Finance & Investment
Are We Seeing Glimmers of a Healthier, Even Regenerative, Economic System?

Last week at SB’22 San Diego, over 1K sustainability practitioners have converged to share insights, tools, inspiration and opportunities for collaboration with the goal of building a regenerative future for all. Here, we hear highlights from our day four keynotes, which featured glimpses into the next frontier in finance and capitalism.

Inherent in the theme of SB'22 San Diego, “Recenter and Accelerate,” is the ability to not only draw from past success but also leave behind what isn't working. Rather than implementing incremental fixes to a broken system, we can now reimagine and rebuild the system as a whole. On Thursday afternoon, a series of plenary discussions explored opportunities for new ways of thinking about leadership, economic systems and collaboration.

Finance must embrace sustainable growth potential

A promising development over the past several years is the deeper engagement of chief financial officers (CFOs) as primary drivers of Environment, Social Governance (ESG) strategies. Procter & Gamble CFO Andre Schulten and Net Positive co-author and emcee Andrew Winston discussed the role of the CFO in opening new sources of finance for greater sustainable development.

New climate disclosure requirements proposed by the SEC put sustainability front and center for many CFOs; so, ready or not, CFOs need to become ESG literate as more and more investors are seeking answers on climate-related business risk. But understanding and communicating risks is only one part of the new job description, Schulten said; and CFOs must embrace the growth potential that can be generated through sustainability and learn to think long-term ROI vs quarterly earnings alone.

L-R: Andrew Winston, Climate Innovation Capital's Nelson Switzer and Apollo's Dave Stangis

Speakers from Goldman Sachs, Climate Innovation Capital and Apollo then discussed the massive amount of capital that credit and investing firms provide to ESG. Traditionally conservative, the financial world needs to expand KPIs and metrics to expand materiality of long-term investments. Expanded materiality must also be communicated effectively with investors. Governance — the G of ESG — must play a key role in bringing structure to the rapidly scaling titles, ratings and frameworks that’s creating an anarchy of data.

Regenerative capitalism — the next frontier

The growing gap between ESG commitments and real action results from the sustainability world asking the wrong questions, said John Fullerton, founder of the Capital Institute. Ironically, emissions are still skyrocketing in proportion to ESG commitments.

“Obviously, if ESG is our strategy to address climate change, it ain’t working,” he asserted.

The destination, he said, is an economy that works the way that life works — the living-systems process that creates thriving and intimate connections as an outcome. But the owners of our enterprises aren't even in relationship with us. Empowered participation of all people is required for planetary and social health, Fullerton said.

As Winston pointed out, “What we are fighting against is story, the narrative that what matters is short-term shareholder value, GDP, the stock market — and that’s it.”

Stuart Williams is founder, CEO and Chairman of In Place Impact. For him, modern business leaders, owners and managers are the most important people in the sustainability space because of the massive scale and influence companies have in everyday lives. Therefore, business should be the primary driver of creating stronger, more just communities and safeguarding the climate.

“Does business need to be additive? Yes, it does. Does capitalism have to be more inclusive? Yes, it does. But [business and capitalism] are not the problems; they are actually the solutions,” Williams stated.

An inclusive and regenerative model of capitalism must employ intersectionality, Williams explained — ensuring that all stakeholders have a clear line of sight into each other.

Finding common ground through business and empathy

L-R: Leonard Robinson, Columbia University's Danielle Azoulay and Kevin Wilhelm

Finally, the discussions shifted from the financial to the interpersonal — specifically, the importance of taking the time to deliberately interact with those with opposing viewpoints, which can build incredible opportunities that are often missed when we blaze ahead in pursuit of our own grandiose goals. As Kevin Wilhelm of Point B pointed out, gridlock occurs when we focus solely on changing minds; but discovering what people most value and connecting your solution to their pain points is how partnerships can span across the aisle. Climate change can be about soil health, water and business resiliency — all of which relate to solutions for both climate and business.

“The wolf will chase the rabbit, the rabbit will run from the wolf; but neither one of them wants the forest to burn down,” said Leonard Robinson, Partner & Chief Sustainability Strategist at SEMCO.

But, he added, there are some non-negotiables needed for saving the planet — so, building common ground should never distract from implementing solutions the world needs now.

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