The gulf of wonder

It’s about adventure and environmental justice, says Patrick McVeigh ’78.

The gulf of wonder
With a movie, Patrick McVeigh ’78 offers investors a unique opportunity: Wake up the citizens of America and help them save one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Plus a 30 percent return.

“The Grand Canyon is carven deep by the master hand,” wrote naturalist Donald Culross Peattie. “It is all time inscribing the naked rock; it is the book of earth.” But it’s a book whose binding—the Colorado River that runs through it—is showing signs of use and abuse. To be sure, the awesome beauty and jaw-dropping majesty of this blessed canyon and river are on full display in the recent IMAX film Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk. But so is looming catastrophe.

Think big: Patrick McVeigh Photo: Charles Barry" title="Think big: Patrick McVeigh Photo: Charles Barry
Think big: Patrick McVeigh
Photo: Justin Ide

Patrick McVeigh ’78 has more than a little at stake in the story being told. He is president and chief investment officer of the capital management firm Reynders, McVeigh, which helped produce the film. McVeigh and business partner Charlton Reynders III advise more than $4 billion in assets placed in socially responsible investments. IMAX films are one of their most unusual—and favorite—investments, since, they say, films can reach millions of people—both quickly and for years to come—with a message of social responsibility.

How does one wind up supporting a movie about the Grand Canyon? In McVeigh’s case, turn back to high school: One of his most memorable experiences was a day away from classroom lectures. He was a student at St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco at the time. He remembers going to help clean up birds from an oil spill in the San Francisco Bay. It was a hands-on lesson in the impact of environmental degradation and a moment of epiphany: seeing the bigger forces at play, and what he could do about it made a lasting impression.

At Santa Clara, he studied economics and founded the cross-country team. He excelled at the sport and in his senior year was named West Coast Conference Athlete-Scholar of the Year. Later, he worked with disadvantaged youth in East Palo Alto and at a food co-op for low-income people in San Jose. Then he heard the call: Go East, young man.

In Boston he joined Trillium Asset Management, a startup socially responsible investment firm. At the time, McVeigh says, “People were becoming more aware of important environmental issues and issues like apartheid in South Africa. It was a new field within the investment world, putting money into projects that were beneficial to human rights.”

He spent 18 years at Trillium. Along the way, he contributed chapters to The Social Investment Almanac, published by Henry Holt in 1992, and Working Capital: The Power of Labor’s Pensions, published by Cornell University Press in 2001. And in 2005 he and Reynders joined forces to form their current firm, which was featured in Forbes magazine in June, with a special focus on their interest in the green “backbone”—companies like Applied Materials that supply technologies for other companies to make solar panels, biofuels, or wind turbines.

Flow, river, flow
Filming To the Arctic: An Inuit guide flanked by cameramen Adam Ravetch, left, and Bob Cranston. Photo: Macgillivray Freeman Films
Filming To the Arctic: An Inuit guide flanked by cameramen Adam Ravetch, left, and Bob Cranston
Photo: Macgillivray Freeman Films

Grand Canyon Adventure was released by IMAX in 2008. It examines the looming freshwater shortage, the effects of river damming, the damage to local watersheds, and how these can be reconciled with human water needs. Front and center—and left and right, and all around, because this is IMAX—is the enormous and miraculous gulf of wonder itself. Special IMAX cameras capture the breadth of it all, and projected on curved or domed screens the film puts the viewer right into the canyon: kayaking whitewater rapids of the Colorado with a pair of father-daughter teams.

The fathers are Robert F. Kennedy Jr., president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, and Wade Davis, anthropologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. Robert Redford narrates, and the Dave Matthews Band provides the soundtrack. Producer and director Greg MacGillivray, a two-time Academy Award nominee, makes his inaugural foray into 3-D in this film.

The film will reach up to 2 million students in classrooms, 15 to 20 million people in IMAX theaters, and will show in 12 languages across the globe for the next 15 years. For the life of the film, investors can expect approximately 30 percent return on their capital. Reynders and McVeigh know that is lower than a typical venture capital investment; however, it is low-risk. Their investors come in at a later phase, and the social impact of the film can be incredibly attractive. Reynders and McVeigh also like to have investors “recycle” their capital into another, similar investment. “It’s an investment model to set in motion a force that keeps going,” McVeigh says.

On the horizon is another Reynders, McVeigh-funded IMAX film: To the Arctic, a look into climate change and one of the most untouched parts of the planet. Watch for it in 2011.

Emily Elrod ’05 lives and writes in the Bay Area. Her previous feature for SCM was “Crime and punishment” (Winter 2008).

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