Monday, December 12, 2016

Dirty Money for Good Causes

I have a dilemma, which means it's my company's dilemma too.

I don't like burning oil. I don't like burning gas. I don't like burning fossil fuels, and don't like using natural gas for our ovens.

I don't even like using plastic bags for freshness; even though they're recyclable, we know many people will trash them, and eventually one of our bags will end up in the stomach of a bird or whale.

Before we started--in fact just weeks before our first sales--I raised the question of whether we should be in the commercial bread business if it means releasing plastic bags into the world. Neither of us (Craig, my co-founder) could think of a practical, effective alternative, and made the decision to do it the traditional, somewhat harmful way, until we or someone else develops a viable alternative. It's a compromise that still bugs me.

I'd prefer not to burn gas to move healthful food from our plant to our customers, but there's not a practical way to get to an all electric fleet yet. As soon as that's accessible to us, we'll switch to an electric fleet. Early on I researched the feasibility of converting a Tesla Model S to a delivery van.

And were it not for Neal Gottlieb of Three Twins Ice Cream (and Survivor fame, but I knew him way back when), I swear I would have done it. Neal warned me not to get distracted from the core business, and he was right, but damn it I really wanted to do that. We don't carry that much weight per load, and, and...well we didn't do it.

So when someone wants to invest and their money is from the oil industry, or fund a project we've proposed and they're invested in Energy Transfer Partners and Williams Partners, do we say yes, or no?

Wisdom from Ghostbusters would likely point us to yes, but I think it's a more nuanced problem than this:

I'm in the process of moving our accounts from a bank that backs the Dakota Access pipeline, partly out of conscience and partly because we have not had good experiences with them. I started with Hamilton when I was 7; the it was acquired, and then tat was acquired, and at some point PNC bought the Bank of Lancaster County, and I stayed with it, even when I should have switched in 2008.

A customer of habit, I guess. But banking with a mega bank that backs the bad behavior of another large corporation which violates the law and uses a private army against protesters doesn't reflect my values, or ours as a company. So we're switching to a small community bank.

Separately there's a foundation that invests in impact companies that we might take a loan from. Its money is from the oil industry. I have to learn more about that before we make a decision, and examine whether we have alternatives.

It's messy, when it comes down to it. Fossil fuels were a necessary part of improving the world. And at some point, we learned how dangerous they can be, how they impact our planet, our own health, and even policy decisions that have led to war.

I drive an electric car part time, and after 20,000 gas-free miles, it was very hard to switch to a gas burner so I could be on the road longer.

But companies like Tesla are closing the gap with amazing technology. Solar electricity has finally become as cheap as fossil fuels; it just lacks the broad adoption. But sea change in the energy sector is almost here--hopefully before the sea change in the actual seas.

I can't say I don't care how an investor has made their money. I do care.

I don't know what the line is between principle and practicality, but I can say this: as long as there are other sources of capital, we'll take that first. As long as there are clean community banks, not invested in Williams Partners, we'll take that.

And some projects may be worthy, but we have many, many projects to work on, so perhaps we'll focus on those instead of taking dirty money to advance the one on the table.

I don't really know yet. It's frankly a privilege to be able to even consider these things.

No comments:

Post a Comment