Sustainability professionals share what they’re reading this summer

FCA's Sacha Sadan and Scottish Widows' Maria Nazarova-Doyle are among those sharing their reading list with Responsible Investor.

Responsible Investor asked sustainable finance experts around the world what they’ll be reading this summer. From non-fiction to help to understand the nature of war and leadership, to explicit romance novels and books that offer an escape from the “anxiety-inducing reality of IPCC reports”, here’s what they said.

Maria Nazarova-Doyle, head of pension investments and responsible investment at Scottish Widows 

The Overstory by Richard Powers

This novel, which won Richard Powers a Pulitzer Prize in 2019, is a story of the natural wonder of trees and their near magical relationship with humans. It’s also a story of activism and how people can be moved to protect the natural world and fight against the destruction of forests. 

This summer, I’m really looking forward to reading this much-praised book as it will allow me to escape anxiety-inducing reality of IPCC reports and similar reading I do in my job, but at the same time it still very much revolves around the subject that I care a lot about. A lovely win-win for the holiday period. 

Sacha Sadan, director of ESG at the UK Financial Conduct Authority

“Empire of Pain” by Patrick Radden Keefe (non-fiction)

The book shines a light on the forces behind the terrible US opioid crisis. I was particularly interested in the portrayal of extensive lobbying, which is a major concern of mine and has been area of focus of my work over the years. It served as a reminder of how important it is to get this right.  

“A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amos Towle (fiction)

I’m looking forward to reading this later in the summer with my feet up! I read Towle’s later work “Lincoln Highway” not that long ago, which was excellent. “A Gentleman in Moscow” was his second novel and I hear it’s even better.   

Jan Erik Saugestad, CEO of Storebrand Asset Management 

“The History of the Bees” by Maja Lunde 

I am going to re-read “The History of the Bees”, a fascinating novel. Following three generations of beekeepers, the book weaves together the past, present and future into a profoundly moving narrative of the powerful bond between parents and children and our relationship to nature and humanity. 

The growing urgency of the global nature crisis prompted me to revisit this thought-provoking book. “The History of Bees” resonates with one of the most pressing environmental concerns of our time, as well as my personal engagement in sustainability issues. Intriguingly and convincingly, it illustrates the effects of biodiversity loss. More people need to wake up to the nature crisis – more people need to read this book! 

Jakob Thomä, 2 Degrees Investing 

“Tortilla Flat” by John Steinbeck 

This summer I am finishing writing my own book about how many people we kill with our ecological and social footprint (spoiler: A LOT!) so I need something ‘lighter’. “Tortilla Flat” by John Steinbeck, an irreverent story about friends, living in the moment, and life’s current will I think be perfect. I stumbled upon a quote from the book during my research and can’t stop thinking about it in the context of reducing our footprint: “Thus do the gods speak with tiny causes.” (Happily, the book is also a third the length of “Grapes of Wrath,” so it has that going for it, which is nice). But I know RI readers always want to see educational books, and if I do manage to read a non-fiction book this summer, it will be “The Value of a Whale” by Adrienne Buller, whose brilliant mind I encountered a few years ago, so I know the book has to be good.  

Kiran Aziz, head of responsible investments at KLP

“The First 90 Days, Updated and Expanded” by Michael D. Watkins 

This summer I am reading two books. The first is ‘The First 90 Days”, Updated and Expanded by Michael D. Watkins. It is mainly because I am in a new leadership role where I have a new team as I am using this book as a guide. Moving into a new role comes with many challenges, but it is also a chance to start fresh and make needed changes in an organization. The book helps to identify the most common pitfalls and provides the tools and strategies you need to avoid them. You’ll learn how to secure critical early wins, an important first step in establishing yourself in your new role. 

“Educated” by Tara Westover 

It is very emotional and about a struggle for knowledge and Tara’s journey to Harvard and Cambridge. The book shows the core of what an education is and what it offers – the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.  

John Hoeppner, head of US stewardship and sustainable investments at LGIM America

“Fewer, Richer, Greener” by Laurence Siegel 

My understanding is that Larry takes a thoughtful contrarian view of how human development and climate policy interact. I’m not sure I will agree, but I want to challenge my beliefs. 

Lisa Hayles, director of international shareholder advocacy at Trillium Asset Management 

“You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty” by Akwaeke Emezi 

I picked this book up at Heathrow on my way home after the RI Europe conference. I heard good things about the author’s other works – poetry, young adult fantasy, memoir – the author wrote 4(!) books during the pandemic) – and I was looking for a light plane read. “You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty” starts off like a classic romance novel (albeit a very explicit one) but turns into a study of grieving and recovery. I particularly appreciated that the young, Black protagonist, Feyi, gets to make many ‘messy’ choices without being condemned or shamed for them. She is a fully realized, complicated human being, which elevates this book beyond the romance-novel genre.  

“Out of the Sun: Essays at the Crossroads of Race” by Esi Edugyan 

And a final one I am planning to read. This is the first non-fiction work by a favorite Canadian author. Got to get my ‘CanLit’ in as a way to stay connected to my (original) homeland. Esi Edugyan was born and raised in Canada to immigrant parents like me (hers were from Nigeria, mine from Jamaica). This book includes a lot of history on the slave trade in Canada, which I know very little about (and certainly didn’t learn about in school or at university). I highly recommend two of her previous works, both novels: “Half-Blood Blues” and “Washington Black” (the latter was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2018).

Satoshi Ikeda, chief sustainable finance officer at Japan’s Financial Services Agency

“How Wars Ended” by Yasuaki Chijiwa and “Russia’s Military Strategy” by Yu Koizumi

Russia’s war against Ukraine has caused countless tragedies but still drags on with no immediate end in sight, putting continued strain on the global system in terms of energy security, food supply and beyond. So it’s no surprise that resolving this war has become everyone’s concern and that’s why I chose these books for my summer reading. I am particularly interested in Chijwa’s theory that the dilemma between accepting a compromised peace deal and pursuing a fundamental settlement of the causes of conflict is the defining factor in ending any war, and a prevailing side in a war will seek to find a balance of it, weighing both future perils and present costs and sacrifices. 

Isobel Edwards, green bond analyst at NNIP 

“Parable of the Sower” by Octavia E. Butler

Sometimes in all of these discussions about metrics, regulation and ESG scores, we can forget why we do ESG in the first place. For me, when I step back and look at what world we are trying to prevent becoming a reality, that grounds me and gives me the motivation to keep going through the more difficult aspects of the work. Octavia E. Butler wrote an ahead-of-its-time novel in 1993 that is based in the mid-2020s, which is very relevant with all of these 2050 goals flying around. Parable of the Sower depicts how the world could look in the near-future and Octavia was ahead of her time. A grounding summer read to bring us back to work full of motivation.