Background - 07.05.2021 - 00:00 

Make trade not war: why sustainable investments alone do not suffice

What role the financial sector is able to play with regard to sustainability and the commitment to a fairer future was the focus of an insight session on the final day of the 50th St.Gallen Symposium.

7 May 2021. Besides the economist Tomáš Sedláček, who attracted attention some years ago with his book entitled Economics of Good and Evil, the discussion panel consisted of the Swiss climate activist Stephanie Wyss and Lydia Hudson, Chief Executive Officer of Sustainability, Research & Investment Solutions at Credit Suisse. The discussion was moderated by Prof. Stephan Chambers, Director of the Marshall Institute for Philanthropy and Social Entrepreneurship at the London School of Economics.

What precisely does it mean today to do the right thing? This was one of the core questions which started in the field of finance but touched on fundamental issues of social cohesion and responsibility. The panel’s approaches to the topic were fundamentally different. Lydia Hudson (CS) referred to the current situation: "COVID-19 has put a spotlight on our health system and the issues of responsibility and sustainability." The tasks were huge and challenging, but the issue was becoming more important, also in the financial sector. The mission was now to support customers in engaging in this transition.

A sustainable economic system?

Tomáš Sedláček took recourse to the history of macroeconomics, religion and philosophy: religions had long disseminated the belief that ethical behaviour would result in prosperity. Today, this was the other way round: we believe that prosperity will at some time lead to sustainability. This, however, was not the case. The economic system was not sustainable, even worse: “The core of the economy does not appear to be sustainable.”

The crucial role of banks

The participants agreed that banks played a crucial role in this – for better or for worse.

Climate activist Stephanie Wyss referred to the website "How green is your financial institution?", which rates banks according to aspects of sustainability. To begin with, the financial sector had not been of any interest to her. In the course of the climate movement, the issue had become increasingly focal. "When we speak about sustainability, it is difficult to do so within the old solutions. We only give the whole thing a lick of green paint then." New solutions were required, which would not focus on profit maximisation and would act for the benefit of everyone, as a service provider. "Quite fundamentally: we have to question the role of the financial sector, break out, and build the boat anew rather than only painting it green."

Make trade not war

Tomáš Sedláček added that the economy had already changed. The question of growth was legitimate, but growth capitalism was not. The COVID-19 crisis in Europe had shown that transnational initiatives for the benefit of all were possible. According to the motto: Make trade not war.

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