Hugh Wheelan: Now’s the time to mobilise for responsible investment in the US

RI's free to attend US digital conference on December 2-3 will get under the skin of what ESG trends really mean for US companies and investors

Timing is everything. 

And there has never been a more important time to mobilise for responsible investment in the US than now. 

We believe that the RI Digital: USA 2020 conference on December 2-3 is the best place to do that. 

We’ve sweated on an agenda and speakers that we think deliver on the strategic, business/finance relevant subjects that companies and investors need to be thinking about right now in terms of the US. 

You’ll of course be the judge of that, but take a look at the programme and let us know what you think.

It’s free to attend, so feel free to pass on the link to colleagues and peers.

First, congratulations to Cary Krosinsky, Lecturer at Yale University, who has won our Speaker of the House competition for a 10-minute Keynote Q&A. His winning entry was on the subject of: “Why the US and China need to fix their relationship if we are to have any chance of a sustainable future.”

We had some really great submissions, but we feel that this issue supersedes a lot of the work that goes on in sustainable finance. Without international consensus between the world’s two largest superpowers, we will be working in a beggar-thy-neighbour environment when we desperately need turbo-charged co-operation and healthy competition. Will it be easy? No. Are there serious impediments? Yes. Tune into Cary’s Keynote Q&A on December 2 to hear why he thinks the Sino-US relationship must work for sustainability, and how it might.

It’s not just Joe Biden’s election as President that makes this a key time for the RI Digital: USA 2020 conference, although as our correspondent Chris Walker argues today it is utterly fascinating to look at what the run-off for the last two Senate seats could mean for energy policy, environmental regulations and incentives and the potentially radical shift to a net-zero economy. 

Add to that the societal and financial impacts of COVID-19, heavy-duty ESG-related regulatory changes and an outcry in public demand for greater racial and social justice, and we believe the effects on investment thinking and strategy in the US across all asset classes will be significant; especially in a world that is shifting rapidly in terms of serious ESG-related regulations. 

That’s why some of the largest US asset owners, state treasurers and city representatives are on our conference agenda:

  • Henry Jones, President, California Public Employees' Retirement System Board of Administration

  • Aeisha Mastagni, Portfolio Manager, Corporate Governance, California State Teachers' Retirement System

  • Travis Antoniono, Associate Portfolio Manager, Sustainable Investment & Stewardship Strategies, California State Teachers' Retirement System 

  • Angela Miller-May, Chief Investment Officer, Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund

  • Grant Ervin, Chief Resilience Officer, City of Pittsburgh

  • Mike McCauley, Senior Officer, Investment Programs and Governance, Florida State Board of Administration 

  • Fran Seegull, Executive Director, US Impact Investing Alliance, Ford Foundation

  • Michael Freirichs, State Treasurer, Illinois

  • Patricia Halper, Deputy Chief Investment Officer, Wespath

  • Sarah Godlewski, State Treasurer, Wisconsin

 And it’s why we’ve got three top-drawer Keynote Speakers in Allison Herren Lee, Commissioner at The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Bill McKibben Co-Founder of, and Dambisa Moyo, economist, best-selling author, and board member at Chevron and 3M – who in 2009 TIME Magazine named one of the '100 Most Influential People in the World'.

Why mobilise massively now?

Well, we may have seen impressive growth figures in total US-domiciled AUM using sustainable investing strategies. 

According to the latest trends report from US SIF, these rose from $12 trillion at the start of 2018 to $17.1 trillion at the start of 2020, an increase of 42%, representing 1 in 3 dollars – of the total US assets under professional management.

But, regulators continue to try and shut down ESG, as if financial markets operatives were not able to make their own risk management decisions, as we report this week.

This comes on top of highly questionable moves by the SEC on proxy voting and the Department of Labour on fiduciary duty. 

That said, these are also times of huge potential change: US Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) have just announced the formation of a working group to develop legislative proposals and conduct oversight focused on fundamentally reforming corporate governance. 

At RI, we continually try to get under the skin of what’s happening, such as this great interview a few months back on investor engagement via Climate Action 100+ with Anne Simpson, enticingly titled: “You can’t just go around willy-nilly telling people ‘we think you ought to do this and that’”. 

Our US coverage is, I think, second to none: take a look here at all the content under our US tag.

The same journalistic energy and rigour applies to our US event: we aim to get you the answers to the questions you have on what all this means for your day-to-day business in the most informative and engaging manner.

And it’s soon time to come together to do that. Check out the RI Digital: USA 2020 conference agenda now.  See you there!