Dr. Aniket Shah’s favorite opening lines of any book belong to Charles Dickens in “A Tale of Two Cities”, which read: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” Dr. Shah believes that Dickens captured the state of sustainability development in the business and financial world today.
Dr. Matthew Gardner, Dr. Aniket Shah, Molly Betournay and Ned Dane spoke at the panel, “Business, Investments, and the Sustainability Development Goals: A Powerful Opportunity for Shared Prosperity.” The panel discussed the corporate sector’s role in partnering with the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the future of environmental, social, governance investing. The event was held Tuesday, October 1 in the Granite State Room and was hosted by the Center for Social Innovation and Enterprise.
Dr. Shah posed the idea that businesses must stop asking, “’How does my business align with the Sustainably Development Goals?’” and start asking, “‘How does my business operate in a way that’s aligned with sustainable development?’” Dr. Shah sat in the room for the negotiation of the 17 SDGs and explains that they were designed for governments, not the missions of businesses. He currently serves as a senior fellow at the Columbia University Center for Sustainable Investment and is a senior advisor to the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
Founding Director of Sustainserv Dr. Matthew Gardner uses his Ph.D. in chemistry to help quantify the environmental impact in Fortune 5,000 firms. Dr. Gardner stressed the importance of transparency in an era which a company cannot hide from its consumers. Dr. Gardner believes that businesses are designed to increase value, but that “value” must be redefined to understand a more holistic return.
UNH alumna Molly Betournay is the director of social research and shareholder advocacy for Clean Yield Asset Management, a certified B-Corp based in Vermont. Clean Yield debated becoming a certified B-Corp, as the firm was already following B-Corp standards without the official title. After a few years of debate, Clean Yield realized that the certification was “part of a movement” that aligned with its mission, according to Betournay. She claims that we need coordination to support the framework of SDGs using ESG investing, and she emphasizes a need for a sense of “urgency.”
UNH alum Ned Dane worked in finance for roughly 15 years before realizing that he could implement sustainability into his work. As a chair for the Investment and Finance Committee for the UNH Foundation, Dane is in charge of looking at the UNH Endowment. As of June 2018, the endowment totals $386.9 million, a sum of the UNH Foundation pool and the UNH portion of the USNH pool, according to the UNH Foundation Endowment Report for fiscal year 2018. Dane explained the importance of multi-generational sustainability in terms of future scholarships, in which he added, “I think UNH is a real leader in this effort.”
Dr. Shah thinks we have reason to be optimistic in regard to the intersection of sustainability and profitable business. In terms of public policy, what was considered “insane climate policy” during the 2016 primaries would “not even be allowed to be discussed anymore…the most conservative Democratic positions on climate today would be unthinkable, even for certainly eight years ago,” he stated in an interview.
He references Billy Joel’s song, “Shades of Grey,” claiming that the “idea of someone questioning that the world is in black and white” is of utmost importance. Collaboration is necessary in reaching the 17 SDGs through a frame of finance.