By: Sydney Hulebak, WoodLeaf Partners

February 28, 2020


From February 23rd to 25th, the Intentional Endowments Network (IEN) hosted its annual Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit in partnership with Second Nature in Atlanta. 

IEN is a peer learning network of colleges, universities, and other mission-driven institutional investors working together to achieve their risk and return objectives through investment actions that create a thriving, sustainable economy. They have nearly 160 network members including endowments, asset managers, investment consultants, nonprofit partners and individuals.  

This broad-based, collaborative network focuses on creating:

  1. Intentionally designed endowments, aligned with institutional mission, that will become the norm in higher education and other tax-exempt organizations, evidenced by growth in policies, practices and actions.
  2. Improved sustainability performance by businesses in response to investor concerns, evidenced by changes in corporate practices and actions.

The Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit is the premier gathering of a select group of higher education leaders committed to driving our nation’s climate action. As the world looks to 2020 to update emissions reductions targets under the Paris Climate Agreement, the Summit stood as an opportunity for the higher education sector to take stock of its own progress and explore ways to scale local climate leadership to meet the global goals by working across institutions and across sectors.

At the 2020 Summit, Georgia institutions shared their successes:

  • Committed to being “the little engine that could” of sustainability, Agnes Scott College, led by the Executive Director of the Center for Sustainability Susan Kidd, has achieved several milestones. They opened the first LEED-certified building in Decatur and implemented single-stream recycling and composting, taking waste diversion rates from 24% in 2008 to 75% in 2012. Agnes Scott is a national pioneer in creating Green Revolving Funds through donor support, and was the only non-profit in Georgia to install a solar array through Georgia Power’s Advanced Solar Initiative.
  • Emory University, led by Director of Sustainability Initiatives Ciannat Howett, is creating a culture of sustainability, and it shows. Since 2005, Emory has reduced its energy use by over 25% per square foot, saving over $25 million. 40% of the food served in Emory Dining locations is sourced locally and/or sustainably. Emory’s Cliff shuttle system transports millions of riders annually using biofuel from recycled cooking oil, and the WaterHub continues to win awards for its water conservation and recycling.

Both schools set goals to become carbon neutral in the next 30 years and both are considering the carbon footprint associated with their growing campuses. With the knowledge that buildings are responsible for 40% of global CO2 emissions, Emory announced that all of their new construction will be carbon neutral by 2025.

As institutions that put people first – their current and future students, alumni, faculty, researchers, staff, neighbors, and partners – colleges and universities in Georgia and beyond are well placed to accelerate a just transition to a carbon-free economy and healthy, sustainable society. The 2020 Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit was able to fuel that acceleration by fostering conversations and networks of climate action.



By: Stacy Funderburke, Assistant Regional Counsel & Conservation Acquisition Associate, The Conservation Fund

February 26, 2020

In January, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms and Department of Parks & Recreation announced a new 12-acre park in one of the most under-parked areas of the city. This large greenspace will create a new park and recreational amenities for neighborhood residents, while protecting a tributary of the Utoy Creek Watershed and conserving almost 10 acres of Atlanta’s tree canopy. A week later the Beltline and Parks Department announced the acquisition of a property that will allow critical expansion of Boulevard Crossing Park on the Beltline, setting the stage for an expansive new vision and design for one of the largest parks along the future Southside Trail.

Believe it or not, these important park acquisitions were made possible by one of the longest standing impact investments in Atlanta – the Metropolitan Atlanta Parks and Greenspace Acquisition Revolving Fund. The Metro Atlanta Revolving Fund was originally created by a $2 million philanthropic gift from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation to The Conservation Fund, a national non-profit dedicated to land and water conservation. It operates with a unique model for sustainably financing conservation outcomes – a revolving fund fueled by grants committed to land and water conservation.

In a world where public funding for parks, trails, greenspace often lags the immediate capital needed to acquire priority park lands when available, particularly when real estate is booming, the quickest, nimblest partners with ready capital are the ones who can make these acquisitions happen. The Conservation Fund has a long track record of bridging that capital need, stepping out to acquire those highest priority conservation lands for local, state and federal partners, and holding those lands until public funding comes available.

We have worked with partners for over 15 years, continually revolving that original $2 million investment to turn underused land into parks, greenspace and trail corridors in Atlanta. While the total fair market value of the acquired land was approximately $34 million, we were able to acquire it at a total cost of approximately $30 million, passing along significant savings to our public partners. Through the revolving fund we have been able to add 506 acres of greenspace in 45 parks across the Atlanta, many of which would not have happened without The Conservation Fund’s real estate expertise and ready access to this revolving fund capital. Those acquisitions often leveraged other philanthropic funding for capital improvements or buildout of parks and trails.

Danforth Road Park 2

The impacts of this revolving fund model are not limited to the City of Atlanta. At the state level an $8 million revolving fund we manage has leveraged significant state, federal and philanthropic funding and supported approximately $285 million in conservation acquisitions with a total fair market value over $360 million. Nationally, we have acquired over 8.3 million acres with a fair market value of over $7 billion at a total acquisition cost of approximately $5.2 billion. And these revolving funds can be scaled in a variety of ways. Most recently, we announced our first ever public issuance of a green bond, leveraging impact capital for an additional $150 million in revolving funds for our Working Forest Fund program, which aims to protect 5 million acres of the most critical forest land under threat across the country over the next 15 years.

There are many different definitions of impact investing. But it’s important for us to embrace the variety of investment models that allow us to achieve outsized impacts for our communities, understanding there are myriad ways to make investments go farther for a particular impact. Our Atlanta revolving fund is just one example of how non-profit partners can utilize revolving funds to marry philanthropic investments with public sector priorities to scale outcomes and impact for communities – adding parks, trails and greenspace that improve quality of life for area residents and protect the amazing natural areas we have access to in our city. If you overlooked this model as part of the broader impact investing universe, your next outing in your neighborhood park or stroll along the Atlanta Beltline should help jog your memory!

The Conservation Fund works with public, private and nonprofit partners, to protect America’s legacy of land and water resources through land acquisition, sustainable community and economic development, and leadership training, emphasizing the integration of economic and environmental goals. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, The Conservation Fund has worked in all 50 states to protect over 8 million acres of land since 1985.

This post originally appeared on Boardwalk Capital Management.

By: Scott Sadler, CFA

February 23, 2020

Investors may not think of affordable housing as an “impact” investment, but without question some opportunities in this sector have measurable environmental and social impacts while also offering the potential for handsome financial returns.

Case in point is a recent acquisition by Jonathan Rose Companies (JRC) in the rapidly-gentrifying Edgewood community of Atlanta, Georgia for their Affordable Housing Preservation Fund V. The fund’s name “preservation” reflects the need to revitalize the existing stock of multifamily housing. It is estimated that the US has a deficit of more than 7 million units of affordable housing. Preserving and expanding what we already have is a good start, but keeping existing housing affordable is not always a developer’s first choice. Preservation of affordable housing is a team effort, with financing provided by portfolio investors and loans from Fannie Mae, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and tax-exempt bonds issued by Invest Atlanta.

Jonathan Rose is often a preferred buyer of affordable properties given their decades long history of being a responsible operator and a pioneer in urban revitalization. Management of their $18 million renovation and expansion in Edgewood showed particular attention to tenant needs, providing affected tenants with alternate accommodations and even buses to shuttle their children to their existing schools to avoid disruption during the renovation. Despite gentrification that has seen home prices in the area triple over the past five years, 100 percent of units in the development will remain affordable.

JRC proudly reports the environmental impact that they make when acquiring a new neighborhood. Typically, the firm can implement upgrades that cut energy consumption by 20% and water use by a similar amount. And in fact, the company’s acquisition of Edgewood Court (now named Amani Place) has achieved both environmental certification under Enterprise Green Communities, and for health and well being measures, as the first complex in the Southeast certified under Fitwel. The firm’s dedication to making a social impact is well documented. Nearly all of their neighborhoods have areas that are dedicated to community gardens, after school programs, computer labs or medical screening rooms.

From a financial standpoint, environmental upgrades reduce costs, while the social programs often result in a more stable tenant base, reducing the expense of on-boarding new renters. As with almost every real estate investment, investors can expect strong cash flows each year. Affordable housing adds an additional measure of stability, with a large portion of rental income coming from government subsidies. Historically, real estate has appreciated at a pace above the rate of inflation with the potential of higher valuations when properties improve their profitability.

For the impact investor, this unique combination of environmental and social impact, operating stability and attractive projected returns is an attractive mix that is hard to ignore. Contact us for more information on how to incorporate sustainable and impact investments into your retirement plan or investment portfolio.