’t like to see funded? We’re going to dig into this topic and more like it as I introduce you to Zach Stein. He is a sustainability entrepreneur and the Cofounder of Carbon Collective, a company that’s making it simple to invest in portfolios that are built around what some are calling the great climate transition. He was born and raised in the Bay Area, where I’ve spent the better portion of my life, and presently lives in the East Bay with his newborn and his wife. Zach, welcome to the show.

I’m so glad to be here.

Life with a newborn can be a bit nuts and complicated.

Yes. We’re in that sleep stage now. He’s almost five months old, and so we’re in the four months regression there. In the last few nights, he slept almost six hours in a row. Before that, the past days were terrible. It’s day by day.

I feel you. We had to reschedule this once because you had childcare issues and almost had to reschedule now because COVID closed my child’s daycare. That meant that all week I’ve been scrambling and juggling chainsaws, but I’m thrilled that we get to come together finally and have this discussion because it’s one that matters to me.

The past several shows that I’ve released have dug into this whole thought about where we’re heading with our future, how we remain engaged when things seem daunting when it feels like we can’t make the difference that we want to make. I thought we could start there. Talk a little bit about, for one, how parenting makes you think more about the future that it will create to leave behind for them. For two, how we can all take a little bit more involvement or stay engaged as we confront such daunting issues as the climate crisis that is unavoidable at this point.

It is something that a new parent and any parent can attest to. Basically, all your free time goes away or almost all of it. It becomes even harder to make that way to prioritize and say, “I deeply need to do what I can to protect my child.” There are global things. I was born into a system that was run by fossil fuels. This is a globalized system. I am one person. How do I interact with that? It’s this interesting parallel between the micro and the macro and how they intersect. What we like to often say when it comes to prioritizing climate actions is to start with the big stuff.

I know that sounds daunting, but starting with the things where once you make the change, you no longer have to think about it anymore. It’s like changing how you invest, changing how you bank, what type of car you drive, how you cook your food, and how you provide electricity for your home. Each of those is a big decision. It’s not, “What should I eat for lunch?” It’s significant. It’s picking that up and taking the time to look at it, but once you do it, you get to put it down. You are now living your life.

You’re being that busy parent in a way that is far more aligned with building that future for what we want for our children. That is often a place that we say is a good way to start because decision fatigue is so real in this space. We’re feeling this in all things. You were trying to juggle childcare and all this. I imagine it’s hard to make the decision like, “What I should eat for lunch today?”

You’re touching on something that I’ve talked about in earlier episodes when you talk about your money sitting in the bank. I learned through reading Paul Hawkin’s Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation that Chase Bank is the worst offender when it comes to things like fossil fuels and fracking down the line. As far as a bank that I would seek to partner with, it’s the opposite ethos of what I would look for. That was where all of my savings were and my general checking.

Overnight, I felt like I need to make a big change. I’m going to shift where these funds are to a lesser of evils for now while I do more investigation. The thought for me of having my savings contribute to these things that are the opposite of what I would want my money to do felt like a stab in the gut because this is exactly the thing I work to do opposite of.

I’ve never purposefully invested in fossil fuels. Not once. I know friends of mine who have a natural leaning and who still choose to invest in fossil fuels because it could make them money now. I feel like we need to take a different stance, especially if we’re passionate about creating a better climate and building a future that we would want to live in through our investments as well, even how we bank.

When it comes to prioritizing climate actions, start with the big stuff. Click To Tweet

You did me the favor of sending me a few banks that you would recommend I look at as lesser of evils or best-case scenarios, but we’re still in a spot that isn’t ideal. It’s not like I can just walk down to my local branch and say, “I want to open a bank account,” and know that my money is going to be doing the things that I want it to do. What is the state of that industry and what can we expect in the next few years?

When you look at the state of the baking industry, we’re seeing change, which is good. There are more options now to go to. There are three broad categories that I would talk about. First is the big banks. If you’re reading this and you’re in a big bank, one of the actions that you should take is you should leave. There are none of them that are aligned with solving climate change. Pretty much all of them have only increased their loaning out of money, which is your deposits to fossil fuel expansion since the signing of the Paris Climate Accord. That is not great.

Leaving them is a way of taking out your money. They’re not being able to use it. Also, it’s crappy service. The amount of savings or the saving rates is terrible like at Bank of America. It’s also this link. In this, it touches upon what you said of your friends. They were investing in fossil fuels because they’re like, “I want to make more money now.” We have this somewhat maybe outdated thought of people being in this space of saying, “I want to make the world better,” to say, “In order to do so, I need to sacrifice something.”

Take the banking example and we’ll touch more on investing later. The banking example is not true. You can join a bank. There are multiple startups. Atmos is one. Ando is another, where you’ll get a better savings than you would at Bank of America. Your deposits are being used to finance renewable energy. It’s better across the board. The sacrifice you need to do is what I talked about at the beginning. You pick up that big decision.

It’s a pain in the ass to switch your bank over. As you saw, you have all these auto deposits and different days that you have to go through and look through it and do all of that. It’s annoying but once you do it, then it’s done. The auto deposits are reset up and then you bank. It’s just how your money is being used is different. The same is true of investing. There are these underlying narratives that fossil fuels are a necessary evil in a balanced portfolio. The counter-narrative is that sustainable investing, which is what we do, is fundamentally a charitable act. If you do it, you should expect worse returns. Neither has been true.

If we went back to the year I was born, 1989, and divested fossil fuels from the S&P 500, you would have made more money over that period than you would have if you just invested in the S&P 500. This includes a period of time because often, financial advisors will say, “Fossil fuels are important as something that’s counter-cyclical.” If the rest of the market is down, they can tend to go up. This happened from 2000 to 2010. The S&P 500 was basically flat and fossil fuels were up 350% in the US. Yet still, over that longer time horizon, it performed worse.

We get this at Carbon Collective, people who are coming to say, “I’ve done the research. I’m ready to dive fast. I’m ready to invest in climate solutions and align my portfolio with the world that I know that we need to build. I know it’s not going to perform as well but that’s fine.” We say, “Amazing. We’re so happy to have you,” but that last part is incorrect because, in the near term, we cannot predict performance.

When we look at the long-term macroeconomic trends and we look at fossil fuels as an industry, they somewhat have no place to go. They are being out-competed in the major areas that they’re used now. Transportation is one of them. Fifty percent of the oil that we use in the US goes on our roadways. Electric cars are a fundamentally better technology. This is a reward. It’s not a sacrifice. They are faster and can tow more. They are roomier, safer, and cost way less to maintain. You can drive a Tesla for a million miles and they’re going to cost less within the next five years to buy upfront. It’s a better technology.

I’m curious what your thoughts are because another part of me sticks to this minimalist pathway, where you want to make do with the car that you have because it has already been created. It has already run part of its life cycle. If we continue to just move the gas cars that are on the roadways into the waste heap or into a second or third life with a second or third owner, fourth owner or fifth owner down the road, don’t we get to a point where we’re essentially creating a system where poor people are driving gas guzzlers that they can’t afford to even keep with fuel? They’re still out there emitting and creating those problems. I wonder what your thoughts are specific to that.

It’s such a good question. What you touch on is equity and justice within this transition. What we look to is how do technologies change? What is that rate of adoption? When a new better technology comes, it is often more expensive than the older technology. A car was more expensive than a horse and buggy when that car came along, but you had those that could afford it that said, “This is fundamentally better.” We’re then able to stimulate demand for the market to come and companies to build a lot more of them. You had more gas stations and the other infrastructure that would come up with them that they had made it more possible for more people. You have the Model T, etc.

We’re seeing the same thing happen. By taking the action that is transitioning us to a zero-carbon future, you’re sending a signal to the supply chain saying, “There should be more of this and there should be more invested in it.” An electric cars cost much less to drive. It is much better from a financial perspective, especially as the upfront cost comes down.

CMBB 92 | Sustainable Investing
Sustainable Investing: To reach that place where we stop burning stuff to run our civilization, we need to increase annual investments into climate solutions by 10 to 20X.

 

There’s going to be a transitionary phase-in period. This is where we can push for more things like governmental support to help those who can’t afford it and to be able to do that earlier. It’s fairly simple from an individual’s perspective if you have the means and it’s the right time and the ability to make that switch, then do it. What’s very important is if you are in a position of buying a new car, it is trying to ask the question, “Are you going to lock in emissions? Are you buying a new furnace or a new stove?” We don’t make these decisions that often.

It’s not just the one time but saying, “I’m committing to burning gas for ten years from this.” That’s an impactful decision and we need to factor that in. I had this example happened to me. It’s funny that we’re talking about this and then I’m like, “One of these things happened to me.” I ended up having to spend way more money to be aligned with my climate goals. A week before my son Caleb was born, this is in the middle of December, our furnace broke. It was like from 1985, it’s this gas-burning furnace and it was like, “No, you cannot fix this.”

I had a choice. I could spend $4,000 to get a new gas-burning furnace that I’m not going to replace for a long time and continue the use of those fossil fuels, or I could get an electric heat pump that was also an air conditioning unit, which we don’t have in my house for $15,000. I looked at the numbers and I’m making the call. I say, “No, this is one of those decisions where I’m sending that signal to the supply chain.” I’m making that deliberate choice. It costs much less than energy costs so I can recoup, and I’m getting an additional feature that I didn’t have before.

That all sounds amazing. I still have an air conditioning unit but as with many people, you’ll have failures in the system. The unit is probably twenty years old. About a few years ago, we started to have some failures and made the choice to fix it as opposed to ditch it because it is somewhat energy efficient as air conditioners go. It’s an air conditioner so they consume energy, but replacing the coils versus sending this thing into the landfill seemed like the better option. Even though the cost of the repair wasn’t all that much different in some ways from getting a new unit.

In some cases, if we’re starting to talk about the economies that we want to build in the future, having a repair economy, having something set up to keep the things operating longer that are durable goods is a good decision, generally speaking. Now, long-term, moving to an all-electric household where we don’t have to rely on guests, that’s the goal for me. I’m not getting there until we do a remodel and that’s a little further down the road than I would like for it to be.

There are certain realities that we all have to account for in our home spaces. Working to do a little bit better each day is where we should be. That being said, something as simple as how you invest the funds that you have and what they’re doing while they’re there can also play in. Let’s talk a little bit about the products that you’re working to build with the Carbon Collective. How are they different from what already exists? What might be in the future? If you can give us a little tidbit of what’s coming, that would be cool.

We started Carbon Collective because we couldn’t find any way to invest for our retirement that was building the world that we wanted to retire into. To put it simply, that is a climate stable world. If we are able to solve climate change in the next 30 years. When I say solve climate change, to define it, it’s we run our global civilization without burning stuff. We no longer have to combust to do it.

You’re saying no fire furnace and things like that too.

Yes. You can get into the minutiae of maybe those are done with biofuels that are part of the current carbon cycle and not part of the historic one. At a very high level, our civilizations are run by burning stuff. Most of that stuff is carbon that we dig up and fossilized carbon that is millions of years old that we burn. That super-efficient way to do it built the world that we have now. We have to give fossil fuels there due with them. That is what we need to build. If we’re able to get there, then we’ll be in a position to start drawing down that excess carbon that we have in our atmosphere that is over-insulating our planet. That’s the goal of what we need to do over the next 30 years.

When it comes to investing, and this is part of us starting Carbon Collective, we did two things. First, we started with the individual. We did 120 interviews with our friends and other folks that are around us, and tried to see where did people’s climate anxiety take them? Where did they get blocked? It was like, “I don’t know how to deal with that.” Investing with this place again and again, where people maybe had an ESG-based portfolio.

They said, “I think this is better.” They had to look inside of it and they would be like, “Why is this company in here? I don’t get that.” The problem with ESG is it was never built for impact investing or values-based investing. It was a tool for institutional investors to account for ethical risks, that then got wrapped up to meet the demand for people’s investments to build the world that they want to see. It’s all based upon proprietary data that you don’t get to see unless you pay $30,000 a year to one of these analytics companies. I know it’s probably not worth it.

At a very high level, our civilizations run on burning stuff. Click To Tweet

That’s what we saw. I was like, “There is a lot of demand for sustainable investing that’s not being met here.” When we looked at the other end of saying, “What do we need to do to solve our most pressing problem within sustainability, which is climate change?” It’s very clear that investing has to be a key part of it for us to solve climate change, and reach that place where we stop burning stuff to run our civilization. We need to increase annual investments into climate solutions by 10 to 20X.

That is a monumental shift.

It is a big change. There’s a lot of good news on that front but we’re behind on it.

That’s the theme of climate activism. We’re always behind the eight-ball it seems.

We’re building. There is more coming. At the same time, we have to divest from fossil fuel expansion, full-stop. To us, that is sustainable investing. Anything that is not aligned with that reality, it is hard to see where it’s sustainable. That is a problem of what we saw for ourselves and for others of what Wall Street was offering now or what you can get in your 401(k) now. If it was whatsoever ethical or dubbed as sustainable, it often sells more fossil fuel investments than climate solutions. That didn’t make sense to us.

In reality, our money is doing things we don’t want it to be as it’s sitting in a 401(k). It’s hard to make that change but it’s necessary. The rebranding of British Petroleum to Beyond Petroleum should not convince us that suddenly, it’s a wise investment to leave your money with a big company that’s still in fossil fuels.

There are many rabbit holes we could go into it. I’ll give a short one.

I want to bring it up because of the fact that if you’re a layperson and you don’t understand deeply what some of these larger companies are necessarily doing, that could be a good signal to you. You could say, “It’s only British Petroleum. They’re doing green energy. I saw the latest advertising campaign by Chevron. They’re investing in green projects. Why is that necessarily bad? Their stock portfolio is performing well for me.” The devil’s advocate. These are the things that you hear.

The first one I would say is within the last ten years, energy stocks came back into the block. From a stock portfolio perspective, they’ve been performing terribly up until like the last year. They had a very good last year. This is a question we get, “Should I hold fossil fuel companies to engage with them as shareholders?” Maybe that’s an important way of acting. If you’re also asking the counter-question of saying, “These are big energy companies. They seem to be making the transition to a different form of energy.”

I would argue strongly that we have plenty of evidence to see that major oil companies are not good-faith partners in solving climate change. We can look at a company like BP, aka Beyond Petroleum. They’re being sued because they ran a series of advertisements in the UK in 2019 showing that they’re building EV charging stations or electric vehicle charging stations, and all these other things trying to align themselves like, “We’re the partners who are saying, ‘We have to solve climate change and we’re going to go do it.'” For every £100 that BP is spending as of 2021, guess how many of them were going into low carbon solutions?

2%?

CMBB 92 | Sustainable Investing
Sustainable Investing: It’s very clear that investing has to be a key part for us to solve climate change.

 

You got it. It was 4%.

It was low.

£96 of what they’re spending in their investments were on the current hydrocarbon-based projects. That is not whatsoever in alignment with this actual transition.

That is greenwashing personified.

Exxon is showing in their advertising that they’re investing in algae-based fuel. They want to create something like 10,000 barrels of algae-based oil per year. They create something like 10,000 barrels of oil in a single day.

Let’s put it this way. I work in the space of algae. I’ve been in that space for some time. The reality is it’s not a viable option, economically speaking. It’s much better as a nutrition source for animals and humans. Commercializing it in that way makes a lot more sense because you can feed people without impacting marine ecosystems. These are the things that we should be looking at. Beyond Petroleum, what they’re essentially trying to do is say, “These are not the droids you’re looking for. Look over here.” That isn’t the way to shift the dynamic away from fossil fuels. It’s obviously not.

That dynamic goes to our theory of change because there is an ongoing debate in the activist investor community of saying, “Should you hold ExxonMobil to pressure them on climate?” We strongly believe no. You should divest from them because we do not believe that they are good-faith actors. Any engagement that you do with them is fundamentally a delaying tactic. It is saying, “We’ll relieve pressure. We’ll start tracking our scope to three emissions in a couple of years. Get off our backs.”

Frankly, it sounds like how our political system works too. Do we divest in our political systems as well?

That might be out of my pay rate.

I’m half-joking but you know what I mean. It’s like suddenly, you support.

That is part of what’s hard to navigate, especially as an individual. We live in a hyper capitalistic and hyper extractive world and economy. They are also increasingly hyper-individualized. How do we work within that? To us, where we should be focusing our investor energy is not on getting fossil fuel companies to voluntarily reduce supply. Why would they do that if they have customers that are lined up for it?

Major oil companies are not good-faith partners in solving climate change. Click To Tweet

We should reduce demand. The type of push that we would like to see is rather than focusing on fossil fuel companies, let’s do something on big box stores. They have huge roofs and a lot of them don’t have solar panels on them. It makes economic sense for them to put solar panels on many of those roofs. It makes economic sense for them to add battery backups in many areas as well. Let’s use our investor pressure to do that and let’s reward them if they do. It also makes financial sense.

Look at what’s happening now in our electricity market. The high gas prices are all haywire. It’s a very volatile business item, this electricity. If you put solar panels on, especially if you have a battery backup, now you’ve removed that volatility from your business. You can plan a lot better. It again comes back to this place of we don’t necessarily need to sacrifice, especially in a lot of the low-hanging fruit of the things that we have to do this decade to be on track to avoid catastrophic warming.

Given that advice, do it now as opposed to later. Divest now from these options that aren’t going to build the future that we want or need, and move it in another direction. How would you handle something like that with something as simple as a 401(k) or complicated as a 401(k) as the case maybe?

This is how we do it at the Carbon Collective. We build portfolios broadly in three steps. When we look at the total US stock market, about 20% of it is made of companies that are technologically dependent on the long-term use of fossil fuels for their core business. Put another way, if we jump ahead to that world where we have solved climate change and we’re at zero-carbon, these industries would need a miracle breakthrough in technology to exist or those companies would have to change industries like move to a solar company. We divest. That is step one. We cut them out of that portfolio. It’s about 20%.

We then reinvest, step two. We give that share of the stock market to the companies that are building solutions to climate change. If you remember what we have to do from an investment perspective, we have to massively increase investments into climate solutions while drawing down those that are into fossil fuel expansion. This is accounting for that. Step two is to reinvest into the companies building solutions to climate change.

We applied this as broadly as possible. What we do is we go and look at what are the best independent plans for how we solve climate change like Project Drawdown, the International Energy Agency, and Rewiring America. What are the climate solutions that the best scientists are telling us that we need to build and scale? We see which publicly traded companies are building those. We remove those that generate more revenue from products or services built for the fossil fuel industry. We only use revenue. We don’t use pledges because talk is super cheap in this space. What you did last year was your best indication of what you’re going to do next year. We weigh it all by market cap. We’re not picking winners and losers. We’re trying to apply the best of index-based investing with a very specific climate lens. That’s step two.

Step three is we hold to engage in our core portfolios. This is broadly the rest of the stock market. These are the industries whose core businesses can exist in a world where we solve climate change. Are these sustainable businesses now? By and large, no. An example I often use is Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola is not an environmentally friendly company now, but if we look ahead to that world that is zero carbon, there is no reason why Coke can’t sell me a beverage using the secret recipe. They are doing it on 100% renewable energy on a 100% electrified fleet. They are protecting instead of abusing their natural resources.

That is where we believe we should be working with them as shareholders, to pressure them to get there as quickly as possible. It’s especially true because a company like Coke don’t view me as a shareholder. They also view me as “a consumer” because they invest billions of dollars a year and protect my sentiment from being negative about them. That gives us the power of how we could use that leverage to push them into directions that we want them to go to protect their sentiment of it. That’s our theory of change of how we can build our comprehensive, diversified, broad-based portfolios that have a similar risk and reward as you would get for a generic-based index portfolio or everything has a clear theory of change.

You used the example of Coke. I’m going to ask directly, are you invested in Coca-cola?

Yes. That’s a part of our core strategy. We are looking broadly at those industries and sectors. We have a second flavor of portfolios, what we call climate only. For some people, they’re like, “I get the whole theory of change. I just don’t like Coke or I don’t like Amazon or whatever it is.”

I don’t like plastic. They use so much plastic that it’s painful for me to consider. They have their bottled water division and plastic. If I consider the amount of waste that my money is going into, that’s the piece that I’ve been a stickler on. I mind aluminum much less because it can be recycled so much and because most cans are recycled. For me, my play with Coke a long time ago would have been, “You give up plastic, I might buy one of your products again but now, I buy zero.”

CMBB 92 | Sustainable Investing
Sustainable Investing: Where we should be focusing our investor energy is not on getting fossil fuel companies to voluntarily reduce supply. We should reduce demand.

 

That makes total sense. That’s why there are these individual choices here. I think that there is a counterargument. This is where it gets into that question. For the same reason, some might say, “Even if you hate ExxonMobil, you should own them so you have that seat at the table to pressure them.”

You have to own a lot of them.

You don’t have to own that much. This is why by collectivizing, we get to collectivize all of us together to use our votes in coalitions. Also, to propose our own shareholder resolutions for this. That is what our core strategy is built around. There are going to be companies in here that are like, “I don’t love Coke, but I do believe that they can be a company. The industry that they’re in, in general, is not counter to solving climate change.” It is not mutually exclusive, which means that we have to pressure them as much as we can from a pragmatic standpoint.

We have folks who say, “I get that. I don’t want it,” so we have our climate only, which is the companies building solutions to climate change, which are also not perfect. We do not live in a perfect world. There is no perfect company. It does not mean we should not engage with them to pressure them to get there faster. Its climate solutions balance against green bonds. It is a higher risk, higher reward portfolio but some people prefer that as well.

It sounds like you have a few options available for people that are considering shifting how their money is saved. How do people find this information easily? Do you recommend they go to your website or is there a particular way that you prefer that they educate themselves? Perhaps a YouTube channel.

There are a couple of ways. Our website is a pretty good resource. In being in this space, we know that we are guilty until proven innocent. There has been so much greenwashing when it comes to sustainable investing. We try to do our best to transparently show what we do and why. For example, with the climate solutions, that’s step two for investing. We not only show every single company that made it through our 2022 filter. Why? We also show every single company that got considered that was building a climate solution and why they didn’t make it.

There’s a level of transparency that we’ve never seen from any other type of filter before. That’s critical to what we’re doing. Our hope is that if you go to CarbonCollective.co, you should be able to find a lot of resources. We also have our Sustainable Investing 101, which is our ultimate guide to sustainable investing. If you have an hour, it is a pretty thorough read on how to think about this space. Why your IRA or your 401(k) matters for it. Getting into some of the myths that sustainable investing is charity, which is false, and projecting out into the future.

We also do a breakdown. We’re looking at all the big online investors and investment groups like Betterment or Wealthfront or Acorns. Let’s look at their ESG or sustainable option and look at what percent of it is fossil fuels. What percent of it is climate solutions? Do they hold JP Morgan? Yes, they all do. Do they hold ExxonMobil? Yes, they all do, and questions like that. It’s trying to bring out some of those questions that we might ask them into the forefront rather than saying, “This has 4.5 out of 5 stars,” and you’re like, “What would make it a 4.2?” You don’t know that.

I appreciate that transparency. I did spend a bit of time in your free email course that you have on your website, which I thought was cool. Chapter one was about why investing is the only realistic path to solving climate change. Chapter two is why your retirement fund matters for solving climate change and it goes on from there. There are six chapters. I made it through the first few. There are blogs too. That’s a helpful resource. I appreciate that it has been outlined in a course format because it deepens one’s understanding of what the present situation is and helps them build on your prior knowledge.

If I can say one more thing there, we are humans. We are real people who care about this a lot. There’s a button on our website called talk to a human. A lot of people are like, “I inherited this IRA and I don’t know what to do with it” or something like that. You click that. You’ll get a real response if you have a single question, or if you want to book time with us, then book time with us.

That’s fantastic. I like that. I have personally been frustrated with sometimes how hard it is to get somebody on the line at any bank, whether it be a credit card or otherwise. It makes it a little bit nicer to be able to confer with somebody on a daily if needed. I do have another question but this relates to how you go ahead and ensure that people have access to the visibility of their funds while they’re in play. The reason I put it out there is because you’ll see things like the stock market taking a tumble. People panic and want to go look at how their performances at that moment. Do you have resources for those individuals? How might you counsel them if they have a momentary panic in a marketplace? Maybe I’m speaking personally here because it has not been good.

The world only changes, the status quo only changes, when enough people change it. Click To Tweet

It has been a rough year on the stock market. We host our individual platform with a group called AllTrust. They handle all the behind-the-scenes trading. We do the management of the portfolios. When you join us, you’ll create an account with them where you can see every single holding that you’re in. You can see your account balance. You can see its exact performance in a pretty graph within that. Part of what we also do is send in a monthly members-only newsletter.

Sometimes, we do it more often if we’re seeing shocks in the market. Part of our job is to provide two things. It’s to provide clarity and say, “What’s going on? Why are things so crazy now?” Provide a plan, “What should you do about it?” The basic thing of what we say now, and this is what we often say, is it depends on what you’re saving for. Let’s talk about retirement.

If you’re not that far away from retirement, often the best plan in times like this where things are a bit bearish in the market is to do nothing. Ignore it for this period. You want to remain invested and exposed. Sometimes, the best plan even is to say, “All right, I’m going to put more cash in because everything is on sale now,” and do that. That is often the best strategy.

Some of the worst strategies could be, “I need to pull out.” There may be a mindset for that if you’re saying, “I no longer believe that this entire system is going to be upheld.” We know people who have said like, “Yeah,” then you don’t want to be a part of it. This is the holding a gun strategy. I think it is important to acknowledge that for some folks, that might be the right thing to do. If you’re not there, then staying invested has been the smartest strategy by far, historically.

I’ve kept investing in my child’s 529, for example, just draws every month. I don’t worry so much about that one but I did check to see how they’re performing and it was a little scary. At the moment, we have these blips in the market that can be very concerning, but when you have instability in any major region in the world as with what’s happening in Ukraine, that tends to have ripple effects on the communities around the globe. You’re going to see market instability and it’s going to get a little rough for a while, but it doesn’t mean the entire system is broken.

I’d like to invite you back at a later time to talk a little bit more about finances, specifically as it relates to cryptocurrency and the things that are happening in that arena. The reason I’m going to go ahead and talk about this for a moment is because I want people to think about it. If you’re in NFTs and cryptocurrency, there are a lot of controversies about how green it is and how stable it can be long-term, and whether or not there is a potential to shift the way we bank now to something that is more divested from our present system.

I don’t know a ton about it. I imagine you know a little bit more than me about it. I’m working to educate myself and try to understand what the reality is. What I would ask you before we close on this single subject is do you believe that cryptocurrency can be a sustainable monetary way of doing things?

It’s an interesting use of the term sustainable there. As broadly as possible, when we look at cryptocurrency as a potential currency in which it is being exchanged for goods and services, it is very hard for me to see how we are on a path towards doing that. It seems it is very strongly tied as an investment vehicle now. It is not the equivalent of cash. For example, people aren’t buying Bitcoin to use it to buy a car. They’re buying it because they think that it will go up and other people will buy it. That makes it pretty hard for us to see how cryptocurrency or coins are going to be used.

There are interesting potential applications with using blockchain technology for tracing ownership to make some types of things within the climate solution space simpler. More stuff is coming out in the carbon credits market with that, or other ways of investing of, “Can we use this to enable more people to invest directly in solar farms or things like that?” You can verify and chop up ownership at the much smaller bits with that. That we see being interesting as a way of basically automating contracts from it by baking it into the code.

That is pretty interesting, but in terms of a means of exchange or a medium in that regard, it is hard for us to see it being sustainable and that it is used year over year as a currency. With Bitcoin, in particular, it is very hard to see that it is a whatsoever environmentally sustainable, especially because there is no single entity that controls it. There is no way to say, “Let’s stop bringing abandoned coal mines or coal power plants back on track or back online to power Bitcoin mining.”

My husband will be happy if it starts to take a nosedive because getting things like a good video card now is pretty challenging for video gamers.

CMBB 92 | Sustainable Investing
Sustainable Investing: Taking a change is fundamentally an act of faith, but it is also the only way that the world changes. Focus on the big stuff, get it done, and find the thing that you want to focus on within this.

 

It has done major disruptions to the industry as a whole.

Thank you so much for joining me, Zach and for humoring me as we talk for a moment about some of the other underbellies in the world of both financing and investing that is cryptocurrency and NFTs, and blockchain as well. As I work to educate myself, I will take recommendations for things I should be reading. Feel free to send those my way. Do you have any final words in closing that you would like to share with our community?

I generally would like to say something along this, the world only changes and the status quo only changes when enough people change it. When we started Carbon Collective, we had a lot of people who are saying, “Why should I do anything about this? It’s the corporations and governments.” That’s true, but how do corporations and governments change if not the collectivization of enough individual action to change it? Taking a change is fundamentally an act of faith, but it is also the only way that the world changes. Focus on the big stuff, get it done, and then find the thing that you want to focus on within this. That was our best advice.

That echoes what I share in many of my episodes. I want to say thank you so much for your time, Zach.

Thanks for having me.

Thank you. It has come to that point in our conversation. I want to invite you to lean into discovery. Think about the change that you can make in how you’re managing your finances and what the money that you have is already doing. It’s important that we take a little personal responsibility for the footprint that we leave on this planet. That doesn’t mean that all of this work is on your shoulders. If collectively, we choose to make a difference, the change that we’ll be able to create will be greater than you could have ever imagined. Thank you now and always for being a part of this show and this community because together, we can do so much more. We can even change the way we use our banks and we can regenerate the earth. Thank you.

 

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Guest

  • Zach Stein is the Co-Founder and CEO of Carbon Collective, a company that's making it simple to invest in portfolios that are built around what some are calling the great climate transition. Prior to that, he was the CEO and Co-Founder of Osmo Systems, an agro-tech startup offering all-in-one monitoring and control systems to hydroponic and aquaculture farmers at a price they can actually afford. Zach has always plunged into the burgeoning intersection of technology, investments, agriculture, and the climate. His work has been in the line of helping fight food insecurity and reducing both technological and financial barriers. At Carbon Collective, Zach takes his life’s work a step further by putting people’s savings to work, investing in over 100 companies building climate solutions while still helping them be broadly diversified.

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