NET WORTH: Unknown
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Cofounder of private equity firm Berkshire Partners, LLC
FUNDING AREAS: Conservation, Sustainability/Climate, Food, Vermont
OVERVIEW: Carl Ferenbach built a name for himself in sustainability and conservation, most notably as chairman of the Environmental Defense Fund. The farms in Vermont are the most charming of his and wife Judy’s environmental activism, but their reach extends much further. Ferenbach oversees three green outfits, called the High Meadows Entities—High Meadows Foundation, High Meadows Fund, and High Meadows Associates. The first is the largest philanthropic venture in terms of dollars, but mostly gives to the EDF. The second is a smaller fund run through the Vermont Community Foundation, and focusing on environmental programs in that state. The third is the farms venture, which buys and preserves land.
BACKGROUND: Carl Ferenbach started in banking in the 1970s, overseeing mergers as a managing director for Merrill Lynch. Then in 1984, he and four other investors launched private equity firm Berkshire Partners. The fund specializes in leveraged buyouts of businesses, and today has multiple funds. Ferenbach effectively retired in 2012 when he stepped down as managing director, but remains senior advisor for the firm.
CONSERVATION: The largest environmental investment the Ferenbachs make goes to the Environmental Defense Fund, which has received grants of $1 million to $2 million annually from their main giving channel, High Meadows Foundation. Carl Ferenbach has served as chairman of the board since 2008. The group fits his focus as a philanthropist, as it’s primarily involved in market-based solutions and making capitalism and environmentalism coexist. The High Meadows Foundation gives much smaller amounts to a few other green programs, including the Conservation Law Foundation and the Sheep Mountain Alliance in Colorado.
The other main giving outlet is the High Meadows Fund, a supporting organization of the Vermont Community Foundation that is entirely focused on green programs in the state. It gives much smaller amounts than what you see with the EDF, for example, but also is dedicated to mission investment, meaning it places its assets in businesses and organizations that support the environment in the state.
Finally, High Meadows Associates purchases old farmland in Vermont, and restores it for efficiency and sustainability. The farms are set up as long-term land preserves, but also sustainable agriculture projects, selling products like syrup, timber, and grass for biofuel.
SUSTAINABILITY/CLIMATE: It’s a little hard to separate out this giving from other environmental giving, since the EDF and Vermont causes also work on climate and sustainability. But the High Meadows Fund supports a few programs at Princeton, from where he graduated and serves as a trustee, that are more specifically about these issues than about land or wildlife. For example, the Grand Challenges program brings together scholars at the university to research energy, water, and even global development and disease. Also at Princeton, the STEP program (science, technology, the environment and policy) looks to find policy solutions to the impact of climate change on ecosystems.
The foundation has also regularly backed The Food Project, which is half community project, half sustainability project. It brings together suburban and inner-city youth to produce and sell farm grown products.
High Meadows Foundation
P.O. Box 171754
Boston, Massachusetts 02116