The competence center for charitable foundations Sustainable investments: How foundations benefit from ESG criteria

Sustainable investments: How foundations benefit from ESG criteria

New challenges call for more innovative solutions. One of the key ideas is the principle of regeneration. This becomes especially clear in the context of the revitalization of ecosystems. Nature in all its complexity shows us how often change happens in a magical way. Philanthropy plays an important role in such regeneration processes, and foundations can lead the way. 

The world is in a state of upheaval, and that's a good thing. It gives us the opportunity to systematically design new paths that are fundamentally different. But how can we use the time window we have been given?

Many people talk about a fresh start. We discuss far-reaching slogans such as "the new normal," "reset" or "building back better." This raises certain questions. What is normal? Do we want to return to the beginning? Or does better mean even faster, higher, further? One thing is clear: It will require courage in particular to take the next steps.

Sustainability is the word on everyone's lips. But this keyword became a buzzword that has lost some of its meaning, as it is always watered down and so is understood less well in context. Let us not forget that the equivalent German word, "Nachhaltigkeit," originated in forestry in the 17th century and even then referred to the principle of not cutting more wood than could grow back each time. A current reference point for the more recent understanding of sustainability is the famous Brundtland Report from 1987; here, sustainability is defined as development that meets the needs of present generations without denying the same possibilities to future generations. In reality, we continue to consume far more resources globally than the Earth provides us with. The concept of efficient, sustainable behavior has thus often remained a loose, hollow phrase.

Regeneration – from a general and a personal perspective

We have recently noticed that people have started using the word "regeneration." It refers to natural renewal. People are fond of linking it to agriculture, cultures, or a relevant management style. So, we can immediately see that, here too, there is a risk of using an innovative sounding buzzword to dress old ideas up in a new way.

The essence of my own story is about (re-)connecting with nature more. This is the start of an adventure into the world of regenerative (eco-)systems. I learned, for example, that it is not merely a question of planting trees (often in the form of monocultures), but rather of restoring a state of (bio-)diversity. And new questions arise: How do we feed ourselves healthily at the same time as protecting the soil? What types of agriculture work in harmony with nature? What can forests contribute to food production? How do we protect, renaturize, and use landscapes, meadows, marshes, rivers, and seas?

If we integrate this understanding of regenerative agriculture into our behavior and extend it to other areas, it will lead to a far-reaching transformation. But that requires patience, forward thinking, and collaboration.

This brings to mind a quotation by Albert Einstein that we often hear these days: "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." So we too should re-calibrate our thinking and tackle things with a more open mindset.

How and where do we find new things?

Nevertheless, it isn't at all easy to focus people's attention on new things. The example of the hamburger illustrates this quite clearly. At the moment, meat burgers are being symbolically replaced by vegan burgers. But wouldn't it be better to find ways of expanding our culinary experience? For example, which local, perennial, edible plants can we reintroduce into our food supplies? We all have the chance to experiment here. This journey of discovery can be fun, as plenty of amateur chefs have documented in recent months.

The role of philanthropy

Philanthropy plays a key role in this phase. As well as a change in our thinking, this transformation urgently needs funding, and that takes time. We can see that things do not develop in a linear manner, and are often difficult to quantify. But it is precisely this evolutionary, long-term approach that harbors the potential for success. Essentially, we are the change, because systems change of their own accord. And here it's important to stress one thing: It can and should be fun. "Dancing with systems" is what the environmental scientist Donella Meadows postulated many years ago. This contributes to the magic of change.

In recent years, we have seen that a coordinated approach by like-minded founders and foundations increases the success of their involvement. At the same time, the potential of functioning cooperation projects seems far from exhausted. This opportunity allows foundations and us as human beings to take a clear position and try out new things. The image of culinary experiences I referred to above is intended to make people want to try new things in other areas too. To be alert, to explore and be bold, to become aware of their responsibility, and to act accordingly. As individuals and institutions, we have the privilege to choose, and the ability to consciously provide an impetus for change. I can be the change in my small universe, which combines to become something bigger. We now have a unique opportunity to achieve this.

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