What’s impact investment got to do with your summer vacation? A lot.

By Carolyn duPont, Director of Environment for Quantified Ventures

Last week, I was on a flight from Boston to a coastal city in Virginia to talk about using an Environmental Impact Bond to finance green infrastructure that will help protect communities there from flooding[i]. It was a beautiful late February day and the whole coast was visible, with houses lined up along shimmering water as far as I could see. The week brought a 70-degree day — giving us East Coasters our first taste of spring and anticipation of summer — that was then followed the next day by snow, triggering a nagging feeling that this weather is definitely not normal.

Before my flight, I picked up a copy of Yankee magazine whose cover article was entitled “Rising Seas: The Coast is Changing; Can New England Adapt?” The article starts out describing scientists from the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, ME, laying out how sea level rise will fundamentally alter the Maine coast: submerging summer houses, islands, and fishing communities, as well as changing the habitat for a range of bird species.

Bar Harbor, Maine

Bar Harbor, Maine

Like most New Englanders, I have a near obsession with summer, and look forward to getting out of the city to the coast after a long, dreary winter. My family has gone to Bar Harbor every summer since I was a baby. It’s the place I think of when the temperature falls below zero in January, when work is stressful, or when I read chaotic news headlines. Summer in Maine is the quietest, happiest part of my year. What’s more, my husband and I had our first baby this fall, and as we’ve been cooped up with cold after daycare cold all winter, I’ve often dreamt of introducing our son to the beaches and hikes we love up there (and lobster, of course).

The Yankee article forces a hard reality on those visions of summer: that the places we love — whether it’s Maine, the Cape, the Jersey shore, or Virginia beaches — are vulnerable. It’s difficult to grapple with the reality that Bar Harbor’s namesake “bar” — a tidally exposed sand bar to an island on the harbor, and a favorite place for walks with kids and dogs — might not even exist for my son to explore as sea levels rise. If we don’t invest in mitigation efforts to curb climate change and adaptation measures to protect these places, our kids won’t have the same experiences we did growing up. These places will change, and in the absence of meaningful investment, some might not be there at all.

It’s one of those mornings where the importance of the work we do at Quantified Ventures hits home. What we’re trying to do, fundamentally, is to protect the places we love — for the people we love.

Quantified Ventures is one piece of a much larger public-private coalition working on resilience solutions; we bring communities and organizations who have worked hard to assemble critical resilience projects together with investors who want to channel their capital toward projects that will preserve the places where we live and unwind. We have some truly inspiring partners in this work, including the Rockefeller Foundation, Environmental Defense Fund, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, who are working every day on cutting-edge solutions to tackle the changing environmental realities of our coastal communities.

Resilience investments are new to many investors and communities. They require assigning value to ecosystem services that help mitigate floods and climate effects, as well as recognizing the potential costs of really daunting future scenarios that are hard to even acknowledge. These investments also require capital expenditures for projects that may only pay dividends after the current Mayor is out of office and after the current land owners have already sold their buildings. In short, resilience investments require us to think beyond current incentive structures to do lasting good without certainty of being around to receive the credit.

We think Environmental Impact Bonds have an important role to play in valuing and distributing these risks and uncertainties between communities and private investors, and in helping pilot new types of projects, measuring how well they work, and incorporating that learning into an increasingly urgent resilience investment agenda. We love green infrastructure in particular because, in addition to the long-term benefits of flood management, these projects create places that can be used and enjoyed by communities — parks, playgrounds, and open spaces — as well as coastal wetlands that provide flood mitigation benefits and habitat for birds and other animals.

Looking down from the plane window at all the coastal communities along the coast, I was energized about getting on the ground and getting to work. My hope is that in some small way, as we help catalyze outcomes-based resilience investing, we can help to protect and preserve these places we all love and the livelihoods of the people who live there.

Curious to learn more about what we’re working on? Sign up for a free webinar we are holding March 20th with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for Virginia watershed municipalities interested in using the Environmental Impact Bond.

Carolyn duPont manages the environmental team at Quantified Ventures. manage the environmental vertical. Prior to Quantified Ventures, Carolyn served on the investments team at Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, making early-stage debt and equity investments in clean energy and water companies. Previously, she worked in San Francisco as a manager for the geopolitical strategy consulting firm Monitor 360, part of the Monitor Group. Before Monitor, Carolyn worked in executive search and recruiting for environmentally-oriented companies, social enterprises, and foundations.

[i] While we do as much our of work as possible using phone or videoconference to avoid travel-related emissions, we do sometimes have to go see the places we’re doing work and meet with our partners face-to-face — relationships are critical to the work we do. I buy carbon offsets for the flights I do have to take, which is admittedly an imperfect solution.

Eric Letsinger