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Impact Investing in Environmental Health

By Michele Demers Blog

Boundless recently hosted a family office workshop in Boston, discussing opportunities for impact investing in health and nutrition, and bringing together industry experts in fields like green chemistry, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), cancer, sustainable agriculture, and other sectors related to environmental health. The World Health Organization estimates that “12.6 million deaths each year are attributable to unhealthy environments – nearly one in four of total global deaths.” These environmental risk factors, such as air, water and soil pollution, chemical exposures, carcinogens, ocean plastics, climate change, ultraviolet radiation, and more contribute to more than 100 diseases and injuries, and leave a large gap for impact investors to disrupt the status quo.

Current investment in health, wellness and biotechnology has spurred impressive development and growth in impact investing in environmental health, reducing climate and health risks as well as improving livelihoods across communities. The implementation of new technologies in nutrition and health has improved access to healthy foods and affordable quality healthcare. At the workshop, speakers discussed green chemistry technologies and business models improving the materials used in everyday items ranging from hair dye to lithium ion batteries to protective barriers for electronic devices. Green Chemistry is a science that aims to reduce or eliminate the use and/or generation of hazardous substances in the design phase of materials development. Dr. John Warner, President of the Warner Babcock Institute noted in his keynote that anything that can be coined as “better” for human health and the environment is going to be seen as new and different, creating an impressive space in which impact investors can and should drive capital. The Warner Babcock Institute notes that, “Green Chemistry presents industries with incredible opportunity for growth and competitive advantage… because there is currently a significant shortage of green technologies.” They estimate that only “10% of current technologies are environmentally benign; another 25% could be made benign relatively easily. The remaining 65% have yet to be invented.”

Warner noted that green chemistry practices, in which the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the use and/or generation of hazardous substances, perform better than alternatives, are more economical than alternatives, and finally, are more environmentally benign that their alternatives.

Panel speakers also discussed the good, the bad and the investable of GMOs including CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspersed Palindromic Sequences), which can cut or edit the DNA of a crop, speeding up the “natural selection” process controlled by humans. These technologies can produce higher yields at lower prices, addressing resource scarcity and improving global nutrition as populations grow. The discussion highlighted biocontrols, or the use of an invasive plant’s natural enemies – agents (chiefly insects, parasites and pathogens) – to reduce its population below a desired level. GMOs have shifted and evolved to be more accessible and provide options to promote better environmental health.

The debate around GMOs has long been divided and contentious. However, many technologies exist that can improve environmental health and increase access to nutritious foods. Impact investors, with adequate due diligence, can support these technologies and drive capital towards business models that are improving the chemicals, objects, and foods we use every day.

Our next workshop in San Francisco will focus on “Investing in the Longevity Economy.” Speakers will address pioneering technologies and companies targeting the 50+ market, with a focus on healthcare, senior living and a range of wellness, nutrition and other common age-related products.