Combining environmentalism, economics, and social justice to fight greenwashing and climate change
Money makes the world go green—or does it? Pitzer College alumnus Kai Bidell ’20 has a longstanding passion for Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investment in companies engaging in socially responsible behavior and climate change solutions. As an environmental analysis major, Bidell also learned about the dishonest practice of greenwashing.
What makes a genuine green investment
Greenwashing promises consumers and investors that companies are doing more to protect the environment than they are. In 2021, The Economist studied the world’s 20 largest ESG funds and discovered that all the funds held investments in fossil fuels, while some included oil, coal-mining, gambling, alcohol, and tobacco. Bidell encountered the ESG paradox while working on a paper for an environmental justice class, and he re-encountered it when he interviewed with firms about their (lackluster) ESG investing.
Bidell realized how essential his interdisciplinary Pitzer education in environmental science and economic policy was for businesses.
“A lot of industries, not just finance, are grappling with what this climate disaster means to them,” said Bidell. “As an environmental analysis major, you have an in-demand skillset. If you understand environmental policy, you can be an asset.”
Bidell planned to study ESG and impact investment in India as a Fulbright Fellow after graduation, but the pandemic repeatedly delayed the fellowship. Meanwhile, Bidell networked through informational interviews and earned a Fundamentals of Sustainability Accounting credential to take impact investing into his own hands. Then Bidell found Align Impact.
Align Impact is a consulting firm that helps clients build a diverse investment portfolio that integrates their values and makes tangible, positive change in the world. When Bidell was simultaneously offered a job as an investment analyst at Align Impact and an official Fulbright start date, he chose the job to jumpstart his career.
“Every day, I get to learn about the most cutting-edge solutions to climate change through our private investments, like miniaturized nuclear reactors and new forms of storing energy,” said Bidell. “I also get to research where the greatest challenges are in problems like the lack of housing in the U.S. and in decarbonizing the built environment and what are the emerging solutions.”
Money talks for a good cause
Investment started as a fun hobby for Bidell. When he was 16 years old, his mentor helped him establish a small public equity fund that Bidell runs to this day; this experience gave him the leverage to break into finances.
At Align Impact, Bidell combines economic acumen with his passion for social justice and combatting climate change in meaningful ways. He feels privileged to witness the impact of their investments firsthand by touring affordable housing complexes or seeing companies innovate new ideas such as agrivoltaics—which develops a symbiotic relationship between agriculture and solar energy using the same land.
Bidell says that companies like Align Impact “seek folks like me who went to places like Pitzer and can not only look at the financial picture but also ask if something makes sense from an impact perspective.”
According to Bidell, Pitzer weaves important social and environmental issues into the curriculum.
“Pitzer encourages creativity, learning, and blurring the boundaries between disciplines, and that’s where the most interesting and cutting-edge scholarship takes place,” said Bidell.
Bidell wants to be a resource for the community and invites students to email him at [email protected] for career or education advice.