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The principles of responsible investment – a short series. An introduction.



UNPRI logo

Six years ago the United Nations established the Principles of Responsible Investment for asset managers and asset owners globally. In this holiday series, Simon Leadbetter explores the six principles and what they mean.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Kofi Annan was the United Nations Secretary General between 1997 and 2006. In 2005, he invited the world’s largest investors to develop a small set of principles for responsible investment. Twenty institutional investors from 12 countries agreed to participate and the rest, as they say, is history. Not quite. That was only the beginning of UNPRI, which was formally launched at the NYSE in April 2006. These principles helped inform the thinking behind Blue & Green Tomorrow and the role of investment in shaping our future.

There are six principles of responsible investment and in just under eighty words, they cover investment analysis, ownership, disclosure, promotion, collaboration and reporting. Not a bad outcome for the competing aims of twenty major investors and 70 stakeholders from the industry, intergovernmental, government, civil society and academia. This series will look at each principle in turn.

It is striking that these clear principles were drafted in 2005 and 2006, well before the crash of 2007 onwards, and even more telling that the rate of institutional sign-up increased after the crash.

Principles are a very good place to start in any human endeavour. Philosophically speaking a first principle is a proposition that cannot be deduced from any other proposition or assumption. Socrates, Aristotle, Euclid and Descartes all have far wiser things to say about first principles but to codify easily understood and commonly accepted principles means asking some very searching and fundamental questions about the underlying essence of something.

Many of us have principles we would adhere to; that it is wrong to harm or kill others, that we should protect the vulnerable, that certain human freedoms are sacrosanct. However, Groucho Marx eloquently describes the human condition of highly flexible principles, “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”

Taking the first assumption, that most of us would agree that it is wrong to harm or kill others. ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is a fairly explicit Judeo-Christian commandment after all and doesn’t have a convenient ‘unless’ or ‘except’ get out clause.  It is easy to see how quickly that principle is lost in so many areas of human activity.  The obvious one is war, but theologians and philosophers will tie themselves in knots to defend the concept of a ‘just war’. Similarly, the death penalty.  But every day, through a million small acts of commission or omission innocent people are harmed or killed by another’s action or inaction.

Setting this out as a syllogism, “It is irresponsible and immoral to cause harm to children. Corporation A causes harm to children. Corporation A is irresponsible and immoral.” The first principle is that it is irresponsible and immoral to cause harm to children. We know that Corporation A harms children, therefore we can deduce that Corporation A is irresponsible and immoral. The question then becomes what responsibility do you bear if you invest in Corporation A, knowing what it does to children? Can you absolved of responsibility if you invest in a fund, or a fund that invests in funds, that invests in Corporation A? Does not knowing what Corporation A does to children, the ignorance or three wise monkey defence, absolve you of all or any responsibility?

Otto von Bismarck said that, “When a man says he approves of something in principle, it means he hasn’t the slightest intention of putting it into practice.“ It is apparent that many people would agree with the principle, or in principle agree with the assertion, that it is wrong to harm or kill others. However, they will happily abandon that principle if it involves war, certain legal jurisdictions that have the death penalty and maximising the profit on their investment portfolio.

The six principles of responsible investment are aspirational and voluntary guidelines that focus on the triple bottom line elements of environmental, social and governance issues (ESG) – colloquially known as planet, people and profit (PPP). Aspirational and voluntary should and would worry most hardened sustainable investors but it is only through such aspirational and voluntary frameworks that international organisations can effectively operate across conflicting national and corporate interests.

Our final thought on principles goes to Dwight D. Eisenhower and his inaugural address. In one elegant sentence, he summarises the value of our principles, “A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”

This is the statement of principles:

As institutional investors, we have a duty to act in the best long-term interests of our beneficiaries. In this fiduciary role, we believe that environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) issues can affect the performance of investment portfolios (to varying degrees across companies, sectors, regions, asset classes and through time). We also recognise that applying these Principles may better align investors with broader objectives of society. Therefore, where consistent with our fiduciary responsibilities, we commit to the following:

We will incorporate ESG issues into investment analysis and decision-making processes.

We will be active owners and incorporate ESG issues into our ownership policies and practices.

We will seek appropriate disclosure on ESG issues by the entities in which we invest.

We will promote acceptance and implementation of the Principles within the investment industry.

We will work together to enhance our effectiveness in implementing the Principles.

We will each report on our activities and progress towards implementing the Principles.

Tomorrow we will look at the opening clause of the principles.

Further reading

Encouraging sustainable finance: the principles for responsible investment

What are you investing in and who are you investing for?

The Guide to Sustainable Investment 2012

Simon Leadbetter is the founder and publisher of Blue & Green Tomorrow. He has held senior roles at Northcliffe, The Daily Telegraph, Santander, Barclaycard, AXA, Prudential and Fidelity. In 2004, he founded a marketing agency that worked amongst others with The Guardian, Vodafone, E.On and Liverpool Victoria. He sold this agency in 2006 and as Chief Marketing Officer for two VC-backed start-ups launched the online platform Cleantech Intelligence (which underpinned the The Guardian’s Cleantech 100) and StrategyEye Cleantech. Most recently, he was Marketing Director of Emap, the UK’s largest B2B publisher, and the founder of Blue & Green Communications Limited.


Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?



self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo |

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.


Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.


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