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Progress seen for sustainability financing, investment models

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Although the economic climate is rough, more banks, funds and institutions are putting the triple bottom line -- people, planet and profits -- at the center of their business model.

AUSTIN, Texas – The burgeoning Occupy Wall Street movement is criticized for a lack of clarity around its message. But there was no mistaking one theme sounded repeatedly at last week’s inaugural SXSW Eco conference: the need for better financing models around environmental and corporate sustainability initiatives.

"We need a financial services infrastructure to support and build the green economy,” said Scott Edward Anderson, founder of The Green Skeptic, and a frequent commentator about this issue. “We need to challenge assumptions.”

The good news is that forward-thinking banks and financial advisory companies are beginning to focus on this agenda.

One example was offered in a keynote speech by Philippe Cousteau Jr., grandson of the famous ocean explorer, environmental correspondent for CNN and the CEO of EarthEcho International, an organization focused on educating young people about environmental issues.

EarthEcho has teamed up with AdvisorShares on a fund called Global Echo, a fund that actively will allocate investments to publicly traded companies that have a sustainability mandate. The fund isn’t yet available; it’s prospectus was filed in late September.

During a different session, Anderson said more banks and investments are emerging that have a focus on helping disrupt the traditional “rules” of financial services firms. These organizations are making the triple bottom line – enterprise, environment and equity – their focus, he said.

Small businesses, in particular, would benefit from a disruption of the financial status quo, he said.

Here are 13 organizations (from all over the world) that Anderson said are contributing to that disruption and that you might want to consider if you want your money to make more of a difference. “We need to take the leap off the cliff,” he said.

  • Triodos Bank: Described as an "ethical bank," the organization offers deep transparency into where its clients' money is invested.
  • One PacificCoast: A bank that stresses social and environmental goals.
  • SJF Ventures: A venture fund specifically focused on cleantech and sustainability.
  • New Resource Bank: A funding organization for entrepreneurs focused on sustainability.
  • Impact Assets: An organization with the motto "invest with meaning."
  • RSF Social Finance: A non-profit "dedicated to transforming the way the world works with money."
  • Investors Circle: A venture capital organization focused on funding companies participating in the "sustainable economy."
  • Good Capital: A funding mechanism focused on supporting initiatives that address inequality and poverty.
  • Global Impact Investment Rating Systems (GIIRS): A system for valuing investments according to their social and environmental worth.
  • Compass Principles: General guidelines centered on the idea that financial services offerings must be sustainable and scalable.
  • Certified B Corp.: A designation that indicates a business if focused on environmental or social good.
  • E3Bank: A bank that will focus on sustainable enterprises interested in protecting the environment and the communities they serve.

More coverage of SXSW Eco:

Photo courtesy of SXSW Eco and Arnold Wells

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure