Joel Solomon

Joel Solomon: Capitalism as a force for good

In this monthly series, the team behind Genus Fossil Free speaks with Canadians at the heart of where finance meets climate action. Know someone we might want to speak with? Suggest them in the comments below or email info@genusfossilfree.com

We’re on the brink of a revolution in investing. How we choose to live, and ultimately invest our dollars, matters. Joel Solomon, Chair of Renewal Funds, is an investor on a mission. He believes there’s not only a powerful ethical imperative to clean out our investments, but a compelling monetary case, too. Why? We are positioned to influence how a $50 trillion money transfer between generations will shape our societal fabric and the future of capitalism as a force for good. We sat down with Joel about his thoughts on climate change and our unique and collective responsibility in this clean money revolution.

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Joel Solomon, Chair of Renewal Funds , in real life.

Why is the invest–divest movement important?  

 We need to understand that our dollars represent us in the world. They go beyond the material into the realm of the spiritual. There isn’t a topic as urgent and pressing as climate change today. We need information on how this challenge translates into the investment realm. The divestment movement is people coming to terms with that, and with how they can make a difference by voting with their investment dollars. 

 What is our responsibility as individuals when we think about investing?

 As investors and individuals, we need to think about the climate impact of our investments, conduct our due diligence and communicate that we won’t accept anything less. It’s important to keep persisting; find one’s moral bearing and follow it. There may seem like a dearth of ethical investments out there at times, but that’s changing. Each individual has an important agency in this equation: that’s to be demanding and use their money as a force for good. When we invest, we’re making an important social statement – it’s far too easy to take the path of least resistance at times. 

 Do you divest personally?

 I support fossil fuel divestment and have supported the movement for a long time, but due to my purpose-driven venture capital portfolio I’m fortunate to be able to invest on the front edge in private opportunities that advance green tech and initiatives that support clean energy. I believe divestment is a great option for those that may not have access to these private investment vehicles, and I talk about the significance of divestment and clean energy in my new book, The Clean Money Revolution. The premise is that by channelling our wealth in the right direction, we can empower others and change the world. That includes in areas like transportation, food, goods and services, energy and the buildings in which we live and work. It’s a holistic equation, and divestment is just one sound strategy to help direct dollars towards regeneration, as opposed to destruction.

 How did you get started? What first piqued your interest in investing?

 I inherited some money. When I started on my path, I searched for investment products that fulfilled my personal criteria and in those initial days, I couldn’t find any. That frustrated me, so I set about to find a solution, even if that meant taking matters into my own hands. That’s how I eventually started Renewal Partners with Carol Newell, then later Renewal Funds, along with Carol and Paul Richardson. We have much in common – including our belief in the potential energy of capital, and how money – which can be a double-edged sword – can beneficially interface with society and ecology.  This bond helps us mobilize capital as a force for positive change. We think beyond traditional constructs of philanthropy and investing to achieve this end.

Incidentally, Carol has known the folks at Genus for a long time, and they’ve long been on our radar as being at the vanguard of a breed of firms that help give a voice to consumers who care — giving them pragmatic, innovative avenues to channel their wealth to grow and generate positive impact on the environment and society.

 What is your superpower?

 Money can be a kryptonite-like substance. My superpower is having the nerve to work toward and understand what I care about – despite all odds, including being seen and categorized as an eccentric at times. As a venture capital superhero, it’s also about having the intuition to identify “where is the front edge?” and “where is the next edge?” These are important questions that ultimately help us solve the important questions, champion what’s right, and achieve the clean return on investment so vital to our future generations. 

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