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Weekly Roundup: B-Corps Get Ok’ed In CA, Alternatives To Big Banks, and Food’s Future On A Crowded Planet

   /   Oct 14th, 2011Business, Weekly Roundup

Every week, we provide a roundup of the latest news in social change and innovation

California B-Corp Law Goes Into Effect

A bill allowing Benefit Corporations was signed into effect this week in California by Governor Jerry Brown. Now companies that wish to expressly work for social impact as much as financial reward do not have to worry that their shareholders can sue them for not maximizing profits.

Lawyer and social innovator Neetal Parekh responded to the news by writing a brief, yet thorough, history of the social enterprise movement that led to the founding of B-Corps, in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. The piece tracks the legalization of Benefit Corporations, looking at the decades-long movement to merge business and social responsibility.

Don’t Just (#Occupy) Wall Street: Say Goodbye To Big Banks

Getting ready for the upcoming holiday? Not Halloween, and not Thanksgiving: Bank Transfer Day! As GOOD contributing editor Cord Jefferson pointed out in his coverage of Bank Transfer Day this week, the ongoing (and spreading) Occupy Wall Street protest is mostly targeted at banks, whose morally dubious lending practices initiated the subprime mortgage crisis in 2008 and ultimately led to the current economic recession.

So who needs banks, asks the Bank Transfer Day movement? Take your money out and put it in a local credit union. They exist all over; for example the Brooklyn Credit Union in New York City is a community-based bank that aims to serve underbanked populations, but it’s available to anyone who wants to avoid the big Wall Street banks.

News outlets in Iowa and West Virginia predicted this week that credit unions will go on the rise following Bank of America’s announcement that it is beginning a monthly $5 debit card swipe fee, with other major banks rumored to follow.

GOOD’s Alex Goldmark proposes a replacement for bank functions — peer-to-peer lending, especially in cases of small entrepreneurs who don’t own the requisite assets to procure bank loans. Prosper.com and LendingClub.com are two websites that allow individuals to lend money to each other. Goldmark writes that the sites combined “together have served over half a billion dollars in loans to more than 2 million members.”

But, isn’t microlending or microinvesting illegal according to the Securities and Exchange Commission? Yes, it is; but there’s a bit of a loophole that allows these sites to operate. Goldmark writes that “you are buying a product from Prosper, and that product is a security that must be registered and regulated just like any other stock or bond offering.”

In fact we may see a change in crowdfunding’s legal status as an investment tool thanks to a clause in President Obama’s proposed jobs bill, as we wrote in our Roundup last week. But as the Law for Change blog explains, the change in crowdfunding’s legal status will likely be very slow in coming.

The Future of Food

You probably know what you’re having for lunch today. But what about the meals of future generations; where will those come from? That may sound rhetorical, but, in a world constrained by oil scarcity, climate change, and an exploding global population (predicted to be nine billion people by 2050), it’s a serious question.

And according to energy and environment journalist Justin Gillis, the problem is actually two-fold: environmental issues pose one aspect of the problem, and the other is equity, as rich countries overconsume and waste food while developing countries endure famine.

Agriculture uses a lot of water (thirty percent of the planet’s total usage) and land (forty percent). It is also the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases (thirty percent). Fertilizers pollute the atmosphere with nitrous oxide and phosphorous. And yet agriculture is obviously necessary for us to live.

So how can we do it sustainably?

Andrew Revkin, who authors the New York Times Dot Earth blog, wrote this week about Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota. Foley is one scientist working on an eco-friendly way to expand agricultural production. (The above statistics are the frame for a paper he recently co-authored on the future of food security.)

Foley’s proposal on meeting future food needs blends ideas from organic agriculture, the Green Revolution, and environmental conservation; he calls this new system “Terra Culture, or “farming for a whole planet.” The solution, he says, must come through collaboration between different players in the food world. You can hear him describe it in his seventeen-minute TEDx talk on the Dot Earth blog (it’s worth watching).

Though it doesn’t appear that “BigAg” is getting the message about the need for sustainable agriculture, it does seem that society-at-large is wary of their attempt to revamp their image. Food Dialogues, a series of videotaped conversations between major players in the food production industry, launched in late September as part of the creation of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance. The reception has been less than enthusiastic.

Food and Tech pointed out this week that the Food Dialogues social media are garnering relatively small numbers: while four thousand people are reported to have checked out the panels on the official Food Dialogues site, only thirty-seven viewed it on YouTube, and the official Twitter account had a meager 798 followers at the time of writing.

Thought-leader Michael Pollan tweeted a link to an article by Michael Dimock, who participated in one of the Food Dialogues panels at UC Davis. Dimock reflected that the event felt more like a monologue than a dialogue, writing that “stating one’s viewpoint is only the first small step in the hard work of finding common ground.”

Worthwhile Weekend Reads

  • Can one afford to use eco-friendly products in this economy? D.I.Y. The New York Times dishes on how people are living sustainably, cheaply.
  • Blogger Alex Thurston profiles steps being taken toward border disputes now that South Sudan has become independent on the Christian Science Monitor’s website.
  • The NY Times live-blogged and live fact-checked this week’s GOP debate on the economy.
  • Find detailed coverage of the anarchist principles behind the Occupy Wall Street movement by journalist Nathan Schneider, who has been following the protest since it was in the planning stages, on Harper’s website.
  • The impact investment sector is growing in Canada, with the establishment of the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, as reported on the Social Finance blog.
  • In case you missed it last week, New York Magazine ran a fascinating profile of Twitter’s rise and its current efforts to become more profitable.

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