New Climate Capitalism is a podcast about change-makers working at the intersection of activism, finance and investment.
#20 How much growth is enough
41:00If you’re familiar with the term degrowth, you’ll probably have noticed that it’s popping up more and more frequently.At last month’s battle in France for the Green Party leadership in next year’s presidential race, degrowth was referenced but never tackled in depth or in detail. Yannick Jadot, a green growth candidate, won by a narrow margin over his “eco-feminist” rival, Sandrine Rousseau.Degrowth made an appearance recently on the front page of the international edition of the New York Times. It was an opinion piece called “Degrowth as a saviour to the planet”.Ezra Klein talked about it on his podcast in August. He said “I understand its appeal, but I don’t understand its politics.”You can study degrowth. There’s a masters programme at a university in Barcelona in Political Ecology, Degrowth and Environmental Justice.So what’s driving this interest in degrowth, and how is degrowth different from green growth?Green growth is the idea that we can have economic growth and sustainable development at the same time. It’s an idea that’s been around for over a decade. And it’s the underlying assumption of almost all current policy discussions about net zero.What’s changed is that that assumption is starting to come under scrutiny as being not fit for purpose for the scale of our crisis.So is degrowth the alternative to green growth? Or are they two sides of the same coin.To find out, I talked to two experts in the field - Julia Steinberger, from the University of Lausanne and Malcolm Fairbrother of Umea University in Sweden.The first thing I learned is that degrowth is not what it seems. It’s not about less economic growth, nor is it about voluntary simplicity.For anyone who has ever stumbled trying to follow this debate, or who wants to understand what’s at stake and how our actions can count, then this episode is for you.We talked about:2.09 Green growth is not just economic growth with a bit of sustainability tacked on as an afterthought.3.16 Degrowth: the main goal is to decouple human prosperity and wellbeing from environmental degradation and resource use emissions.5.27 Difference between GDP as a goal and saying that GDP growth can be reconciled with sustainability7:56 Why is degrowth getting more attention?15:30 Julia points out one reason why green growth isn’t working: when we communicate on the basis that we don’t need to change our economic systems, we just need to throw extra money at R & D, what policy makers hear is “You don’t have to do anything.”16:44 Scientific literature on degrowth is growing; the IPCC’s WG3 report in 2022 includes more radical alternatives in terms of what the economy could be doing & more literature critical of existing models which equate prosperity with growth. 18:06 Malcolm explains a key point of divergence between green growth and degrowth: we’ve have success in solving environmental problems with policy shifts to induce shifts in production and consumption in the past - if we use our existing tools to their full capacity, we can save the planet. The real problem is politicians not doing their jobs because of corporate lobbying.27.00 Degrowth also emphasizes distribution and sufficiency: we need to make sure that everyone has access to basic standards for a good life. This goes against the political winds of our time related to neoliberalism which says whoever can afford whatever it is, they get to do that thing. 34.38 Malcolm warns of the risk that if we don’t communicate which positive changes we can achieve through policies, people will get cynical and think than nothing good can come of politics or policymaking36.23 Julia and Malcolm agree that it’s all about political action. It doesn’t matter who your politician is, you need to make their life a living hell until they do the right thing. Get on the email list at thezeroist.substack.com
#19 Can we trust media coverage of ESG?
36:31As more and more money flows into ESG, it’s no surprise that we are drowning in a deluge of information and reports. Plenty of it is greenwash. But how can we know which parts to ignore, and which parts to pay attention to? Is the media the best place to go for trusted information?Do the journalists covering this space act as watchdogs, or are they simply “conveyor belts” of industry information.To find out I talked to Nadine Strauss, who's a researcher specialized in green finance communication, and Peter McKillop, CEO of Climate & Capital Media, and a former journalist himself. Nadine’s research raises many tricky questions. For example, journalists say they face a moral dilemma. They are concerned about climate change, and want to make a difference. Yet they are under pressure to provide a platform for all sorts of industry claims. A lot of information is locked behind paywalls. And ESG information has become a business in its own right through paid events and online webinars.There are no easy answers. It almost seems like no-one has a stake in pushing for change here, yet most people will agree that change is needed. I hope you enjoy the conversation.We talked about:3.01 How journalists perceive their role in covering green finance, more chronicler & informant than watchdog4.18 Moral dilemma facing journalists inundated with industry greenwash7.05 Whose job is it to be the greenwash watchdog; journalists face multiple challenges9.19 Walled garden syndrome: green finance is an elitist, mostly paywalled space. 19.15 How Tariq Fancy, formerly of Black Rock, broke out to wider audiences with messages on why ESG investing doesn’t work26.19 Much reporting on green finance is driven by op-eds from big investment banks & their theory of change is weak, sustainable finance is an add-on to a business as usual view of the world33.05 Nadine shares her go-to information resources 34.17 Peter shares his go-to information resources Get on the email list at thezeroist.substack.com
#18 Sweden's best-kept secret: Rewiring CEOs for sustainability
36:26Since the start of 2021 we’ve seen a race - like an arms race - among companies to announce net zero emissions targets. Great, you might say. But do the leaders of those companies know how to achieve them? Think about it. The market for training and education is going to blow up in coming years. Who’s the reference in this field? Who’s been doing this for a long time, and basing it on the best science?I turned to Lisen Schultz who runs an executive education programme at the Stockholm Resilience Centre which is, without a doubt, a gold standard in this hot space.This is a CEO and Board-only programme. It draws on the legacy of the Centre’s pioneering work on the planetary boundaries and Lisen’s own links with Swedish business through the Pontus Schultz Foundation which she founded after her husband died tragically in a bicycle accident at the age of 40.Teaching sustainability is not easy. It is just such a vast canvas of inter-connections and almost, what I’d call a kind of mental pain to let go of the perform and measure mindset we were given at school.I’d like to really insist on why I think Lisen’s approach is unique.It is extremely rare for such a programme to be housed in academia but explicitly steering away from top down science-splaining.Lisen has a “meet you where you are” approach that is user-centric and designed to empower CEOs to lead change.She’s publishing a new book, co-authored with climate journalist Erica Treijs, called: “The Course: 10 Lessons in Sustainable Business”. It’s in Swedish, so if you’re a publisher and see a market for this in English, which I certainly do, then you should get in touch with Lisen right away!Enjoy the conversation.We talked about:2:24 Bringing signals from ecosystems into decision-making 3:15 Personal loss inspires a mission to connect business and sustainability8:02 Why sustainability is a team sport.9:06 Features of the learning journey12:27 How to design a programme that fits the reality of the CEO and challenges them13:28 Understanding the motivation for change: it’s always a mix of personal and professional22:16 Unlocking our intuitive knowledge about the importance of life and our connection to the web of life23:23 The importance for early movers to learn how to shift the bigger context to create a space for new business values to take root.24:28 Thoughts on the theory of change. Bringing your owners and board along for the ride. Lobbying for policy shifts to make sustainability the obvious choice.29:50 New book co-authored with climate journalist Erica Treijs coming this year in Swedish: “The Course: 10 Lessons for Sustainable Business”. Get on the email list at thezeroist.substack.com
#17 Sustainability under attack: Lessons from Danone
46:15Joining me to make sense of the recent dramatic exit of Emmanuel Faber from Danone following a hedge fund attack, are two leading lights of the sustainable business space.Louise Kjellerup Roper is CEO of UK-based Volans, which advises companies that are transitioning to sustainability. Mark Desjardine is a researcher at Penn State University specialized in hedge fund activism.So, was Danone the story of the limits to sustainability?Or is this the opening shot in a new chapter for sustainable business?One that moves beyond the myth of the Sustainability Superhero CEO who acts very much alone to drive the transition, to sell it to the media, and to defend that vision against enemy attacks, both from within and from without.I love this interview because Louise and Mark basically interview eachother, putting together the latest research findings on hedge fund activism, and the signals from companies that are breaking new ground in sustainable business. What emerges is an analysis of the Danone case that goes well beyond the Good vs Evil narrative, and provides fresh insight into the risks and opportunities of this new phase of the sustainability revolution.Timecode:5:40 Firms that do more CSR are more likely to be attacked by activist hedge funds8:30 Only long-term investors can bring the triple bottom line together14:50 New trend of “ESG-style” activist hedge funds like Engine No. 1 - greenwash?19:36 Compare Polman’s and Faber’s responses to hedge fund attacks21.30 Female CEOs make companies more vulnerable to hedge fund attack. Why?24:50 Has the sun set on the era of the alpha male Sustainability CEO Hero?32:56 A new generation of “sustainability-native” leaders will change the game38:45 Should we regulate hedge funds out of business? 41:26 Investor relations is a key battleground for sustainability and long-term thinking Get on the email list at thezeroist.substack.com
#16 Are women the key to a greener financial future?
38:50Welcome to episode #16 of New Climate Capitalism, and today we're talking about financial feminism.My guest is Jessica Robinson, who's just published a new book called "Financial Feminism: A Woman's Guide To Investing for a Sustainable Future".Reading her book was a both a wake-up call, and a call to action for me personally. Everyone knows about the gender pay gap, and sadly, if you are a woman, you have experienced it. But the hurdles don't end there. There's also a savings gap, a pension gap, even a debt gap. And that woman who spoke so brilliantly in the meeting? She may not be as self-confident about her finances. In fact, many women report feeling spoken down to when talking with a financial advisor, the majority of whom are men.  However The good news is that women are holding more and more wealth globally, and a lot of this wealth is being channelled into sustainable investing. Jessica's book really inspired me to take a long hard look at my own approach to saving and investing, and I found our conversation tremendously empowering. I do hope you enjoy it. Get on the email list at thezeroist.substack.com
#15 Australian student sues the government to climate-proof her pension
37:03Climate litigation is on the rise all over the world, and Australia is the global hot-spot for climate lawsuits.One of the most interesting cases going on there right now is a world-first involving a 23-year old student from Victoria who is suing the Australian government for failing to disclose climate change risk to sovereign bond investors.To understand the case, and its implications, I talked to David Barnden, who is the founder of Equity Generation Lawyers, and he represents Katta O’Donnell in the O’Donnell v Commonwealth which was brought last year.Let's pause for a moment to reflect on how this case is unusual and potentially game changing. Its the first time anyone has sued a government anywhere on failing to disclose climate risk on sovereign bonds. What’s more, sovereign bonds are traditionally seen as very safe investments, and they are key components of all pension funds. But guess what? In 2019, the Swedish central bank decided to dump Western Australian and Queensland bonds from their portfolio because of climate risk concerns. I talk to David about how this unusual case came about, what the stakes are and what the rest of the world can learn from it.Our conversation really gets to the heart of some big questions about the relationship between the law, the state and the interests of capital and the public. Cases like O'Donnell v Commonwealth are not just about a new type of climate action, they could - potentially - transform the way capitalism is encoded into the law.Personally I find this topic very exciting, so I hope you enjoy our conversation. Get on the email list at thezeroist.substack.com
#14 Is the future of wealth social and cultural?
40:55Welcome to Episode 14 of New Climate Capitalism. Today I’m talking with Siddarth Shtalekar, who's the founder of Sacred Capital, a Singapore-based company that's building reputational currencies on distributed ledgers.If you're thinking “that sounds a bit abstract”, in essence this is an invitation to think way past business as usual to a new idea of currency and wealth.And the timing couldn't be more perfect. The pandemic has forced us to deeply question the value of everything, and to re-assess things like the relationship between money and identity.Sid has an unusual personal story which is something of a metaphor for the economic future he's trying to build.Before the financial crisis of 2008 he was the head of one of South Asia's largest trading floors. He then spent four years in a Gandhian ashram exploring new paradigms for economics.So if you're interested in how to expand the definition of wealth to include capital that's social, cultural and intellectual, I guarantee that you will enjoy this conversation. Get on the email list at thezeroist.substack.com
#13 The hardest of hard problems: modern slavery in the supply chain
49:14Welcome to episode 13 of New Climate Capitalism.Our topic today is modern slavery in the supply chain. This is one of those big, disturbing issues that affects all of us. Each time we buy a bar of chocolate, an iPhone, an item of clothing, it is likely that someone, somewhere, a fellow human being, will have been subjected, often against their will, to abject working conditions to produce that item.How should we define modern slavery? What are its root causes? And what can companies and consumers do to fight it?To find out, I spoke to Michael Rogerson, who is a researcher at the University of Bath specialised in modern slavery. Coming from an accounting background, he has a unique and compelling perspective on this topic which is usually the preserve of activist NGOs.If you're working on the "S" of ESG, you should be following this very closely. And if you consider yourself an ethical consumer, or if you're worried and would like to do better, do not miss this episode. Get on the email list at thezeroist.substack.com
S2 Ep 2: Why foundations are rushing into green finance
34:41Welcome to Episode 12 of New Climate Capitalism.Philanthropic foundations are not generally known for being players in green finance but that started to change a few years ago, and right now more and more players are diving into the space.To find out what’s going on, I talked to Marilyn Waite, who leads the climate and sustainable finance work at the Hewlett Foundation. Right now that’s a portfolio worth 75 million US dollars over five years.Foundations are special because their non-accountability allows them to be very nimble and responsive, and this gives them tremendous leverage to come in with an agenda for change that can, over time, exert influence on the dominant agenda and narrative.So don't miss this episode to find out where foundations are putting their money and why right now. Get on the email list at thezeroist.substack.com
S2 Ep 1: Just Transition: Use and misuse of language by the climate elite
40:13Welcome to Season 2 of New Climate Capitalism!Today’s episode looks at the Just Transition and the climate elite.I talked to Edouard Morena, a Paris-based researcher who studies the social and justice dimensions of climate action, as well as climate philanthropy.You may have heard the term Just Transition which has become very popular ever since the 2018 Yellow Vest movement in France. Edouard warns that this term has become distanced from its original meaning, and is increasingly being used in a tokenistic way.But beyond that is much a bigger story about the widening gap between people and climate policy. About the missed opportunities from proliferating citizens assemblies. About a proactive far-right that is muscling in with new environmental narratives to get votes. So what’s going on, and what should we be worried about? Don’t miss this fascinating conversation, which I guarantee will give you some new insights into the importance of language and narrative in the international climate policy space. Get on the email list at thezeroist.substack.com