The Brief | May 18, 2022

The Brief: Reversing food desertification, renewable energy in emerging markets, greening crypto mining, climate questions for oil execs, Black tech nation

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Greetings, Agents of Impact!

Featured: Investing in Place

In Buffalo and across the country, grocery stores have become pillars of health and community development. The once-busy grocery store on Buffalo’s east side that was the scene of last weekend’s racist mass shooting had, for nearly 20 years, provided welcome access to fresh produce and affordable groceries for a majority-Black neighborhood that had long lacked a local supermarket. With Tops Friendly Market closed, at least temporarily, the Masten Park neighborhood is again a “food desert.” Strategies for bringing supermarkets to urban neighborhoods without access to fresh food can benefit both health and community development. Food businesses are essential anchor institutions in place-based investments by SoLa Impact in South Los Angeles, Access Ventures in Louisville’s Shelby Park neighborhood, Blueprint Local in the Manchester neighborhood of Richmond, Va., Mortar in Cincinnati, Erie Downtown Development Corp. in Erie, Pa., and TPP Capital in Philadelphia’s Tioga neighborhood.

It took a decade-long push by local residents, along with public funding and incentives, to open the Tops market on Buffalo’s Jefferson Ave. in 2003. “We were in a food desert, and I would like to say a food apartheid,” Rev. Mark Blue, president of the Buffalo NAACP, told NewsNation, calling the market “a pillar in our community.” The supermarket, on the same corner where an A&P grocery store stood in the 1960s, brought in more than 100 local jobs and became an anchor for additional community and business development projects. “Food access has been getting better in many regions, after decades of urban and Main Street withdrawal in favor of dense and new-growth suburbs,” says Don Hinkle-Brown of Reinvestment Fund, which helped spur the expansion of Brown’s ShopRite supermarkets into Philadelphia food deserts. “It is fair to ask if shootings like the one in Buffalo would have a negative effect on grocers’ growth and operating plans in the neighborhoods most in need.”

Dealflow: Climate Action

Bloomberg Philanthropies commits $242 million for clean energy in developing countries. With $164 million in commitments, Michael Bloomberg’s foundation says it has helped close down more than two-thirds of coal plants in the U.S., and half of Europe’s since 2011. New York’s former mayor is U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres’ special envoy for climate ambitions and solutions. Bloomberg is looking to expand the program, “especially in developing countries that have contributed the least to the climate crisis but are facing the most severe effects.” The philanthropic commitment will support clean energy efforts in Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, Turkey and Vietnam. Bloomberg will work with ClimateWorks Foundation and Sustainable Energy for All to phase out coal and expand renewable energy capacity and access.

  • COP in November. “The addiction to fossil fuels must end, starting with coal, and we must leave no one behind,” Guterres said last month (see, “Calling ‘BS’ on climate double-speak”). Bloomberg is hoping to spur meaningful climate action six months ahead of COP27 in Egypt in November. Bloomberg Philanthropies launched NetZero Pathfinders to provide strategic climate support for governments in Africa.
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Soluna scores $35 million from Spring Lane Capital to use wasted clean energy for crypto mining. If crypto doesn’t save the earth, it may destroy it. By some estimates, Bitcoin and other crypto mining consumes 20% of the world’s baseload energy, much of that from cheap coal and other fossil fuels. New York-based Soluna’s data centers for crypto mining and other computer-intensive projects use clean energy from wind and solar farms that would otherwise go unused due to grid limitations. Spring Lane’s Rob Day said Soluna “offers a compelling solution for investment banks and technology giants that are increasingly betting on cryptocurrencies but are also concerned about its climate effects.”

  • Green computing. Day said crypto is “beset with greenwashing.” Soluna is developing at least three projects that use wasted clean energy for clean computing, such as bitcoin mining and artificial intelligence. The commitment from Spring Lane brings Soluna’s total funding to $100 million.
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Dealflow overflow. Other investment news crossing our desks:

  • KKR agreed to purchase U.K.-based clean energy producer ContourGlobal for nearly $2.2 billion.
  • UtilityAPI raised $10 million in Series A funding, led by Aligned Climate Capital, to build data exchange tools for clean energy companies and utilities.
  • ABC Fund invested in Ghana’s Success for People and in Benin’s PEBCo to provide microloans to thousands of smallholder farmers.
  • Black Tech Nation, a Black-owned venture fund, secured $2.5 million in equity financing from FNB Corp. to invest in Black-led technology firms and startups.

Impact Voices: Shareholder Action

Former Exxon engineer has four climate questions for oil company executives. Oil and gas companies got a thumping last year from shareholders who voted in record numbers to hold them accountable for their carbon emissions. Tiny Engine No. 1 won backing to seat three insurgent directors on ExxonMobil’s board. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has disrupted the momentum. Climate proposals at BP, Occidental, Marathon and Conoco Philips all saw a drop in support this year. Big tests will come next week at Exxon and Chevron’s investor meetings. Despite its board shakeup, Exxon lags its peers in climate action. Its “net-zero” plan calls for annual emission reductions of less than 1% through 2030. The plan “reflects the industry’s reluctance to urgently meet the scope of action needed,” writes Bill Hafker, who worked for Exxon for three decades. To invest responsibly, he says, investors need clear answers on critical climate questions. In a guest post for ImpactAlpha, Hafker asks, “Will your company…”:

  • Adopt a new mission focused equally on supplying energy and protecting the climate? 
  • Set absolute emissions-reduction goals essential to meeting the climate challenge?
  • Put political capital behind candidates who support a price on carbon through a carbon fee and dividend or tax? 
  • Focus expenditures on greater emissions reductions today and clean energy technology for tomorrow?  

“It will require bold leadership in the C-suites of all oil and gas companies to answer ‘yes’ to each question above,” says Hafker, “and then ensure their actions match their words.”

Agents of Impact: Follow the Talent

Troy Spence, ex- of PwC, joins Reinvestment Fund as managing director of risk and compliance… Victor van Hoorn steps down as executive director of Eurosif this summer. Eurosif is recruiting van Hoorn’s replacement… PCV is hiring a research analyst in its Good Jobs Innovation Lab and a senior credit underwriter, among other roles… Fish Choice seeks a fishery improvement project analyst.

Wefunder and Render Capital are hosting “Why community rounds?” with Wefunder’s Jonny Price, Render’s Tim Harris and Wefunder’s Kentucky lead Natalie Bonura, in Louisville tomorrow, May 19. Render Capital will match $20,000 in investment for companies based in Floyd, Clark and Jefferson counties that launch a community round on Wefunder… Markus Freiburg and Laura Catana of the Financing Agency for Social Entrepreneurship are leading a virtual training on innovative impact deal structuring in July.

Thank you for your impact!

– May 18, 2022