Sustainable Assets


By Patrick Kirchner
Photography By Jarrod McCabe

For Adam Taylor (MBA’13), financial investing is all about the green


Adam Taylor’s (MBA’13) interest in finance began in one of the most unlikely places—on a farm. When the Torrance, California, native arrived at BU in 2011, he had spent three years working as a major gifts associate for the Rainforest Alliance, an international nonprofit focused on conservation. His job involved securing funding for owners of small, rural farms who wanted to convert to sustainable practices, including soil protection and crop rotation measures to offset the toll on farmland. But that switch wouldn’t be simple—farmers consistently told Taylor that the move would be both time-consuming and costly.

Through the Rainforest Alliance, Taylor learned about the growing niche of “impact investors”—lenders who specifically look to finance businesses and groupsinvolved in implementing the kind of sustainability measures the alliance was pushing. It was a revelation—an opportunity for Taylor to unite his head for business and his passion for the planet on a larger scale.

“Working ad hoc on the ground level to promote sustainable development sounds great,” Taylor says. “But by using traditional financing, some groups are leveraging hundreds of millions of dollars for sustainable ventures. That’s going to have a much bigger impact.” Ultimately, his revelation led him to BU.

The day he arrived on campus in August 2011, he joined the BU chapter of Net Impact, a national volunteer group of students and professionals who use business skills to address social and environmental problems. And through Net Impact, Taylor took on two internship projects in Brazil this past summer with Instituto Ecologica, a Brazilian NGO dedicated to reducing the effects of climate change.

His first project, which began in June 2012, involved helping establish a bioethanol production plant in the relatively impoverished state of Tocantins in central Brazil. Currently, Brazil’s ethanol—a major gasoline supplement—is derived from sugar cane grown in the more developed southern part of the country. But sugar cane can wreak havoc on the farmlands, exploiting Brazil’s natural soil resources for short-term profits while causing long-term damage to the land. The goal of Taylor’s bioethanol plant is to produce ethanol from cassava, a starchy root vegetable indigenous to Tocantins that can be grown year-round in sandy, nutrient-poor land and potentially increase soil quality. Over the course of three months, Taylor helped lay the groundwork for the plant: he developed a business plan, found investors, contracted with local farmers to grow and harvest the cassava, and set up the plant’s financials.

When not knee-deep in cassava, Taylor also worked on an internship with another Instituto Ecologica initiative called SocialCarbon, which evaluates the practice of carbon offsetting—renewable energy projects funded by businesses and governments elsewhere in the world to compensate for the greenhouse gases they produce.

As an intern, Taylor was tasked with assessing problems that had been plaguing SocialCarbon—specifically, a lack of funds—and offering solutions. He advised the organization to relocate the standard’s base of operations to the United States or Switzerland, both of which have more favorable nonprofit laws and tax structures, as well as greater access to organizations that engage in carbon offsetting.

Taylor wrapped up his time in Brazil in late August. And now that he’s back at BU, he continues to work with Instituto Ecologica around his MBA studies, using much of what he learns in the classroom for real-world impact with the organization. He continues to work on the bioethanol project, refining the business plan with the hope of attracting enough financing to finalize the plant’s construction and start pumping out ethanol. And he’s close—about $850,000 away from achieving that goal.

Ultimately, he sees a future where he can continue to apply the lessons of private business to social enterprise, making the world a greener place for farmer and financier alike.

This article originally appeared in Questroms’ Spring 2013 Alumni Magazine

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