Investing in the Oceans—Accelerating the Blue Economy Through Market-Based Solutions

By Emily Vidovich. Emily has a background in environmental journalism and sustainability and is a member of the George Washington University Class of 2019.

Economic prosperity and environmental conservation, while often framed as disparate goals, are better viewed as interdependent components of creating a livable future for humanity. Ocean-based industries constitute 3.5% of global GDP and are projected to double in value by 2030. Harnessing ocean solutions to environmental challenges can simultaneously protect the oceans, address climate change, and provide economic benefits to millions of people. 

Nurturing a symbiotic relationship between ocean health and economic growth is a foundational tenet of the blue economya conception of economic activity that seeks to sustainably use ocean resources to promote the wellbeing of ocean ecosystems, enable economic growth, create jobs, and improve livelihoods.

The blue economy seeks to conserve the oceans and sustainably use marine resources to enable economic prosperity. Photo by Hanna Obersteller on Unsplash

Investable Oceans is an organization working to accelerate market-based innovations in sectors of the blue economy such as energy, aquaculture, shipping, and tourism. The company provides a platform for creators of ocean-based solutions to connect with investors who can help them grow their businesses. By providing a directory of vetted companies that can be searched by accredited investors, Investable Oceans exposes users to investment opportunities that may have otherwise been missed.

Ted Janulis, an avid SCUBA diver and Columbia Business School graduate with 30 years of experience in the financial sector, founded Investable Oceans in 2019 because he saw the multitude of investable opportunities in the blue economy and realized that it was often difficult for ocean innovators and potential investors to find each other.

Janulis sees market-based solutions as mechanisms for helping the oceans and fighting climate change. He says that philanthropy, impact investing, and market investing must all be utilized if humanity hopes to address the dual crises of deteriorating ocean health and runaway global warming. He explains that environmentally beneficial investing opportunities broaden the spectrum of participants involved in creating a sustainable future. 

“There is a large pool of capital out there, and it is available to go towards the blue economy instead of the brown economy,” Janulis says, using a term for economic growth that depends on environmentally destructive activities such as fossil fuel use. 

Some schools of thought assert that capitalism and its market economy must be abandoned for a truly sustainable future to be realized, citing, among other arguments, the fact that humanity is already using resources beyond Earth’s capacity—a phenomenon known as ecological overshoot. It currently takes our planet a year and eight months to regenerate what we collectively use in a year, keeping natural resources in perpetual decline.

But a global shift into post-capitalism or democratic socialism, the feasibility of which is largely unclear, would likely not happen under the time constraint needed to save our planet from climate change and ecological crisis, if it happens at all. A more actionable approach would be to amend the existing system so that it works better for people and the planet. Some even argue that a sustainable world is only possible if capitalism is used as a means to achieve it. 

Decarbonizing international shipping is a sector of the blue economy projected to yield significant return on investment. Photo by Andy Li on Unsplash

Effectively addressing the harm humans are causing the planet requires money, and current global spending on the environment is nowhere near the necessary level. The International Energy Agency estimates that avoiding the worst effects of climate change will require global spending of $359 trillion between 2015 and 2050. In addition, accomplishing the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans by 2030—in alignment with United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14—will require spending $175 billion per year this decade, according to a study published in the journal Marine Policy. 

Investing in the blue economy makes sense for investors as well as the planet. Analysis by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy found that investing $2 trillion to $3.7 trillion in four key sectors of the blue economy—restoring mangroves, decarbonizing international shipping, increasing sustainable food production, and expanding offshore wind production—would yield a 400% to 615% return on investment over the next 30 years. According to the World Resources Institute, this means that, “every $1 invested in sustainable ocean solutions yields at least $5 in return.”

Investable Oceans hopes to accelerate this shift in investing. Janulis says that stakeholders are increasingly demanding the sustainability of investments. Because of this, Janulis remains optimistic that widespread sustainable investing could become economic reality sooner rather than later.

Janulis emphasizes that the main goal of Investable Oceans is to foster community building. He is most proud of the collaboration that has been facilitated between passionate people sharing a common goal. He sees this cooperation as integral to solving the crises facing the ocean.

“There is no silver bullet solution,” he says, “we need to collaborate and bring solutions together.”

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