Green Money: The Nature of Investing

May 8th, 2014Nature-of-Investing_book-cover

In Green Money circles, we spend a lot of time considering ways to invest in nature, or sometimes with nature. These are big and important questions: more complete understanding of the value of nature is certainly a vital component of any sustainable investing approach.

What if we also consider investing as nature? In addition to the material bounty provided by our natural world, we also have access to great stores of wisdom that are embedded in natural organisms and natural systems. Looking to nature as our ultimate model of a resilient, regenerative system holds tremendous potential. As Janine Benyus, biomimicry pioneer, notes, “we are searching high and low, but we already have a perfectly sustainable world: the natural world.” What if our investment processes were rooted in the same principles that guide the effective, optimized function seen in nature?

Biomimicry begins with the idea of embracing nature’s wisdom, not harvesting nature’s stuff. At its heart is a deceptively simple question: WWND – What Would Nature Do? How would nature perform the function I’m trying to perform? This center point is remarkable in several ways: first, it starts with a question, with open inquiry. Biomimicry does not begin with a predetermined endpoint, even when the challenge before us has clear requirements or constraints. Second, the question is rooted in context: what would nature do here, in these circumstances? And finally, it forces us to be precise about purpose and function: what are we really trying to do, and why?

I came to biomimicry along a winding path, beginning at a low point in my career. I was struggling through a tough performance patch, as all investors eventually do, when luckily I was introduced to the work of Dr. Tom Seeley of Cornell through a meeting at the Santa Fe Institute. Dr. Seeley’s work investigates how bees make collective decisions that are consistently terrific. For example,

when bees are looking to take significant action, like swarming to a new hive location, the first thing they do is to go out and explore the environment around them. This simple observation struck me like a lightening bolt. Here I was, staying later and later at my desk every night, building more and more convoluted models and spreadsheets, hoping that the answer would come to me through my computer screen. What I needed, instead, was to be out in the world, assessing my investment decisions in context.

By: Katherine Collins
Author of The Nature of Investing & Founder, Honeybee Capital

Reprinted with permission from the Green Money Journal.

Photo Credit: Green Money Journal