Ecotrust considers an expanded Natural Capital Fund
By Christina Williams
Sustainable Business Oregon editor
Last December, Spencer Beebe promoted Astrid Scholz to take over day-to-day operations at Ecotrust. Now, one of the things Beebe is focused on is whether or not Ecotrust can expand its investing reach by raising more cash for its Natural Capital Fund.
It may not be common for a nonprofit to run its own investment fund, but Spencer Beebe didn’t establish Ecotrust 22 years ago with a goal to fit in.
Now, after handing over the responsibility for day-to-day operations to Ecotrust President Astrid J. Scholz, Beebe is taking a close look at the track record and potential for expanding Ecotrust’s Natural Capital Fund.
The fund was formed in 1991 with a goal to invest in endeavors that create jobs and economic prosperity while simultaneously improving social and environmental conditions of communities — the classic triple bottom line approach. It started with a $1 million gift and grew to around $30 million — the fund’s high water mark — in 20 years. The cash comes from grants and program-related investments made in Ecotrust’s name by individuals and foundations.
With that money Ecotrust invested in some 30 businesses and initiatives that grew to be worth about $800 million in assets. Perhaps the most obvious example is Ecotrust’s overhaul of its headquarters building, the Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center. The project transformed a 100-year-old warehouse into a state-of-the-art green building — one of the state's first. The building is fully leased, generating income and has provided, Ecotrust estimates, a 6.4 percent rate of return on the initial investment, which Ecotrust declines to disclose.
A Natural Capital Fund investment in Stormwater Management, a water treatment technology company that was acquired in 2005 providing a 28 percent annualized return on the fund’s initial investment.
The Natural Capital Fund makes direct investments, such as the ones in its building, Stormwater Management and some $1.1 million in individual fishing businesses and community trusts. The fund also makes indirect investments in the likes of regionally active funds including Portfolio 21, Farmland LP and Reference Capital.
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