Recently ClearlySo has seen a flurry of environmentally related deals. A couple of weeks ago we helped the firm Upside Energy to close an investment round of £545k. Upside Energy creates a Virtual Energy Store™ by aggregating unused energy from devices owned by households and small business sites that inherently store energy, to sell balancing services to grid operators which helps reduce the need to turn on the older, most polluting and expensive power stations during peak demand times More recently we supported the fundraising of a company called Switchee. Switchee’s product reduces energy usage which saves tenants in affordable housing money on their utility bills, and the data helps social landlords better manage damp, maintenance and repairs in their properties, thereby fighting fuel poverty. These two transactions, previous deals closed and several in the pipeline have coincided with Earth Day, which took place on 22 April. Earth Day is often credited for launching the modern environmental movement. My ClearlySo colleague Lindsay Smart has written an extensive blog piece in honour of Earth Day.
This juxtaposition of events comes at a very interesting time in the UK impact investment space. For reasons that are hard to explain, and even if I could would lie well beyond the word limit of this column, the “mainstream” UK impact investment community and environmental investment community has always remained separate and aloof from one another. For us at ClearlySo this is rather bizarre. Many of our investor clients seem to care a great deal about environmental matters. These include water pollution, air pollution, global warming, sustainable fishing and forestry and a host of other related issues, which impact all of us. Also, matters environmental have always had a disproportionately negative social impact on the world’s poorest—so the social and environmental impact spheres are closely linked. To say this isn’t really part of the impact investment movement is not only odd but self-defeating, particularly as this represents a considerable portion of available investment opportunities. Moreover, the metrics for understanding environmental impacts are more highly developed, better understood and more widely utilised at the present time. It seems rather arbitrary to push the environment to the impact investment side-lines. Our view has been that if investors value particular impacts, so do we.
Some of this may be institutional in nature. Environmentally conscious investing came onto the scene prior to what we now describe as impact investing and perhaps there was little interest in embracing this new movement. Similarly the Green Investment Bank was launched well before Big Society Capital, which was the impact investment sector’s broadly equivalent institution. Thus a central government initiated split of sorts may have been created. The apparent assault by this Conservative Government on many aspects of renewable energy funding, in contrast to its persistent praise of impact investment has also furthered this divide.
Nevertheless, we will continue to argue that these two activities are part of a much bigger single picture. It is reminiscent of what we always saw as flawed thinking, that impact investment is an asset class, perhaps cleantech investment is another and maybe micro-finance and social housing are a third and fourth. In our view those are merely different facets of a world where impact is becoming important in all investing. We see the world shifting from investing in a two-dimensional way, where only risk and return are measured and considered, to a world we have long advocated of 3-D or three-dimensional investment. It is bringing impact to all investment that is our true mission.