Carsten Henningsen, green mutual-fund founder, answers questions
What work do you do?
How does it relate to the environment?
Portfolio 21 (the 21 is for 21st century) invests in companies from around the world that understand the ecological crisis and are implementing environmental sustainability in their business practices. These companies are developing cleaner energy sources, resource-efficient production methods, products designed to be reused and rebuilt, benign raw materials, and processes that produce little or no waste.
What are you working on at the moment?
We are heading off to Hong Kong, China, and Japan to visit Asian companies with a sustainable focus.
With Progressive Investment Management, I’m also working on a new project called Upstream 21, which is focused on reinventing the corporate mandate and bringing sustainability to the local community level.
And in my personal time, I’m creating a microfinance community loan program in rural Sri Lanka for a village devastated by the tsunami.
How do you get to work?
I either ride the bus or drive my Volkswagen TDI that runs on B100 biodiesel. B100 has about 80 percent fewer carbon emissions than gasoline, and the exhaust smells like french fries.
What long and winding road led you to your current position?
On my 10th birthday, my parents gave me two shares of Mattel Toys. I would ride my bike to the local brokerage office after school and look at stock quotes with the retired fellows. I decided then to become an investment manager.
During my school years, I traveled to 45 countries and observed the impact of multinational corporations on developing countries. When I graduated, I asked myself how I could have the greatest impact on making the world a better place. I realized that many corporations are larger than some countries. I decided to see if the investment process could be used to influence corporate behavior and policy.
Some 25 years later, I have learned a great deal about corporate behavior, about what works and what does not behind the strategies of socially and environmentally responsible investing.
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I was raised in Berkeley, Calif., and now live outside of Portland, Ore., on a ranch by the Willamette River.
Who is your environmental hero?
I remember walking up to David Brower after one of his talks and thanking him for his amazing environmental contribution. He asked me, “What are you going to do with it?” I told him that I was going to start a mutual fund investing for a sustainable future.
What’s your environmental vice?
Waterskiing. I need to find a biodiesel boat.
How do you spend your free time? Read any good books lately?
I can’t seem to find free time, but I do balance my work with yoga and mindfulness practice. I also record music, raise two girls, work out, and yes, waterski.
What’s your favorite meal?
Being a vegetarian, I love Indian, Thai, and Mexican dishes.
Which stereotype about environmentalists most fits you?
I’m a white male, and I grew up in Berkeley during the 1960s and ’70s. Before I had money, I drove Volvos with 200,000+ miles.
What’s your favorite place or ecosystem?
I love Hana, Maui, because there is no denying the natural elements — they are in your face, making the connection to nature amazingly obvious.
If you could institute by fiat one environmental reform, what would it be?
Countries would be mandated to live within the bio-capacity of the earth. When I was born in 1960, the world economy was using about half the earth’s annual resource capacity. In 1985, the world economy was consuming all of the earth’s annual resource capacity. Today, we are running a natural deficit of about 20 percent. This rate of consumption is completely unsustainable and silly.
Who was your favorite musical artist when you were 18? How about now?
What’s your favorite movie?
It seems that people either love or hate the film What The Bleep Do We Know!?. I love it.
Which actor would play you in the story of your life?
This may sound strange coming from a white male, but I’m going with Whoopi Goldberg.
If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?
Find out how much “nature” your lifestyle requires. Take the Ecological Footprint Quiz, and estimate how much productive land and water you need to support what you use and what you discard. Then tell your friends.
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