Chris McKnett: The investment logic for sustainability

Speaker

Chris McKnett is a Vice President of ESG Investing at Boston-based State Street Global Advisors, the world’s largest institutional investment manager

Summary

Sustainability is the investment logic looking at social, environmental and governance (ESG) issues. The main players to influence this are institutional investors, and Chris promises to prove sustainable investments are easy, and high performing. Investors currently tend to focus on economic metrics, but with depletion of natural resources, increasing pollution and an increasing population, it is hard to ignore the economic impacts of sustainability metrics.

The private sector is also seeing the need: 80% of CEOs see sustainability as an innovative, competitive advantage, while 93% see it as important for the future of their business. On the share market, stocks with good sustainability (ESG metrics) perform as well as other stocks, and the large blue chip stocks with high ESG outperform their low-ESG rivals.

Some institutional investors are taking ESG into account in the investment process, for example Calpers is the second largest investment fund in the US and moving towards 100% sustainable investment. The philosophy is that value comes from a combination of financial, human, and physical capital. On the flipside, plenty of other funds claim they are focussed only on high returns, or don’t want to use the fund to make political statements. Chris counters that returns are compatible with sustainability, and it doesn’t need to be seen as a trade-off.

Institutional investors hold 8 times more money than the US GDP, so have plenty available. If we could channel that towards companies that improve social and environmental causes it could have a huge impact towards solving problems such as hunger, or access to clean water.

John F Kennedy stated “There are risks and costs to a program of action, but they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction”. It makes sense to invest sustainably so that we can retire wealthy, but also into a better world.

My Thoughts

I thought this talk was a little light on details, especially examples of what a sustainable company is. It didn’t seem clear whether sustainability had to be a core product of the company (eg delivering water infrastructure to developing world), or whether it could be a bank / resources company with a strong sustainability culture. I tend to think the latter, but a lot of the benefits seemed like they only made sense if the company actively solved ESG issues.

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Heather White: It’s Not About ‘Working the Room’

Speaker

Heather White is the founder of Smarter Networking, which has been operating since 2001.

Summary

Heather consults about how to ‘work a room’ during networking events, and is constantly asked 3 things

  • How to break into a group
  • How to start a conversation
  • How to escape from someone

During networking, plenty of people try to look busy and hope not to be approached. Heather gives advice on how to talk to strangers – because at many points in our lives we need to be able to speak to strangers, and it’s good to have the ability to do so.

You can practise talking to people in queues, rather than awkward silence. You can talk to people behind you when shuffling in and out of a lecture theater, or waiting for the toilet, or waiting for food.

The three questions you should keep in the back of your head when talking to a stranger are

  • So what do you do?
  • What has happened? Talk about a shared experience (lecture or talk or presentation – the reason you are at the event)
  • What is about to happen that you could talk about?

To escape when stuck with someone, you can excuse yourself to go and get a drink or go to the toilet.

Heather’s networking has got her private tours of Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing St. While not every conversation will end so exceptionally, it is still helpful to be warm and easy to talk to. Try to talk to a random stranger, and see ‘how deep the rabbit hole goes’ (to quote Morpheus from The Matrix)

My Thoughts

This is a TedX talk, but an interesting topic. It looks like an introductory talk to a university event, and covers things at a very basic level. Nonetheless, her ‘3 questions’ guide to talking with someone is useful. As is the encouragement to try talking to strangers. As she alludes to in the end – only by trying will we work out the benefits.

Looking deeping into Heather’s work, I found a quote from an interview here: http://www.wearethecity.com/inspirational-women-heather-white/

Can you share any tips for any members for improving their careers through networking?

Educate yourself through reading, observing and testing what you have learnt.  Be patient because networking isn’t going to provide all the answers immediately – it takes time.  Be disciplined to do something for someone everyday.  Get clear about what you want your networking to do for you AND for others.  Know that you have an imagine/brand if you like within your community, know what it is and if you don’t like it, change it. Write down everything that you hate about networking, what scares you or takes you out of your comfort zone.  Then challenge your thinking about networking and instead become the type of networker you would feel proud of.  And everything that scares you, take it on, practice getting good at it.