Rathbone Greenbank Review Investor Day 2019

At our event this year, on the theme of the ‘circular economy’, our expert speakers offered their insight into the scale of the problem represented by the current ‘take, make, dispose’ economic model, while sharing their thoughts on how a shift away from a linear economy is possible.

We are witnessing a step change in public attitudes towards sustainability and the environment. There is a growing awareness of the need for us all to take personal responsibility for the preservation of our world, and of the urgency with which we must act.

Blue Planet provided a stark reminder of the environmental damage caused by our reliance on single-use plastics. And a 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl – Greta Thunberg – inspired a global movement of climate protests and reminded us all that it is not just for us, but for our children and grandchildren, that we need to take action.

At times it can feel overwhelming, as we are inundated with information, sometimes conflicting, on climate change, waste and pollution, unsustainable food systems and a loss of biodiversity that threatens the collapse of entire global ecosystems.

These problems are interwoven in a way that means solutions are very complex. But, tempting though it may sometimes be, we can’t afford to bury our heads in the sand and fail to act.

As a global society, perhaps we have done too little for too long. Even in the mainstream media we were forewarned of the threat of climate change as long ago as 1956 when an article appeared in the New York Times warning that “accumulating greenhouse gas emissions from energy production would lead to long-lasting environmental change”. And the term ‘global warming’, in the context of human activity, was coined back in the 1970s.

Norman Myers, an English ecologist and environmentalist, published the book The Sinking Ark: A New Look at the Problem of Disappearing Species in 1979. While the theme of evolution and extinction was of course familiar to ecologists, Myers drew attention to its relationship with habitat destruction around the planet, especially the devastation of tropical forests.

And Kenneth Boulding, President Kennedy’s environmental adviser over 50 years ago, summed the problem up succinctly when he said: “Anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad – or an economist.”

Our speakers encouraged us to think more carefully about how we can preserve the value of materials and natural assets by ‘closing the loop’ on resource consumption, setting out what a circular economy might look like.

It is encouraging that it is no longer just the campaigning few who are demanding change. We have reached a tipping point in which consumers, business leaders and governments are more aware of the need to work together to create a more sustainable future. We now just need to get on and make that change.

Rathbone Greenbank continues to build on over 20 years’ experience in managing investments in a way that plays an active part in creating a more sustainable world. We do not simply avoid investment in companies causing harm: we also seek out investments that create positive social and environmental impacts, and we are pro-active in encouraging improved corporate behaviour through our stewardship and engagement activities

As a society, our challenge in the 21st century is to adjust our economic model to one that is sustainable for people and planet. As consumers, voters and investors we can all play a role in this evolution.

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