Invest in Our Planet is the 2023 Earth Day theme. OFN and CDFIs invest to drive social, economic, racial, and, increasingly, environmental justice.
It’s widely known that CDFIs are rooted in the Civil Rights Movement. What may not be as commonly understood is that CDFIs also come from environmental activism.
In 1985, Chuck Matthei, one of the industry’s founding fathers, traced community development finance back to the Civil Rights Movement, the peace movement, and the environmental movement. About the latter, he said, “[O]ur efforts to preserve the natural environment will not succeed on a broad scale unless we address legitimate concerns regarding development — unless we distinguish inappropriate from appropriate development, for housing, for jobs and muster the resources necessary to support that development.”
Nearly 40 years later, the world faces devastating, imminent climate destruction that demands a bold response. While this existential crisis threatens all of us, environmental hazards and climate-driven disasters disproportionately impact low-income rural, urban, and Native communities.
These are the people and places CDFIs have served for decades, and, industrywide, CDFIs are increasingly embracing the industry’s “green roots.” More than half of OFN’s 400 members offer responsible green financing products and services to help communities withstand climate change.
As the leading CDFI network, OFN is focused on strengthening the industry’s position at the forefront of the environmental justice movement.
Local solutions to a global crisis
The climate crisis is global, but the solutions are local, and CDFIs know local.
Coastal Enterprises Inc. (CEI), for example, invests to safeguard local economies while protecting the planet. The Maine-based CDFI makes loans for clean energy production and to help shift traditional industries — like fishing and forestry — toward economic and environmental sustainability. These investments can support workforce development for green jobs or create new loan products to meet sector needs, such as flexible loans that consider the seasonal nature of fishing and aquaculture.
Another example is Solar and Energy Loan Fund (SELF), a CDFI and green bank headquartered in Florida. Its mission is to advance climate, social, and economic justice. With a footprint in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina, SELF recently celebrated $30 million in loans for roughly 3,000 energy efficiency and climate resiliency projects.
A megaphone for environmental justice
CEI and SELF illustrate how CDFIs are ideal partners in environmental justice — we are accountable to our communities and have a history of partnering with the public and private sectors to invest in social, economic, and racial equity.
In conversations with Members of Congress, the Biden-Harris Administration, and key federal agencies, OFN fights to expand partnerships and increase capital that will enable CDFIs to play an even larger role in advancing environmental justice for communities most vulnerable to climate changes.
Currently, our policy priorities include the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund and the Environmental and Climate Justice Block Grant, both unprecedented capitalization opportunities for CDFIs. Additionally, we are committed to identifying other areas where the administration’s Justice40 initiative can bring more capital and opportunity to CDFIs and the communities CDFIs serve.
Beyond the federal government, OFN works with others to strengthen CDFI green finance.
Through our Renewable and Energy Efficiency Financing Grant program, a partnership with an anonymous private investor, OFN awarded more than $5 million in grants to 50 CDFIs. The grants provide lending capital or loan loss reserves for renewable and energy-efficiency financing programs.
OFN also recently joined the Community Builders of Color Coalition to fight for equity in the administration of the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. Jointly, we are advocating that at least 40% of awarded capital benefit minority and low-income populations.
Invest in our planet every day
The time to act is now. For government, corporate, and philanthropic investors, Invest in Our Planet must be an everyday call to action. CDFIs are just the tools to ensure clean energy investments across all sectors are equitable and reach the communities that need them the most.
For CDFIs, SELF Executive Director M. Duanne Andrade said it best about the climate challenges and opportunities ahead: “We are at a historic moment where we can and should work together to make our communities resilient and sustainable… but we are so excited that what was once a small group of climate warriors is now an army of climate lovers that are part of the solution. In the end, it is all about the mission to achieve an inclusive, just, and equitable clean energy economy for all.”
Take action, go green with OFN
Share your CDFI green story
Is your CDFI a longtime or newbie green lender? Share your client success stories and showcase your work.
Advocate for CDFIs
Visit our policy action center for information, tools, and other resources to help you advocate on behalf of CDFIs and the communities they serve.
Attend the OFN 2023 Conference
Green finance and environmental justice will be a front and center topic at the OFN 2023 Conference in Washington, D.C. Don’t miss the conference or the opportunity to submit a session about your environmental justice work.
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