As a contract employee for Beartooth Capital Partners LLP, a socially responsible investment fund manager, I researched emerging methods for measuring and comparing the social impact of financial investments. While supporting multiple executive projects, I designed a detailed, comprehensive system analyzing the company’s environmental and social practices. The following excerpted document explains the final assessment product to company principals and employees.
Impact Assessment Product Report
Goal: Capture the company’s social and environmental impact in a way that:
- Advances the language of impact reporting in investing and conservation sectors
- Communicates the significance of our conservation work in non-expert language
- Builds on data collection techniques already in practice
- Minimizes assessment overhead
- Spotlights potential areas of improvement, and
- Provides concrete data to showcase to investors and partners.
In the past few years, impact assessment and reporting have garnered significant attention from leading investment institutions. Environmental advocates, business alliances, and research institutions have contributed to a growing corpus of impact reporting systems based on a variety of ideologies and priorities. After communicating with representatives from IRIS, B Lab, and Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), I’ve developed conservation metrics to improve both Beartooth’s operations and national impact assessment systems. The following product builds on key concepts of prominent reporting methods while specifically addressing the company’s unique approach to conservation.
- The Kitchen Sink: comprehensive list of four large categories of metrics, with each category including quantitative and qualitative metrics.
- Prioritized Metrics: collection of highest-priority metrics, which also appear bolded in ‘The Kitchen Sink.’
- Supplemental Lists: set of lists that correspond to specific individual metrics, i.e. related species, partner organizations, etc.
- Report: includes detailed explanation of structure, anticipated implementation challenges, and up-to-date contact information for assessment partners.
Product structure: The current structure aims for simplicity, alignment with Beartooth’s conservation process, and application to sector trends.
Note: The division of Beartooth business operations into multiple legal entities complicates impact evaluation. Each metric can be to applied to individual ranch properties (P); the management company (LLP); and/or a specific Fund (F), as indicated in the last three columns of the attached ‘Kitchen Sink’ spreadsheet.
Each large category of metrics is designed to answer one large-scale question:
- Ecosystem Restoration: Are we fulfilling our environmental mission by successfully restoring valuable natural resources?
- Community Services: Are we fulfilling our social mission by contributing to and building upon community resources?
- Corporate Operations: Do internal business practices reflect our social and environmental mission?
- Agricultural Production: Are we mitigating the potential negative impacts of agriculture in our conservation efforts?
The distinction between Ecosystem Restoration and Community Services reflects a blend of Beartooth’s bifurcated impact goals as well as current trends in assessing impact investing. World Resources Institute (WRI) divides conservation metrics into “provisioning, regulating, and cultural” types. Within this assessment system designed for Beartooth, Ecosystem Restoration and Community Services categories represent WRI’s ‘provisioning’ and ‘cultural’ metrics, respectively. ‘Regulating’ services (i.e. air quality, climate control, disease prevention, and floodplains regulation) are very important to consider yet incredibly difficult to quantitatively measure, especially considering the current scale of Beartooth’s work. As such, these types of indicators have been incorporated into qualitative checklists to keep these critical considerations in mind as Beartooth plans its future conservation efforts.
Corporate Operations line items turn the spotlight on Beartooth as an organization. This section is informed by the ideas presented by B Lab, and Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), and the Addis Ababa Principles and Guidelines for the Sustainable use of Biodiversity. The metrics in this category attempt to analyze the quality of the workplace environment. Business culture, office ambience, employee mental health and overall job satisfaction cannot be fully captured with quantitative data, so most of these metrics are written as qualitative checklists. Of course, these checklists are no replacement for the ongoing open, professional communication amongst the Beartooth team and leadership.
Agricultural Production is the anomaly in the company’s conservation model. Because of its extractive relationship with conserved land and the traditionally conflicting goals between producing consumer goods and preserving ecosystem services, metrics relating to agriculture are best organized in an independent category. IRIS, B Lab, and Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) do not have agricultural metrics and Beartooth’s current agricultural work is still a small part of overall operations. As such, the metrics in this section are more abstract and will require further specification and adaptation as the company’s agricultural work grows.
Conclusion and Invitation: This assessment system and its categories-–Ecosystem Restoration, Community Services, Corporate Operations, and Agricultural Production-–cover all aspects of our current conservation and community work. The metrics within them were developed with the generous help of conservation and impact investing experts. To maintain its collaborative beginnings, I invite all employees and partners to edit, adapt, and reinvent this product as Beartooth changes over time. If thoughtfully implemented and regularly updated, it will be an invaluable tool as the company continues to grow and lead the conservation investment industry.