20 Feb 2020

The new organisation helping finance environmental action

7:56 pm on 20 February 2020

As concerns about the risks of climate change ramp up, there are many ways that action is being taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the future.

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Some efforts are tangible - drive less, cycle more, shift towards plant-based diets, plant trees - and so on.

Toha is one that won't be so obvious on a day-to-day basis. It's a business to business organisation - it bills itself as "a new way to invest in environmental action".

Toha aims to bridge the gap between finance and environmental action.

It's unlikely the public will have much engagement with the venture, but it'll be there, aiming to "achieve economic prosperity by fully regenerating our environment".

Co-founder Nathalie Whitaker puts it like this: "It's probably best to think about us a little bit like how visa works for consumers. Your main relationship is with your bank but obviously your bank is open to the visa network and offers you credit and your credit card administers that using the network...

"If you're making commitments to do something for climate and for the environment, Toha provides you with a platform to attract resources that you need in order to do that, but also provides you with a platform to prove and provide visibility to the impact that you're having."

Toha was set up by a group with varied backgrounds - Whitaker set up Givealittle.co.nz, Professor Shaun Hendy is a physicist who gave up flying for a year, Mike Taitoko is of Maniapoto descent and focused on Māori and indigenous economic development.

Whitaker said financial markets were moving towards sustainable and environmental products.

"We've got more and more money, [available, but] the reality is it's just very hard to get money at scale, direct to the front line and know that it's going to the right place and that actually things are changing...

"What we will be doing is providing a venue for ventures and for marketplaces to raise the capital for environmental action."

Toha will do that using something impact pledges - and data.

"An impact pledge [is] a contract that's basically commits everybody to undertaking activity.

"Then the data proves that those activities have actually happened. For example - how do we actually know when we fund a tree, that the tree is actually in the ground?"

Collected data then proves that it's happened.

Data is an important factor for Toha.

"When you have data about activities and outputs, you've got the ability to get insights over a wider group of people and you have the ability to actually understand what impact all of this work is having," Whitaker said.

Better data would mean more interest from investors who could see the outcomes, Whitaker said.

And those with the money were keen to get involved in the environment, Whitaker said.

"Increasingly it's no longer acceptable from an investor perspective to just be in pursuit of profits and money has to do more and work harder to achieve some sort of good for all of us."

Organisations that used Toha would be impact ventures, Whitaker said.

"Impact ventures is really a way of talking about a new type of model where you exist, really, to achieve environmental impact."

Whikater said interest in Toha had been expressed by government, businesses, charities, community organisations - "you name it".

Toha's first venture will look at how to support farmers to make the transition to regenerative agriculture.

While Whitaker couldn't explain all of the details yet, she said: "It's a really exciting way that farmers can demonstrate their environmental commitments and a way that means that they are kind of incentivised to do the work.

"We need to stop having this conversation about the things that are going wrong, and start having a conversation about how we can support our farming community to make positive improvements, and we think that we've got that."

Impact investment on the rise

Sustainable Business Council Executive Director Mike Burrell said impact investment was growing substantially in New Zealand as investors demanded more information and transparency on non-financial disclosure and performance.

"Sustainability issues such as climate-related risks are now considered by investors to pose major risks to a company's financial performance. More and more investors, shareholders as well as consumers are seeking companies that make a positive difference in the world, and want to see a more holistic view of a company's environmental, social and economic performance to inform better decision making."

Responsible investing should be embraced, he said.

"The business case for sustainability is clear. Companies that put sustainability at their core of their business models perform better through reduced costs, minimised risk, enhanced trust and lasting business growth. Put simply, such companies are more attractive to their stakeholders including investors and shareholders."

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