In addition to big hats, friendly people and great barbecue, Texas is probably most associated with the fossil fuel industry—from the gush of the oil wells in the vast, productive Permian Basin and the west to the buzz of refining and shipping terminals in Houston and the east.

But in the beating heart of oil country, environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) investing is taking hold, says Chris Knapp, a managing director of Robertson Stephens who in February helped open the RIA’s Houston office.

“ESG is now in the mainstream, while five to six years ago it seemed exotic,” says Knapp, who works with many high-net-worth, multigenerational clients. “People love to do studies on wealth creation and wealth participation and why families go from shirtsleeves to shirtless in three generations. A lot of the reasons that family wealth dissipates is a lack of a cohesive investment philosophy that can be shared across generations.”

That’s why Robertson Stephens charged Knapp with creating a Texas-based office with a specialization in ESG investing.

Knapp came to ESG through both personal and professional experience. He grew up in a family of community bankers in Houston and developed an appreciation for the role that access to credit plays in creating jobs and prosperity in communities. At an early stage in his career, he went to work in the wealth management industry at Brown Brothers Harriman, where he came into contact with faith-based investors and other groups who wanted their portfolios screened for socially responsible investments.

In 1996, he co-founded Chilton Capital Management, which has since blossomed into a nearly $1.6 billion RIA powerhouse. While there, another socially conscious client led him to the world of microfinancing and microlending, and that’s when his past experience with community banking came in handy.

“I landed on a team of guys who were lending to women in emerging markets, who showed that you could build a scalable, core process microlending model, and that became my first move from traditional office investments to ESG,” Knapp says. “When 2008 and 2009 happened, this happened to be one of our best performing investments during that period. The default rate was zero. That was my personal epiphany.”

Knapp discovered methods and managers applying positive investment screens—in other words, including and assigning more weight to companies that had sound ESG practices, rather than just filtering out unsound companies. That’s when he realized that investing for both ESG and financial returns simultaneously was going to be the future, and that he had plenty of reasons to bring prospects and clients into the ESG conversation.

Personally, Knapp started to become interested in urban green spaces and parks, soon recognizing that creating and maintaining them required a tremendous collaboration among professionals with different types of expertise, including people in government, science, finance, health, design and construction. He became interested in translating this collaborative concept to investing and wealth management.

To that end, Knapp founded Collaboration Capital in 2016—a wealth management and investment firm founded on ESG strategies created by collaborating professionals trying to solve problems like climate change, equality and water quality. He challenges the assumption that Texans have been somehow hostile toward ESG principles.

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