onValues is stepping up its engagement in support of initiatives that contribute to understanding planetary boundaries and assessing their relevance for financial and investment decisions. In this context, our founder was recently invited to join the board of Global Footprint Network. The Network is famous for its comprehensive set of Ecological Footprint metrics and related advocacy. The Ecological Footprint continues to be the only metric that holistically compares human demand on nature against nature’s capacity to regenerate. It is based on simple, straightforward accounting – not on arbitrary scoring. Since its inception, Global Footprint Network has calculated Footprints of countries for each year that UN data has been available. Its engagement reach includes:
Milton Friedman’s 1970 essay, “The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits,” has just turned 50 and this is prompting a range of initiatives calling for a shift to “stakeholder capitalism” responsible to workers, communities, suppliers and the environment as well as to investors.
A year ago, 181 CEOs members of the Business Roundtable pledged themselves to the stakeholder approach instead of the “shareholder supremacy” preached by Friedman. “It is good that the business community has awaked,” economist Joseph Stiglitz recently said in The New York Times. “Now let’s see whether they practice what they preach.”
One of the advocacy initiatives recently launched is Imperative21, whose goal is to champion an “economic system that is designed for interdependence, invests for justice, and accounts for all stakeholders”, as B Lab’s Jay Coen Gilbert, one of initiators of Imperative21 recently wrote in the New York Times.
The stakeholder approach has long been part of the framework that onValues uses in advising its clients. After 30 years of sustainable investing experience, we have enough evidence that professionally managing and taking into account stakeholder concerns is key to the long-term success of both companies and investors.
onValues is officially endorsing the Club of Rome's call to action to global leaders in relation to the ongoing Corona crisis.
It states that "[...] It is important to acknowledge that the planet is facing a deeper and longer-term crisis, rooted in a number of interconnected global challenges. [...] About 70% of [emerging infectious] diseases originate in animals (mainly wildlife). Their emergence results from human activities such as deforestation, expansion of agricultural land and increased hunting and trading of wildlife. [...] How leaders decide to stimulate the economy in response to the corona crisis will either amplify global threats or mitigate them. The risk is making nearsighted decisions that increase emissions and continue to degrade nature in the long term".
It concludes by calling on leaders to have the foresight to make their economic recovery plans truly transformative by investing in nature regeneration, low carbon development and sustainable agriculture and food systems.
The ongoing crisis is painfully reminding us of the vulnerability of our economies and global financial systems and is a wake-up call for strengthening the resilience of those systems. It is also a reminder of the urgency of reducing the risks of unconstrained climate change leading to more frequent shocks of this type in the future.
How can investors contribute to increasing the resilience of our economic and financial systems? First, align your investment portfolios to a scenario leading our economies to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at latest aimed at limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels (e.g. by joining the UN-convened Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance). Second, if your mandate permits, allocate a part of your capital to companies providing break-through innovations in areas such as clean energy, resource efficiency and the transition to a circular economy. Third, take a long-term approach to investing avoiding speculative investments and asset classes that destabilise financial markets. Fourth, take a forceful stewardship approach (with clear goals that if not met lead to divestment) in engaging with companies that are working against a transition to a more sustainable economy. Fifth, collaborate with other investors in shaping a more resilient architecture for our financial systems (e.g. through initiatives such as Principles for Responsible Investment, Climate Action 100+, the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, the UNEP Finance Initiative etc.).
The current crisis is ultimately strengthening the case for sustainable investing and could reveal itself as a powerful accelerator toward a more sustainable trajectory of our societies.