To start with I’ve observed that the way we speak about sustainability and ESG has evolved over time. I get asked a lot whether it is all a “ hype’, the next fad, but the answer is categorically no. All of us in the sphere do what we do, because for a long time the business status quo has been one of laissez faire to the point of not taking any accountability for its impacts. It means companies, industries have been allowed to operate on the basis of zero consequences, but someone else is paying the bill elsewhere. To use an analogy, we’re just asking for a readjustment of habits, in order to show our planet the same mercy that we show our own bodies. Do people think that eating healthily and exercising in order to prolong our own lives, is hype? The protagonist of the discussion is different, but the principle is exactly the same.
One of your previous interviewees, Wayne Visser, touched on the definition of sustainability; I agree with him that if we focus solely on the core aspect of sustenance, that’s not very inspiring. But if we look at it in terms of allowing our children and their children to reap the same rewards that we’ve had the privilege of, on the basis of the same level of economic activity, then that’s a different ball game. As such, the UN’s elegant definition is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
There has definitely been a growth in interest in sustainable investing within traditional institutional and High Net Worth Individual (HNWIs) circles; the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance (GSIA) biennial 2020 report relates a global increase of assets under management into sustainably-focused investments of 15% from 2018-2020 (note regional discrepancies). But as you’ve seen, globally there are FinTechs that have been working to extend responsible investing to the regular person too.
I feel that we, as a global society, have built ourselves a construct in which we’ve afforded ourselves short-term congratulatory gratification, believing that we’re doing enough of the right thing. Whilst yes there have of course been positive steps in the right direction, when we look at our efforts from a long-term perspective, to which the discussion of sustainability pertains, it’s well-documented that we fall immensely short of the targets we need to achieve; a few unactioned pledges here and there don’t qualify as adequate effort. And of course, greenwash persists.
COP26 has been disappointing as many governments haven’t done enough. We have seen that more pledges do not necessarily translate into more action. It feels like geopolitics taints the discussions whereas the climate crisis knows no geographical boundaries. Frankly, no country is in a position to be finger-pointing; I’m currently in the UK which today, to name one of its woes, still considers that it is acceptable to export its waste overseas. Furthermore, biodiversity and natural capital aren’t as present in discussions as they should be.