Climate Week NYC in Review: Climate Justice, Impact Investing, and the W+ Standard
By Dr. Destenie Nock and Dr. Jeannette Gurung
As emphasized by several speakers at the recent Climate Week event in New York City, there is an urgent need to simultaneously address social justice and climate change, in ways that go beyond typical Net Zero goals. This holistic approach—which seeks to change existing power structures while ensuring that climate contributions and conversations are led by and centered on those most impacted—is often referred to as climate justice.
Climate justice provides the opportunity to address several of the world’s most pressing social and environmental challenges at once, serving as a potential risk mitigant. Moreover, research demonstrates that incorporating climate justice considerations into investment due diligence can have positive ramifications for investor portfolios.1 Investors at Global Endowment Management argue that climate justice may be the most significant and overlooked way in which investors, fund managers, and asset owners can achieve net zero and the broader goals of the climate movement.
These ideas are starting to catch on. More and more, companies as well as investors are looking at impact investing (i.e., investing in areas that seek to deliver social value while maximizing returns) as a way to tackle business challenges and address their sustainability objectives within their value chains, address stakeholder demands, and scale up action for sustainable development. With growing concerns about sustainability, companies are increasingly focused on how their supply chains, factors of production, and stakeholder demands are affected by climate change and are rethinking how their corporate sustainability and treasury functions can be leveraged. Leveraging impact investing through “corporate social impact” is a complementary approach to other elements of a corporate sustainability strategy. This new perspective prompts them to consider a wider range of needs, including the creation of sustainable value chains and addressing the diverse needs of relevant stakeholders both upstream and downstream.2
Prioritizing climate mitigation and adaptation solutions that increase equality, alleviate poverty, improve well-being, enhance climate resilience, and facilitate low-carbon pathways to prosperity is good for everyone, but will doubly benefit under-resourced households. Improving gender equality, for example, generates multiplier effects for reducing climate vulnerability and achieving global development and climate goals, yielding both sustainable economic and human development benefits and reducing risks for investors.3
Yet, how can these solutions be advanced, especially by impact investors and corporations that admit they lack the internal capacities and metrics to drive them forward?
One approach is through the use of transparent, scientifically rigorous methodologies such as the W+ StandardTM, a results-based certification framework that provides metrics and guidelines to quantify, verify, and monetize women’s empowerment results within projects and supply chains. It provides a framework for designing as well as monitoring results within projects and generates W+ credits—quantified and verified units of improvement in women’s conditions from a baseline in six domains.4 A requirement of the W+ Standard is that at least 20 percent of the proceeds from the sale of these credits must be shared with women’s groups.
WOCAN created the W+ Standard in 2014 as a result-based financing and market-based framework to incentivize project developers to amplify support for gender /women’s empowerment and create new channels of revenue for grassroots women’s organizations. This innovation was inspired by the approach of carbon markets to monetize environmental impacts and channel capital to fund projects and benefit communities.
There are two ways the W+ Standard may be applied to a climate project. A) The standard can be used during a project in which activities that result in carbon credits are simultaneously producing results for women’s empowerment. An example is the ERA Brazil project, an agro-forestry project that generates carbon units and separate W+ Income & Assets credits because of new economic opportunities for women created through project activities5. B) The standard can be used during a climate change project that is positively impacting women’s empowerment, measured only via the W+ Standard and thereby generating W+ credits. An example is the Domestic Biogas Program in Nepal that results in time savings of 2.5 hours/day per woman.6
W+ credits can be generated via initiatives supported by impact investors or corporations, or purchased by corporations, investors, public institutions, or individuals. Given the credibility and rigor of the W+ Standard process, which relies on third-party independent verification, companies also reduce their headline risks for actions that may otherwise be accused of “pinkwashing” in addition to “greenwashing.” This can provide a straightforward pathway for companies to achieve and report on ESG and SDG impacts, and to generate revenue that can be used to pay for both implementation and measurement.
At least 20 percent of the proceeds from W+ credit sales is provided to women’s groups engaged in the project, to address community and climate adaptation needs as they see fit. This enables the use of climate mitigation finance to provide grant funding for adaptation, in ways that are determined by women at the community level. The price of W+ credits is set high enough to ensure that the new market is able to incentivize project developers, pay for the costs of women’s empowerment activities, and provide a significant amount of revenue flow to women-led organizations to support their climate mitigation and adaptation activities.
Society faces pressing social and environmental challenges that need innovative solutions and funding. Investors and corporations can and must play a key role in creating and financing these solutions. The W+ Standard offers an innovative model for how this can be accomplished.
1 Henriques da Silva, Pedro. 2022. “Leading with Justice: Net Zero Investing & Conversations on Climate Justice, Global Endowment Management.” Intentional Endowments Network. https://www.intentionalendowments.org/leading_with_justice_paper_feb_2022
2 GIIN, 2023. Corporates Deploying Impact Investing Strategies: Early Observations on Emerging Practice.
3 Gurung, J., 2023 Scaling Gender and Climate Investment: World Bank and IFAD: https://www.progreen.info/sites/default/files/2023-09/scaling gender and climate investment.pdf?v=0.072
4 The six domains are: Time, Health, Income & Assets, Knowledge & Education, Food Security, and Leadership