ESG Matters @ Ashurst episode 12

ESG Matters episode 12: transcript

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Anna-Marie Slot:
Hello. I'm Anna-Marie Slot, Global Sustainability Partner at Ashurst. Thank you for joining me for another episode in our 30 for Net Zero 30 podcast series, where I've been speaking with champions across the globe around real steps to take now to achieve 2030 goals. Today, I'm very pleased to be joined by
Louise Wilson, founder and joint managing director of Abundance. Thank you, Louise, for joining us
today. Can we start off with maybe a little background about yourself and the work that you're doing?

Yes. Hi, Anna-Marie, and thanks so much for having me. It's great. So a quick bit of background. In my
first iteration of my career, I was in mainstream investment banking, and I left there in 2008 because I
had become really conscious of the growing environmental crisis and very conscious of the fact that big
finance was really out of step with it. So I wanted to not just talk the talk, but also walk the walk. And I
didn't know what I would do when I left, but I knew that I needed to exit the time-pressured job that I
was in to be able to go and explore a bit more and work out how to help be part of the solution for the
growing problem.

And that has resulted in Abundance, which is a direct investment platform that lets people take action
on climate emergency and other things they care about by investing in businesses and councils that are
doing something about it. And then we hope to also launch another product later in the year to give
another way for people to take action in a more mainstream way.

Very interesting, especially the ability to do investments, both in corporates, but also in councils. You
saw this early in 2008, as you mentioned. Have you seen changes in how people are looking at this over
the last 18 to 24 months? Are you seeing any shifts around sustainability and ESG?

So yes, I think the last two years has been the most momentous, if you like, in the awareness of this
problem across all aspects of life, starting with the fact that we no longer talk about climate change; we
do talk about climate emergency and climate crisis. And that's, if you like, being driven by a series of
really grassroots movements, whether it's Extinction Rebellion gathering people from all walks of life
and all ages around pink boats in the middle of Oxford Circus, bringing traffic to a standstill, or people
marching, or just a whole series of people agitating politicians and policymakers to say, "This is our

And a lot of it actually started, or some of it particularly, then, in finance, which is where we've seen this
massive snowball in ESG, which quickly then comes now with this growing fear around greenwash, but
that's another topic, but within the shift in finance, it started with students making noises to the people
running the endowments saying, "How can you be investing still in oil and gas when the whole purpose
of a university is providing for the future of the next generations?" And the culmination of it all was, in
the UK, the arrival of Net Zero 2050 as a policy, which now has been adopted by at least 70% of global
GDP, and that is within the last two years. Net zero was a term that didn't even exist, really, that time
ago, Net Zero 2050, and we were concerned that the pandemic would slow that momentum down, but
actually it seems to have reinforced it for people, the fact that this is an even bigger crisis and we need
to take action.

Yes, it has been a really interesting one, and I think a lot of people probably mirror people who were
active in ESG and sustainability and climate change issues probably had the same moment when COVID
started hitting across the world as you had, where everyone thought, "Well, this is going to gear down
the focus cause everyone will be focused on COVID," but it has turned out to be really fascinatingly
almost a case study and in a reason for people to have an actual event that says, "Look, this is how
radical things can happen, and you're going to have to adjust to them." I guess in light of all that, and in
light of this massive shift, I know you've put together Abundance as this platform, and you're reaching
out on that basis to people every day. But is there one specific action that maybe you think needs to
happen in this near term, in the next two to three years, to really energize and deliver on these Net Zero
promises that people are now making?

Yeah, well, the action that I've taken, if you like, is with my co-founders to create this platform that
allows people to make a change through their money. There was some research done that said how you
choose to invest your money is 27 times more impactful than other things you could do, like give up
meat or drive less. Where the 27 times come from, I don't know, and I don't think in many ways it really
matters in some ways whether it's 27 or 25 or 30. The point is that actually, we can make a big
difference just by thinking more carefully about where we put our money when it comes to investments.

And I also very strongly believe that if we change the way that finance thinks about it and what it funds,
in some ways it's the single most influential piece of a modern economy in terms of driving change. So a
lot of people in finance would like to say that it must be led by policy-makers or regulators or a bit of
both, and in part that's right. But I think finance exerts enormous influence, and I'm pretty sure that that
change will not come, though, from the top down within the sector, notwithstanding some of the
incredible changes that have been driven about by central bankers, including Mark Carney here in his
time at the Bank of England.

Really, that change is going to come from individuals, consumers, savers, investors, saying, "I want my
money to be invested in a way that's aligned with the longterm success of humanity and our planet."
And the way that that change will begin to flow through is because investors start demanding it, the
money behind the investment firms start demanding it, and the money behind the investment firms
ultimately is our money. Even if it's a pension fund, it still always comes down to individuals. It's our

And from an Abundance perspective, we allow you to do that directly into single businesses, but the
next thing that we want to do is to actually allow people to do that across listed markets overall, and to
keep actually... At the moment we address a pretty small proportion of people's portfolio, but actually
we need a root-and-branch change to the way that finance is done overall: a revolution, if you like.
Revolutions are driven by people. So every single person who listens to your podcast, I would say that's
where you can have a much bigger impact than you might realize, because you go and talk to your
financial advisor, or you look at your stock portfolio, or you think about the bank that you use and you
start saying, "I demand something better."

No, absolutely, and it is the power of those money flows that can really shift the dial. I mean, you see
that. You read it in the press about stakeholder activism showing up in AGMs, comments from
BlackRock who certainly been active and in talking about how companies are using the money that
BlackRock's investing in them. Yeah. But interesting, because you're bringing it to that personal level as
well. It's not just BlackRock, but everyone everywhere has the ability to have that power with their own
investments. So really fascinating how you pulled together that platform. I guess a question I always ask:
what is your own commitment around climate action and Net Zero in the next year? Do you have any
goals on your own plate?

Yeah, so it's a continuation of things that I've been trying to do over recent years: eat less meat, fly less,
hold on to things longer, don't buy stuff unless I really need it. But I would always want to be quite
careful about the creature nature that could maybe enter into those comments, because this is a really
complex problem, and I think what can end up happening is that it can feel overwhelming. So I suppose
when people ask me about that, you always want to avoid ever making somebody feel guilty about it, or
also, putting yourself in a position where you could be accused of hypocrisy, and really just boil it down
to the fact that every little effort that you make is always better than doing nothing.

So I suppose I haven't gone for big, grand commitments, but rather, a re-wiring of our approach to the
things that we've previously taken for granted in life, and to just think more closely about whether or
not you really need it, and can you do it differently, and just lots of small actions adding up to bigger
actions, and hopefully influencing other people around you in a very gentle way. That was a long wordy
answer to what could have been a quite succinct question, but I hope that makes sense.

No, definitely. And I mean, going back to your earlier comment about COVID, I think people have found
that COVID contributes taking that step back and thinking, "What am I doing here? What do I really
need? What do I really want?" And I think you're right, it's a very personal decision about where you are,
what you're doing. Things are available in one places, but aren't available in others, so no, I think a
thoughtful response to a short question. I guess the final thing, in terms of key takeaways and things
that people can start thinking about implementing in their lives now, or things that you've come across
that you've found people are responding to well in the platform, any thoughts you want to share with us
on that?

So I guess for me, it's always about shifting the relationship we have to this problem, to moving from
one where we're part of the problem to being part of the solution. And I think I mentioned that in
answer to your first question, around the thing I wanted to do was find a way to be a positive
contributor to helping right the ship. So I think it is that. It's much more empowering to be doing
something about it, so that you do become part of that solution. And then that inspires you, I think, to
keep taking more actions and to avoid getting slightly paralyzed by the things that aren't easy to change,
like the way we heat our houses, or the way we need to travel to visit family and so on. So I think it's
really about encouraging people to think about every action they take. Every pound that they spend,
every penny they invest is a vote, if you like, for the future that we want, and think of yourselves as
positive actors.

And then bring that feeling into your day job, as it were, and think about it in that context, I think, as
well. What is my business doing? How can I do it differently? I think it's being open to that mind-shift
change. That's a huge one for people.

Yes. Yes. I completely agree. The change, unfortunately, in our lives doesn't necessarily come quickly
enough top-down, but the one way that we can speed it up is by agitating bottom-up. That analogy

Probably. It probably does. Well, great. Thank you so much, Louise. It's been fantastic to speak to you
today to hear about your own journey and choices that you've made along the way. For any of our
listeners, if you're interested in finding out about the platform, more information's available on It's a UK-regulated investment platform, so bear that in mind if you're
sitting in another part of the world and listening. But really appreciate your time, Louise, and your

My pleasure. Thanks so much again.

Speaker 3:
If you enjoy ESG Matters at Ashurst, why not check out our other two podcast series as well? Ashurst
Business Agenda tackles the big strategic issues that business leaders face, and Ashurst Legal Outlook
explains the emerging legal trends and requirements of our fast-changing world. You can listen and
subscribe to Business Agenda and Legal Outlook wherever you get your podcasts.

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The information provided is not intended to be a comprehensive review of all developments in the law and practice, or to cover all aspects of those referred to. Listeners should take legal advice before applying it to specific issues or transactions.


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