London Eye during the night. Picture by Diego Torres on Pixabay.

Gill Higgins, Origin Green Ambassador, London

At the Economist Events’ Sustainability Summit 2018, business leaders, policymakers, scientists and investors convened to assess the work required to protect the planet and society, in conjunction with economic growth, and to discuss how we may secure our future.

Jean-Marc Duvoisin, CEO of Nespresso said “sustainability is the responsibility of all”, and that marketing should be used to show consumers the impact of their choices. Mike Coupe, CEO of Sainsbury’s said the company is setting standards beyond minimum government requirements, and that changing consumer behaviour is difficult as people live in the here and now. The Chair of Greenpeace, Ayesha Imam, said corporate leadership is fundamental to enact meaningful change, the standard setting should begin ahead of government due to the urgency required, and that people should be shown the power of their choices.

The role of institutional investors and their ability to exert significant change was discussed at length. Asset managers and pension funds are decarbonising investment portfolios. Investors have a fiduciary duty to maximise the return on customers’ investments, be they shareholders or pensioners, which requires excellent knowledge of the sustainability credentials and risks of portfolios. Moody’s Corporate Finance commented that the quantum of debt contained in assets at risk of being stranded due to climate change amounted to trillions of dollars.

Government policy development for sustainability is progressing too slowly, and corporate leadership and action is urgently needed to enact rapid change. Money needs to be spent to transform assets to produce sustainably and to conserve and restore our resources and biomes. This will facilitate the long-term viability of business; sustainable resource management equates to long-term sustainable profits.

Making every day sustainable living a reality is the responsibility of all. Businesses need to phase out unsustainable activities, and citizens need to utilise their purchasing power to buy responsibly produced goods and services, even if this involves paying a little more to stimulate demand.

The discussions have progressed from “what” needs to be done, to “how” we need to do it. The consensus is, in this critical moment, it is imperative that we move forward and implement change while we still have the ability to influence the outcome.