Five Questions With: Jonathan Stone

Executive director of Save The Bay and former securities analyst talks about climate change’s impact on business management. More

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Five Questions With: Jonathan Stone

"From an economic point of view, we are fortunate that Rhode Island is blessed with talented and innovative people."
Posted 4/15/14

Jonathan Stone is executive director of Save The Bay, a position he has held since 2009. Prior to that, he worked in the financial services industry as a securities analyst and investment manager, which included research on a broad variety of industries, including technology, energy and transportation.

In 2000, he co-founded the investment management company Lee Munder Capital Group and managed investment portfolios for private and institutional clients. During his time at the company, Lee Munder Capital Group grew its pension, endowment and private wealth assets under management to about $4 billion.

Stone has a bachelor’s degree in history from Brown University and an MBA from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Business Administration.

PBN: Apple’s CEO Tim Cook told investors at the annual shareholders meeting that if they care more about return on investment than climate change, the company doesn’t want their money. What’s your perspective on that statement Cook made in February in Cupertino, Calif.? Have you heard much comment among environmental organizations about it since then?

STONE: There is no question that return-on-investment is a basic principle that guides the allocation of capital in our country. Tim Cook understands this principle as well as anyone. It strikes me that, without knowing the context of Tim’s remarks, he was making a broader point about the profound impact a rapidly changing climate is having on societies around the world. Over the long term, environmental degradation, including climate related effects, will affect the company’s markets and, ultimately, its financial health. The company deserves praise for recognizing this linkage. I would add that Tim’s remarks may also resonate with many of the company’s customers, reinforcing their affinity for the Apple brand. Shareholders who take the long view will benefit from the company’s vision in this regard.

PBN: That comment about concern about climate change overriding purely economic interests was a response to request from the National Center for Public Policy Research for Apple to be transparent about its environmental activism. Do you think it’s necessary for a global giant like Apple to clearly state its environmental policy to investors? What about smaller companies?

STONE: All investors deserve and should expect transparency from the companies, and nonprofits,) in which they invest. This principle applies to any company’s activism – including lobbying - on any significant issue. It’s my impression that Apple has been forthright and transparent about its activism on environmental issues. I wish I could say the same for major corporations that aggressively lobby Congress on other issues, such as tax breaks, government incentives, wasteful procurement and the rollback of environmental protections. At a local level, Save The Bay has fought for decades to ensure transparency in state government, to shine a light on how government decisions that affect Narragansett Bay and our state’s many other natural resources are influenced by special interests.

PBN: In a Rhode Island context, how do you think changing climate conditions impact businesses, and how should investors evaluate companies whose products and services are affected by changing climate conditions?

STONE: As with any investment decision, an investor must carefully weigh risk against return. Financial return, of course, will be influenced by the degree to which a company can anticipate changing market demand. In an environmental context changing climate conditions will lead to shifts in the makeup of plant and animal communities. In a biological sense, there will be winners and losers. The same is true of business and industry. Those companies that anticipate changing demand patterns will prosper. From an economic point of view, we are fortunate that Rhode Island is blessed with talented and innovative people, many of whom have developed products or services that address the causes and/or effects of rapid climate change. Two examples that come to mind, and there are many others, are Newport Biodiesel and Portsmouth-based BioProcess H2O. Of course, it is up to the investor to develop an informed perspective on likely winners and losers.

PBN: The social enterprise ecosystem is gaining momentum in Rhode Island. Do you think the Ocean State might attract investors who clearly have environmental opinions, perhaps those who favor a more rapid response to the impacts of climate change?

MILLER: There is no question that Rhode Island has a vibrant community of not-for-profit organizations that have developed innovative approaches to solving pressing social and environmental needs. These organizations, and I would count Save The Bay among them, attract “investors” who recognize and appreciate the positive role these organizations play in Rhode Island and the example they set nationally. For our part, Save The Bay is an important partner in public school educational reform through its experiential science programs, and through its innovative marine programs that attract visitors from around the country to experience the beauty and maritime history of Narragansett Bay. We are particularly proud of the national recognition our educators have received from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency for our climate education capabilities.

PBN: What do you think Rhode Island has to do to get its economy moving, as business growth lags behind neighboring states and unemployment continues to the highest, or among the highest, in the nation? Do you think environmentally oriented businesses, individuals, organizations and investors can have any positive impact on the Ocean State’s stubbornly sluggish economy?

STONE: From my vantage at Save The Bay, I am keenly aware of profound dysfunction in government. This dysfunction – scandals aside – manifests itself in piecemeal, backward looking and narrowly defined approaches to economic development. Sadly, we often fail to get the basics right, to create the conditions necessary to attract investment. These basics include the efficient delivery of government services, improvements in transportation infrastructure, excellent public education, competitive and predictable levels of taxation and regulation, and public policy that is protective of our natural resources.

We have extraordinary economic assets. People move to Rhode Island from around the world to enjoy its exceptional quality of life. For many, life in Rhode Island revolves around beautiful Narragansett Bay and our south coast. We are blessed with talented, innovative and entrepreneurial citizens. We are strategically situated between Boston and New York. We have exceptional universities and colleges, health care institutions, marine trades and intellectual capital. If given the chance, businesses can and will thrive here. We see this time and again in the many companies around Narragansett Bay that support our mission. Innovators in their own right, many companies around the bay recognize the central role the ongoing clean-up of the bay plays directly in the growth of our tourism industry, and indirectly in enhancing the quality of life for the entire community. I am an optimist by nature and I believe that with time, government reform will allow Rhode Island’s core competitive advantages to shine through.

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