By 2050, $40 trillion will change hands in North America alone – the largest intergenerational wealth transfer in history – and the effects will transform the world as we know it.
This is Joel Solomon’s opening gambit as he launches his passionate and persuasive primer on The Clean Money Revolution: Reinventing Power, Purpose, and Capitalism*,* published this month (New Society Press, co-authored by Tyee Bridge).
The book explores the growing effects of sustainable investments and business, profiling innovative entrepreneurs who are rewiring the financial grid while reframing the model for ROI on social equity. Solomon weaves together his personal journey and business learning as someone engaged with money from the start through a family inheritance.
Solomon is Chair of Renewal Funds, a $98 million, mission-based venture capital firm in Vancouver, Canada. During his career, he has invested in more than 100 early-stage companies that have returned above market value and driven positive change. He is a founding member of the Social Venture Network, Business for Social Responsibility and Tides Canada, and is Board Chair of Hollyhock.
Sustainable Brands spoke with Solomon about key concepts in the revolution he is seeding.
You use the term “money for the commons” and cite the need for a change to a whole system view. Specifically for brands and businesses, what’s the motivation for changing eons of practice geared towards profit and traditional business ROI?
Solomon: The biggest money-making opportunity in history is in reinventing the economy. [Everything] from energy to transportation, the built environment, food systems, waste reduction, clean-up of our industrial messes and infusing a strong commons, while investing in the overhaul of outdated industries and systems, can provide more profits than we really need.
It's akin to the rise of the information technology economy. The reinvention for long-term civilization can be centuries of prosperity-drivers.
With a new consumer mindset emerging generationally, the opportunities are staggering. We're seeing it already. Look at trends in renewables, electric cars, battery technology, organics, prevention in health care***,*** dramatically more efficient buildings, and efficiencies throughout the industrial economy. Consider the biggest companies on the planet and how unthinkable they were a few decades ago.
The simple motivation is to make money. The reinforcement is being ahead of regulatory pressures as resources become scarcer and ground rules change. Consumer preferences and access to transparency of information on where, how and with what effect on people any given product has, is in rapid change. Connections to personal health of what we eat, breathe and put on our bodies alone will drive a massive shift of capital to cleaner, greener and more just.
Follow the money: We are sitting on the biggest money-making and prosperity opportunity in history right before our eyes. It's to reinvent the entire economy for cleaner, greener and more fair.
You say, “Humanity has over-reached the carrying capacity of nature.” What’s the most persuasive argument for power institutions to mediate that over-reach – given the current political situation in the U.S.?
Solomon: National security, economic stability and having a good life for future generations is the most persuasive high-minded argument.
The best argument for a more selfish point of view is similar. Turning around over-reach is a huge economic engine just getting started.
The current administration is a disastrous spoiler for modern intelligence and the chance for peace. I have no choice but to bet on the chance that a semblance of sanity will prevail, regardless of how much damage is done in the meantime. A new wave of common-sense pragmatists who care will rise into leadership and move us to the moonshot of stabilizing the planet and our soon-to-be 10 billion people.
It's, however, certainly quite possible we are in profoundly deteriorating times for balanced, pragmatic civilization. The other power institutions must step up and be the adults.
You posit that “the first step in financial detox is inquiry.” How do you motivate such inquiry?
Solomon: The motivation comes from ecological and societal evidence. In the face of incompetent, dangerous political leadership, on top of systems challenges all around, with population going from less than 3 billion to over 7 billion in my own lifetime, all of our interests compel us to work towards stability and long-term thinking.
"How much is enough money for me?" That should be a required question. Blind fear showing up as greed, and lack of any major societal institutions to guide us otherwise, leaves us with a permanently immature psychological level, where ruthless fear/greed, win power and mess things up for all the rest of us. Inquiry is basic to mature intelligence in good leadership.
Towards the end of your book, you advocate the value of entrepreneurs learning “inner skills.” Can you elaborate on that?
Solomon: These times demand even more emotional intelligence, self-mastery and spiritual understanding. With all our advancements as modern civilization, we neglect training of basic human skills of conflict resolution, big-picture and long-term thinking, lifting above the self, calming anxiety and accessing higher intelligence.
Understanding relationships, effective communication, emotional maturity, self-discipline, and a sense of responsibility to a bigger picture are all part of wisdom. These are the skills of psychology, sociology, spiritual practice, self-examination, humility and right relationship.
They are increasingly essential skills for the leadership required for the state of our species, planet and times.
Money as energy: Is this a concept more readily embraced by the Millennial generation? Why or why not?
Solomon: Money comes from harvesting the natural world, and the labor of people. Money is a representation of that harvest and labor, turned into a tool that can move other goods and services to and fro. With it, we can trade goods and services, build buildings, cars, energy and much more. That is the energy I’m speaking of. Harvest of the natural world – whether to make electricity, tangible goods, food, travel, buildings or toys – can be done with what we call and accept as money. Money is energy, as it can move things faster than any other energy form on the planet. Direct it towards a goal, and mobilization can be profound.
Do younger people understand that better? The answer is probably, some do, some don’t. But their odds are better that they will over time. Their access to information is magnitudes more than mine. I have other valuable tools they may still have less of – perhaps wisdom, for example; experience, for another.
My assumption, or at least my fond hope, is that they will use the enhanced information and mind and skill-developing riches of the peak moment of human creations to think more critically, notice challenges and flaws sooner, and have vastly more tools for improving things, than any prior generation.
Your advice is to “watch the fringes to know where the mainstream is headed.” Are the fringes today unprecedented in seeking more sustainable solutions or is this cyclical in human history?
Solomon: They are both unprecedented in creating blind damage and providing brilliant solutions. I can only bet on the latter and throw myself into that potential, doing my best as an ancestor to the future to make the best, most constructive contribution I can make. I believe all the ancestors of all times had that point of view primarily as their ultimate meaning and purpose.
Future generations are "watching us right now." They are studying this period, where we had it all, yet may have squandered our privilege. They will be asking the obvious questions many of us alive today have forgotten, or become too complacent or lazy, to ask.
How did we sit by and let happen ecological collapse, and blow the chance for peaceful co-existence?
I spend my time on fringes. Now I’ve lived long enough and seen enough to have absolute confidence the fringes are full of value and positive opportunity.
There is no possible smarter conclusion than that we should be mobilizing the entire resources of the affluent of the world towards using our smarts as long-term thinkers and creators, to slow down our damaging and destructive blind-spot practices. We need to know what "enough" is!
There is more than enough money in the world to solve every challenge – perhaps other than human ignorance, fear and greed.
What’s the biggest surprise(s) you’ve encountered in writing the book and early reactions to it?
Solomon: For one, how much fun and how rewarding writing a book has turned out to be. It's a new business to learn. The biggest surprise is perhaps that despite never completing the number of edits and re-crafting I would have enjoyed, perfection is clearly less crucial than getting ideas and stories out the door.
The feedback is enormously satisfying. It's still early, but I am wearing out all my friends and everyone I talk to, saying "write a book." It's one of the most important things you can do, a true gift of service to others, both today, and who will be alive after us. Whatever knowledge, experience, insight and learning we may have been blessed with, it's a duty in times where such matters have been disaggregated, and things may be very confusing and complicated for our younger allies.
They need to hear what we have seen, experienced, learned and believe. They need to hear lots of different versions. From our sharing, they will derive guidance, tools and inspiration.
They need it. Their children will need it even more.