In the United States, a 401(k) plan is an employer-sponsored defined-contribution pension account. However, with legacy institutional investing, most of these have at least some level of fossil fuel involvement, and, let’s face it, very few of us really know. Now a startup plans to change that.
California-based startup Sphere wants to get employees to ask their employers for investment options that are not invested in fossil fuels. To do that it’s offering financial products that make it easier — it says — for employers to offer fossil-free investment options in their 401(k) plans. This could be quite a big movement. Sphere says there are more than $35 trillion in assets in retirement savings in the U.S. as of Q1 2021.
It’s now raised a $2 million funding round led by climate tech-focused VC Pale Blue Dot. Also participating were climate-focused investors including Sundeep Ahuja of Climate Capital. Sphere is also a registered “Public Benefit Corporation,” allowing it to campaign in public about climate change.
Alex Wright-Gladstein, CEO and founder of Sphere said: “We are proud to be partnering with Pale Blue Dot on our mission to reverse climate change by making our money talk. Heidi, Hampus, and Joel have the experience and drive to help us make big changes on the short seven-year time scale that we have to limit warming to 1.5°C.” Wright-Gladstein has also teamed up with sustainable investing veteran Jason Britton of Reflection Asset Management and BITA custom indexes.
Wright-Gladstein said she learned the difficulty of offering fossil-free options in 401(k) plans when running her previous startup, Ayar Labs. She tried to offer a fossil-free option for employees, but it ended up taking three years to get a single fossil-free option in the plan.
Heidi Lindvall, general partner at Pale Blue Dot, said: “We are big believers in Sphere’s unique approach of raising awareness through a social movement while offering a range of low-cost products that address the structural issues in fossil-free 401(k) investing.”