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The light triad within ethical, sustainable and responsible investment



Last week we wrote about the dark triad within unethical, unsustainable and irresponsible investment: a fusion of narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy. However, for every yin, there is a yang. The opposite of the three negative traits above are selflessness, agreeableness or conscientiousness and empathy. We know whom we would prefer among our friends.

Which traits would you rather have in a friend: narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy or selflessness, agreeableness/conscientiousness and empathy (the ability to understand and share the feelings of another)? Which of those traits would you want in your partner, boss, employer, financial adviser, your fund manager or the management of the companies in which they invest on your behalf?

Many readers will know and avoid a narcissistic friend, manipulative partner and psychopathic boss – or any combination of the above. If you don’t, it could well be that you’re that person. You can take the test here to find out.

Selflessness is hard to find in capitalism; some would say impossible. Nevertheless, there are many companies that take their environmental, social and governance (ESG) obligations seriously. Let’s call them socially responsible rather than selfless.

Many fund managers demand high standards in ESG reporting and practice from the companies in which they invest. Many financial advisers take an active role in ensuring the fund managers they work with and recommend observe best practice in ESG matters.

Identifying those not harming the planet and its people, or finding those benefitting the planet and its people, is often a very good place to start when avoiding the dark triad types. Ideally, the people will do all this transparently.

Good places to start are the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF) for asset owners and fund managers, and the Ethical Investment Association (EIA) for advisers. We’ve assembled a lot of the information in our recent guides to ethical funds and ethical financial advice.

The good are concerned about climate change, the environment, equal opportunities, human rights and sustainability. The bad and ugly don’t give a damn and like to profit from war and death.

The narcissistic, Machiavellian and psychopathic are the worst kind of free riders, enjoying the massive economic benefits of the environment and society’s taxpayers, without fulfilling their reciprocal duty. Do you really want them to be successful and create the world in which you and your children live? They have had free run of the asylum to date and look at the mess they’ve made.

The socially responsible, agreeable, conscientious and empathic understand deeply that the success of their enterprise is due to the manifold benefits that the environment and society provide.

They look to cleaner forms of energy and transport. They are trying to feed, clothe and house the world more sustainably. They want clean water to be available to everyone. They are looking for accessible cures to the simple and the most complex health issues. They argue that every human matters and that all life on Earth is precious, not a plaything for the rich and powerful – both individual, corporate and national.

The myth that ‘doing good’, or ‘not doing bad’, damages the return you get on your investment is pervasive and often a sure sign of laziness or ignorance on the part of the person spouting it. There again, would you really want to profit from someone’s suffering, no matter what colour their skin or where they live, or the degradation of the planet we depend on?

Capitalism has been hijacked. It’s time we wrestled control back from the narcissistic, Machiavellian and psychopathic hijackers.

A more enlightened capitalism, which was social responsibility, agreeable/conscientious and empathic, would benefit us all.

Further reading:

The dark triad within unethical, unsustainable and irresponsible investment

There is a disconnect between investment and the real world

Transparency, simplicity and honesty is urgently needed in investment

Ethical investors are not tree huggers, but air breathers (and responsible global citizens)

The Guide to Sustainable Investment 2013

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.


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