Sustainable investing has come of age, demonstrating a combination of compelling returns and the ability to anticipate new systemic risks, such as climate change. But the financial crisis has generated a flight from risk, affecting many clean tech investments.
Some politicians and businesses are now questioning the wisdom of further action to improve environmental performance as austerity looms. Will it be paradise postponed or a great New Deal for sustainable investing?
Nick Robins joined HSBC in late 2007 to launch and direct its newly-established Climate Change Centre of Excellence, whose aim is to analyse and communicate the long-term commercial consequences of climate change for the HSBC Group and its clients. The strapline they use for work in this area is "Financing Change, Changing Finance," which they believe neatly captures the dual role of financial market participants in the face of climatic disruption and wider sustainability threats: first, to direct finance towards assets that sustain and enhance financial as well as human, social and natural capital; and second, to engage in the reshaping of capital markets themselves so that they reward sustainable choices.
Nick Robins has worked on the policy, business and financial aspects of sustainability since the late 1980s, with time spent at the Economist Intelligence Unit, the European Commission's Environmental Directorate, the Business Council for Sustainable Development, the International Institute for Environment and Development, and Henderson Global Investors, where he was head of SRI funds prior to joining HSBC.
His interests particularly lie how we translate the "soft consensus" around climate change and sustainability among investors into "hard action." Halving global greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century, while providing for a 50% larger world population in the context of intensifying water stress and a depleting resource base, suggests that fundamental rethinking is required of investment strategies, fiduicary duties, ownership actions and policy engagement.