Changing the World Through Sustainable Investing

In This Podcast
Show Notes
Sasja Beslik
E 129

In This Podcast

  • It’s time to review the results
  • The answer isn’t driving an electric car
  • Why fleeing war changed his life
  • The power of the financial industry to bring about change

Sasja Beslik is an international financial expert known for promoting financial sustainability across the world. He has been ranked the world’s most influential person within green finance. Sasja is a true sustainability pioneer who has with passion taken on several leading roles in the world of finance: as head of responsible investments, as corporate governance, as CEO, and as head of sustainable finance.

Show Notes

Promoting financial sustainability across the world with Sasja Beslik

For over two decades Sasja Beslik, an international financial expert known for promoting financial sustainability across the world, has been bringing a more sober and truthful perspective to everything that is sustainability. 

But his work is lonely. 

“It’s very, very lonely to be outside everywhere, all the time. It’s not easy. It takes [a toll] on your mental health, it impacts your moods, and it impacts people around you.”

He’s often portrayed in the media as someone who disapproves of the big companies’ sustainability efforts, as well as disapproving of the economic system in which he himself operates. He likens it to greenwashing, believing these efforts serve only to numb the climate anxiety of the Western middle classes.

But how true is this description?

“I usually am not afraid of saying what I think. Both on a positive and negative side, [but] in the last couple of years I’ve gotten very tired of reading and listening to things that are really not anchored in reality.”

What does he mean by this? 

It’s time to review the results

For years corporations have been exploring sustainability, putting in place processes, assessing risk, investing in solutions, but we’ve now entered the age of results, says Sasja. The time for preparation is over. It’s time to assess how well the foundations have been laid. 

“What are the results created by these companies, in terms of lowering emissions, improving working conditions, and managing the supply chain? What are the clear results?”

The next 10 years, predicts Sasja, will be all about results for the financial industry – the sustainability, ESG investment industry. 

“If you look at the financial balance sheets of companies, what [we need] to see is the climate balance sheet or human rights balance sheet – what are the results? And this is something that is still missing.”

The answer isn’t driving an electric car

The problem of driving electric cars is that they aren’t providing a solution to the sustainability issue. They’re a symbolic gesture made by Westerners to tackle their rising anxiety, says Sasja. Electric cars are in fact counterproductive, because they don’t address the systemic issue at hand. 

In Western society, says Sasja, our current economic model dominates our actions from the outset. We want a consumption based and growth based economy, and for that we want scalable solutions. But unfortunately these scalable solutions are dependent on natural resources, and that’s not sustainable. 

“If you look at the supply and demand, if you look at the dependency of electrical vehicles to rare metals and cobalt, by 2030, with this pace of expansion, the cobalt in Democratic Republic of Congo will be gone. So it’s the symbolic Western solution to a systemic Western challenge.”

As Sasja says, the efforts the West are making to tackle the sustainability issue is like polishing the floors on the Titanic. We are avoiding addressing the systemic issues because they’re too big. 

And there are few, if any, politicians who have the courage to say to their constituents – we need to cut your pensions by 20% to make investments that will save future generations. 

It just isn’t going to happen. 

The next 10 years

But say there was a miracle, and things did radically improve, how would Sasja like the next 10 years to look? 

A far more balanced world from both a social and environmental perspective. A world that understands the value of quality of life, not just quantity. A world where we work less so we have more time to meet and exchange views. A world where we don’t need to consume to be happy. 

This is a world where the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDG) have been met – it’s a world without poverty, children go to school, things have been developed for the better of the whole world. 

When it comes to the UN’s SDGs, says Sasja, if we just achieve 40% of them, it will make a huge difference in the world. 

“To sketch what it could look like, [it’s a] world where you don’t need a military force. Where the defence industry is not as big as it is today. Where the exchange of ideas, people, energy and power is not done based on the basis of a herding power, but on the basis of needs that people have in different parts of the world.”

It’s all about people

The solution lies in people, says Sasja, not the systems. It’s not about the corporations or the industries. The investment industry doesn’t invest in companies, they invest in the people running the companies and their ability to execute on their plans that they have. 

“The power is within us, but we are too afraid to recognise it and act on it.”

The problem, says Sasja, is that we’ve created a world based on perceptions. Where we want to be perceived in a certain way – we put on a suit and go to the office space, we make decisions that deplete our children’s future then we go home, tuck them in at night and read them a bedtime story. 

We need to bridge the gap between our different identities, because at the core, wherever we are, we still hold the same values, they don’t change.  

Long term solution for business

The world needs a total overhaul of the educational system. We have enough managers in the world, says Sasja, what is sorely missing are leaders, especially in the business sector. 

The world needs businesses run by bright people who can find ways to run economies within our planetary boundaries. 

We also need to restructure the legal framework in existence around the world to enable this to happen. Because at the moment, in the finance world, people too easily ask – what is morally right, and what is legally correct. 

“You have [company] financial balance sheets, you should have a [company] nature balance sheet, climate, social balance sheets that are equivalent in importance [for] how companies are assessed.”

The power of the financial industry

If you’re wondering what power the financial industry can wield on world events, on helping bring about change, just look at the economic and financial sanctions countries around the world have placed on Russia, and the impact they’ve had on Russia’s ability to operate effectively. 

“National governments are limited in how they can tackle some of these global challenges. But if you look at the financial industry, in the financial toolbox, which is global, you have access to completely different types of tools to actually impact some of these things.”

The sustainability space needs people with integrity who are willing to be strong enough to say no when required, or yes to taking risks. Because to bring about real change requires businesses to change their business models, which is a painful process. 

But if leaders focus on getting clear results and shift their business model over time, change can happen. So, to do that, what does the world need most right now? Honesty, says Sasja. 

“We live in a time of disinformation, false social media, constructed realities. I think the world needs honesty. We need to be honest, and honesty demands that we have integrity to see how bad it is, and also to find the strength to improve that.”

If the talk resonates with you, we’d recommend you listen to this episode too: John P. Milton