Episode 1_This Is Green Infrastructure Show Notes
Guest: Nicole Chavas of Greenprint Partners
Recommended Further Reading:
Palaces for the People by Eric Klinenberg
Spend five minutes outside in nature everyday--even in a park!
Episode Summary by the Minute:
Minute 00:30: Welcome to Nicole Chavas of Greenprint Partners
Minute 1:30: Why is green infrastructure better than gray infrastructure? Aging pipes, basins, concrete tanks need to be replaced, and using nature-inspired solutions is a better way to manage water. It is much more cost-effective than gray infrastructure because you can do it at the surface.
Minute 2:40: Street trees, rain gardens, green roofs, permeable pavement (replicating a sidewalk but allows water to drain through the pavement) are all examples of this. In Chicago, street flooding is a big issue, and we also have combined sewers, so when it rains, our sanitary and stormwater sewers combine and get flushed into Lake Michigan. Yuck! Many cities are required by EPA to address this issue.
Minute 4:30: Nicole explains what Greenprint Partners does to implement green stormwater infrastructure. They are a delivery partner and basically a project manager, helping to scale the installation of these features and also finance them.
Minute 5:30: The bulk of their work is currently in St. Louis and Philadelphia, which both have retrofit incentive programs. Both cities are required to install green infrastructure at scale, but its a distributed solution, so utilities need private property owners to participate. Any person who installs this, they get a reimbursement, and in Philadelphia, they get a break on their stormwater fee. There are alot of roadblocks to people participating so Greenprint is addressing those roadblocks for the private property owners.
Minute 8:01: Greenprint will work with the landowner to find solutions that fit their community, work with a designer, contractor, and handle financing. The private property owner never has to write a check. Greenprint earns a profit on the reimbursement from the city.
Minute 9:20: Greenprint works alot with nonprofit landowners, often churches. They often have huge parking lots with lots of runoff, but they also have strong community relationships. These locations can be really important for building awareness of green infrastructure and sustainability.
Minute 10:15: Greenprint discusses how they raise capital to front the costs of these projects. They need blended capital, including foundations and philanthropy to kickstart these markets. They have a mix of grant and investment capital from the Kresge Foundation. They have a focus on climate and equitable water systems and gave an initial grant to fund the work in St. Louis. They have a new set of projects valued at $2.5 Million across several projects, with plans to build them this spring.
Minute 12:00: They are now targeting mission-aligned investors and lenders (sometimes called “impact investors”). They hope to get this to a mainstream investment opportunity. Sometimes its a challenge to match impact investors’ priorities and profit profile.
Minute 13:45: Nicole explains their recent rebrand from Freshcoast Capital to Greenprint Partners. The company has been around for about 4.5 years, but originally had a focus on urban forestry and urban agriculture, and also very focused on the Great Lakes. Now they have moved away from those focuses and more toward green infrastructure. Although they were originally planning to be a fund, they realized there was a greater need in developing the projects that need funding. Market mechanisms in place for green stormwater infrastructure were better than those existing for urban forestry and agriculture.
Minute 16:00: Policy drives impact investing, and the Clean Water Act is driving investment in water. All of these cities are under consent decrees to comply with the Clean Water Act, which requires them to spend money on green infrastructure. St. Louis has the largest consent decree for combined sewer overflows in the lowest 48 ($5 BILLION; and they’ve committed $100 million specifically to green infrastructure); Honolulu, Hawaii has the largest in the US.
Minute 18:15: Nicole lays out the three-year vision for Greenprint: $50 million or more is going into Greenprint’s projects. They already have a pipeline of $10 million worth of projects. Their staff has been growing alot. They recently raised an investment round which enabled them to add headcount to take on new opportunities.
Minute 19:20: Nicole describes the most recent round of investment raised, which was focused on impact investors and foundations ($1.5M). They still need investors with patient capital and a longer horizon. Hopefully they will move toward mainstream investment soon as their track record strengthens.
Minute 21:00: Operating capital versus project finance: Nicole describes how they finance projects like those under retrofit incentives-- those can be financed with a loan because they are fairly straightforward.
Minute 21:45: How does Greenprint foresee moving into cities that don’t have a consent decree? Nicole says cities will need to lead the way with policy that supports green stormwater infrastructure.
Minute 22:30: Thinking about how climate change and green infrastructure tie together may drive cities to implement policies and programs to pilot this. There are many co-benefits to this: adding vegetation, cleaning air, urban gardens and parks, etc. The benefits are well-documented in terms of improved health, community value, property value, reductions in crime, etc.
Minute 24:20: Nicole descibes her background in investment management. She was previously working in the hedge fund industry, and after the financial crisis, was looking for a way to use finance to connect with her desire to do good in the world. She focused on impact investing when she went back to business school at Northwestern Kellogg. Her husband was working in Gary, Indiana, and she saw the challenges those communities were facing. She wanted to find a way to bring creative investment to these economically disadvantaged communities. The built environment serves as the building blocks of the community, and it’s so critical that those communities be safe from flooding and environmental contamination.
Minute 27:20: Nicole shares advice for those who want to work in green infrastructure and impact investing. It takes all types! You can apply your skillset into impact investing and project development.
Minute 28:00: How can people follow and support Greenprint’s work? They have a newsletter that you can sign up for on their website and follow them on social media. Be an advocate for green infrastructure in your community and bring them in as a delivery partner in your community!
Minute 29:15: Nicole’s book recommendation: Palaces for the People, which she learned about from Mayor Pete, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana when he reviewed it for the New York Times. South Bend is formerly a manufacturing town and is trying to reinvent themselves. The book talks about social infrastructure, the physical conditions that determine whether social capital develops.
Minute 31:00: Nicole’s easy habit changes- spend 5 minutes outside everyday, which is doable even in the city. Walk on a treelined street, go to a park, find a forest preserve in the city. It helps with creative juices, relaxation, stress relief, etc.