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As an ESG analyst I read a lot.
But one, admittedly trivial, yet persistent gripe often comes to mind when I read industry reports and presentations.
Why, despite the exponential growth in the financial service’s understanding of climate change, do I still see stock images of trees inside incandescent lightbulbs?
Some analysts are now monitoring satellite imagery to see nitrogen dioxide levels over mainland China to indicate when they will recover. Yet great magazine articles about this tech are still visually adorned with the conifer strangely placed inside technology from 1879 (thank you Thomas Edison); like some long-adrift message in a bottle.
It’s up there with the ‘polar bear on ice’ image, but worse; a cliché at best, but at a fundamental level a lazy oxymoron.
Incandescent lightbulbs are, of course, inefficient, outdated and shunned for their newer alternatives.
And so we too must find new, visual signals!
Research has shown the importance of visualisations in regard to explaining climate change to readers (see – https://climatevisuals.org).
Adding engaging imagery that aligns to the subject of the article attracts a diversity of opinion and helps to simplify a complex subject matter.
Further, stock images of pollution from flumes, or men holding the earth in their hands, present the subject as less engaging, thereby attracting fewer new candidates for sustainability.
Our collective goal of reshaping finance to make it more inclusive is made harder still if we do not attract the diversity of opinion needed to prevent market failures such as climate change.
Everything we, as sustainable finance professionals, publish should engage and inspire hope that moving investment portfolios away from the worst polluters will help.
Another sure-fire way to get my goat is seeing the phrase, ‘ESG is becoming mainstream’ or ‘ESG…from niche to the mainstream’ at the start of an article.
There are responsible investment professionals who have worked in the finance industry for 20-30 years. And companies have seen this coming for as long as Exxon has known about climate change. In most jurisdictions, ESG financial evaluation amid concern for the environment arrived long ago.
Referring constantly to ‘becoming mainstream’ what many people see as standard, suggests that it simply isn’t.
Needing to label something suggests it is an ‘other’. When the target is aligning with an international agreement like The Paris Accord for which the majority of investments need to be ‘green’, surely brown investment labels make more sense?
Why not start any article with ‘Brown investments are becoming niche’?
Lastly, if we want ESG to be better than traditional finance, we need to do our own housekeeping; look no further than the emerging gender pay gap.
Responsible Investor’s own research shows that while women outnumber men in sustainable finance, the latter are still more likely to earn higher salaries.
That appears very finance ‘male-stream’ to me, and something we should be striving to leave behind.
To create the future we need to visualise it, describe it appropriately, and live it.
Alexander Booth is an ESG Analyst at Indos Financial