Schwarzenegger’s R20 initiative plans sustainable investment fund to invest in holy cities

R20 links with Alliance of Religions and Conservation as faith groups get into impact investing

Every year holy cities such as Mecca and the Vatican welcome more than 500m pilgrims, and with numbers growing the environmental stress on these areas is increasing.

There are problems of access to water, waste of food, pollution – especially air smog, increased energy use and sanitation (link).

In 2012 tens of millions of plastic water bottles were littered during the Hajj, dumped all over the streets of Mecca’s holy places especially the Arafat area.

Recognising this growing issue, the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), a body founded by the UK’s Prince Phillip and R20, a climate finance initiative founded by Arnold Schwarzenegger, are launching a sustainable investment fund to invest in spiritual cities.

The fund will be named The Pilgrim Cities Impact Investing Fund, and ARC and R20 are working with fund manager Blue Orchard to create a dedicated investment fund for green infrastructure within pilgrim cities.

It will be discussed this week at COP23 and is understood to be looking to raise $250m.

Dr. Christophe Nuttall, CEO of R20, said he hoped to bring the fund to the table for investors in the coming months.

He says: “The focus is development of environmental and sustainable development infrastructure, which the huge rise in pilgrims worldwide necessitates. The faith basis of the sacred cities provides clear faith-consistent values which focus on addressing issues such as zero waste management, biological sanitation, renewable energy production and energy efficient transport.”

Along with the environmental benefits of the fund, it is hoped it will have a wider impact on public consciousness. “The impact of the faiths in action of the green agenda focusing on the Resilient Pilgrim Cities’ initiatives is not just confined to cities themselves,” said Nuttall. “Pilgrims returning home will become advocates for similar measures in their own countries and cities.”

The news came at the launch of a major new alliance of religious investment funds convened by ARC last week.

The three-day meeting in Zug, Switzerland, included senior representatives from major faiths, including Ghana’sCardinal Turkson and senior United Nations figures such as Assistant Secretary General Elliott Harris.Martin Palmer, Secretary General of ARC, said: “The new alliance – so new it hasn’t even got a name yet – will develop a faith response to the challenge of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”

During his speech, Palmer emphasised the powerful financial muscle faith groups held, but suggested they were not sufficiently using it in alignment with their missions and values.

“Faiths are the fourth-largest investment group in the world. There are many trillions of dollars of investment funds owned by the faiths around the world.

“We are asking faiths: ‘you know what you are against, what are you for?’”

As well as effecting change through finance, Palmer highlighted the role faiths had in questioning the status quo.

He recalled a challenging meeting between the UN on the SDGs and 24 faith traditions in Bristol, UK, two years ago.

The faiths, which were not among the stakeholders who negotiated the Global Goals, argued that SDG4: Quality Education was something they had been doing for thousands of years (faith bodies own 50% of schools globally). But they were not shy of self-criticism, admitting they needed to be more proactive on SDG5: Gender Equality.

Overall, the faiths questioned why the only economic model that the UN was willing to consider was consumerist capitalism and making it less destructive through the SDGs. “There are other economic models, and faiths have that wisdom,” Palmer said.

The SDGs also came under criticism for being ‘managerial’ goals, with nothing focused on love or compassion. There was a mooted 18th SDG, focused on celebration. “Religions know that if people want to change, you help them simplify and cut back. Then you party,” said Palmer.

He was followed by Cardinal Turkson who emphasised that business should invest in the production of good work, good goods and good wealth.

He continued by describing how Catholic teachings can guide investment: “We are trying to introduce this (impact investing) to the bishops of Africa and Latin America as an alternative to fundraising,” he said. “We are still in the A, B, Cs of impact investing.”

Other faiths in attendance were also working on how to make their investments more values-driven, and encourage their followers to take a similar direction.

To support this drive, the ARC Faith in Finance meeting launched the Zug Guidelines to Faith-Consistent Investing. It gives an overview of where religious investment is placed now, for the eight major faiths, and highlights what principles each tradition calls upon when it decides its investment priorities and in many cases makes a statement that a good proportion of the money should where possible be invested in environmental and sustainable development.

Attendees at the meeting said that impact investment was a modern concept of a very old idea started by faith communities, who needed to rekindle the tradition.Gunnela Hahn, CEO of the Church of Sweden, said: “I think we, as faith organisations, ought to be stronger and more visible in translating our spiritual leadership into the investment world.

“We acknowledge the spiritual dimension of life and that mother earth provides of with all the beauty and richness we need, if we are wise enough to use her resources properly. We are values driven and have a mission to make the world a better place. And we have a long-term perspective, not of 3-12 months but perhaps a thousand of years or even eternity.”