I recently had the pleasure of attending an event at Rathbones to learn more about their ethical investment proposition (defined as “the application of both positive and negative ethical, social and environmental criteria in the management of investment portfolios”). I was surprised to hear that they recently hosted their 22nd annual Investor Day – they’ve been in the space for more than two decades! – which tackled the Circular Economy, essentially the ‘take-make-dispose’ model of production and consumption.

Given this topic is close to our hearts, and those of our readers (demonstrated by the positive response to last week’s newsletter), we’ve summarised key insights and takeaways below. Feel free to download the event summary and share the content with your clients.

 

What was covered at the event?

The theme was the circular economy; and their panel of expert speakers offered insight into the scale of the problem created by the ‘take, make, dispose’ economic model. They also shared their thoughts on how a shift away from a linear economy is possible.

We’re seeing a step change in public attitudes towards sustainability and the environment. No doubt you’ve witnessed it, personally and in discussions with your clients. It’s emerging in the form of 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: we’re 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.

Over 50 years ago Kenneth Boulding, President Kennedy’s environmental adviser, 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.”

Speakers at the Rathbones Greenbank event encouraged people 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 – illustrated in the diagram below:

Closing the loop in the circular economy

 

It’s 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!

Download the Rathbones Greenbank brochure for a summary of the panel discussion, along with case studies to illustrate how these important issues are being tackled in the food, clothing, packaging and investment sectors.

This post was created for the DISCUS website based on comments from John David, Head of Rathbone Greenbank Investments. You can find out more about the Rathbones discretionary investment services here ›