I went to a panel discussion on green finance titled “Making London the leading sustainable investment capital” at the London Stock Exchange last week. It was an interesting talk. But also it was a talk. Just talk. The quote in the headline is by Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, who is the Head of Government Affairs at HSBC Bank. “There are way too few real bankers in this room”, he said. Sustainable investment has become a real buzzword in the latest years, but there is still more talk and less action.
COP23 happened in Bonn last week. I have listened to a few talks from it. So far I have not really heard anything new in these talks. The UN meetings on climate change and all it’s related conferences are endlessly important right now, but hopefully in a few years there will be fewer conferences and more action. The scientific community does invaluable contributions to understanding climate change and other environmental problems. Science also gives us solutions. But it’s time to start implementing those solutions, not only discuss them.
“Sustainability occupies a fringe space. The main space of finance is not yet sustainable, but it is also controlled by normal people”, said Saker Nusseibeh, CEO of Hermes Investment. He’s right: the world is pretty much controlled by the normal people, through billions of micro choices. The problem is that normal people don’t know enough about the environmental challenges our world is facing, and people also don’t realise that they have the power to change things. Companies want to make money, that’s not a secret. However, it is a lie that this always means they want to be unsustainable. They only want to be as unsustainable as their customers or the government allows them to be. Since customers elect the government, it is essentially the normal people who are responsible for demanding companies to do better. It is annoying to hear, because I am sure that both you and I go around wishing that someone else would make the environmental problems go away. Companies need to take responsibility, but we need to demand it from them. The politician present at the London Stock Exchange panel discussion was Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats, the party I currently work for. He is very in favour of a green economy. The truth is though, that as long as voters don’t demand long term commitments to the environment, politicians find it difficult to truly do something about it. Politicians want to be re-elected, what do you judge them by as a voter?
“Everyone should call their pension provider and ask them to implement sustainability standards to their investments, everyone should write e-mails to the companies from where they purchase their products and ask them to become more sustainable”, said Mr Nusseibeh. When he said that I feel a bit of satisfaction. I write an e-mail to a company probably as often as every second week, asking them to do better. This week I asked O Bar in Soho to stop using plastic straws, Nando’s Restaurant to allow for take away in the customer’s own Tupper Ware and to Amazon to (for the 5th time!) stop using so ridiculously much packaging material when shipping. I always feel a bit silly when writing these letters, like “who actually cares?”. It feels good then when someone older and wiser reminds me that it does matter. If enough people write them, it will make a difference. Companies want to make money and happy customers give them more money than angry customers.
People often don’t have enough information and time to actually research to know what they should even demand from companies. I have really high hopes in our newly founded Spark Sustainability company. My friend Amanda Bjornberg asked me to be a part of an awesome team to build a website and later an app that will make it easy for people to know where they can have most positive environmental impact. Stay tuned for our website to launch in January at sparksustainability.com 😉 “We are creating the change that makes people go from wanting to save the world to actually saving it”. Spark will empower people with the information they need to be able to demand more from companies, to demand more from the government and demand more of ourselves in our every day lives.
Please start demanding now. Demand sustainability at your bank, at your supermarket, from your clothes store, from your energy supplier and from your elected member of parliament.