On Monday 4 November, Marco De Benedictis (OA) led a stimulating discussion on sustainable finance at the Credit Suisse building in the heart of Canary Wharf. The large and appreciative audience was comprised of OAs, College pupils, parents and guests including a group from the social justice charity, Voyage Youth.
The three panellists were Daniel Hanna (OA) Global Head of Sustainable Finance for Standard Charter Bank, Joseph Porterfield who currently leads Investor Relations and Corporate Sustainability at Monterone Partners LLP and Dr Adrian Carr (OA) who, while having a background in Investment Banking now spends time as Chair of EducAid which focuses on providing quality free education and teacher training to over 1,000 students across five sites in Sierra Leone.
Marco expertly led the panel through what for many was a new and fascinating subject. We learned that for a long-time investors have evaluated their performance based on financial measures alone. However, investing with an eye on environmental and social issues and not just financial returns has become mainstream in the last decade. Responsible investing is a growth industry: up 25% in the last two years to a tune of some $23 trillion.
However, it would seem that while governments have been slow to take the lead, consumers have stepped in to drive change in the companies whose products they use. Unilever recently announced that its purpose led Sustainable Living Brands are growing 69% faster than the rest of the business and delivering 75% of the company’s growth. A statement from the World Economic Forum revealed that 64% of people globally expect CEOs to lead on social change – not governments. Some 84% expect CEOs to influence policy debates on social issues.
The scene having been set, Marco turned to the floor for questions. Here it soon became clear that while change in this sector was long overdue there were still several issues that needed to be addressed.
In the rush to be seen to be doing the right thing, could companies, industries, governments and organisations not be accused of ‘green washing’ through the promotion of unjustified environmentally friendly practices, products and services through branding, mislabelling, packaging or public relations?
Is sustainable finance just for wealthy philanthropists? Can countries with significant proportions of their population still living in absolute poverty afford to act sustainably? The pretty unambiguous reply was that we really cannot wait if we are to properly protect the environment and enact social change. Climate change alone threatens livelihoods around the globe through rising sea levels and threatened ecosystems. Trillions of dollars need to be spent far sooner than many realise and it is the responsibility of everyone (Including the finance industry) to help make a difference before it is too late.
It was clear that it was a topic about which people felt passionately and when Marco brought the formal proceedings to a close, prompting us to meet old friends and make new acquaintances, conversations continued long into the evening.
Many thanks to Andrew O’Flaherty (OA) who helped secure the venue and organise the event.