By Carolyn Burns
Clean Money Revolution: Reinventing Power, Purpose and Capitalism by Joel Solomon, with Tyee Bridge (New Society Publishers, 2018. 288pp., $19.99 US)
Put your money where your heart is. Give yourself permission to invest in what you care about.”
That creed is what makes investor Joel Solomon’s The Clean Money Revolution such a transformative read. Personal finance is often described as an agitating and taboo subject, yet Solomon attacks it in a highly personable and compelling manner. His simple questioning of “How much is enough?” and “Where does your money spend the night?” illustrates his heightened awareness of modern capitalism’s disconnect from ethical considerations.
“We can no longer pretend that we’re morally detached from the stocks and bonds we invest in, if the companies in which we own shares are doing damage. It is our responsibility to know, and to act accordingly.” It’s a message worth repeating. It should come as no surprise that Solomon’s book centers on one request — that readers repurpose their capital to regenerate the world and achieve social equity.
Solomon begins his memoir/insider’s guide/manifesto by describing how he embraced the challenges and opportunities of participating in the clean money revolution, defined as any money “aligned with a purpose beyond self-interest.” His weapon of choice against the world’s ills is cash and, more specifically, investment into products, services and people.
Solomon has witnessed the power of deploying capital with the intention of producing positive system-level changes. “For over thirty years I’ve been helping businesses and investors shift their money and awareness from a strictly utilitarian or default approach focused on ‘highest return rate’ toward a mission-based, regenerative approach,” he says.
His is a long track record in the Canadian impact investing field, one that illustrates how clean money is not a passing trend. Rather, it’s a lifelong commitment to doing good while doing well; a morally charged sentiment that leaves readers with much to aspire to.
Solomon is quick to explain that the winner-takes-all model of traditional capitalism is both outdated and unsustainable. Humanity has overreached the carrying capacity of nature; likewise, philanthropy has failed to deliver enough resources to those in need to help fight off injustice. By contrast, the strategic application of clean money seeks to provide an alternative future whereby both people and the planet are reinforcing each other and winning together.
Two massive global forces are fuelling the clean money movement. The first element is the conscious consumption, also known as “green” or a lifestyles of health and sustainability trend that advocates for consumers to purchase products and services aiming to create a better future for everyone. The second factor is the massive wealth transfer from Boomers to Generation X and Millennials.
Yet Solomon stresses that the dire state of the world requires an all-encompassing clean money revolution as a sort of global movement that welcomes “every willing hand, heart and mind.” No one can be left behind.
This inclusivity is best exemplified by Solomon’s belief that those who go searching for chances to invest their money cleanly will find them. He uses the book as a platform to chronicle the evolution in clean money approaches, stretching from the pioneering efforts of the Calvert Foundation’s socially responsible investing activities to Ben and Jerry’s unwavering commitment to social and environmental causes.
A sampling of networks and resources (Business for Social Responsibility; Net Impact; Investors Circle; Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) also illustrates the breadth and vibrancy of clean money opportunities, though the pace of progress will only be accelerated by more champions entering the movement. His use of case studies helps to stimulate new thinking, introduce his readers to like-minded communities and encourage them to become clean money influencers.
Stories are powerful tools in helping people appreciate the power of clean money, he asserts. Accordingly, each chapter closes with an anecdote about how the clean money revolution has changed someone’s life. The diversity of interviewees demonstrates that there is no one way of contributing to the clean money cause.
Don Shaffer, president and CEO of RSF Social Finance, wants the clean money revolution to maintain a grassroots perspective through targeted impact investing. By contrast, Fran Seegull, chief investment officer and managing director of Impact Assets, is encouraged by the efforts of traditional investing heavyweights adopting environmental, social and governance impact measurements across their portfolios.
Yet despite the differences in the execution of these models, “We all have a role,” Solomon stresses: “We are responsible for future generations [so] find your purpose. Connect your actions to it.”
By describing and analyzing the who, what, when, where and — most importantly — why of clean money, Solomon has given readers a powerful tool to help guide their own efforts to build a more sustainable global economy. Readers will put the book down feeling better informed and energized to deploy their capital in high impact products and services. And, consequently, to reimagine the future in a more positive light.
The Clean Money Revolution concludes with a $100 trillion vision; a list of foundational elements required for a resilient future civilization. At the top of the 16-point list are some usual suspects: fair taxation; equality of gender, race, class and sexual preference; a global carbon pricing plan. But while he admits that his methodology of tallying the costs of these items to a tidy sum of $100 trillion is symbolic, Solomon’s conclusion is still noteworthy: shifting capital from destructive to regenerative uses is a necessary element of the new global economy. His argument for a cross-generational, cross-regional legacy movement to restore the planet and achieve equality in society is persuasive.
More people, it seems, just need to care.
Carolyn Burns is manager of partnerships and innovation at MEDA’s headquarters in Waterloo, ON.